Adjusting Your Nighttime Routine: Tips for Better Sleep and Good Mental Health
For those people who struggle to get a good night’s sleep, have you considered that you might be your own worst enemy? There are some definite do’s and don’ts to observe, which include important measures that have a direct effect on your ability to sleep and maintain good mental health. Consistent, restorative sleep is closely tied to mental health when you’re tired, your mood suffers, you’re impatient, and you have trouble concentrating. Consequently, your sense of well-being is compromised, and symptoms of depression and anxiety may occur as a result.
What’s more, sleep is especially important for people recovering from drug or alcohol abuse. Sleep has a powerful healing effect on the body and mind, bolstering the immune system and strengthening your metabolism. It also improves your mental outlook, an important factor in recovering from the ravages of addiction.
Consider the following points if a lack of sleep is affecting your mental condition and ability to function on a daily basis.
Observe a Sleep Schedule
Many of us get to bed only when our daily responsibilities have been completed and, as such, fail to get the necessary seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Your body functions best when you follow a regular schedule, and going to bed at the same time and waking up every morning at the same time is the best way to recalibrate your internal clock. Also, stick with your sleep schedule through the weekend and on holidays so as not to disrupt your sleep schedule. Eventually, your body will fall into line and let you know when it’s time for bed.
You can’t expect to climb into bed and fall asleep straight away if you’re experiencing sleep deprivation and insomnia. It’s important to spend an hour or two winding down, so prepare yourself to sleep by observing relaxing habits such as reading a book, taking a hot bath, or engaging in meditation. These activities can calm your thoughts and slow your heart rate, both of which are necessary for you to feel sleepy.
Insomnia can be a serious problem, leading to both mental and physical complications. If it persists, it might be time to take a close look at your sleep environment. People often make the mistake of leaving a TV or computer screen on at night or keeping a smartphone on the nightstand. These are disruptions that can prevent sleep. What’s needed is a dark and quiet environment, so consider installing blackout shades and using a white noise app or machine to mask any disruptive external sound. Pay close attention to the comfort of your bed, rough sheets, and heavy blankets may drive up your body temperature, making it hard to get to sleep.
Don’t Force It
As a kid, do you remember being told by a parent just to lie in bed until you got tired? It’s a convenient piece of parental advice, but it doesn’t work when you’re an adult with a sleep problem. Whether you’re tossing and turning or just lying in bed thinking about next week’s big client presentation or an argument you had with your spouse, you’re only making the situation worse. Instead, get up and sit quietly in a darkened room, or do some light reading until your eyelids start to get heavy.
Limit Food and Drink at Night
Ingesting caffeine at night is a bad idea if you suffer from insomnia, as is eating a meal too close to bedtime. Your metabolism has to work to process the food, and you won’t feel like sleeping. Some people like to have a few drinks before bed, thinking it’ll help them wind down after a busy day. Unfortunately, alcohol undermines the healing, rejuvenating REM sleep you need to feel good and stay healthy.
Think through your sleep habits if you’re having difficulty at night. You might find that a simple adjustment will make a big difference. A consistent nighttime routine, a restful sleep space, and a little willpower in the evening can restore your mental well-being and leave you feeling refreshed and reinvigorated during the day.
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 Relaxing Breath
We live in anxious, chaotic times. Watch 10 minutes of any news channel or spend time on any social media app and notice your blood pressure rise. We pride ourselves on our abilities to multi-task. You’ve seen them (or this may be us), during rush hour, driving, talking/texting, putting on make-up (or dry shaving), and eating breakfast, all the while trying to navigate successfully to our destinations. Mindfulness is a call for us to slow down and focus on one thing, one event, one activity at a time…purposeful breathing is at the foundation.
Breathing you may ask, Don’t we know how to breathe? Clearly, it is automatic in the sense that we don’t even have to think about it. The medulla oblongata is the part of the hindbrain that detects levels of CO2 and O2 in the bloodstream and automatically determines if any changes are needed, sending nerve impulses to the heart and diaphragm to either increase or decrease activity. However, the breathing I am talking about in this blog is deliberate and intentional, to produce physiological calmness, emotional well-being, and mental clarity.
