While we all may have trouble sleeping from time to time, extended periods of sleeplessness (either trouble falling asleep or trouble staying asleep, aka insomnia) can be a real bummer. I suffer from insomnia occasionally, and have discovered that it goes in cycles, either hormonal or seasonal, and can be stress-induced (like after a death, move, or break-up). I’ll go over some common reasons for insomnia, plus a few simple tips for managing it more effectively. One thing that really helps me is to remember that insomnia is not life-threatening, and the more I stress about it, the worse it gets. Each cycle ends eventually, and there are ways to mitigate the negative effects.
The most common causes for insomnia are:
Poor sleep interacts cyclically with many psychological conditions. Insomnia can either be a cause or an effect of anxiety, stress, or depression; and may cause feelings of panic, dread or hopelessness. I interviewed a naturopathic doctor (ND) who specializes in sleep disorders (Catherine Darley), and learned that many doctors have little to no training in sleep. (When I saw my primary care doctor, her only advice was to try an over-the-counter sleep aid.) Of course, it can’t hurt to start with your PCP, but if you aren’t pleased with the results, continue to seek help from other sources until you are satisfied!
Here are some tips to treat mild/occasional insomnia:
Instead of sharing tips and tricks for getting through the holidays, I wanted to just say that in my experience, holidays can magnify the stresses of everyday life, whether it's around time, family, food, money, travel, work, expectations, etc.... in addition to that, being out of your routine can throw off sleep, eating, exercise, you name it. So I won't share my '10 tips for a successfully unstressful holiday'. There are no quick fixes for stress-- it's a life-long journey to be resourced and to understand what you can do for self-care and stress-management year-round.
I realized that a lot of stress in general and especially around the holidays is either an attachment to the past; positive or negative (ie nostalgia OR resentment), or an anxiety around the future (near or distant). The absolute best thing you can do for stress is to re-enter the present moment-- every sight, sound, taste, and sensation of it. Breathe in, breathe out, label everything that crosses through your mind as either a thought, emotion or sensation. Does this sound familiar? It's meditation in action.
Instead of sharing any profound wisdom about the holidays, my best offering is to re-post my deep relaxation practice. Do this type of relaxation and you will reset your brain, body, and emotions, and may find it easier to enter the present moment with ease.
This isn't one more thing on your to-do list, it's one less thing to do.
Here is the completed video for my deep relaxation practice. Hopefully you'll have your eyes closed, but just in case you peek, there are some nice flowers and landscapes to look at :) Happy relaxing!
I've recorded a 15-minute progressive relaxation guide.
The irony is that in trying to figure out just how to do a recording like this, I came across a few technological hurdles... I won't go into the details, you'll get bored. Needless to say, instead of having a beautiful Youtube video with pictures of sunsets, I have a simple mp3 audio file for your enjoyment. Do you ever want to punch a computer? I do! I'm going to listen to my relaxing recording right now to calm down :)
Here's a picture of a sunset and a flower. Recording is below...
Music by Laraaji
Last week we went to Austin, Texas for a mid-winter vacation and a reprieve from the dark gloom of the Northwest (see SAD). I decided to apply elements of wellness coaching to the trip, and Josh (so graciously) was totally game. During our planning, we brainstormed ideas and expectations we had about the trip, and I wrote up a Vision Document. This includes a 'vision statement' (the big picture) and 'intended outcomes' (how we'll achieve it). When we got back, we read it over and rated our success on a 10-point scale.
It was an energizing, unique, fresh and inspiring trip. We explored a new city, checked out the live music, ate great Mexican food, learned to dance the Texas 2-step, visited Canyon Lake (pictured) and bathed in some sunshine! I also decided that margaritas count as my fruit servings for the day :) We agreed that the vision document was a nice way to organize thought and intention, and was the backbone of our trip planning process.
For my self-care, I received a massage and dropped in on a yoga class. For exercise, we walked 8 miles through the South Congress neighborhood on Tuesday, 12 miles through downtown on Saturday, and had two nights of Texas 2-stepping. At Canyon Lake we rested, watched the deer, and did some wine tasting and pizza delivery. Back in Austin, we saw 7 live bands, including Dale Watson (an Austin icon). Josh met one of his philosopher idols, Matt Dillahunty, and got to geek out at the taping of one of his favorite podcasts. He also came in $52 under budget. We were able to strike a nice balance between rest and activity. Sure we had our tired moments, and some places we wanted to visit were closed, but flexibility and unpredictability were both part of the plan.
