I Just Want to Sleep!

I don’t know about you, but when I don’t get enough sleep, I start to crumble. I am more sensitive, unmotivated, tired, and lose the ability to hold a level of rationality needed to balance myself emotionally. My reserves are tapped and I need those reserves!

As a kid growing up, sleep overs were awesome! It was fun to stay up late playing Nintendo, watching movies or reenacting scenes from Ninja Turtles. I was no treat to be around the next day if an early morning was in store or chores awaited upon getting home. I’m sure the gerbil cages could have handled another day… or week… before getting cleaned (I mean, even on a rested day, who wants to handle rodent poop!).

Enough rambling about 4 legged creatures or pizza eating turtles who live in sewers… Let’s talk about sleep hygiene. At some point in my early twenties, I realized how much I hated going to church, ringette or work half dead due to a late night shenanigans.  It wasn’t worth it. Not the most popular of choices back then, but now I try as much as I can to protect my sleep (for everyone’s sake, but mostly mine!).  I often hear clients talk about their lack of sleep. And, sometimes, it is related to their illness. Regardless of the reason, we could all benefit from practicing the following:

1)      Start settling down an hour before you want to be asleep. If you know you want to be asleep by 11pm (let’s say), around 10pm, go pee, start brushing your teeth, wash your face, put your pj’s on, go pee again and hop into bed.

2)      Get up after 15 minutes.  If you’ve been tossing and turning for 15 minutes after trying to fall asleep, get up out of bed and return 15 minutes later. This can help reset your brain that it is sleep time.

3)      Calm those thoughts with mindfulness. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to fall asleep and all you can think about is that history paper you still have to finish or that you aren't asleep yet. Take a moment and think about what you see (nothing because my eyes are shut), hear (light traffic outside, breathing), taste (good old Colgate), feel (the warm blankets) and smell (stale bedroom air). This will help bring your attention to the present instead of that battle of 1812. You can also think of your calm place discussed in previous posts. Maybe you’re in a old forest, in the spring time, with lovely little forest dwellers scampering around your feet. You hear the babbling brook nearby. It’s warm, yet cool from the shade. There are definitely NO mosquitoes or black flies. You can use these skills if you wake up in the middle of the night as well.

4)      See’ya later screens!  The lights from T.V.s or phones can be disruptive to falling or staying asleep. The brightness triggers your brain into thinking it’s time to be up and awake, versus settling to sleep. Put them away and try set your phone to 'do not disturb' to avoid 3am Tweets from your night owl friends (who will be grouchy in the morning from a lack of sleep).

5)      Avoid stimulants. Caffeine, working out, reading/listening/watching captivating mysteries/murders and talking to aunt Ida who drives you up a wall, aren’t conducive in helping you fall asleep. Try finding soothing activities to do at night, like lighting a candle or listening to relaxing music (pick Enya versus Marilyn Manson, regardless of how beautiful the people are)..

6)        Have a safety object on hand. Specifically for those who have trauma or nightmares and wake up distressed or in a panic, try designating a safety/calm item in your room. Maybe it’s a blanket, stuffed animal or clock. Having a designated object to look at when you wake up from a panic attacked/nightmare can assist in shifting your focus from distress to that of calmness. Remind yourself before going to bed that if you wake up in the middle of the night feeling panicked, with a racing heart beat and quick shallow breathing, looking at object “X” will remind you that you are okay and that it was just a dream/memory. Then, focus on your breathing and mindfulness skills and go back to sleep.

7)      Temperature, noise and light. Dark, quiet and cold rooms are best for sleeping conditions. Some people prefer to have white noise if silence is unsettling.

8)      Use your bedroom for sex and sleep only.  Condition your mind/body to know your bedroom is for calming or sexual activities only. Take the TV and studying to the other room. I know this can be challenging if you are living in residence or have siblings/children, but the more you can separate these activities from sleep/sex, the better.

Medication is sometimes needed to assist with falling/staying asleep. Always talk with your doctor before going on any type of medication/supplement for sleep. The above skills are always worth learning. Knowing you have resources in your back pajama pocket may bring the peace of mind you just might (yawn)….. need in order to….(yawn)…. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Prepping For the Holidays

It's that time again! Holiday time. For some, this brings feelings of excitement and anticipation. While others, stress and a longing to go into a slight hibernation in hopes of by-passing the whole thing is on par. For the former, rock on and see you in 2017. For the latter, read on and hopefully, some of the strategies below will help make this time a little easier, or perhaps, even enjoyable.

#1 Plan Something You Like To Do: It's okay to make plans to do something you like. This can help balance some of the holiday activities you may not have much say about. Maybe it's going for a winter walk, or watching movies by a fire place. Explore the downtown shops or the local cafes you've always wanted to try. Whatever you like to do, plan time to do it or else you run the risk of time slipping by and another holiday season that you did not really enjoy will result. Remember, you don't have to do anything big or expensive in order for it to be fun, enjoyable or peaceful... or whatever it is you want it to bring into your holiday. 

