Stress and anxiety are some emotional experiences strongly correlated with sleeplessness. Grief, loneliness, and excitement also have a strong impact on our quality of sleep. According to Cognitive Behavioral Theory, our feelings are activated by the thoughts and beliefs we focus on. So the feelings listed above are brought on by the active and latent thoughts you bring with you to bed.
People who experience insomnia for a period of time sometimes develop anxiety around sleep itself, on top of their other life stresses. They may be painfully aware of every passing minute they’re not sleeping, thinking ceaselessly about how tired they will be the next day. They may start to lose confidence in their ability to sleep, and blame their failure to sleep for the other problems they’re facing. They can develop bedroom phobias and start avoiding the bedroom and sleep altogether, to stop feeling like a failure.
So how does one clear their mind and calm their heart before crawling under the covers?
Calm the body first
Ease your emotions
Embracing a healthy lifestyle is valuable for reasons beyond general health and body aesthetics. Did you know exposure to sunlight creates dopamine? That spending pleasant time with others regulates your nervous system? That positive self-talk is the best medicine for anxiety?
For various reasons, some days, weeks, and months it can be difficult to tend to our basic needs on a regular basis. During especially stressful or low periods, we need extra support and strategy to do the basic things that keep us fueled up. The GRAPES acronym helps us remember the critical activities to include every day. Even if you spend only one minute on each one, it will support your physical and mental health and move you closer to better days.
G is for Gentle with self. Catch any self-critical or disparaging thoughts your brain is producing and shift them to a more positive perspective. For example, instead of calling yourself lazy for being a couch potato, affirm your need for rest and sink into it.
R is for Rest and sleep. Remember that your brain actually requires regular rest periods. Overall, it has two main modes of processing: 1) active, working mode and 2) default mode. The Default Mode Network (DMN) switches on whenever your mind takes a break, zones out, or has a pleasant daydream. Spending time in your DMN every day is critical for learning, memory, and problem-solving. So let’s banish the voice in our heads that tells us we need to be productive every minute and that relaxation is a form of laziness. Taking breaks makes us stronger, smarter, and happier! And remember that everything improves with a long, uninterrupted night's sleep.
A is for Accomplishment. Take care of at least one thing on your list every day. If you're in a very low energy space, it can be something small. But taking some form of action keeps you connected with your life and mentally engaged.
P is for Physical Activity. We don't need to call it exercise. Move your body for 10-15 minutes, preferable outside if possible. Breathe some fresh air, oxygenate your insides.
E is for Eat. Be sure to nourish yourself throughout the day. If you can include fresh foods with vitamins, protein, and fiber, all the better. There are two rules I try to follow: 1) whenever you eat, eat a fruit or vegetable. So either include a fruit or vegetable in your meal, or if you're just having a snack, make it a fruit or veg. 2) Whenever you drink, drink water. If you're going to have a coffee, soda, or other flavored beverage, have a full glass of water first.
S is for Social. Try not to fully isolate yourself. Keep in touch with your support network or social circle. Greet people you pass while walking. Meet with your therapist, doctor, or mentor. Interact with friends through games or social media. Social connections are imperative to robust mental health.
Task Paralysis is the sensation of knowing you have something to do, wanting to do it, and absolutely not being able to move your body to get started. This is a real experience even though people who don’t struggle with it really can't understand it.
Hyperfocus is getting in the zone, being in flow, achieving a zen state. It’s magical and creative when it doesn’t conflict with other activities. The downside is that sometimes we hyperfocus to the exclusion of self-care, time frames, and others’ expectations.
Procrastination for AD/HDers creates a state of urgency that allows us to tackle an unpleasant task and power through to get it done. Our high intelligence and competence shine through in these moments, but the toll these bursts take on our energy, health, and mindset is significant.
The AD/HD nervous system likes novelty, fun, and creativity. These qualities can initiate hyperfocus, whereas tasks lacking these traits can lead to paralysis and procrastination.