Dr. Weil offers us his 4-7-8 breathing rhythm, the relaxing breath. On his YouTube video, he explains that breathing in this manner over time can produce wonderfully pleasant states of consciousness and is one of the best ways to control anxiety and emotional reactivity (especially if you have been triggered in some manner).
To begin, hold your tongue in the Yogi position (behind front teeth, where teeth meet the gumline) exhale for a count of 8, inhale (through your nose) for the count of 4, hold this breath for a count of 7, and exhale completely for a count of 8. Do 3 more breath cycles to complete the circuit and notice any changes. Keeping the ratio is important, of note, the exhale is twice as long as the inhale and holding the breath for 7 facilitates a drop in blood pressure. Practice this throughout the day (bare minimum is twice a day), especially when you notice yourself getting upset, irritated, or otherwise emotionally reactive. Choosing to breathe in this rhythm instead of emotionally reacting allows a gap between irritant and reaction; thus, thoughtfully responding and in control of your words and actions (not emotionally reacting).
The applications for using this skill are numerous: someone cuts you off in traffic (breathe); your child speaks to you in a perceived disrespectful tone (breathe); you are in the check-out line at the store and there is no movement and your ice cream is melting (breathe); you are next in the queue to be interviewed (breathe); you are sitting down to take a test (breathe); you are getting ready to take a free-throw to win your basketball game (breathe); you get the idea. For as many anxious moments we face throughout the days, months, and years of our lives, use this breathing rhythm to calm your body and your mind and be deliberate in your words and actions. Relationships can flourish when we take the time and make the effort to regain emotional control once triggered. Practice Dr. Weil’s breathing rhythm at every opportunity…you will benefit greatly.
4 Ways To Diminish Anxiety & Find Stillness
The Free Dictionary defines Anxiety as a state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation, often impairing physical and psychological functioning.
Everyone has experienced anxiety and it’s closely related cousins, worry and doubt. These are unavoidable. Sometimes negative self talk, worry, and doubting thoughts that anxiety brings on can be overwhelming. The multitude of thoughts and feelings that invade our mind about different situations or events are called racing thoughts. For those enduring anxiety, the race never slows.
I experienced anxiety just before I took the National Counselors Exam. This exam is a licensing requirement for all wannabe counselors seeking professional licensing. It’s a grueling 200 multiple choice question exam. This exam covers the different aspects of the field of counseling. Everything from graduate school, my internship and graduation pointed to this exam. If I wanted to take the next step in my career, I had to pass this test.
I had spent a few months preparing and studying for the exam. Despite my efforts to be ready for the exam, I experienced a lot of those negative thoughts. I worried about the future if I didn’t pass. In my mind, all the school and hard work I did would mean nothing if I didn’t pass. Sleep was elusive that weekend. The day before the exam, I had gone out to the cemetery where my sister and grandparents are buried. They have a pond and usually it’s very quiet. I went up there to pray and meditate for a bit. But wouldn’t you know. Maintenance was going on and the noise of machinery got in the way of my quiet time.
I was as ready for this exam as I was going to be. But anxiety still continued to be present. The exam was the hardest I had taken to date. I kept thinking while I was answering questions that I was surely going to fail. This test was a struggle and there were a few concepts on there I had never heard of before as it pertained to theory. When I finished, I spent the minutes trying to think how I was going to break the news to my wife that I didn’t pass. I took that sheet that the proctor printed out for me and folded it in half. It was the results. I finally looked at it in the car. I passed. I stared at it in disbelief. Anxiety faded to black.
As a counselor, I have worked with many clients that struggle with anxiety. My anxiety was situational but for some, their battle with anxiety is non-stop. But there are ways to cope and fight anxiety. One way is practicing stillness. In our world, finding time to be still and in the moment is difficult. But it is not impossible.
According to the Free Dictionary online, Stillness is “An absence of motion or disturbance: calm, calmness, hush, lull, peace, peacefulness, placidity, placidness, quiet, quietness, serenity, tranquility, undoubtedness.” Many of these descriptive words found in this definition elude anxiety sufferer without help or intervention. Did you know that those that struggle with anxiety have a difficult time with shutting down and just being still? Shutting down means we are attempting to do nothing. When was the last time you went for nothing. We must withdrawal, at least for a short period, from the world. Jesus was proactive in this. When He was in ministry, there were times he withdrew from the people to find a quiet place and have fellowship and prayer with His Father. But most of us have a hard time in just shutting down.
