Engage Your Senses for a Good Night’s Sleep

Is your busy mind keeping you awake at night? By shifting your attention to what you’re experiencing with your senses, you can begin to loosen the grip of cycling thoughts.

What you see

Color: Consider decorating your bedroom with water colors and soft pastels. Select paint colors, bedding colors, and pillow colors that will help make your room an oasis of tranquility. Unlike vibrant primary colors which can be energizing, these soft colors can be soothing and calming—and help prepare you for a good night’s sleep. 

Screen time: In addition to what you see, it’s also important to consider what you don’t see. Try to get in the habit of refraining from screen time for at least an hour prior to bedtime. When you’re in front of a screen your body may think it’s daytime and this can interfere with the release of hormones that help you sleep.

What you hear

Sound machine: Nature sounds or continual sound like white noise can offer you a resting place for your attention. Any time you’re distracted by cycling thoughts, simply shift your attention to what you hear—even if you have to make this attention shift every second or two.  

What you smell

Aromatherapy: Scents can help you relax, and lavender is known for its soothing aroma. When you have trouble falling asleep, adding lavender essential oil to an aromatherapy diffuser can send you off to dreamland, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz as she entered the poppy fields. 

What you feel

Weighted blanket: Sleeping with a weighted blanket on top of you can help relax your muscles. If you tend to get warm when you sleep, consider using a “cooling” style of weighted blanket. It’s typically recommended to use a blanket that’s no heavier than 10% of your body weight.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercise: Practicing a progressive muscle relaxation helps to release physical tension. This exercise consists of a gentle tightening and releasing of each muscle group to help you differentiate between what a muscle feels like when it’s tensed versus what it feels like when it’s relaxed. Any time your mind wanders, gently shift your attention back to how your body feels. You can listen to a guided progressive muscle relaxation meditation on the Mindful 180 podcast, episode 51 (on most popular apps) or listen on: https://joyrains.com/episode-51/.

 

Hello 2021!

On January 1, 2021, I threw out my page-a-day calendar, with the last page, December 31, 2020, still clinging to the adhesive. Unlike years past, this year I felt a sense of relief—a sense of “good riddance 2020!”—as I tossed out the old. A sense of anticipation arose as I cut the plastic wrap from the new calendar.

Viktor Frankl talks about this sense of anticipation in his book,“Man’s Search For Meaning,” one of my pandemic reads. Frankl emphasizes the importance of living by looking to the future in the most difficult moments of existence. He writes about gaining inner strength by focusing on future outcomes, no matter how hard it is to shift your focus from the present. 

I’m a mindfulness trainer, teaching present moment awareness. This awareness doesn’t mean you have to continually focus on the difficulties of the present situation. Certainly, it means to acknowledge the challenges. Pushing them away would create resistance. But looking at challenges as part of a whole—rather than seeing them as if they’re all that exists—can help give you perspective. Part of that whole is looking to the future. As Frankl would say, this looking forward can help fortify you.

Remember, you are at choice about where you focus your attention. Consider focusing on what you want to create in the new year. What are you looking forward to in 2021?

Reduce Anxiety by Practicing “Not Knowing”

With the uncertainty about the coronavirus comes a tremendous amount of stress. Many questions about the virus and its implications remain unanswered—and may continue to be unanswered for the weeks and months ahead. Immediate challenges from the virus, such as illness or loss of work, bring stress. This stress is often compounded by worries about the future. Even if someone isn’t experiencing challenges at this moment, anxiety can still ensue by worrying about what’s next.

From a mindfulness standpoint, an effective technique to help reduce stress is to practice “not knowing.” By not imagining outcomes based on fears, you can remain open and present to what is. To practice, try to notice when you worry about the future and then remind yourself that you don’t know. Will this last for months? I don’t know. Will I get sick, or will my loved ones get sick? I don’t know. Will life return to the way it was? I don’t know. This practice can help your anxieties lose some of their power, as you realize that your mind may be creating stories about what’s to come— when in reality, you simply don’t know.

It can be freeing to notice your thoughts without getting lost in them—and instead, live in the immediacy of the present moment. As of today, the present moment reveals that the coronavirus issue is upon us and life as we know it is changed. Beyond that, we simply don’t know what’s next. 

