Improving Sleep

SLEEP.  We all need it and Lots of it!
We often find ourselves ignoring this very important habit of good health.  The range of ways we try to fool ourselves that sleep is not that important is endless.  We repeatedly stay up too late for work, or have to finish that do-list or the last page of our book.  Some of us force ourselves to get up extremely early for exercise even when we went to bed at midnight leaving only 4-5 hours of sleep.  Some of us try not to be deprived of sleep, but with young children in the house that can be very challenging.

Studies tell us that for good health, the average adult needs between 7-9 hours of restful sleep each night. People who can’t get the required amount of sleep are setting the stage for some serious problems. An early sign of sleep deprivation may be the way you feel when you get out of bed in the morning, as if you never slept at all.  Another is feeling drowsy while driving a car or falling asleep while watching TV. There can be cognitive deficits such as lack of concentration and memory loss problems. Irritability and an increased feeling of unhappiness can also indicate sleep deprivation.

In a recent poll taken by the National Sleep Foundation they found that…..

36% of Americans drive drowsy or fall asleep while driving

29% of Americans fall asleep or become very drowsy at work

20% have lost interest in sex because  of fatigue

14% report having to miss family events, work functions and leisure activities in the past few months due to sleepiness

Long term sleep deprivation can contribute to the development of diabetes and heart related issues. There is also a greater risk of developing obesity due to an increase in appetite brought about by sleep deprivation.  The risk for the development of psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression increases. For some the lack of adequate sleep can increase the problems with ADHD, and other memory and focus conditions. This can be particularly difficult for children and young adults. In the case of those that have substance abuse issues lack of sleep can become a spiraling downhill slide.

If you can’t adjust your sleeping schedule to give you the needed 7-9 hours then there are some basic behaviors and habits that can promote healthy sleep:

Set a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends.

Create a sleep environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and slightly cool.

Remove work materials, TV, phones, and other distractions.

If you must read…read something very boring that puts you to sleep.  Reading a stimulating book can keep you up for hours past your designated bed time.

Avoid caffeine, eat 4-5 hours before retiring and limit alcohol consumption which can disturb your sleep.

So, after following these steps and you still cannot get a good night’s sleep, what else can you do?

If you’re not interested in drug treatments, there has been some very positive research coming out about the use of meditation and relaxation training.  Learning to relax your mind and body can help you fall asleep better and sleep more deeply. To help my clients who can’t seem to relax and turn of the mind chatter, I offer them the following exercise. The phrases are designed to help you relax your body and mind. Use some type of recording device and repeat the following words.  Learning to listen to your own words can be extremely helpful. Say the phrase in a quiet, thoughtful and caring way. Pause after each phrase and notice how you feel. Pay particular attention to your breathing. Take two or three breaths before you repeat the next phrase.

Begin

I feel quite quiet…….

I am easily relaxed…..

My right leg feels heavy and relaxed………

My left leg feels heavy and relaxed…..

My hips are quiet and relaxed……

My stomach is quiet and relaxed ……

My left hand is heavy and relaxed….

My left arm is heavy and relaxed…..

My left shoulder is heavy and relaxed….

My right hand is heavy and relaxed…..

My right arm is heavy and relaxed…..

My right shoulder is heavy and relaxed…..

My neck is heavy and relaxed……

My breathing is calm and regular…..

My face is smooth and relaxed……

My heartbeat is calm and regular…..

I am at peace….

There is nothing to bother and nothing to disturb me…..

I am quite and relaxed……

Goodnight

New Year’s Resolutions

Here it is, Year 2014 and I find myself taking stock of how I did with my resolutions for 2013. As I reviewed the list, checking off what I completed, I could see that some things I wanted to achieve never got done.  Like most of us, I had good intentions last January, but life and procrastination got in the way as the year went on.  No excuses, I obviously didn’t make my resolutions clear and consequently they never came about. Now it’s January again and time for new resolutions.  So, I settle myself down with a hot cup of coffee, my trusty yellow pad and begin to write my resolutions for 2014.

I’ve written this list for years, each time saying to myself, “this year I will complete my goals”. You all know how that plays out. Those resolutions that had the strongest intentions were clear and realistic, got achieved, while the goals that had weak intentions did not get done…. “Oh well, better luck next year”.

