There may be those of you reading this page who, for any number of reasons, will never formally seek help from a professional but may be experiencing difficulties all the same. Or perhaps you do intend to address your issues formally but could use some immediate management suggestions. Although the resources and tips listed below are not meant to be a substitute for in-depth professional care, they are time-honored techniques provided in hopes that they can assist you in any way.
I will be adding to this page shortly to assist with the following questions.
What do I do if…
I am suicidal?
I am depressed?
I have flashbacks?
I've lost someone?
My marriage/partnership is or might be abusive?
I have panic attacks?
I can’t sleep?
GETTING TO SLEEP
“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow. “ ~Charlotte Brontë
Bronte had it right, especially when we find ourselves at 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. still tossing and turning, the mind going full speed ahead. And, as we all well know, when we wake after finally drifting off to sleep right before the alarm goes off, we still, for all that thinking, have not solved the issue of world peace.
The following techniques can truly be helpful in easing the racing mind when you’re trying to sleep. I list them in my personal order of preference, but any or all in whatever combination might prove useful to you. The biggest obstacle in getting them to work is simply in remembering to use them! I have asked clients and at times myself to post a note by the bed (maybe a little high five hand waving on a Popsicle stick standing up in clay) with the words, “REMEMBER YOUR SLEEP TECHNIQUES!!”
GENERAL PRINCIPLS FOR ENHANCING SLEEP
Prepare for bed. That is, send a signal to your brain that you are going to bed before you actually do by dressing for bed, slowing your pacing down at least 30 minutes before going to bed, and using your bed only for sleep (as opposed to your general living station).
DO NOT eat or drink anything with caffeine in it for eight hours before you go to bed (if you have serious sleep disturbance). Please remember that caffeine takes that long to fully get out of your system. Remember that there is caffeine in chocolate, cokes and tea as well as in coffee.
DO NOT eat a full meal late. Lots of authorities promote a light snack in the evening, though, and since they are the well-body experts, we’ll guess that’s really OK.
DO NOT exercise vigorously late in the evening. It revs you up just like eating late revs up your digestive system, keeping you awake.
Know that when your mind is racing, you are NOT going to be able to get it to stop thinking, so don’t even try to get it to stop. Instead, use the sleep techniques listed below.
DO NOT try to make yourself go to sleep. Because of something called the reactance effect, you will only succeed in making yourself stay awake if you tell yourself to go to sleep. Don’t even say anything at all to yourself about sleep. Instead, and especially if you use the first technique described below, you will be creating a mental picture of something that assists your mind toward a feeling of calm and relaxation. In other words, your real job is to create an environment in which sleep can occur. Hey, next thing you know, you’ll be waking having memories of the dream in which you solved the problem of world peace!
“Life is too short to sleep on low thread-count sheets.” ~Leah Stussy
SUGGESTIONS FOR GETTING TO SLEEP
I. Structured Pleasure Technique
This is the technique that works best for me, and it’s actually a series of techniques that can be used as described or in part. You may find that you fall asleep along the way as you do these things.
A. Lying in your bed, exhale very deeply. I literally purse my lips and blow out through my mouth to better empty my lungs. If you know diaphragmatic breathing, this is the time to do it. ALL stress relaxation techniques begin with deep breathing.
B. As you exhale, simply notice with your mind that the bed is truly holding you. Notice that it’s holding your head and neck and back, shoulders and arms and torso, hips and legs and feet, and that you don’t have to do anything. Notice that as you notice, your body (and you’re still breathing deeply) is experiencing being held by the bed and is letting go into the bed, settling deeper and deeper into it.
C. (Still breathing) Notice how connected your body is to the bed, that your bed is connected to the floor, that your floor is connected to the walls and to the house and to the ground below it; that the ground is connected to the world and the world itself is connected to the universe. All is well. And as you complete thinking this, do a HALF SMILE:
--first, breath out
--then let your lips form a half smile.
This is not a big smile. It is just as it implies, just a little curling up of your lips about halfway toward a smile.
