Ten Strategies for a Good Night’s Sleep (Without Medication!)

By Ben Johnides, MA

Getting a good night’s rest is very important. Sleep helps us maintain the energy and concentration to meet the needs of everyday life. It is also a key factor in regulating our mood: Recent research suggests that improvements in sleep help people to feel less anxious and depressed. For this reason, addressing sleep concerns is one of the first steps in treatment for individuals struggling with emotional concerns.

If you are not sleeping well, there are plenty of behavioral strategies that you can use to get your sleep schedule back on track, without using medication.

  • A bedtime: Going to bed (roughly) the same time each night is important because our circadian rhythms operate on a 24-hour clock. Going to bed more than an hour later or earlier than usual creates an effect which is equivalent to jetlag.
  • A wake-time: Similar to the above, it’s important to get up roughly the same time every day. A little weekend sleep in of 60-minutes or less won’t make a big difference, but more than that can throw off our circadian rhythms.
  • A bedtime routine: Just like children, adults need a bedtime routine to prepare themselves for sleep. For most people, 30 minutes is a good amount of time for an effective bedtime routine, which may include reading, meditating, or other calming activities in preparation for bed, and of course no screen time.
  • Create a sanctuary: When our bedroom is too cold or too hot or noisy or when our bed is uncomfortable, it can be hard to sleep. A high-quality mattress and pillow, a nice duvet, light-blocking blinds, and a noise machine can make a huge difference.
  • Bed is for sleep: When we do work (even emails!) in bed, or stay in bed tossing and turning, our body subconsciously associates our bed with being awake. Therefore, it is important that the bed only be used for sleep and romantic activities. This helps our bodies to establish an association between the bed and falling sleep.
  • Don’t sleep too much: Sleep researchers recommend that we only get as much sleep as we need to feel refreshed. Oversleeping decreases the quality of sleep, which makes sleep less restorative (and enjoyable). Relatedly, napping during the day is a “no-no” because it tends to throw off our sleep cycles.
  • Physical exercise: Daily physical exercise helps us to feel tired at night, which can make a big difference for sleep quality (and quantity). However, know your body: Some people struggle to sleep if they exercise late in the day.
  • Diet: Going to bed too hungry or too full can impact sleep quality. Ditto for going to bed too thirsty or after drinking a lot of liquids. And of course, having caffeine anytime in the afternoon can make it very hard to get to sleep.
  • Don’t bring problems to bed: Worrying in bed is a great way to teach your body to stay awake. If you tend to worry, write down your concerns in a pad of paper and then try to let them go until the morning.
  • Don’t try too hard to sleep: Sleep is a natural process that ALL people do. Forcing the process of sleeping just creates stress and ironically makes it harder to sleep. If you cannot sleep and are feeling frustrated, remember that one or two night’s without sleep isn’t ideal but usually isn’t the end of the world.

Have a good night!

You’ve Gotta #Hustle: Managing Anxiety in your Career

By Aliza Tropper, LMHC

Scrolling through social media you’ve surely noticed an overwhelming amount of content around “hustling” (as if it’s a new trend to push hard at work). Nicely designed graphics, encouraging comments, and creative posts flood our feeds with the same message – you’ve gotta #hustle. Immediately, we feel that we’re not doing enough and should be working more.

Let’s take a step back for a minute and examine the facts. Does hustling really bring in more revenue and increase productivity? Or is it increasing stress and anxiety, and leading to burnout? Is all the hype about hustle well founded, or is it an illusionary trap??

In today’s business climate there is an unavoidable pressure to constantly be available. The rise of mobile technology had rendered the 9-5 job a rarity. Responding to 11pm emails, attending after hours meetings, and running around to networking events on weekends is the new norm. And on top of all those demands, instead of using the few minutes that we’re not busy to just breathe, we’re stuck with the feeling that we’re wasting our time and should be grinding harder.

There is no question that our non-stop culture is leading people to become anxious overachievers. Without a healthy work life balance, burnout is inevitable and creates a clear risk for anxiety, depression, and medical problems.

More centrally, our pressure to hustle may actually be a result of anxiety. It’s true that some people like pushing themselves to achieve because they like a challenge or because they simply have lots of goals for themselves. But many (most?) people today are more driven by negative reinforcement: That is, they feel pressure to always be achieving, and they feel anxious and uncomfortable taking a break.

The reality is that working more doesn’t necessarily mean more success. In fact, in addition to the personal emotional and physical toll of chronic stress, sometimes people make costly decisions because they are overly stressed. Ask yourself: Have you ever regretted what you wrote when you responded to an email late at night? Did you ever make a bad business decision because you were too tired or overwhelmed at the time? Has your health suffered, or your relationships, because you are working too hard? All of these are indicators that you’ve gotta STOP #hustling instead of pushing harder.