Simply listing that you want to lose 25 lbs, get a new job or have more money in your savings, will not make it happen. There needs to be a clear and exact plan about what you want to change and how you intend to go about it. The more detail the better. If you want to lose weight, list the steps for achieving that goal. How much walking will you do?  What other kinds of exercise do you like?  How much time for each and when do you intend to do it?  What about diet?  Need a nutritionist?  Is she on the list?  Are your steps realistic?  Do they fit into your daily routine? Do you get an exercise buddy who helps you stay on track rather than stay at home?  If the goals don’t fit you or you don’t make the time, then another year will pass with you saying, “Oh well, better luck next year”.  Remember, setting goals that are too high will defeat you and you will lose your momentum.

Another action you can take to fulfill your resolution is to share it with someone else and ask them to help you stay focused on it. Weight Watchers and AA tend to work well because success often comes when you ask for help and share your resolutions with others?  Establishing a way to have the support of a buddy or friend maximizes your chances for success.winter

 

As you are my witness, let me state one of my resolutions for this year. I am going to write something on my blog each month. Notice, I did not say “try” to write…which reduces the power of intention.   I like the idea of the blogging. It is a way for me to stay in touch with people and expand my writing skills.  The Blog also offers a place where others can share. Setting the goal for once a month seems realistic and measurable to me. Let’s see how I do this year.

If you want, you can put down a resolution for other readers to see, and let us know at the end of the year how you did.

Good luck with your New Year’s resolutions for 2014 and may your hard work and focus bring you success by 2015.

Holiday Season

The Holiday Season…Joyous, Stressful or Both

(As a way of bringing more to my blog, I have asked my wife Ellen to begin writing some of her thoughts and ideas. Here is her first entry.)

Dan and I will celebrate this Christmas with a flight to Florida to be with our family and grandchildren. We are looking forward to the holidays even though there is so much to think about and do before we leave.  The list is endless… There are the gifts to buy,  wrap and find a way to pack. There are the nagging questions about fairness in the gift giving, “did we get enough?”, “are the gifts evenly dispersed”?  Should we decorate or not decorate since we are out of town this year? Then we worry about our flights being on time getting in and out of Maine. Will we be delayed due to a heavy snow storm?  Oh, and we mustn’t forget to leave the heat on low in our house and get a key to our neighbor, just in case something happens.. Should the gifts in my suitcase be wrapped?  Is that allowed yet?  Well, it’s too late, as one big suitcase is now filled with bright colored presents.  Security, don’t you dare touch those!  And, of course that timeless question, “Have I forgotten anything”.  Thus, the endless lists.  Sound familiar?

Now, for some people all this preparation will be a seamless process and they will handle it all with ease. Some will actually enjoy it and whistle while they work. But, for others these holiday tasks and travel times will cause some troubled emotions. Dan mentioned a study he read recently that indicates 40% of us have severe stress when it comes to flying. Once we add our large TO DO list to that fear of flying, well, that can push our stress level right through the roof  We may look forward to that white Holiday Snow, but not when it keeps us hostage at some airport somewhere, missing out on all the fun.  We northerners have this worry as a matter of course when we travel in the winter months.

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Seasonal stress can be diminished if we pay attention to what our mind is telling us and what we are doing.  Is the list just way too long? Are we expecting too much of ourselves?  Are we hounding ourselves because we are not doing it right or doing enough?  Are we worried that our family members won’t like our gifts? Do we have expectations that are unrealistic?  As for travel, are we putting negative thoughts in our head, like the luggage will get lost and something will surely go wrong with our flights ? Are we putting that negativity into our being and out in the universe? Once again, we need to realize that our minds are extremely powerful and if we let these types of thoughts into our being without learning how to stop them, then we are going to make ourselves miserable and guaranteed to take away the joy of the season in a flash.

