Silver Linings: Creating Balance in the Chaos

Chances are the last few days or weeks have been jarring for you—rapid fire changes leaving us feeling confused, anxious, and other distressing feelings. These are just the kinds of situations our sophisticated brains urge us to avoid—painful ones. In fact, our self-preserving brains are hard-wired to notice and react to bad news more intensely and readily than good news. (Way more important for our survival to sense and avoid danger than notice and appreciate the good stuff.)

So, what can we do to override this wiring when there seems to be bad new and impending “danger” around every social media feed?  Put a little more effort into seeking out and relishing in the positive—widen your lens to see everything here. Here’s a few ideas of how to do that right now:

  • Give your left brain a break. Be silly, watch a funny movie, play music or have a sing-a-long, create art, or write a chain story with your family . Humor and creativity are powerful tools of resilience and healing.
  • Look at your wishlist. Are there books you’ve been wanting to read? Or, friends you’ve been missing and want to connect with? Is this the opportunity to try out new recipes  or cook meals you usually don’t have time for? Have you been meaning to learn to play that guitar collecting dust in the corner of your bedroom since Mother’s Day 4 years ago?…ahem…I mean hypothetically, of course. Take control of your time!
  • Look at your annoying To-Do list. Take a load off your shoulders and get to the things you’ve been procrastinating or just needed longer blocks of time to do. Getting something off the “I’ll do it tomorrow” list can help you feel accomplished and more in control.
  • Reset and re-focus. When we think about what the next few months will hold, it can seem worrisome and bleak. Challenge yourself to think about how you want to use this time to create memories you’ll cherish and laugh about in the future. What brings meaning and joy to your life? In the stillness, what can you learn about yourself and your ability to be content in the silence? Go for the deep dive and explore.
  • Find a way to help.  Volunteering your time or energy can provide a reminder that you’re still in a community and connection to your gratitude. Along with routine, being of service to others can give us a sense of purpose and direction. Offer your gifts and abilities to others.

As you make your way through the next few weeks, make sure you seek the silver lining with particular intention and persistence. Remember, your brain isn’t going to find it easily—you’ve got to help it along to see the whole picture. As a bonus, this practice of guiding your brain towards the silver lining creates a new habit (and wiring) in the brain to do it on its own—so, be patient and persistent with yourself to reap the long-term benefits!

Treating Insomnia: Going Beyond Sleep Hygiene

Sometimes getting a good night’s sleep seems like an unachievable dream. It’s time for bed, but once your head hits the pillow, you feel wide awake. Or, you wake up at 3am and toss and turn as your mind races. Feeling fatigued and finding it difficult to concentrate during the day, you hope to get to bed early or sleep in and “catch up” the next night or morning. And on and on it goes. 

It’s not unusual to have a temporary bout of poor sleep due to personal stress, illness, travel/jet lag, change in routine, etc.  However, for many millions of Americans, insomnia is a chronic, persistent issue. If you’re one of the 40 million Americans experiencing insomnia, here’s a few suggestions to get some ZZZs:

  • Focus on filling your daily sleep “bank”. 
    • Imagine your body’s sleep system as a savings account and you’re “saving up” for a restful, restorative sleep. Exercise and general physical activity throughout the day creates “deposits” to your account. Avoiding lingering in bed to “catch up” on missed sleep also allows your sleep account more time to accrue sleep deposits. So, don’t avoid exercise and do avoid snoozing your alarm to make sure you have enough savings to cash in on great sleep each night. 
  • Avoid making an “early withdrawal” from your sleep bank.
    • I get it, you’re tired because you didn’t sleep well at night and you want to take a quick power nap. While a periodic afternoon siesta has its benefits, for insomniacs, daytime napping equates to making an early withdrawal from your sleep account. Regular dozing means you’re likely to end up short when you’re ready to “cash in” at bedtime—resulting in poor quantity or quality of sleep. 
  • Learn to relax and wind down.
    • You may have noticed you don’t come with an “on and off” switch. In fact, you may find your mind shifts into high gear as soon as you’re “supposed” to be sleeping. A good rule of thumb is to wind down 30-60 minutes before bedtime. During this “buffer zone”, plan to switch from high-stress, mentally or emotionally-demanding activities to minimally engaging, relaxing activities. For example, taking a relaxing shower, listening to calm music, putting away work and work emails, and stretching or meditating are great ways to prep for sleep. If you tend to have a racing mind at bedtime, journaling your worries, creating a to-do list, and mindfulness meditation can help you quiet an unruly mind.
  • Work with—not against—your body clock. 
    • An integral part of your body’s sleep system is your circadian clock. This biological clock, among other functions, manages sleep and wakefulness with hormonal and environmental cues. A great environmental cue that prompts wakefulness is sunlight exposure. So, forgo the black-out blinds and wake up to natural sunlight. Feeling fatigued in the morning? Open your blinds and sit in the sunlight for 15-30 minutes to set wakefulness in motion. Late night snacking can also sabotage your natural body clock’s signals. Eating close to bedtime can interfere with your circadian clock’s efforts to prepare your body for sleep. Try not to eat or drink anything within 2 hours before your bedtime. 
  • Make a game plan with an expert to improve your sleep.
    • You don’t have to figure it out on your own. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is a first-line treatment for insomnia. It involves an assessment and personalized treatment plan to help identify your particular obstacles to restorative sleep and implement appropriate strategies to improve sleep.

Contact Dr. Smitha Bhat at 630-699-2589 to schedule an appointment or for more information about CBT-I.