PRESCRIPTION #1: Make it fun! Find a way to inject a bit of fun, silliness, or creativity into a project. Put dance music on to clean the kitchen. Eat three M&Ms after each small computer task. Use stickers or emojis to decorate your daily schedule.
Breaking away from a hyperfocus can be a supreme challenge. It requires extraordinary amounts of executive functioning to stop when in the grips of an engaging activity. Sometimes we may intensely focus on something challenging, to the point of frustration and dysregulation. Or we may unintentionally ignore people or tasks that also need our attention.
PRESCRIPTION #2: Rip the Velcro! This is my analogy for the feeling of pulling yourself out of a hyperfocus. How many times and in which situations do you say to yourself “Just one more”? Each one of us needs to find our own method for breaking the spell. Changing your body state is a good start.
People who experience these challenges are not lazy or careless. These are real neurological phenomena that we can work to manage, but which are deeply ingrained in our nervous systems’ design and function. Tending to our health and wellbeing provides us with the highest energy level with which to address these challenges. Following a routine that incorporates all the basic self-care categories provides a solid foundation for daily functioning.
PRESCRIPTION #3: Sleep, hydrate, exercise, and eat well. Review each of these areas to ensure you are doing them well every day. Resolve any issues that get in the way of:
Mistakes happen. All the time. We tell our children that it’s ok to make mistakes because that’s how they learn. But we don’t always extend ourselves the same grace. For some reason we believe as adults we’re supposed to know everything and not mess up anymore. Ha! What a bunch of hooey!
You can change your self-talk around mistakes or missteps. Instead of calling yourself names and assigning mean adjectives to yourself, say “Doing ____ was a mistake and I will keep trying to do better”. Spend a short period of time planning for how to avoid the same mistake in the future and then let it go. You don’t deserve to carry around bad feelings because of a human foible. Everyone has them.
For more support with AD/HD and other mental health topics, visit Humanest.
Losing things, forgetting appointments, waiting til the last minute, feeling overwhelmed by too much to do… sound familiar? I imagine you’ve been encouraged to “get organized” since your earliest memories, if not by parents then by teachers. You’ve been taught lots of different systems and forced to do things someone else’s way. Now that you’re fully grown, you have the double-edged sword of “getting to” and “having to” figure out and implement your own organizational system.
Unfortunately, life is too complicated to manage without some kind of system. That could be the Notes app on your phone, Google Calendar, a paper or whiteboard to-do list, a spiral or leatherbound organizer, or anything else you can imagine. But we all need something to keep track of all the stuff we need to get done.
When making lists, remember to break tasks down into tiny parts. For example, instead of listing the single task of “Prepare for garage sale”, identify three specific tasks to get started:
We also need a method for moving through the tasks on our list. You might find that different days call for different methods. It’s good to have a few systems in your mental file folder to help structure your work flow. Here are some organization systems to consider:
Task Multiplication/Puttering. AD/HDers tend to be naturals at this. Flitting from one task to the next with a flexible time frame and no extreme urgency. It can be really satisfying to take your time and move gently through small chores and tasks as they come to your attention or as they present themselves. This is especially useful for tasks that don’t require intense thought and can be paired with music, podcasts, or audiobooks.
The Eisenhower Matrix. This is a simple tool to help group and prioritize your tasks. Its graphic nature appeals to the AD/HD brain. The strategy identifies tasks according to how important and urgent they are.
Using the Eisenhower Matrix, tasks are placed into one of four categories:
The Ivy Lee Method. Plan your day in the morning or the night before. Here is the process:
Project Division. When you have a big project with a due date out in the future, you may be tempted to ignore it in favor of tasks that are due sooner. We all know how that feels the night before the deadline! In order to avoid that stress, you can do some easy math and create a manageable plan for your project.