As you begin your holiday, here are a few thoughts I hope helps make your season be bright.  There are always positive tools we can use that help us shift away from the stress we are experiencing. When we get out of our future fears and pull ourselves back into the present, we not only decrease our stress, but we have more energy to deal with and focus on what is before us.  When we focus on the positive, we  become proactive, not reactive. When we set ourselves up to experience a stressful travel holiday then we will surely have one. We need to tell ourselves that all will be well and that our trip will be comfortable, enjoyable and safe. Let’s put that big Red Stop Sign in our head when our thoughts trickle back to negative fears and worries. We need to think about how we are going to extend ourselves with love and compassion to others, no matter where they are in their experience.  We didn’t cause their anxiety, each of us comes into the holidays with our own personal brand of stress.  Compassion has shown to be a powerful tool to ease stress and anxiety in ourselves and in others. We can accept what is present for us NOW, without reacting to everything that does not go our way.  We can stay focused on the moment and observe all the blessings in our lives.

During this 2013 Holiday Season, let’s all work on focusing on what is positive in the moment and take joy in that.  That is more than enough and there is just not enough time to do otherwise. You are the master of your fate, so concentrate on bringing joy and love into your life.  Hold on to that lightness of being and carry it with you through the holidays

Dan and I wish you all a Safe, Joyful and Delightful Holiday Season.

Ellen Richards

 

 

 

Happiness

Happiness is a perception from a deeply personal side of your being. You and you alone determine what happiness is.

When someone asks you what makes you happy, what do you say? Do you tell them about all the joy you have in your life? Do you tell them how grateful you are for all the blessings you have? Do you tell them a story about something meaningful that you are experiencing? Do you smile when you answer them? Do you feel excited that they have asked?

In the field of psychology, we have spent time and money studying what makes people unhappy. We have labeled the causes of unhappiness and what tools to use to treat those symptoms.  We know that Stress, Anxiety, Trauma and Depression cause unhappiness in all of us from time to time. About 30 years ago, observational studies from the School of Positive Psychology, began looking at what makes people happy. Positive Psychology is primarily concerned with helping people understand and use their creativity and strengths in finding solutions to the complexities of everyday life. I have integrated the work of Positive Psychology into my psychotherapy practice. One of the ways I do this is to empower my clients to believe that they have within them the ability to change, and that those changes will positively affect everyone around them. When they work each day to find what makes them happy they bring positive energy to themselves and others.

Helen Keller wrote

“I wondered how it was possible to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing of note.I who cannot see find hundreds of things: the delicate symmetry of a leaf, the smooth skin of a silver birch, the rough, shaggy bark of a pine.I who am blind can give one hint to those who see: use your eyes as if tomorrow you will have been stricken blind.Hear the music of voices, the songs of a bird, the mighty strain of an orchestra as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow.Touch each object as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never taste or smell again.Make the most of every sense.Glory in all facets and pleasures and beauty which the world reveals to you

So much of our happiness IS under our control, yet we continually spoil the precious moment by inviting negative thoughts and feelings to penetrate our being.  The researcher Dianne Hales described an emotionally healthy person as someone who exhibits the following: 1) flexibility and adaptability to different circumstances  2) a sense of meaning and affirmation in life  3) an understanding that the self is not the center of the universe  4) compassion and the ability to be unselfish  5) an increased depth and satisfaction in intimate relationships, and 6) a sense of control over the mind and body.

How does one develop happiness?  One simple way is to spend more time with young children who bring joy and laughter into our lives.  They remind us that we entered this world full of excitement and curiosity. and demonstrate the ability to flow from one emotional state to another. They bounce back quickly. No matter what stresses them, with time, they will come back to a place of happiness. We also know that children adapt to their environment.  So if happiness is not a natural part of their environment, they will begin to show signs of unhappiness.child

For those of you who do not observe children that often, there are many other ways you can increase your happiness. It begins by making changes in what you do and the way you react. I will be addressing these actions in more detail in future writings, but let me highlight some key components.

Happiness is a state of mind, so what you do every day and the level of your physical activity becomes very important. The more active you are, the more you are stimulating the brain and the body. When you are down and unhappy, look at what you are doing physically and change your activity level.

If you find yourself caught up in a cycle of self-doubt and self-criticism, then talk to a trusted friend or seek someone who needs help.  Helping another often brings a sense of satisfaction and elevates our mood.