#2 Intentionally Create Positive Experiences: You know that Christmas function at Aunt Gertrude's you attend every year with reluctance? Spice it up a little by intentionally creating a positive experience. This could be anything from wearing your favourite ugly sweater to bringing a game everyone can play. Maybe you invite your best friend to help ease the awkward yearly questions asked by family members or you make it your mission to sit beside your most liked cousin whom you can chat up a storm with over dinner. Whatever it is, putting some thought and effort into how you can make the best of the event has to be better than doing nothing and expecting the worse! Maybe it still won't be the best time you've ever had, but maybe it's slightly better than you anticipated. 

#3 Find Balance Between Social and Alone Time: This could go either way. Maybe you tend to isolate over the holidays, or perhaps you have difficulty saying 'no' to people.  Try to find time for social and alone/down time. This way, you don't run the risk of being lonely, or over booked to the point of exhaustion! Isolating will only make the time go by slower and over booking will leave you worn out and needing a holiday from your holiday. 

#4 Don't Forget to Take Your M n M's (Meds and Meals): Your routine and schedule will likely be nudge off track over the holidays. Maybe you're staying up later or going out of town more often than usual. Try to continue maintaining some of the basics in your recovery and wellness. Set an alarm to take your medication and meals so you don't run the risk of forgetting. Keep doing the necessary basics to help maintain your recovery instead of slipping backwards.

#5 Prepare for High Risk Situations: Don't go into the holidays thinking you can wing it. Take some time to know what activities or situations you are going into that are likely going to be stressful, or potentially triggering. This way, you can come up with a plan for how to manage them successfully. Write up a list of counter statements you can use when Uncle Mickey starts making unhelpful comments about weight or when Cousin Mildred gets on about calories. Use opposite action when presented with a food your E.D. is telling you not to have but you know you use to really enjoy. Know who you can call or text in times of trouble or stress. Go to your calm or safe place when you feel unsafe or distressed. In some ways, preparing for high risk situations is like fire drills. They help prepare you in case there is ever a fire to maximize safety and minimize harm.   

And remember... regardless of how the holidays go... they will not last forever. Hang in there. One meal at a time, one day at a time, one event at a time. Be gently with yourself, and ease off the perfectionism a little. Allow yourself to say, 'no', when you need to, and 'yes' when you want to. Look at cat pictures of the internet.... like this one. Take time to smile every once and awhile and just 'be'. 

(I couldn't resist this little guy... love hairless cats!)

Accessed from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2_weekold_Female_Sphynx_(Suki).jpg Dec.12, 2016

Ah! My Therapist is Going On Vacation...

I used to hate when my therapist would go on vacation. It disrupted my routine and familiarity of our weekly sessions. I felt like I had to keep everything in until they returned. I became fearful my recovery would go down the tube as if they were the one that magically kept it all together. At times, I felt a little abandoned. Funny though, I didn’t really think this way when I was the one going on vacation. I know not all clients feel this way, but I was one of the one’s who did. The ironies and insights of now being a therapist, as well as having grown as a person and in recovery. Here’s why your therapist going on vacation is a good thing:

  • It Models Self-Care. Therapy is hard work. Breaks allow both parties to return refreshed and re-focused. By going on vacation, l am also modelling self-care to my clients. Just as I have needs, so do you and it is okay to meet them.
  • It Breaks Patterns. I think it is healthy for clients to feel a little planned chaos every now and then. All to often it is easy to fall into patterns and routines that do not address current or future needs. By entering planned chaos, one can learn how to navigate these times a little more successfully, giving one a foundation for when they occur without warning. Maybe this time is a good time to try knock off some of those items on your bucket list you've been meaning to get to. Don't just sit back counting down the days, try doing some safe activities to help pass them time as well as engages you in life.
  • Assesses and Puts Into Use Other Available Resources. It is important to have a variety of resources established within one’s recovery. No single person is the key that will make or break one’s recovery. Each has a part to contribute and play. When one resources is not available, it is important to know who else is available for support. You also don’t have to keep everything in when your therapist goes away. Talk with a friend or fellow support group member. Call a distress line if need be. Sure it may not be the same, but it can be good enough in the interim. Remember, It is important to not throw all your eggs in one basket. 
  • Assesses Strengths and Weaknesses. Vacations can be viewed as ‘test runs’. It allows for clients to see which areas they have progressed in, and which areas need a little more attention. However it goes, It is all information that will aid in strengthening your recovery. 
  • Opportunity to Build Self-Trust. This is a big one. It is important, along the way, to build self-trust in your recovery. To know and realize, you have the ability and skills to tolerate your emotions and get through the situation as best you can. If we are never put into situations that foster self-trust and confidence, it is hard to fully believe and know YOU CAN DO IT!
  • Challenges Abandonment and Reaffirms Object Constancy. Remember the peek-a-boo game.  Really young children have difficulty knowing that you are still there even though they cannot see your face behind your hands. As their brain develops, they start to realize that you are still behind ‘there’ and in fact, aren’t ‘gone’. Just because your therapist goes on vacation, they are still rooting, supporting and caring for you. Just because they are not available, does not mean what they represent disappears as well. Unless something tragic happens, therapists return from vacation, challenging in smalls ways, the thoughts/feelings of abandonment. 

