Sanity Notes #005: Leveraging fear as a friend

Matt Munson
3 min readDec 19, 2022

Originally published at mattmunson.me. To receive future newsletters in your inbox, you can subscribe here.

For as long as I can remember, I have woken up at 3 AM once or twice a week and had trouble falling back asleep. During those middle-of-the-night thought sessions, I find myself feeling afraid.

When we wake up in the middle of the night, our amygdala comes online first. That is the part of our brain that governs fight or flight. The prefrontal cortex takes longer to wake up. That is the part of our brain that evaluates fear from an informed place.

Our emotions are thus harder to navigate at 3 AM than during the day.

I thought when I sold my company and moved from CEO life to coaching those 3 AM sessions would be over.

They have continued.

I still feel afraid. Not of my company’s balance sheet or an upcoming funding round, but there is always something in life that poses danger to us or those we love.

There is always something to worry about.

If fear is never going away, what if we turn to it as a friend instead of an enemy?

What if fear reminds us of what is important to us?

What if fear keeps us in touch with the uncomfortable realities of human existence:

  • That life will not last forever
  • That we can only do so much to protect thsoe we love
  • That we control much less than we wish we could

What if that in-touch-ness keeps our hearts and mind focused on what matters most?

If you find yourself dealing with 3 AM wake-ups as I do, here are a few practical suggestions for befriending fear (and getting back to sleep!)

  1. Name: Write down the fear
  2. Identify: What is the fear protecting?
  3. Evaluate: What is really at risk?
  4. Plan: What practical steps might you take to protect what needs protecting or have what you want?

Writing down the fear and identifying what is at risk has a way of right-sizing the fear.

Evaluating the risk helps bring our prefrontal cortex online. This part of our brain is able to view challenges with creativity and informed confidence. We see straighter lines to solutions than what our animal brains can see.

Planning, even simple one-sentence plans, help our nervous systems to relax.

OK, I can see what needs to be done here. I can trust myself that it will be done in the right time. And now I can rest.

One final suggestion on getting out of your head and back into sleep: I love listening to autobiographies read by the author.

I find that getting out of my own story and into someone else’s helps me to move more quickly to full rest and sleep readiness.

Going with the audio version lets me rest my eyes while easing into their story.

Just something fun you might try. Drop me a DM and let me know how it works for you!

Wishing you ease and rest.

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Please feel free to reach out to me if I can be helpful to you in any way. Email me or DM me on Twitter. Thoughts on improving this newsletter are also always welcome!

With love from LA,

Matt

Originally published at mattmunson.me. To receive future newsletters in your inbox, you can subscribe here.

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Matt Munson

CEO coach @ sanitylabs.co. Angel investor. Startup founder. Committed to helping leaders feel less alone in the journey.