The Well

Tag: Stress

Sweet Dreams

by Andrew Shaw on Oct.18, 2009, under Archives

If you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone.  Millions of people struggle with falling or staying asleep, and getting a good night’s rest.  With work, busy schedules, children and other responsibilities, getting enough sleep can be quite a challenge.  Add in the stress and anxiety from financial difficulties, work problems, relationship issues and many other stressors, and it’s no wonder that we’re sleep deprived.  Below are some generally agreed upon tips for sleeping well; suggestions for creating a conducive environment and adopting healthy habits for a more peaceful and restful night.

Maintain a regular routine- Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day, even on the weekends. Sticking to a set schedule helps reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle and can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

Exercise regularly- Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, can help you fall asleep faster and make your sleep more restful. However, try not to exercise right before bed as it may initially cause you to be more stimulated and alert.

Don’t eat or drink too much right before sleep- Eat lighter dinners at least two hours before sleeping. If you’re prone to heartburn, avoid spicy or fatty foods, which can increase heartburn and keep you up at night. Also, limit how much you drink before bed. Too much liquid can cause you to wake up repeatedly during the night.

Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol in the evening- These are stimulants that can keep you awake. It takes many hours to eliminate stimulants and their effects. Avoid caffeine for six to eight hours before your planned bedtime. And although often believed to be a sedative, alcohol actually disrupts sleep.

Stay in sync- Daytime naps may make it harder to rest solid through the night. Limit daytime sleep to about a half-hour. If you work nights, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight, which influences the body’s internal clock, doesn’t interrupt your sleep. If you have trouble waking up, turn on bright lights or open the blinds to get some sunlight to awaken you.  Bright light in the morning can be helpful for activating the mind and body.

Make your bedroom comfortable, an ideal sleeping environment- Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping. Adjust the lighting, temperature, and noise level to your preferences. Use blackout curtains, eye covers, earplugs, a fan, a white-noise machine, or peaceful music to create an environment that suits your needs.  Usually the ideal sleeping environment is cool, dark and quiet.  Also, try to reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex only.  If you associate your bed with events like work, studying, tasks or errands, it will only make it harder to wind down at night.  You may also want to remove the television from the bedroom.  Television programs can actually stimulate rather than calm you, and the light and noise from the television can interfere with your body’s clock.

Go to bed when you’re tired- If you don’t fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, get up and do something else, something relaxing. Go back to bed when you’re tired. Don’t agonize over falling asleep. The stress and worry will only make it harder to sleep.  It may also be helpful to cover up your clock, so you’re not staring at the time ticking by.  If you continue to worry about losing sleep, try focusing the mind on something else, something simple and neutral, such as counting to ten as you breathe slowly in and out.

Develop a relaxing bedtime routine- Do the same things each night to tell your body it’s time to wind down. Think about what relaxes you.  This may include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a light book, stretching or listening to soothing music. Relaxing activities can help ease the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness.  Try dimming the lights one hour before bedtime to relax and help get the mind and body ready for sleep.  Consider meditation or other relaxation techniques, such as yoga, visualization or muscle relaxation.  Avoid any nighttime activities that are stimulating or that cause stress and anxiety.  If you have a lot on your mind, write down your worries or make a to-do list and then set it aside, letting it be, until the next day.  For more on managing anxiety and worry, read a previous post, Lessening the Worry, 10-4-09.

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Lessening the Worry

by Andrew Shaw on Oct.04, 2009, under Archives

Times are tough right now.  With the state of the world, the economy, the job market, it’s hard not to feel anxious.  In my psychotherapy practice, nearly every one of my clients have expressed concern or reported an increase in anxiety, worry and fear.  If you’re struggling financially, lost your job, facing foreclosure, trying to make ends meet, or simply exposed to an uncertain future, you most likely are feeling overwhelmed and scared.  But, the fear doesn’t have to take over.  There are ways to keep it in check and lessen the worrying.

Practice Acceptance- Life is full of ups and downs, cycles of good and bad.  Troubles are inevitable.  We tend to forget this, and instead think that life is supposed to be perfect all the time.  And then, we’re upset, anxious and unhappy if it isn’t.  When you remind yourself that life has its ups and downs, you’ll worry less and be better able to tolerate the downs.  Accepting this process, accepting what is, can be incredibly helpful.

Turn Down the Negative, Turn Up the Positive- Staying informed is important.  But with the way the news is today, it can quickly overwhelm you.  Try taking a news holiday; don’t watch the news for awhile, or at least try not to obsess over the bad news reports.  Life will be happier and less worrisome if you focus on uplifting rather than depressing things.  It’s also good to know that we do have some control over our sense of well-being.  It depends on our mindset, intention, and daily action.  Even something as small and basic as smiling can lift our spirits.  Staying positive and keeping an optimistic attitude is extremely important.  Rather than worrying about losing something you have or focusing on what you lack, try paying more attention to what you do have now.  Researchers have found that being thankful and cultivating gratitude makes people happier.  Try keeping a gratitude journal, writing down all the things you feel grateful for.  Or at the end of your day, write down three good things that happened that day.

Choose Not to Worry and Dwell- If we do have some control over the amount of our worrying, then we can consciously choose whether to worry or not.  Of course it’s good to be prepared, to have a plan for the “what if…” But continuing to worry on, to dwell, or think about an event over and over, is unhelpful and can keep us stuck.  When you notice that you’re ruminating, or dwelling on something, see if you can distract yourself by bringing your full attention to other things or activities.  Read a book, watch a light-hearted movie, go out with a friend, exercise.  You can also make a worry appointment, a short set time during your day when you’re allowed to do all your worrying.  If you find yourself worrying at other times during the day, put it on hold and save it for your set aside worry time. 

Stay Connected- When things go bad, we have a tendency to isolate, to feel singled out and helpless.  Sometimes we hide and avoid interacting with the rest of the world.  But being alone and isolated from others actually increases our sense of alienation, sadness, hopelessness and fear.  Reaching out to friends or family, or relying on a supportive community during difficult times is a powerful antidote.  By engaging with others, you can find support and compassion, ideas and solutions.

Maintain Perspective- Even during hard times, we can always shift our perspective.  We can remind ourselves that there are others who are going through similar challenges, and many more who are bearing heavier loads.  (Read 9-27-09 Post, Finding Perspective).  We can also remember that during other times in history, like the Great Depression, things were even worse.  And despite the tremendous hardships of that day, people were able to persevere; to fall in love, to laugh and smile, to raise their children, to grow closer with family, to strengthen their hope and faith, and even amidst the darkest hours, to find moments of light and joy.

As always, if you have questions or comments, please post…

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