Extend yourself compassion
Completing a long list of tasks or a big project can be a grueling and thrilling experience. We get bursts of energizing neurochemicals from the challenge of finishing a daunting task. It’s not unusual to feel depleted, down, and even depressed after a success. As the chemical rush wears off, mental and physical exhaustion often step in. Sometimes anxiety joins the party, as we critique our own work and wonder if we did our best. This can be a surprising experience, as we might expect to feel elated and self-satisfied.
Feeling down after accomplishing something significant calls for a big dose of self-compassion. Care for your emotions by allowing them to come and go naturally. Care for your body with good food, comfort, and rest. Care for your spirit by laughing or connecting with someone you enjoy.
For more support with AD/HD and other mental health topics, visit Humanest.
Daily Insight: Making Sense of Humans
I believe everyone has a good reason for the things they do. Their reason may only make sense in their own mind, but the driving force behind their decisions makes good sense to them. I believe this and I try to remember it in traffic and while watching the news.
Humans aren’t as complex as they seem. A simple formula explains a process we all go through thousands of times a day. When we watch ourselves closely, we can see this formula come to life:
The magic of this formula becomes evident when the same experience elicits a different thought. It shows how powerful our thoughts and deep beliefs can be.
Here is a different example to illustrate the influence of a deep belief.
Being “woke” is both an insult and an aspiration. Too much of a good thing always leads to some kind of intestinal distress, but the intention behind this maligned term is evolutionarily valuable. If the human race is to survive this current round of ugliness, we need to wield the dual weapons of awareness and wisdom. Being woke refers to acknowledging and rejecting the beliefs and practices that hurt and oppress humans. So if you are a devout bigot, racist, or oppressor, you most certainly collude with trashing the idea of being woke. If you prefer not to carry those titles, becoming woke is actually quite achievable.
The simple prescription? Embrace the new.
People over thirty-five are automatically lumped into the category of “Boomer” by those who birthed the concept of wokeness. Humans have an undeniable affinity for tradition and “the good old days”, no matter how good they actually were. Those who refuse to stay young and engaged will find themselves fighting for outdated and useless ways of being. They start voting against their own best interests when they refuse to pay attention to the young people with their fingers on the pulse of culture and activism.
So for Pete’s sake, get TikTok, follow some smart people on YouTube, keep current on NetFlix. Listen to your kids, grandkids, and other young people. Ask them questions and resist teasing, lecturing, or comparing their experience to yours. Consider yourself lucky if they talk to you honestly, and don’t waste the opportunity to appreciate their perspective. When you notice the little door to new experience closing in your heart and mind, resist. Open it back up and listen. Be present and current and woke.
Daily Insight: The Reverse I Statement
In therapy circles, the "I Statement" reigns supreme. Our first interpersonal psych classes taught us this method for helping people communicate their feelings in a concise, healthy way: "I feel (an emotion), when (a certain thing happens), because (why it matters to you)." We learned it, we practiced it, and most of us kinda forgot about it. It's one of those skills that is simple to say but not easy to do, and even harder to convince clients to use in their own lives.
Today I was pondering a way to stay neutral when receiving a message that feels like criticism. Many of us have an instant reaction when we think we've done something wrong and our nervous systems respond as though we're in Big Trouble. Common emotional responses are guilty apologizing, shrinking in fear or shame, puddling into sad tears, or angrily avoiding the conversation.
Maybe if we have a healthier, more assertive approach at the ready, we won't need to sink into any of these uncomfortable responses. Behold, the Reverse I Statement! With this approach, we can look the other in the eye, rather than feeling inferior or unworthy. And we can say: "I heard you say that when I (my action), you felt (an emotion), because (their interpretation of the event)". Then stop talking. Let them respond to your statement-- they will likely either agree or correct you. Continue rephrasing what you hear them say until you have achieved complete understanding of their concern. No apologies, no tears, no shouting.
