Counting sheep isn’t working. Reflecting on sleep difficulties.

I would like to reflect today on a very annoying, and very common, sleeping problem called night time waking. Night time waking is a form of insomnia impacting roughly 15% of Canadians. There are three types of insomnia, trouble falling asleep, waking during the night, and waking in the morning wide awake. You can have a combination of any of these, and they all share one feature- being distressful. You sit in bed starring at the clock, knowing and also wanting to sleep, but being unable to. It might be because your body is sore, your mind is racing, you’re worried about something happening the next day- but all you know is falling asleep it tough. Then you do, sleep that is, for what seems like ten minutes. When you wake up you stare at the clock and it takes forever to fall asleep again. You might even wake up early in the morning and feel wide awake, despite barely having any sleep, and cannot get back to bed even though you know halfway during the day you will be restless.

Here are some sleep hygiene ideas (in no relevant order) to try to change your sleeping problems…

1. Do you nap during the day? If so, perhaps try meditating for 15 minutes instead as napping can alter your sleep schedule and make it harder at night to fall asleep.

2. You do need natural light- if your sleep schedule gets weird during winter you might be impacted by the change of seasons, blue light therapy can sometimes help alter your sleep cycle (Circadian rhythms). Continue reading “Counting sheep isn’t working. Reflecting on sleep difficulties.”

What drives your actions? (A brief thought on emotions and behaviours)

There are many theories about what drives our behaviours and I will only focus on one aspect in this entry from a basic level, the impact of emotions. A lot of research has been done on negative emotions and how they impact our behaviours, and recently a focus on positive emotions. What always comes to mind in reading these papers is that we need to be aware (as possible as we can be) to what we are reacting to, meaning, our emotional state and how it impacts our actions.

A lot of research says that emotions trigger a specific reaction. For example, you feel fear by seeing a threat, your action repertoire (the behaviours you think of doing) narrow to typically run and escape. When the emotion of fear is happening, you probably won’t be thinking about what you want for dinner or happy thoughts. The thing a lot of these articles forget to mention is this fear can be real, or imagined. Imagined fear or threats I consider to be all the things inside your mind that your brain tells you. For example, related to my previous post someone with social anxiety might have the imagined fear that they are going to choke up in public when asked a question. There is no actual scenario happening at the time that can cause fear, but as they vividly see it in their mind, their body reacts the same. These images, thoughts and sounds that we create can have just as much power as a real threat. So we imagine something scary, our body has a natural physical reaction to it, and it creates more scary thoughts. Not only do emotions therefore influence our behaviours, our reaction can also be mediated or interrupted by many factors such as culture, social expectation, coping strategies, previous experience and others.

So we have emotions which turn into a physical, sometimes behavioral reaction, which is mediated by many other factors. Taking the time to sit and ask yourself what is actually informing your behaviour (e.g., yelling, running, staying in the house, etc) can be very informative. Are you reacting due to an imagined fear that hasn’t come to pass? Are your values getting in the way of the emotion and the physical reaction and changing it? Perhaps you are having a normal day, but you get home and react in anger towards your partner and don’t really know why. It could be that when you saw the house wasn’t cleaned (and you expected your partner to do this) you got angry, but often see this as something that should not upset you, so it doesn’t enter into your thoughts right away. Instead of understanding what was triggering your frustration and evaluating it, you go onto autopilot and react. This is why it’s important to evaluate what is going on, is it an emotion changing a behaviour, or is the emotion trying to inform you that something else is being triggered like a value, expectation, hope, etc. Though there are many ways to do this, a basic starting point is to write down and notice when you have strong emotional reactions or behaviours you do not like, and then ask yourself “what was going through my mind?”. What thoughts were you having, what might you be responding to? What perceived threat might have been around you, real or imagined? This can help you to a. realize you have more control over your reaction to your emotions, and b. be aware of what is actually going on for you. Though this is just a first step, it can often help get the process started of changing your reactions to the person you feel you are, versus acting and then disliking your behaviours.

Avoiding the Crowds. Social Anxiety and You.

It is summer in Edmonton, and that means it is time for food, fun and festivals. It also means that there are many people staying in their homes locked in by a vicious beast, social anxiety disorder (called SAD for the rest of this blog).

Defining SAD and some statistics: A person struggling with SAD may experience extreme fear in social situations, worry that they are being judged by others, be scared of embarrassing themselves or worried about making mistakes among other worries. Often there are two subtypes, a fear of speaking in front of people (public speaking, groups or being assertive) or more generalized anxiety that can encompass a range of social behaviours such as eating around people, being in large groups, and more. A person experiencing SAD can have extreme distress, with individual symptoms ranging from fidgeting to a racing heart and difficulty breathing. SAD can present itself in children, adolescents and adults, though often SAD develops at a younger age and progresses into adulthood. According to Statistics Canada (2015) SAD is one of the most common anxiety disorders where 8-13% of Canadians will experience it at some point in their life.

How do people deal with SAD: A common coping strategy is to avoid the social situations that create stress, but this often leads to a person feeling incongruent since they want to go out, which can eventually lead to depression. Some people might self-medicate, or use alcohol in the hopes that it will take off the edge of their anxiety and make it easier to be in social situations. These are often short-term coping strategies, and can lead to bigger problems in the long-term.

So what can you do that is healthy and hopefully effective? Continue reading “Avoiding the Crowds. Social Anxiety and You.”