Happy people nurture relationships.  One way to nurture relationships is to see yourself as part of a community. Do not isolate as that often increases unhappiness. Involve yourself in your community. Volunteering your time and energy often to increases self-esteem and self-worth.

Learn to value your own personal exploration and growth. Learning something new every day and taking on new challenges awakens the curiosity and magic of life. For me my love of fishing and fly tying continually challenges me to learn new approaches to my hobby.

Lastly, take time to reflect on your daily activities and on your life, not from the eye of the critic, but from the thoughtful place of observation. Learning mindfulness meditation has been shown to aid a person to discover quietness and reflection. With a mindfulness meditation practice a person can learn to overcome their negative emotions about themselves and their judgments of others.

To summarize… Happiness is enhanced and nurtured from the pleasures found in a conversation with a good friend, connection to others, and awareness of our community where services can be offered. Happiness is a state where we focus on the many blessings we DO have and refuse to let our minds wonder to what we don’t have.  The steady development of self acceptance and gratefulness, with compassion and kindness for others, will lead us to the peace and happiness we deserve.

 

mindfulness

As the New Year arrives most of us turn to assessing what went well in 2012 and what changes we might make in 2013. Last year was a big year for my changes and for the most part I met all my goals. With the arrival of 2013, I again picked my goals and established what it would take to meet them. Over the years I have learned to maximize the completion of the goals through the use mindfulness practice.

Some of you might wonder what I mean by mindfulness practice, so let me explain. The process of mindfulness comes from the teachings of the Buddha, when he wrote and talked about meditation. Over the centuries meditation has been taught and practiced by many different groups. It has been thought that a strong meditation practice would lead to improved peace, health and tranquility. It was not until Dr John Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts in 1979 did the medical and psychological communities begin to look seriously at the benefits of meditation and specifically mindfulness. Over the last 40 years a significant number of studies have been published on the benefits of a mindfulness practice. Some of the areas that have shown positive results are in the treatment of such conditions as cancer, immune system disorders, pre and post surgery, stress reduction, treatment of anxiety and depression, ADHD, PTSD, hyperactivity in children, eating disorders, addiction recovery and many more. A mindfulness practice has also been shown to improve athletic performance, enhance family relationships, work place productivity, and creativity as well as improving overall focus and concentration.

The key to mindfulness is something that we often try to do in our everyday stressed filled lives. We try to find moments when the mind chatter, external stimulation and physical discomforts subside. The difficulty that we often face is that we are so driven by distractions that we find ourselves unable to attain the peace we want.  What the researchers have been able to show is that the mind is a very powerful tool to help us, if we learn to use it correctly. A mind can be like a new puppy, running here and there, looking for things to get into and generally unwilling to learn any structure. Yet as many of you know, a puppy that is loved, shown structure and supported can become a wonderful companion in life. Developing a mindfulness approach can help your mind to work with you, not run from one idea to another or one distraction to another. So, for those of you new to this concept, let me offer the following. Practicing mindfulness can be as complicated as you want to make it or as simple as just becoming aware. Mindfulness is a psychological state where a person brings their complete attention to a present experience. The goal of mindfulness is to be as nonjudgmental, non elaborative, and as aware as possible of whatever thoughts, feeling or sensations are arising in the present moment.

Here are a couple of examples to help you understand how you can begin to use mindfulness in your busy life.

 A cup of coffee or tea

 You have just sat down with a hot cup of your favorite beverage. You have been thinking about this moment and here you are. You raise the cup and take that first sip. But, instantly your mind begins listing all the things you have to do after you finish the coffee. You hang in and remind yourself that the beverage tastes great. You stop fretting about all you have to do in the future and come back to the smell and taste of your beverage. As you settle back to the awareness of the liquid flowing down through your throat and into your stomach, your mind reactivated again, this time drawing you away to the sound of the phone or the email that just came in. You pause and wonder should you respond? But again you say” no” and choose not to listen to the internal critic that disapproves of you for not responding….. It could be important you know!” the little voice says. Instead, you say to yourself, how wonderful this moment is and lift your cup one more time. This is your time. You will not be taken away from the joy that is coming from this cup in your hand. As you let the last drops flow from the cup and feel them sliding into your body, your mind again steps in to remind you how you should have done more with this time. But instead, you take a breath, smile to yourself, set the cup down and move on to other things in your day. If you are able to do this simple process of coming back to the moment and fully experiencing what is happening to you as you sip from the cup, then you are beginning to develop a mindfulness practice.