Practicing stillness gives the mind and body a chance to be at total rest and heal from daily stresses.
Mother Teresa said this of stillness and knowing God:
“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature trees, flowers, grass grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence? We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
God does moves in mysterious ways. In some instances, God may want to give you a word or commune with you. Not through the noise of this world, our racing thoughts or even the revelation of His Divine, awesome and wondrous power but in a moment of silence that brings out His “still small voice.” If we fail to here it, it could be because we have not found the quiet in our soul to listen to His words.
Maybe that’s the lesson we can all learn. How do we just sit still? We must mindfully practice stillness. This also means the millions of thoughts that bombard our minds daily need to decrease and the never-ending ideas and thoughts need to be silenced.
3 Benefits To Being Still
What are the benefits of practicing stillness? Author, motivator and mentor Michael Hyatt believes that there are three key advantages to being still. I happen to agree with him.
- I want to maintain perspective. If I don’t make time to be still, then I find myself in reactive mode influenced by hundreds of little voices with big demands.
- I want to stay connected to my true self. I don’t want to get confused, thinking that I am the image I present to the world. They are related, of course, but I want to live from the inside out.
- I want more internal margin in my life. While I have been pursuing external margin in my calendar and finances, I also want internal margin more room to notice what matters most and be thankful for it.
If you decide that you want to explore this you have to plan for it. This can’t be some random spur of the moment kind of thing. Make it an event. Here are few ideas on how to ready your self.
- Set a time and place. I rarely experience this kind of quiet and stillness at home. I usually experience when I get a massage or an energy session. If that’s not your thing, perhaps it’s going for a walk in nature. Or maybe its just getting away from your standard routine of a busy life. When I was a senior in high school, I went skiing for my first time in Utah. I recall my first brush with stillness came on the ski lift going up the mountain. It was quiet and one of the most peaceful experiences I have had. Going up the mountain was amazingly serine. However, going down it in my first experience of skiing…um…not so much. Kind of painful and a lot of falling!
- Relax your body. Find a comfortable spot where you just let your body go. Deep breathing exercises and learning to practice progressive muscle relaxation techniques can prepare the body and mind to relax.
- Quiet your mind. This is perhaps the most difficult. One technique I teach to clients is visualizing a shape like a sphere in their mind. In my mind it looks like a silver marble. Focusing on that, its shape and texture, weight and color often clears my mind of other thoughts. My entire mental energy is living in that moment of this sphere. This is a therapeutic technique called grounding. Grounding allows us to stay present and in the moment. Usually, it takes 2-5 minutes to eliminate or diminish the racing thoughts. I have used grounding techniques such as visualizing shapes in a clients mind to create focus. Focus allows us to be present in the moment. That leads to the next point.
- Staying present. Hyatt says staying present allows you to not “be regretting or celebrating the past. Don’t be worrying or dreaming about the future. Instead, collect your thoughts and be present in this moment. It is the most important time you have. In fact, it is the only time you have.”
If you find yourself enduring racing thoughts, doubt and worry. I would love the opportunity to work with you on how to find those moments of stillness, peace and clarity. Contact me today at Armstrong Family Counseling to set up an appointment.
Can Talking To Someone Help My Anxiety?
There is an old proverb, Confession is good for the soul. But is it really?
It sounds odd but can talking with somebody make you feel better? It can and it does. But why does it work? Why can just something as simple as talking about something that you are worried about, or feel guilty about make you feel better and less stressed?
To understand that question you have to understand how memory storage in our brains work. Doctors as far back as the 1890’s have recognized some memories fade into nothing and some memories resist that fading away. Mostly the memories that won’t fade are ones that are charged with emotions.
Simply, there is a part of us that feels and there is a part of us that thinks. Generally, we want to keep these things in balance. However, in life when we are scared, worried, guilty or sad we feel those emotions strongly. When your feelings are strong it diminishes your capacity to think; especially, your ability to say what you are feeling.
