Have you ever wondered how social anxiety grows? Follow just one of the steps below and you’ll for sure notice it inching upward over time. Follow several of the steps and you’ll notice it grow by leaps and bounds.
Are you one of the 30% of Americans that have had bouts with insomnia? Do you get less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night (or 8-10 hours for teens)?
Sleep loss can have profound impacts on a body’s physical and emotional health. Bad sleep can increase irritability, lower mood, cloud concentration, and increase stress. If you are tired of being tired, it might be time to try something new to help you get back on track with a steady sleep schedule.
In this article, we will unpack a toolkit of coping strategies for helping you get to sleep and stay asleep with greater ease.
PART 1: UNDERSTAND YOUR JOB AND TURN DOWN THE PRESSURE
Do any of these nighttime thoughts sound familiar– “I should be asleep right now.” “Why can’t I just sleep??”
We beat ourselves up for not being able to go to sleep, as if it is in our power to make that happen.
MYTH: It’s my job at nighttime to fall asleep.
FACT: I CAN’T make myself fall asleep. It’s my job to relax.
The thoughts that express frustration about sleeplessness only increase heart-rate and make sleep more elusive. Take the pressure off by telling yourself that your body will go to sleep when it is ready. You are not abnormal for having struggles with sleep. Talk back to the catastrophic thoughts telling you that you’ll fail at work/school/life if you don’t get a good night’s sleep. That is rarely true and only amplifies pressure and keeps you awake. A counselor can help you change the negative thoughts about sleep and wakefulness that are keeping you stuck.
TIP: Stop clock-watching. Every time you look at the clock, you do math in your head, counting the number of hours you have left to sleep. This ramps up obsessive thoughts, making relaxation and sleep more difficult. Try covering your nightstand alarm clock with a towel.
PART 2: SLOW DOWN YOUR THOUGHTS
Night tends to be the time of day when worried, anxious thoughts come to life. Some people find themselves laying in bed for hours with racing thoughts, worries about their to-do list for tomorrow, ruminating thoughts rehashing what happened earlier today, and concern for other looming unknowns.
If this describes you, try out a “Mind Dump” exercise. Grab a notebook (or a simple piece of paper) and write down all of the worries on your mind, as quickly as possible. Don’t stop to organize the thoughts, check spelling, or edit. Write down all of your worries, even if they seem too ridiculous to put on a page. A “Mind Dump” helps to contain worries so you don’t have to hold them in your head. It will help you rest peacefully, knowing you have a written memory aid for addressing those concerns in the morning when your mind is alert and better able to problem-solve.
PART 3: SLOW DOWN YOUR BODY
The skill of “slowing” can be done both before getting in bed and after you are in bed.
Beforehand, choose activities before bed that decrease heart-rate and help you feel calm. Examples of such activities might include reading a book, practicing meditation, taking a bath, working on a puzzle, or something else you find relaxing. Pay attention to how your body feels in the 2 hours before bedtime and adjust evening activities accordingly. Perhaps watching those episodes of “Stranger Things” or “Walking Dead” are not as calming as you’d think.
Caution: TV and other screens can emit blue light that disrupts your body’s ability to wind down at night. If your device allows, turn on a blue light filter to prevent this interruption to your circadian regulation.
Once in bed, there are a number of relaxation skills you can implement to help you ease into sleep.
PART 4: CREATE A POSITIVE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN YOUR BED AND SLEEP
Following the protocols of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), which research indicates may be more effective than medications in the long-term, your bed should be a sacred place for sleep and intimacy. That means that your bed is not the place for you to read books, watch TV, do work, or to WORRY. The goal is to re-train your brain to associate your bed with sleep so you can fall asleep within minutes. The rules are clear:
- Do not spend time in your bedroom when you are not sleeping
- Get out of bed after 20-30 minutes if you aren’t falling asleep
- Do not return to bed until you feel sleepy
- Don’t compensate for sleep loss on the weekends
Book Recommendation: “Quiet Your Mind and Get to Sleep: Solutions to Insomnia for those with Depression, Anxiety, or Chronic Pain” by Colleen Carney and Rachel Manber provides some excellent CBT-i focused resources and tracking tools.
PART 5: AVOID SELF-MEDICATING
Wouldn’t it be nice if your body had an OFF switch, where you could flip it to SLEEP MODE as easily as you do you desktop computer? That’s most certainly what people are searching for when they try out quick fixes (substances, over-the-counter medications, etc.). Despite the promise of a good night’s sleep, some of these options come with risks, including the potential for them to become habit forming. Some, like benzodiazepines, come with more scary potential side effects, including a substantially increased risk for developing dementia.
Those that use alcohol to lull themselves to sleep, might find themselves with some unintended consequences. According to the National Sleep Foundation, alcohol blocks REM sleep, can interrupt your circadian rhythm, and, since alcohol is a diuretic, can wake you up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break.