 The walk

 

You have some time in that busy schedule of yours and are planning to take a brief walk. You’re going to do something good for yourself. You start to walk and your mind instantly begins trying to take you away from what you are experiencing. You look at your watch and begin thinking of everything that has to be done when you get back. You quicken your pace, so you can get this walk over and move on to more important things. You think about taking your cell phone out and making some calls. You even wonder if you should jog a little to get this done quicker. We all know how to do that kind of walk!

What does a mindful walk look like? You begin by deciding how long you will walk and where you are going. With your mind now focused on your walk, you start to move. You bring your awareness to what is happening with each step. As your feet touch the ground, you experience the stability that each step gives. Your arms begin to move in a rhythmic swing as you increase or decrease your speed. The air moves around you and caresses your exposed skin. Your heart responds to your strides pumping blood throughout your body. The exertion begins to cause a warming that you notice, but you keep your strides going. The sun is out and it adds more warmth around you. The sound of a bird catches your attention. You move your gaze to take in this lovely winged creature. Then just as quickly you bring your attention back to the walk and what is happening to you. When your mind wants to jump in and take you away from the moment, you simply notice it, but give it no power. You just come back to your steps, the sounds, the feelings and awareness of this exact moment. You have just practiced a mindfulness walk.

Mindfulness is basically striving to be in the moment of awareness to whatever is happening. There is neither a past nor a future, only the gift of the experiences created in this moment. The best tool we can bring to those goals we set for this year is to become mindful of the ways we help ourselves and the ways we sabotage ourselves. Practicing each day with a few simple tasks will help us find the self-awareness to bring peace and comfort to that busy mind of ours. The more we live in the moment the more control we have of the outcome…success is waiting.

For those of you who would like more information about meditation andmindfulness here is a link to John Kabat-Zinn

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shPI6A2Pq2E

 

Time for change

As a therapist, parent and grandfather, the sad news of what happened this weekend has touched me deeply. I believe the time has come for us all to have a serious talk about gun control, violent video games, violence in our movies and mental illness. When we as a society cannot protect our children, then the time for action has come! I do not know what you will do, but for me, a first step is to post this YouTube clip in the hopes you will share it.

 

Joe Scarborough: Newtown Shooting Made ‘Ideologies Of My Past’ On Guns Irrelevant http://youtu.be/Z7FRMTJNClY

 

I hope you will take the time to watch this and keep a dialogue going with others. Let’s not let this moment be lost in the grid lock of Washington. This massacre could have been in “our” community.

Gratitude

Gratitude

        Before I write this second entry for my blog, I want to thank all of you who have commented about the website and this blog.  I am pleased to be doing my practice again and moving into a new phase of my life.  I am also excited about sharing my thoughts and ideas with you and looking forward to your feedback.

As I pondered about what I would write, I immediately thought of all the negativity we encounter in our daily lives.  One can hardly watch the TV or explore the internet without being constantly bombarded with negativity. We hear that we are about to fall over a fiscal cliff, experience more extreme climate changes and witness a collapse of our world because the Mayan calendar is ending this December.  If that isn’t enough, we have an increase in drug use, more marriages in trouble and an alarming increase of diabetes and other autoimmune system disorders.  We watch young people graduate from college and enter a poor job market with higher debt than ever before. Negativity and fear are constantly in our face and the outcome can be more stress, depression, addiction and hopelessness.  In short, the negativity that we encounter in our daily lives can have an adverse affect on our overall health, if we let it.

We need to look for ways to buffer the negativity that surrounds us.  One of the best ways is to learn to live a life of gratitude.  The link between spirituality and gratitude has long been known, but only recently has psychological research begun to show that people who live with an attitude of gratefulness have healthier lives.  Some of what we have learned about grateful people is that they are less depressed, less stressed, less reactive, more optimistic and live a more stable life.  They seem to have a more positive outlook towards life, have more positive ways to deal with life’s problems, and are more willing to seek help during difficult times.  Grateful people generally sleep better because they have more positive thoughts at the end of the day.  Gratitude is an emotional state and an attitude towards life.