Have you ever seen a parent tell their screaming child to “use your words.” The parent instinctively recognizes that a child has to calm down and talk before they can stop being hysterical. That is because when the part of your brain that feels gets overwhelmed your body will actually shut down parts of itself in order to conserve fuel. When the “fight or flight” part of your mind is triggered, energy is diverted from other parts of your brain-systems in order to give you energy to fight of run. One area that is impacted is your ability to think rationally.
So, let’s say you got in an argument that escalated. Or that you made a mistake at work and are scared you will be fired for it. So, in that moment you are feeling strong emotions instead of thinking. If you do not communicate with anyone about it, after your emotions have calmed down, you will be putting that memory into the bookshelf of your mind with an emotional charge.
So what does an emotionally charged memory do? An emotionally charged memory is one that when you think about that memory you feel that emotion all over again. So you could be lying in your bed after having had a great day but start thinking about something from your past and BAM! Right there in your bed you feel what you felt then. Despite the fact that you just a moment ago felt at peace with the world. That is an emotionally charged memory.
Going back to the initial question, why does talking help you feel better? Because in order to take the charge out of a memory you have add thought to that memory. Remember that you both think and feel. A memory that is all feeling and no thinking will remain a charged memory. But when you talk about the past, especially when you think about what you were feeling and why, it helps add thought to that memory . A memory that has thought and feeling in it a memory that can be put on the bookshelf of your mind and just fade into the thousands of other memories there.
When you talk to someone who influences you to think about why you felt what you felt it can make that emotional charge go away which feels wonderful. This is why the whole practice of counseling even exists. To help people remember their past without feeling what they felt in the past.
Do you feel that you are haunted by your past? Do you feel that there are things in your past that you will never get over? Let’s get together. I can help you move forward. Contact me today!
Defined By My Past
What does it mean to be defined by your past?? The answer lies in the brain. The brain?s primary function is to keep you alive and safe, and that function will override any and all other functions when it perceives that you are in danger.? When I use the word perceive, I mean that over the course of your life, your brain has learned what is dangerous, physically and emotionally, so whenever a situation presents itself, your brain immediately recalls whether any danger has been associated with this type of situation in your past experiences or learning.? If so, your brain will react protectively.
?Learning in the Brain
Your brain learns every time you encounter a dangerous situation.? For example, the first time you were burned with fire, your brain learned that fire was hot, painful, and dangerous.? This programming is deep and long lasting.? For the rest of your life, you will always have some level of fear around being burned by fire.? The same type of learning happens with emotional danger, particularly when shame is involved.? Brain imaging suggests that when a person is overwhelmed with shame, it acts protectively in that same way it would if you were dying.? This suggests that the brain does not distinguish between shame and death.? This further suggests that we learn to defend against anything that the brain perceives as shameful.? This may include performance, looks, perceived competence, social behavior, status, and more.
Trauma is any event or sequence of events, physical or emotional, that has permanently raised the brain?s and body?s awareness and preparedness for danger beyond normal levels.? After a traumatic event, there are often permanent changes.? A person?s heart rate may permanently increase or decrease, they may become hyperaware of any potential danger, have an increased startle response, have unexplained anxiety, have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and perhaps most troubling of all, they may have a difficulty maintaining healthy relationships.? In this way, our past is defined by trauma, holding us back like a ball and chain shackled to our ankle.
Getting your Life Back?
To restore the person you were, or perhaps discover the person you never had the chance to become, the brain needs to learn that you are now safe, and it needs to learn how to lower its defenses when they are not necessary.? The brain will not let its defenses go lightly as its primary function is to keep you alive and safe.? It takes time, and it usually requires professional help.? As the brain?s defenses begin to lighten up, you are freed to find yourself.? This happens naturally since your faculties are no longer bogged down by the need to be constantly on guard.? People who recover from trauma find that they feel new peace and enjoyment in life, greatly improved relationships, and perhaps most of all, they feel that they are no longer defined by their past.
If you feel like you are defined by your past, if you are having trouble moving forward, or if you just need to get a few things off of your chest?please contact our office today. We have a team of experts who are ready and eager to help you move forward.?We will help you recover from your mental trauma.
How To Improve Your Positive Self-Talk With 4 Easy Steps
What is intrapersonal communication?