Our vision document is posted below. Words we'd like to add after the fact are 'music, dance, exploring, tacos' :)
What would your ideal vacation vision be?
Vision Statement & Intended Outcomes for Josh and Laura in Austin
We are energized by a fresh, unique and inspiring vacation.
We have a plan to reference, but allows for improvisation. Priorities to visit: Barton Springs, Canyon Lake, Continental club, Laura’s massage, and the taping of the Aetheist Experience podcast.
We keep expectations in check, being willing to have a good attitude if things aren’t optimal. Sub-optimal circumstances are part of the plan.
We remain open-minded and flexible. We can laugh at obstacles and enjoy the journey.
We treat ourselves (and each other) with gentleness while being in a new place and learning how to get around.
We walk daily.
We feel free to drink but not overindulge daily.
We are free and open with money, trusting our instincts to not overspend. Know that we can have a fancy night out if we want! Josh has a cash budget of $100/day.
This week I have been thinking a lot about the nature of grief and suffering. I see it all around me, in me, and pervading the consciousness of our world. I've been reading a book by a Buddhist nun Pema Chodron called "When Things Fall Apart". I am not a Buddhist, but I have found the teachings to make more sense to me than any other philosophy or religion, and as a non-theistic religion, the teachings apply to our human experience versus a spiritual realm and much like Yoga, can aptly be applied in anyone's life.
As I move through emotions such as sadness and grief, I notice not only thoughts pervading my consciousness, but also specific feelings in my body... constriction in the chest, tension in my neck, tightness in my gut, clenching of my jaw. For this, I rely on self-care techniques such as deep breathing or kapalabhati breath (breath of fire), I've done a heart strengthening kundalini practice, and received acupuncture to help with the subtle tensions of my body. Self-care, self-care, self-care. It also helps to name the emotion, name the physical sensation, and sit with it, instead of constantly fighting against it.
As I work with the subtle body, I find the words of Pema Chodron help align some of the disconnect and discontent. As things as you know them break down around you, see if this phrase rings a truth, "Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation, can that which is indestructible be found in us." You may start to notice little deaths in each moment-- the sun sets at the end of each day, the bottom of your delicious cup of coffee, the close of a delightful hug, your child waving as she gets on a school bus and out of your sight, you see that each petit mort, little death, prepares you for the bigger losses-- ultimately your own mortality.
So often the temptation is to cover up, draw away, or escape from the suffering that comes from each little loss-- reaching for a pill, a distraction, anything to take our minds off the feeling of pain and loss. Yet, "thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly." Our suffering is based on the misconception that things last, that they are permanent (the 'good' and the 'bad'). Yet everything is subject to change and alteration, "decay is inherent in all component things". And more importantly, our suffering is a direct reaction to the belief that things are permanent and unchanging. Suffering is "inevitable" for humans as long as we cling to the belief that things last, and "that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security".
So my challenge recently has been to sit with feelings of grief and sadness, open myself up to the changing nature of all things, and be gentle. Use a light touch, notice the range of emotions that come and go... over seconds, minutes, days. A feeling, thought or emotion crosses across your experience like clouds in the sky, ever changing and impermanent. As I open up to the experience, I no longer cling to the feeling or thought, knowing that it, too shall pass. As I move through anger, sadness, denial, acceptance (in a circular, not linear way), I see each moment as a way to be a friend to myself. "Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy." I know that when the joy comes after the grief is passed, that it, too, is not permanent. All things arise and disappear, and that is the nature of reality. All we have for CERTAIN is the present moment.
The cherry blossom falls after its short beautiful bloom.
It floats gently down to earth. Its life is over, but the limitedness of its existence is one of the biggest reasons the blossom is so gorgeous. If we knew that the blossom would last forever, it wouldn't have the same poignant beauty, and we'd take it for granted. - Leo Babauta
I am a lifetime learner and researcher in happy, healthy, fun living.