D. This is the “structured pleasure” part. Think up some activity that you really enjoy that requires you to pay attention and go in some order. Ideally, you will decide what that activity might be right now, before you need it when you go bed tonight. For example, if you like to play golf, you would imagine a golf course and you walking up to the first tee with your cart, looking down the fairway, choosing your driver, looking again down the fairway, taking a practice swing, moving over your ball, hitting your first ball and watching it sail down toward the green . . . etc . . .
The activity I use is making up a dream house. I walk up some kind of steps or stairwell or hill (whatever my mind gives me on that night) to a door that may be carved or made of beveled glass or whatever (on that night). I go into the foyer to the butterflies circling in the recessed alcove there, or whatever. You get the picture. In all the times I have used this technique, I have never gotten beyond the first actual room of my dream house. I am asleep.
“The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.” ~Wilson Mizener
II. Safe Place
A variation of the above is to develop a safe place in your mind, that is, a place that is really right for you in terms of allowing you to feel comfortable and calm and serene. Most people choose things like beaches and hammocks, or even hammocks on the beach! You breath into the space, just like described above, and you give yourself all the sensory details you possibly can about that place: what you can see, hear, smell, taste (if applicable) and feel. Sense and experience your body in that place and simply breathe deeply throughout.
A safe place is a tiny vacation spot in your head and can actually be used in many situations for quick stress relief – a good principle, period!
III. Worry Techniques (aka, Symptom Prescription)
Clearly so often your mind is racing because you really are worried about something or many somethings. These techniques are variations on attempting to signal to your mind that you are paying attention to what it’s trying to get your attention for. You will be basically trying to signal to your mind that you get it that its there to address, that you will address it at a time that is right for you and your mind.
Journaling is a time-honored technique that has far more value than I have time and space here to explain. If you’re not journaling yet, please get busy and do so! If your sleep has been disturbed, take some time before going to bed to write. Just write. You don’t have to solve anything in the writing. Your brain can get it that you are paying attention and can give you relief even if you are screaming or crying or moaning in your journal.
If you wake in the night and truly can’t get back to sleep, pull out your journal and write. If you write in the middle of the night, it can work for you to simply write out a list of what you are thinking about. Write the list, look at the list, reread the list and tell yourself that you’ve “got it,” that you’ll think about it tomorrow. That time awake and writing may let you get back to sleep. Please do this. It’s a whole lot better than castor oil.
“Most people do not consider dawn to be an attractive experience - unless they are still up.” ~Ellen Goodman
B. File It
If you’re lying in bed and realize you’re really worried about something, very deliberately say to yourself what you are worried about, tell yourself that you heard you and that you will think about it tomorrow when you’re truly available for it. Then see yourself putting that issue on a list and then that list in an imagined file folder indicating your intention of getting it out and looking at it when awake.
C. Allowing and Observing
A quick and easy technique when your mind feels assaulted with images and thoughts is to simply observe them as they come into your mind. That is, you don’t think the thought that comes into your mind or worry about the images that you see there. Instead, you simply look at the thought; notice what the thought is or how the image looks without trying to do anything at all to it. There it is and you’re seeing that you’re seeing it. Period. You’re not fighting it or trying to push it away or anything. Just see it. Really fast thoughts or darting images tend to slow down on their own when you do this. Surprise yourself with this one. It can be amazing to experience. And always, always – keep up that slow breathing!
D. Worry Time
This is the most uncomfortable technique, but it has been known to work for lots of people. Take a very set period of time before bed (do it at least 30 minutes before you start to go to bed) and sit someplace where you will not be disturbed. Set a timer to keep you on your task for your allotted time. Set the timer for at least 10 minutes the first time to see what happens for you and what you actually need. Some people set the timer for as much as 30 minutes, though I personally shudder at the thought. (Oooh! A worry thought!) While the timer is ticking, do nothing but worry. This is the time to take out all those things that your brain is bringing up. The task is NOT to solve those things. Instead, strictly worry about them. We want every thought during this time to be a worry thought. If you find you are not worrying, worry about not worrying. Go, go, go . . . all the way till the timer dings. Sweet dreams!
“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night's sleep.” ~E. Joseph Cossman