All we know is that we’re all in this together, since we’re all part of the interconnected web of life. And we can only hope that it’s our interconnectedness, rather than our social distancing, that helps pull us through this crisis. Meanwhile, reminding yourself “I don’t know” may help ease anxieties about the future, as you bring your awareness to the present moment.

If you’d like to try a meditation to help you release stories about the future that can create stress, check out my latest podcast episode here: https://joyrains.com/episode-8/.

 

Responding vs. Reacting

The practice of meditation helps you respond to life’s events consciously, rather than react unconsciously. This can go a long way towards reducing stress. For example, if you’re waiting in line to pay for your purchases and someone cuts in front of you, rather than going into an immediate stress-related reaction (such as shouting “How dare you cut in front of me! I’ve been waiting 20 minutes!), meditation can help you notice events without having such a strong emotional reaction. You may be able to calmly say to the encroacher, “Excuse me please, people are waiting in line here. Please step to the back of the line.”

Practicing meditation doesn’t have to take long; simply sit in a quiet place for a few minutes, close your eyes and bring all your attention to your breath, noticing your chest rising and falling, or noticing the coolness of the air when you inhale and its warmth when you exhale. Any time your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath. This practice, even if done for a few minutes a day, can help recharge and center you.

If you’d like to listen to guided meditations, check out my new podcast, Mindful 180. https://joyrains.com/category/mindful-180-podcast/

3 Simple Tips to Reduce Stress

Got stress? Here are three tips to help you center and find balance.

Tip #1: Create a Stress-Free Zone at Home

Have a “stress-free zone” in your home. You can learn to associate a dedicated place with quieting your mind, a place where you sit for a few minutes each day and focus on your breathing. You could devote an entire room to this practice, or just a corner of a room—or even a favorite chair. One busy professional carved out a small space next to the dryer in her basement laundry room. Installing a sliding translucent screen for an outer wall transformed this basement nook into a quiet meditation space. Another person transformed a bedroom corner into a private space by using a sheer curtain as a divider. Your “stress-free zone” should include a dedicated place to sit, such as a chair or meditation cushion, and could also include inspirational items, such as books of short readings, music, or artwork. Taking the time to pause—even for a few minutes a day—can go a long way towards managing stress.

Tip #2: Weave Mindful Moments Into Your Day

Consider weaving “mindful moments” into your day-times when you quiet the chatter in your mind and bring your focus into the present moment. For example, when you walk to the coffee machine in the office, bring all your attention to the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Any time your mind wanders, gently bring your awareness back to your feet. Or when you eat lunch, bring all your awareness to the process of eating: the pace of your eating, the taste of the food, the colors of the food on your plate. When your attention wanders, gently bring it back. This process of bringing all your attention to what’s happening in the present moment can also go a long way towards managing stress.

Tip #3: Do a body relaxation meditation.

Sit in a quiet place and gently lower your eyelids to a soft gaze or a full close. Slowly move your awareness throughout your entire body, either starting with your feet and working your way up, or starting with your head and working your way down. Pause at each muscle group and see if you can release any tension. You may want to silently say to yourself “relax” with each inhale, and “release” with each exhale. Or you may want to imagine a muscle group getting warmer and warmer until the tension melts away. If you find that you’re more relaxed, see if you can develop a muscle memory of what your body feels like when it’s relaxed, so you can tap into that memory in times of stress.

These three tips are simple to practice, and best of all, they’re free! They don’t require any special equipment or training. All they require is remembering to stop and pause—if only for a few moments.

Three Tips to Reducing Stress in Traffic

#1: Change expectations. One reason people get stressed in traffic is that their expectation for the amount of traffic they’re expecting is often different than the reality of the volume of traffic. By approaching the driving time with an open mind and without expectations for the way things “should be,” people are less likely to get stressed.

#2: “Be” in the traffic. If you’re stuck in traffic, accept that this is where you are right now. And not only are you “in” the traffic, you’re part of the traffic! You’re in a community of people who are all stuck in this same situation, all wanting to get to where they’re going. 

#3: Notice negative thinking. Negative thinking can amplify stress. If you notice negative thoughts about being in traffic, see if you can focus on something positive about the situation instead, like being grateful for having a car, or having a cell phone to let someone know you’re running late. 

Managing your mindset can go a long way to reducing stress levels. Remember, you can’t change external events—you can only change your response to them.

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