So, this time when your therapist preps you for their vacation, check in with your feelings.  Remember that you can tolerate whatever uncomfortable feelings that arise, and remind yourselfthat it can be opportunity for skill building and implementation. You will get through it :)

Skill Review

Last night, I woke up and my thoughts keep running in the opposite direction of falling back to sleep. My initial thought when this happens is usually something along the lines of, "Ahh... not again. I hope this doesn't turn into a 'thing' like it did a few years back.' Then I realized I have some control over whether or not my thoughts get the best of me, keeping me awake. I lay there, eyes closed, trying to think about what I smelled, saw, felt (touched), heard and tasted. More than a handful of times did my thoughts wonder to how I couldn't fall back asleep and each time, I tried to pull myself back as to what my senses were trying to tell me in that moment. 

I could feel the cushiness of the pillow as I hugged it by my head. I could feel the warmth of the room.

I didn't really smell much. Maybe the scent of stale air. 

Taste? Hmm... well, it had been a few hours since I last brushed my teeth... so... 

I could hear my breathing, and the creeks and 'settling' of where I live.

I saw... mystical unicorns frolicking in fields on green. Just kidding... come on guys, my eyes were shut... I saw nothing... that was just a test :)

Eventually, I fell back asleep. By practicing mindfulness, I was able to bring my thoughts to the present, instead of worrying how I couldn't fall back asleep. 

A perk of learning skills for eating disorder recovery is that they can often generalize into other aspects of life. Here are a few you can practice:

Distraction - (example of when it can be used: when feeling anxious before/after having eaten something)

This is a great skills to use in the short term. Sometimes we can't always attend to what is distressing immediately. We have to learn how to put it to the side for awhile, until we can deal with it more effectively. Distraction is a great skills to use, especially when you are feeling like you are going to be symptomatic. It's important, however, to go back and learn from the situation that resulted in your feeling distressed.  Distractions can include: colouring, playing solitaire, painting your nails, knitting, calling a friend, writing an e-mail or snail mail (long live the snail mail!!!), cleaning/organizing your living space, learning how to style your hair differently, look up funny videos online, etc. 

Self-Care - (example of when it can be used: when you're feeling crummy about yourself and are about to say/do mean things to punish yourself)

This can take the form of following your meal plan, not weighing yourself, taking your medication properly, asking for help and so on. Self-care is an important part of recovery.  You don't need to punish yourself. You can be kind. You don't always need to feel like you are 'worthy' enough before allowing yourself to practice self-care . Behaviour can come before a change in thought. That's the neat thing about recovery... there are many links in the chain and it doesn't always matter where you start. The more you treat yourself with kindness, the increased likelihood you will start to believe, expect and acceptit!

Journalling - (example of when it can be used: when you have lots of feelings and thoughts and need to get them out)

This can be a great way to 'brain dump' everything that is going on inside.  I often hear that when people actually write those things down, that somehow this process makes it more real. On some level I get that. I think, however, it moves you a little further away from denial, which can them make you more able to actually deal with it... and that can feel scary. Journaling, when you remove self-judgment, can be a helpful way to explore what's going on in a safe manner. It's how you feel in that moment. 10 minutes later, you could think and feel something completely different, and that's ok. Sometimes it's helpful to bring that piece of writing into therapy to discuss/share with your therapist. 

Giving Feeling Form - (example of when it can be used: when you have a strong feeling that feels overpowering/controlling/paralyzing, etc)

This skills come from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and is great at getting you to gain some perspective with what you are feeling. First of all, identify the feeling you are feeling. Then, ask yourself the following questions: what shape does it have, what size is it, in a word what is its internal/external texture, now it's internal/external temperature, how much power does it have, does it have a speed, if you put water on it what would happen? After answering these questions, were you picturing this 'thing' as if it was inside of you? If yes, ask yourself the same questions again, however, envisioning it somewhere within the room. Likely, after doing this, the feeling will lose some of its power/strength/hold on you and will feel more manageable. In the future, when the feelings emerges, you can see it, name it, know it's there, and still move on. It's not going anywhere, it's just there, and feels a little more manageable. 

The last skill I'll mention today is the all too familiar, yet underused skill, of Deep Breathing. Breath in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, breath out for 5 seconds. Let your brain get some oxygen, focus on the task of breathing in and out, and feel the anxiety decrease as you do it. With this, some people find it helpful to think of breathing in as positivity and breathing out as negativity. Tailor this to your specific needs. 

Skills are so important to use, not only in recovery, but it every day to day life. They help us cope with the ups and downs of life.  They aren't magic and a 'cure all' for all problems, but they are one tool in our tool bag we need in life. The more we practice them, especially when life isn't chaotic (this makes the skill feel more like second nature, allowing us to recall/implement them more easily when we stressed/overwhelmed/anxious), they easier they become. Having a good grasp on a few good skills is better than knowing many without using them.