Once the other has been heard, they will likely be more receptive to hearing your side of the story. Now you can swoop in with an I Statement of your own, or something simpler if you need more time to process your thoughts and feelings. It's perfectly ok to ask to return to the conversation after you've had some time to collect your thoughts.
Many of us struggle to find the right words when we're not prepared for a conversation, so the Reverse I Statement can come to our rescue by taking the pressure off us to come up with just the right response. Try it out and share your thoughts in the comments!
Daily Insight: What do you stand for?
I recently watched a show in which the question "What do you stand for?" was asked. I paused to consider my answer and felt pleased that it came to me pretty quickly. In my clinical work, I find that the answer to this question is often the answer to many of the questions brought into the therapy room.
We don't always give our personal values as much thought as they deserve. Elections give us a chance to consider the issues and leadership qualities that are important to us, but only a small percentage of people vote, and even then our judgments can be clouded by affiliations and other influences. Identifying the rights, privileges, and human experiences that we believe to be undeniable helps us know ourselves more deeply and gives us a solid foundation up which to base our most important decisions.
My clients often come to a point of exploring their next moves in life. Their decisions may include work opportunities, relationships, education, parenting, homesteading, or vacation planning. Sometimes when I inquire about the deep personal beliefs involved in making the decision, I get a blank look in response. So we begin by exploring what really matters to the individual, and distinguishing a value from an activity or a simple preference. The question "What do you stand for?" refers to something we are willing to take action to protect, to show reverence for by leaving our seat and proclaiming our devotion.
Having values and the confidence to claim and protect them is an important avenue toward creating a meaningful and fulfilling life. Loads of worksheets can be found online to help with values clarification and personal exploration. Your TikTok "For You page" and Amazon ads can you reflect on the values you have aligned yourself with. Look around at your friends and chosen family and remember the saying "Show me who your friends are and I'll show you who you are". In essence, we are our values. So know your values and claim who you are! It will ease your passage through this life.
Daily Insight: Extroverted Introverts
As much as we humans love to create and label mental boxes in which to organize the nouns we encounter throughout our days, the Russian doll effect applies in that every labeled box actually encompasses endlessly smaller labeled boxes, for our sorting enjoyment. Any member of the LGBTQ+ community can attest that every variation of romantic, gender, and sexual disposition has a name, a flag, and a thriving community of enthusiasts.
Same goes for the Introvert-Extrovert spectrum. Rather than settling for the classic binary, we now understand that gradations are typical and many people strive to find just the right term to describe their particular approach to engaging in the interpersonal realm. Extroverted Introverts are also referred to as Social/Sociable Introverts, Ambiverts, or Omniverts. I'm sure there are other synonyms I haven't come across yet. Feel free to deep-dive into this more if terminology interests you.
My insight of the day around this is a question that occurred to me: I wonder if it is common for Extroverted Introverts to be misunderstood and possibly rejected by others? Lots of people walk this earth feeling different, excluded, and "othered". The people who enjoy and need time alone, who can be quiet and solitary in certain moments, but who can also assertively lead a group and hold their own at a cocktail party, perhaps these people are confounding to others who try to pin them inside a decorative display box and attach a neat label underneath? Maybe these people come across as inconsistent and unreliable due to their seemingly unpredictable nature? These qualities can signal danger and put others on the defensive.
The catch is, the EI's behavior isn't actually unpredictable if you understand the nuances of the situations, their personal needs and energy sources, and the predisposition that allows them to shift between two different styles of engagement with the world. If you are an EI, it may be enlightening to consider whether this dynamic affects your personal or work relationships. It's fascinating to explore the gradations of human experience and work toward releasing our reliance on clean lines and strong demarcations between us.
Introducing Daily Insights
My job is fascinating and I've let too much time go by without documenting the little moments of revelation that happen practically every day. I am going to use this as a micro-blog to share the new and interesting thoughts that arise through my work with therapy clients and clinical associates. At the end of the day, psychotherapy is two humans sitting in a room together, learning from one another.