In the moment – sleep

Like most people, I have had times when sleep has not come easily. However, matters came to a head when I suffered from an anxiety disorder about eight years ago. One of the symptoms was struggling to sleep well. Part of my therapy taught me how best to approach going to sleep, and I’ve continued to use the techniques. They work! Here they are!

Bedroom 170524

Sleep.

It’s one of the most important things we do.

The brain uses sleep to consolidate memories and to deal with stress. Lack of sleep impairs our judgement. Did you know that even moderate lack of sleep affects driving as much as exceeding the legal blood alcohol level?

Most of the time we enjoy an adequate amount of sleep. However, we can also have periods when we don’t. Perhaps we work long hours at a stressful job, and struggle to unwind at the end of the day? Perhaps there are matters that are troubling us? Perhaps we’ve allowed bad sleep habits to creep into our routine?

Sleep is a natural action. Our minds and bodies know how to do it; we don’t need to think about it. In fact, if we’re having trouble going to sleep and we try to force ourselves to nod off, we’ll probably make matters worse. It’s much more effective to relax and let sleep happen naturally.

Mindfulness, being ‘in the moment’, can help us to overcome difficulties in going to sleep, Here are some thoughts that may help.

It’s easier to be ‘in the moment’ if that moment is pleasurable.

At bedtime, ideally, we don’t want to be too full; a heavy meal late at night, especially with a bit too much to drink, does not help sleeping! Equally, we don’t want to feel hungry; some people find a hot chocolate before bed helps.

Then there’s the place where we sleep. It should be as comfortable as we can reasonably make it. I’m not the most house-proud person in the world, but my bedroom is tidy. The bed is made earlier in the day, well before I want to sleep in it. The bedding is laundered frequently. My favourite photographs and books are close to me on the bookshelves. I’m careful about the temperature of the room. It’s a pleasure when I lie down in bed; everything feels good.

So, you’re ready for bed. As you approach it, remind yourself that sleep is natural; remind yourself that your bed is comfortable, and that it’s a nice place to be. Be conscious of the way the bed feels as you climb into it. Feel the texture of the bedclothes, and enjoy the feeling. It’s comfortable, a pleasure. Lie down. Switch off the light.

If you’re feeling stressed, give yourself permission to stop worrying. Say it out loud if you like. “I give myself permission to stop worrying and relax.” Say it, and believe it. You’re allowed to stop trying to solve problems. You’re allowed to enjoy the comfort of a good night’s sleep. You’re worth it, and you deserve it.

Enjoy lying there. Let yourself be aware of the resilience of the mattress; the texture of the bedclothes; the cosiness of being snug in bed. Wriggle into your usual sleeping position. Feel how good it is. Then relax, consciously.

A good way of doing this is to start by relaxing the muscles of your scalp, and then, progressively, the rest of your body. Relax your scalp, the back of your neck, your forehead, your cheeks, your jaw, your shoulders, and so on, right down to the tips of your toes.

I find it helps if I synchronise my breathing with the relaxation, like this. I think, “Relax the muscles of your scalp,” as I inhale. Then I exhale gently. “Relax the muscles of your neck,” as I inhale again. Then I exhale gently. “Relax the muscles of your forehead,” as I inhale. And so on. It’s been a long time since I’ve finished the sequence, because I’ve slipped peacefully into sleep…

Sleep well, folks!

I’m sharing my personal experience in the hope that it might help people who occasionally have some difficulty getting off to sleep at night. However, if you have persistent difficulty that significantly reduces the time you sleep, you should seek help from a professional. Also, lack of sleep impairs your ability to drive. If your sleep has been significantly disturbed, you should think carefully about whether you’re safe before driving.

 

In the moment – the power of a symbol

Sufferers from anxiety know that the condition can be debilitating. I was in that state some years ago; thankfully I’ve now recovered. In the recovery, I learned a number of mental habits that help me to avoid recurrences; living ‘in the moment’ is one of them; hypnosis for relaxation is another. I recently came across another influence, namely the power of symbols.

Miyajima cherry blossom 170425

I’ve recently returned from a holiday in Japan. I’ll start this post by confirming what a wonderful holiday it was. It was full of interest, full of beauty, full of emotion. My wife Daphne and I really enjoyed it.

It was a big, important holiday; we cashed in savings to be able to afford it. I was looking forward to it eagerly – but I was also apprehensive, because I am prone to anxiety attacks. They are sometimes very unpleasant, and they’re triggered by stress…

Travel – especially long haul flights – can be stressful. A different culture – and Japanese culture is pretty different from European culture! – can be stressful. Visiting a place where you don’t understand the language can be stressful – and although English is taught to all children in Japan, it’s not widely spoken, and only the most important signs are in English as well as Japanese.

And yet I have returned feeling tranquil, and the feeling has endured. This was sufficiently unexpected that I have tried hard to understand it. I wouldn’t say that I’ve reached any definite conclusions, but here are some of the thoughts.

Before going to Japan, I recognised that I might suffer from anxiety, and I accepted the possibility. I find that acceptance is a big deal. It goes at least halfway towards dealing with anxiety symptoms. I must make a very clear distinction at this point. To accept the possibility that something might happen, is definitely not the same as expecting it to happen. It’s the exact opposite of worrying about something. It’s realising that something may happen, and saying “Yes, I understand that, I accept the possibility. I don’t have to worry about it.”

So I considered in advance what might happen.

The anxiety would be very unpleasant. Could I get through an attack without going home? Yes. Could I get through two attacks without going home? Er, yes, probably. What about repeated attacks? It would spoil the holiday but I’d survive.

What about a worst-case scenario? The worst case would be that I would have repeated anxiety attacks that would leave me feeling so vulnerable that we would have to return home before the end of the tour. It would be a great shame to lose the holiday. It would cost a lot of extra money to change flights for an early return.

I consciously accepted that this could happen, and used my usual hypnotic relaxation regime to put aside any worrying about it.

I’m sure it helped. But I’m equally sure that it’s not the whole story.

Could the tranquillity have arisen as a result of having succeeded in surviving the stress of the holiday? I took on the challenge of a visit that in prospect I found quite intimidating, and came through it unscathed. Was I just feeling relief?

Well, I suppose it’s possible. But the tranquillity seems such an active feeling. I’m a slightly different woman from the one who set off to Japan. I would have expected relief to be a reactive feeling, and to dissipate quickly.

One of the features of the holiday was that we visited some important Buddhist temples, and Shinto shrines. Buddhism is based on the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eight-fold Path, and includes a recognition that human suffering is unavoidable. It also teaches, among many other things, that true happiness can be attained despite human suffering, by relinquishing useless craving and by living in the moment. Surrounded as we were by pilgrims, it seems possible that some of their piety ‘rubbed off’ on me, so to speak.

Beyond any of these possible explanations, though, my emotions tell me that the answer may lie in the symbol of cherry blossom. It was the ‘Cherry Blossom Tour’ that we took, and there were several occasions when the symbolism of the blossom overwhelmed me emotionally. The blossom is beautiful – and transient. But the symbolism goes far beyond the recurrence of beauty in the world despite personal tragedy. I can’t explain it; I had to experience it.

I suspect that Japan has given me a most valuable gift. I’m so glad we took the holiday!