The day is done. Your head has just hit the pillow and you close your eyes. What happens next? Do you blissfully drift off to a different state of consciousness? Do you count sheep? Do you think about everything that you accomplished during the day or all that you didn’t get done that spills into the next day? Maybe you are fraught with a problem and your mind is chewing on it. Maybe you are really excited about something happening soon and you can’t quench your anticipation. Those moments (and hopefully they aren’t more than just a few) are so precious and telling. If you are having trouble letting go of something and your mind won’t shut off – what is your solution?
I went through a period of insomnia a couple of years ago and I have never felt so mad in my life. I couldn’t figure out why my mind wouldn’t shut down and I didn’t even think I was bothered by anything or particularly stressed. I just could not figure out why all of a sudden, I was having problems. I consumed herbs, teas, over the counter sleeping aids, read books about sleep, and practiced many relaxation techniques. What happens though is when you begin to define anything as a “problem” it then initiates your problem-solving brain, which is good during waking hours – but not when you’re lying in bed. I found that lying in bed was not the time to solve the problem because I honestly started to develop such a terrible pattern of behavior that I was petrified of facing my bed altogether. It was a dreadful cycle and I hope one that you never experience yourself.
However, I broke it. The reason for this post is to share with you that if something is not working in your life right now or you’ve identified something as a problem, there is a solution. Even just telling yourself that, will calm your nerves. There is a solution. Maybe you haven’t found it yet, but it’s there. This is the first step to overcoming any challenge. You have to tell yourself (out loud and using your name is even better, all backed by research I promise!). So, if I were coaching myself experiencing a problem falling asleep, I would start each day by saying, “Christina, there is a solution to falling asleep. You will figure it out”. You have to say this out loud often enough to make it a part of your inner dialogue. It takes more than one honest conversation with yourself. Say it every day, many times a day! This will work for any problem. Try it.
Next steps are really building your knowledge on whatever problem or challenge you are facing. This might be reading or asking others that are in your support circle that might have advice for you to try. Maybe you need to seek professional assistance or find another circle of people that are not currently in your direct line of contact. The point is to educate yourself and then put into practice what you learn. Now you are building your muscle of overcoming this challenge with a one-two pack punch. You’ve been talking to yourself each day informing yourself that you are capable of overcoming this problem and you’ve done the honest work of empowering yourself with solution(s). If the first thing you try doesn’t work, there is more waiting. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.
I can’t definitively tell you one solution that worked for my sleep ailment because I tried so many things, but ultimately it was when I started telling myself the sleeplessness wouldn’t last forever and that a solution was on its way, that I began to relax about the idea of sleeplessness as a problem. I no longer felt mad, I discovered that there were definitely some habits that needed changing and some day time behaviors that were not helping me either. It really took an investment in myself though and a strong will and belief that I could make peace at night that shifted the game. It is amazing what our belief system does for us.
Over the past 15 years of working as a school psychologist, I have discovered that children and young adults are not so different than us grown-ups. We don’t always have the answers and we will face challenges our entire life. Children soak everything up around them, pulling in what they see, hear, and experience. As adults we tend to close off parts of ourselves or move through things without giving it much thought, just to “get ‘er done!” Not only do we manage our own lives, but often those of our children or other dependents. It’s okay to admit that you are working through a challenge and that you might not have the answers. Reach out to others, seek solutions from multiple sources, but first and foremost instill a belief in yourself. Ultimately what you are seeking is just a matter of unlocking the answers that are within you.