If you need help with recurring insomnia, a counselor can help you customize a back-to-sleep toolkit just for you and your unique sleep struggles.
For some, the “most wonderful season of the year” is anything but wonderful. Any number of things can make this season challenging:
- Feelings of loneliness
- Worry about how family members will get along
- Missing a loved one that is no longer with you
- Guilt about indulging in holiday foods
- Financial burdens of the holiday season
- The gloomy, rainy, cold Pacific Northwest weather
- And the list goes on!
For those that are struggling this season, we’ve put together a list of coping ideas may help you get through the holidays with greater ease.
DEALING WITH STRESS
Stress is a major reason why people come to counseling this time of year. Here are some tips for managing holiday anxiety:
ADDRESS THE HAVE-TO’S
Every family has a unique culture and a unique list of holiday “have-to’s.” It is those “have-to’s” that create a sense of obligation, duty, and sometimes dread. Have you ever paused to ask yourself– “Do I really have to?” “Would anything awful happen if I didn’t?” “What are the reasons why I’ve indulged these “have-to’s” in the past?” Weigh out the pros and cons and give yourself permission to evaluate their necessity thoughtfully. Maybe you will still decide to follow through again this year, but at least it will be done choicefully, not from obligation.
ATTEMPT HEALTHY COMMUNICATION
Relationship conflict brings tension and anxiety during the holidays. Healthy communication involves two key components: 1) Respect for others and 2) Respect for yourself. If your communication style is lacking in one or the other, you might find yourself adding fuel to family conflicts.
If you trend toward passive communication, you have a tendency to hold back what you are really needing and stay quiet until you reach a breaking point. You tend to say “yes” to everything, only to complain about it behind someone’s back. Attuned family members can tell that you are resentful, despite your best efforts to pretend everything is okay. Be respectful of yourself by expressing your needs, saying “no” when you can, and honoring what you feel. It’s okay to be aware of your needs and say them out loud.
If you trend toward aggressive communication (criticism, snide remarks, put-downs, yelling, etc.), someone else’s needs and feelings might get bull-dozed right over, leading to escalations in arguments and family tension. Help communication move more smoothly by listening attentively. Listening is not the same as agreeing. Try summing up what you’ve heard someone say without judgement.
TAKE A BREAK
If you are operating at a break-neck pace to get all of your holiday tasks accomplished, you might be missing out on the beauty found in moments of slowing. Literally stop and smell the roses (or poinsettias). Use your 5 senses to practice being in the present moment. Those with introverted personalities should be especially mindful of taking social breaks during extended family visits. It’s okay to take a 20 minute bathroom break or walk around the block to recharge your social battery.
HOLD ON TO HEALTHY HABITS
Many of us look forward to holiday foods all year long. There aren’t many other times of year we make pumpkin pie, eggnog, or tree-shaped sugar cookies! The smells and tastes of the holidays bring richness to the season. Exposure to these foods can be stressful, however, if you have inner conflicts with food or discomfort with your body. If you’re still on the diet-train, this time of year can be especially riddled with guilt and shame with any indulgence. If this yearly battle sounds familiar, now might be the time to learn about Intuitive Eating, a non-diet approach to food that honors your body’s hunger, fullness, and satiety needs. A trained counselor can help you build a healthier relationship with food (and your body) so you can enjoy holiday favorites in a way that respects your body’s needs.
Body movement (AKA exercise) can be an essential stress reliever during the bustle of the holiday season. If you are exercise-adverse, maybe it’s time to re-frame your idea of exercise. What would it be like for you to move your body in a way that feels joyful? Fun? Awe-inspiring? Strong? Or Energizing? Break out of the box and ask the question–When was the last time I had “FUN” moving my body? Maybe you were chopping wood, or hiking the woods at night, or dancing salsa. Whatever it is, put it into your schedule this winter.
COPING WITH GRIEF & LOSS
If you are enduring the holiday season without someone you love, this season can trigger intense grief, loneliness, and sadness. You might be missing your loved one deeply and the special moments shared together. There’s no quick fix for these feelings of grief, but here are some ideas that might help:
- Go easy on yourself. You might not have the energy to host, entertain, or go through the motions of all of the usual holiday traditions. That’s okay.
- Honor the person that you’ve lost. Don’t be afraid to reminisce, look at old photos, cook their favorite holiday meal, or even attend a local “Longest Night” or “Celeration of Remembrance” service.
- Keep one tradition and add one tradition. There’s no doubting that this holiday will be different from the last. Embrace that and don’t be afraid to try one thing new.
- Seek professional help. If you aren’t already meeting with a counselor, there’s no better time than the present.
If you’re experiencing stress or sadness around the holidays, a counselor at Star Meadow Counseling is available to help. You can reach us at 360-952-3070 or schedule an appointment online at www.starmeadowcounseling.com
Modern technology can be an amazing supplement to professional counseling. Check out these 12 Apps that come recommended for recovery from depression, eating disorders, PTSD, insomnia, and anxiety.
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