Intrapersonal communication is the process of talking to oneself, which is related to your constant internal dialogues, either consciously or subconsciously. Our intrapersonal communication helps to determine our self-image and self-awareness, which is the most basic level of communication, and helps us to understand who we are and what we think of ourselves.
Why is it important?
We can easily determine our self-esteem and self-perception through our internal communications, or intrapersonal communications. Obviously, in order to have a successful interpersonal relationship–communicating with others–we must first learn how to communicate with ourselves, understand who we are, and what we think of ourselves, and eventually, it will lead us to have a greater success in life. But how?
Follow these 4 steps to Improve your Intrapersonal Communication
Your internal conversations have a huge impact on you and your personal well-being. Try to listen to your self-talk and be aware of your internal dialogue and whether it is positive or negative. Remember that negative self-talk can drain your energy or motivation while your positive dialogues can empower you with higher self-esteem and eventually improve your self-perception, which is going to help you to have a better feeling about yourself.
Have you ever tried to monitor your thought on your ongoing basis? In general, it is easier to let our thoughts run randomly through our mind, but if we try to recognize our negative thoughts and immediately replace them with positive ones, we will be amazed by the result on our day-to-day life activities and relational communications.
Try to eliminate your unwanted thoughts from intruding by saying or thinking about some words like ?STOP? or ?ENOUGH?, ?CLEAR?, QUIT?. You can also improve your positive self-talk through prayer, meditation, affirmations, and focusing on your enjoyable moments.
Try to recognize the differences that your positive self-talk makes in your day-to-day life activities or communications. Pay attention to those changes like feeling calmer and more peaceful, which are going to help you connect with what is peaceful and good around you and you’ll become less concerned with trivial matters. After a while, you will achieve a more positive outlook on life and have more confidence in your abilities.
If you are struggling with your self-esteem, self-worth, having relationship or communication issues, or just need some insight into life, please contact me today.?
Can I Have A Life?
Many times,?I have sat with couples?who have told me that they?ve lost their romantic spark. They say that attraction that drew them together is gone. When I ask them to describe their marriage as it currently is, I often find that one of them?or both?lacks personal friends and hobbies.
Having a life outside of your marriage is vital to the health and attractiveness of your marriage. Don?t believe me? Think about this, when you were first dating your spouse, they had a life without you. They had fun, made friends, and spent their time and money without consulting you, yet despite all of that, you still were attracted to them.
How often did you love to hear them talking about one of their cherished memories? Or cheering with them as you watched their favorite sports team together? Remember when they took you to their favorite?and quite personal?spot?
It?s interesting how those same couples who found the other?s strength and independence SO attractive have lost the fire in their relationship. Now the individuals see themselves married to a partner with whom they have shared almost all the same experiences together. They live in the same house, they go to the same shows and restaurants, they attend the same church and hang out with the same people, and then they wonder why the other person seems so dull: familiarity breeds contempt!
Breathing by yourself is okay! Having a life outside your marriage allows you to grow as a person. Spending time with yourself is good for your health. You then take that healthy individual back and share it with your spouse. Then, you get to share new memories and experiences with them that they don?t know about?that makes you attractive. They get to see your skill-sets grow in hobbies from an amateur level to an expert. They get to share your highs and lows; this too makes you more interesting.
Here?s the million-dollar question: what if your spouse doesn?t like your hobby? This can be tricky, but it?s essential to learn to communicate with each other about your interests and the things you don?t like.
What if he doesn?t like to dance?
What if she doesn?t like to play video games?
What if he doesn?t like to drink?
What if she doesn?t like to go to sports games?
It may be beneficial to?seek a counselor?s assistance?to help with communicating with each other.
When it comes to recreation, it is the person who is left out?or at home by choice?that can develop resentment or a poor attitude about ?the hobby.? However, this can often be rectified with improved communication.
Ask yourself, ?why is it an issue that your spouse has a friend/ or a hobby that you can?t participate in?? The answer may involve jealousy?? I don?t get ?me? time, why should you???or it might involve fear/worry??You aren?t spending enough time with the kids or me.? These are valid concerns that are not problems but are opportunities to grow the marriage even stronger.