One of the most common symptoms I hear in my office is the inability to sleep at night or not feeling rested in the morning. Sleep directly impacts our mental health whether we are getting good quality sleep or sleep that is not restful. I rarely get someone in my office that is struggling with an issue or concern that reports to getting fantastic sleep. It is often times hard to figure out which came first, poor sleep and then symptoms of anxiety or depression or did anxiety or depression start causing the poor sleep. Since it is next to impossible to decipher the two, and because the order they occurred doesn’t change the treatment outcome, focusing on good sleep hygiene is ‘a must’ for mental health. The biggest culprit to poor sleep is our own choices we make leading up to sleep. Our cell phones lend the most problems when it comes to self-discipline around sleep. Technology and marketing companies have poured million if not billions of dollars into keeping you on your phone. The longer you are on your phone the better chance you will see their advertisement targeted at you. The longer you are on your phone, you are also less likely to be making healthy decisions as well. Our brains get lazy once we have been on our devices too long so we are more likely to make a choice that we wouldn’t when our brains are sharp and rested. If you follow the list above of 10 keys ways to improve your sleep, I can promise you, you will be feeling better in a few weeks. You have to truly want to feel better to take action, be committed to making the behavior changes and refer to the list everyday until you are in the routine of good sleep habits.
New Brain Old Brain
Have you found yourself feeling overwhelmed with emotions and feel like you are overreacting or not reacting in ways that reflect your values? If this is happening more often than you would like, you may be operating in your Old brain. The New brain Old Brain theory suggests that our Old Brain is the area of our brain that is more primitive in nature and is what many call, ‘the flight or fight’ zone. Our Old brain is very important to our survival when it is called upon during a urgent or crisis situation. It shuts down other regions of our brain and hyper-focuses on how to survive the present moment. For example, if someone is about attack you from behind, you don’t want to think about all of your options to defend yourself, you just want to react, either run or defend (fight or flight). Due to stress in our lives and chemicals being off balance, we may find our Old brain being over reactive and this doesn’t allow us to behave in respectful ways to ourselves or to others. Lets say you are having a tough day, one thing after another seems more challenging and energy seems to be against you. You stop to pick up some groceries and as you are coming in the house, the grocery bag rips, the eggs drop out the bottom and you find yourself in a puddle of egg yolks. This is indeed frustrating, however your life is safe and you are not in any real threat. That makes sense if you are using your New brain, not if you are functioning from only your Old brain. If your Old brain is over reactive, you may scream, swear, throw something or maybe even blame someone else. All of these choices lead to further consequences. When the New brain is available due to feeling grounded and level headed, we will use our logic and reasoning to react. This would look something like this: 1.)take note that what is in front of you is not ideal 2.)remind yourself you are in control and can react how you choose to 3.)take a really big deep breath in through your noise and out through your mouth 4.)if this did not provide relief, repeat 5.)self talk is necessary, remind self that you are not in danger, these are not predators on the ground and no one set you up for this 6.)problem solve 7.)clean up the mess and get more eggs the next time you are at the grocery store.
As simple as this may sound, many of us struggle with this on a daily and weekly basis. One option with therapy is learning how to master the skills of controlling our emotions and behaviors. It is a really empowering skill to learn and once you have learned it and practice it several times, you now have it for the rest of your life. This skill is just one element to therapy that many people benefit from when they engage in the therapeutic process.
We are inundated with information everyday about our health and what we should and should not do to improve our well-being. Most people I talk to about their nutrition, feel overwhelmed with the information that is out there and also don’t trust the sources. In the US, the FDA regulates our food processes and accessibility. They also come up with new guidelines every 5 years based on more in depth research. I think some of the mistrust that people feel towards the FDA has to do with major food industry such as sugar and dairy and how much influence they may have swayed the guidelines in the past. It’s hard to know who to believe and where to turn for answers. The guide above was produced by Harvard Health based on extensive research. When you look it over, none of the food suggested come as a surprise. Looking at the food that cause inflammation are also well known to avoid. When we eat too many foods that cause inflammation, not only does it leave us feeling lethargic and makes our digestive system work against us, but it also strongly impacts our mental health. In order to keep us physically and mentally healthy, we need to be making daily choices to put anti-inflammatory food into our bodies. I ask my clients to put this chart on their refrigerator as a daily reminder of how they can make food choices that will also make them feel more motivated and content. It’s your choice! Each little decision you make through-out the day, either helps you feel empowered or makes you feel stuck. If you need help with more accountability, therapy may be the answer you are looking for.