I believe that life constantly presents us with ways to learn about ourselves and methods to improve our life.  Awhile back, I came across the following link that put the idea of gratitude in prospective.  Take a few moments to watch a presentation on gratitude. http://youtu.be/gXDMoiEkyuQ

When we live a life of appreciation for what we have, not focusing on what we don’t have, we are experiencing life in a valuable and meaningful way.  When we treat ourselves with compassion we are able to see and give more compassion to others.  The news recently reported a story of a New York policeman who saw a cold homeless man with no shoes and didn’t walk away, but instead went into a store and with his own money bought him a pair of boots.  That simple act of compassion and caring touches us and stirred our appreciation for such acts of kindness.  Grateful people care and when they see people in need, they act.  They give their time, energy and money to help.  When disaster strikes, like hurricane Sandy, or an ice storm or a fire, we become touched by others who care and we reach out to offer our own help.  Giving to others from our hearts is one of the buffers to negativity.  We each have the gifts of kindness and gratitude within our grasp.  Helping others is one of the wonderful ways to live in gratitude and bring optimism into our lives.

There are many ways to enhance gratitude, but it all begins with you.  Grateful people begin their day with optimism and anticipation.  For me, it begins by being grateful that I am alive and able to take part in this upcoming day.  When we awake and look into the mirror, we need to see a wonderful, unique and special person looking back at us.  Being critical and judgmental of ourselves opens the door for an unhealthy stressful day. When you approach life with gratefulness and gratitude you become thankful.  Thankful people have been shown to be more optimistic and handle challenges more easily.  Studies have shown that children who observe parents expressing gratefulness to each other and their children are more stable and respond better to the stress of school.  Work environments that model gratefulness and gratitude have happier and more productive workers.

       As you approach this coming year with all the negativity that will be bombarding you, remember you have a choice.  The cup can be half full or half empty.  Which perception do you want to hold as true…the negative half empty or the more positive half full?   I am sure you know the answer. Seeing the world through cup full lenses takes practice if we are to battle the negativity that can grip us if we let it.  So enjoy the blessings, thankfulness and gratitude that this day brings, it won’t come back again.

Doors opening….Doors closing

Welcome to my blog and this first posting.  I picked the metaphor “Doors opening/Doors closing” to write on, because it represents the changes that are inevitable and certain in our lives.   How we respond to these changes determines the state of our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

Throughout our lives we face many challenging events that we may resist or deny.  Sometimes we feel such events are unjust or unfair. We find ourselves reacting with anger, disbelief, resentment or self-pity.  Why me?  Why now? How dare they! Resisting these events can escalate our self judgment and balloon our righteous indignation. We find ourselves thinking “All I want is for this to stop!”. We rail against these events as if we had the power to change the outcomes.  Sadly, the harder we try to control outcomes the worse things get and our best efforts fail to stop anything.

It often takes many years for us to realize that difficult events are supposed to come into our lives and to end. They need to be accepted and understood as endings…doors closing…giving way to new beginnings…doors opening.  Some transitions in our lives are best to come to an end.  We need to accept such changes as an opportunity for growth.  As I have often shared with clients…the more we try to hold on tightly to anything that is changing or pulling away, it has probably already ended or left us. It is unproductive and sometimes self-destructive to try to hang on so tightly.

Learning to let go becomes the mantra for success in situations like these. But this can be more easily said than done.  We may need to help ourselves along.  Sometimes Meditation helps by bringing us to the present moment, quieting the struggle, helping us to let go. There are also many spiritual and practical books on this subject to help guide us through such difficult transitions. Another form of help is with the help of a skilled therapist, a guide who is by your side as you make the necessary changes and choices to let go of the struggle and move on.

So what is the lesson here?  Doors are constantly opening and closing in our lives.  It is inevitable. Only when we let the old doors close do we ever get the opportunity to see what new experiences lay ahead.

I would like to hear from you. Do you have other topics you would like me to write about? Post a comment or send me a private email.