Peaceful White: Rest & Reflection
Good sleep is essential to good mental and physical health.
From lowering stress levels and blood pressure to boosting your immune system and keeping your heart healthy, good sleep should be a priority item in everyone’s personal, preventative first aid kit.
I recently read a book called ‘Why we Sleep’ by by Matthew Walker, a neuroscience and psychology professor. I would recommend this book to everyone, and especially to every health practitioner. After many years of research, Walker and his colleagues have proven the connection between lack of sleep throughout life and numerous illnesses, both mental and physical.
Sleep deprivation is dangerous for anyone, and especially anyone with a diagnosed mental illness. The symptoms of lack of concentration and coordination can quickly spiral into anxiety, depression, mania and delusions. It’s worth noting that the symptoms of extreme sleep deprivation are impossible to recognise in yourself, so once you’re showing with them, you’re relying on someone else to help you. It has been said that a night without sleep is a day without perspective, and I can testify to the truth in that. Connections between lack of sleep and ill health in later life, including forms of Dementia, have also been made. Investing in sleep isn’t laziness, it’s love, and you’ll thank yourself for it.
Getting to sleep can be difficult when you have a busy or ill mind. Training your brain to recognise and relish your bedtime routine is a good idea. Try to treat your bedroom as a sort of sanctuary, and keep it as clutter free as you can.
- Switch your mobile phone off or to sleep mode an hour before you turn out the light.
- Spray lavender or another natural sleep spray onto your pillow to help you to relax.
- Reading a novel or listening to a spoken book can transport your mind into another story, helping you to stop obsessing about your own.
- Try to wake up naturally if at all possible. If you have to use an alarm, try a gentle birdsong or other natural sound.
- Try to keep to the same sleep and wake times every day, during the week and at weekends.
- End each working day by writing a to do list for the next, including any worries that you have. Emptying these from your mind will help it to prepare for healthy rest.
- Remember that chemical sleeping pills induce the sort of sleep that you get when you pass out from drinking excess alcohol, so should only be used as a last resort.
- Be extra kind to yourself at times when good sleep is proving difficult. Try to reduce day time pressures and remember that your ability to function well will be lower than normal.
Mental imbalance is often fuelled by overthinking, which feeds on itself and quickly spirals out of control. Whether it’s the constant and crippling worry and fear of anxiety or the desperate self loathing of depression, a naturally bright and busy mind can quickly become a sick one, stopping a person from fulfilling their potential, and sometimes even from functioning at all.
Adding meditation and journalling into your virtual first aid kit can make a huge difference to your day to day wellbeing. Like anything new and worthwhile, it can take time to feel the benefits of meditation, but the sense of calm and clarity and the soothing effect it has on mental fluctuation are well worth it. There are also numerous physical benefits to meditation including improved blood circulation, lowered heart rate and maintenance of a healthy heart. Just five minutes a day can make a real difference to your health.
Meditation isn’t about controlling your thoughts. It’s about stopping your thoughts from controlling you. Set a five minute alarm on your phone, sit comfortably with your back supported, close your eyes and begin to pay attention to your breathing. Be patient, and just breathe until the alarm sounds. Five minutes may seem like an eternity to begin with, but soon you may find yourself sitting for much longer.
I also recommend trying a meditation class or app, or using the ’21 Day Meditation Experience’ series by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey to help you get started. These series are regularly offered free of charge online, and I still use them sometimes.
Incessant negative or fearful thoughts can hijack a mind that’s prone to illness, dominating conversations with friends and even creating a glass ceiling in careers. Concerns about the effect that our mental health is having on all of our relationships can make our doubts and fears even worse. Emptying our minds and reflecting on our thoughts can really help.
Talking Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy might be worth a try, and I really recommend trying journalling. Downloading your busy mental world onto paper can be liberating, and help you to rationalise any negative thoughts. Morning is a great time to do this: reflect, reassure, remind and find reasons to move into the day. If you’re just starting out, perhaps begin by imagining yourself as a nine year old child, and writing that person a love letter. The next day, write yourself a reply. A new and life changing relationship could begin.
Calm, relaxed, well rested, able to focus, rational, balanced
Seven - Eight hours of sleep per night, meditation, deep breathing, talking therapy, journalling.
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