To that end, here are some concrete tips to preventing burnout in the workplace:

● Set time limits with yourself and others: Pick a reasonable time each evening when you will turn off noficiations and stop responding.
● Take care of your physical health: Eat three meals each day (especially breakfast!), drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids throughout the day, and exercise at least 3-4 times a week.
● If you have a desk job, take small breaks every 90-120 minutes to get up and stretch.
● Connect and spend time in person with family and friends, at least every 36-48 hours.
● Devote significant time each week to something else besides work (e.g., a hobby).
● Be mindful when you are doing too much and STOP yourself.
● Accept and love yourself unconditionally. Learn to be ok with your own limits. Speak up and articulate your needs at work.
● Set attainable goals and be flexible when it doesn’t go as planned
● Tolerate your mistakes when you mess up: You’re a human being, it happens!
● Celebrate your accomplishments, big and small.
● Seek out help from others and mental health professionals when necessary.

Five Common Myths about Anxiety Dispelled

By Becca Brodoff, PsyD.

  1. Panic attacks are dangerous.

If you have ever experienced a panic attack, you know that the symptoms of panic are real and intense. Some people have a whole-body reaction, with physical changes like choking sensations, dizziness, sweating, urgency to use the bathroom and a racing heart. Many people rush to the hospital the first time they have a panic attack, convinced they’re dying or going crazy. Although panic attacks are uncomfortable, they are NOT harmful. Actually, panic attack symptoms demonstrate that your body is functioning properly. This probably seems absurd, but it’s not. When your body starts to panic it is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do when it perceives danger – your body’s “fight or flight” response is activated to keep you safe. The only problem is that panic attacks usually occur when there is nothing truly dangerous. So, the next time your body begins to misfire, just accept the panic and allow the misfiring to happen, barely giving the symptoms any credence. The more we can accept panic without labeling it as dangerous, the more tolerable the sensations become and the quicker it will end.

  1. Having a full-fledged anxiety disorder is rare.

An “Anxiety Disorder” involves clinical levels of anxiety which cause “significant distress and/or impairment” such that professional treatment is warranted. Many people feel like an outsider after being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but in fact, such diagnoses are extremely common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders with nearly one in five (19.1%) of American adults meeting criteria in every given year. That’s more than 40,000,000 people! Does that seem rare to you??

  1. Avoiding stress and stressful situations is necessary to feel better.

Avoiding what makes us nervous is a common response to fear and anxiety. It makes intuitive sense to want to avoid the very situations that send us into a panic since the very act of avoiding helps us feel calm for the time being. Although escaping what you fear works to keep anxiety at bay in the short run, the more we avoid what we fear, the stronger and more long-lasting this fear will become. How does this work? It’s simple. When we avoid, we never get a chance to disprove our anxious predictions. For example, if we’re afraid that we’re too awkward to make a good impression and avoid social situations, we never learn that we have more social skills than we think. Or if we’re terrified of passing out in an elevator due to fear and we always take the stairs, we never learn that we can tolerate high levels of anxiety without fainting. In a nutshell: The best way to get cope with your anxiety is to lean into fear, not avoid it.

  1. I’m weak and incompetent for being anxious.

Many people feel that something’s inherently wrong with them for feeling anxious. Not only is this just flat out wrong, it’s also cruel. Anxiety is a natural part of being human. In fact, it’s an emotion that we need to protect and motivate ourselves. While intense anxiety can be uncomfortable and interfere with daily functioning, too little anxiety is even worse! Anxiety, among other things, motivates us to study for exams, prepare for big interviews, and otherwise push beyond our limits. So, telling yourself that you’re weak, stupid, or incompetent for being anxious is just a lie. And by the way, it won’t do you any good to berate yourself when you feel anxious, in fact usually it only discourages people further. When we feel anxious it’s our body’s way of saying “I need support” so compounding stress with guilt and shame just makes things worse. Many people believe that putting themselves down will give them motivation to overcome anxiety. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. A better approach is to treat yourself like you would treat a good friend—with empathy and care. Try to understand, and be curious about why you’re feeling anxious. This understanding will go a long way in helping you devise a plan of action and overcome anxiety in the long run.

  1. The only way to beat anxiety is with medication.

While medication can be helpful for anxiety especially in the short term, it is not the only way to see results. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy and is the gold standard for anxiety disorder treatment. CBT works by helping people identify their worries, see things in more helpful and realistic ways, and confront anxiety-provoking situations head-on. At times, medication can be an important component of treatment, such as when anxiety prevents someone from engaging in CBT. So, taking medication may be an important first step. But, in the long-run taking medication can actually reinforce the idea that anxiety is bad or harmful, and interfere with the processes of learning to overcome our fears.