Raising Awareness About Mental Health with NAMI: Part 3, Recover through sleep
Breathe in, hold it...now exhale. Ahhhh. For Part 3 of our Mental Health Package, sleep expert and therapist Su Lim talks about how we can stay present during this time of uncertainty, and walks us through a breathing exercise to calm us down and help us deal with today’s feelings of high anxiety.
Su Lim is a private practice psychotherapist based in Los Angeles who specializes in both the treatment of anxiety and sleep issues. She’s such a knowledgeable and calming presence, and we had the pleasure of partnering with her for our first ever Bearaby Sleep Workshop back in February 2020 (it seems like ages ago when we could have in-person events, doesn’t it?).
Now, Su is back, and she shares her insightful words about how people are coping in today’s uncertain times, and how we can manage our feelings of anxiety in a positive way. She was gracious enough to walk us through a breathing exercise she often uses to help her clients calm down and recenter. Take a listen!
We’re not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm
While messages about camaraderie and ‘we’re all in this together’ are comforting, it’s also important to remember that everyone’s experience during this crisis is very different, and though COVID-19 is affecting us all, it’s affecting us in different ways.
Some of us are coping fine, able to work from home, stay on top of deadlines, and collect regular paychecks. Others may be struggling with financial uncertainty, especially those who are small business owners, and dealing with payroll demands, having to apply for business loans, and other countless stressors.
Some of us are also completely alone, and really suffering from the lack of social contact. Yet others may be feeling overwhelmed by all the extra contact, especially if you’re trying to work from home, juggle calls with family and friends, and homeschool kids.
It’s not easy, and we’re all doing the best we can with the circumstances we’ve been given.
“We’re not all
in the same
Su recognizes this, which feels so refreshing these days. She’s got some great advice about how we can stay present in this time of uncertainty.
Mindfulness: Staying present when the future is uncertain
Right now there is so much waiting. When can we escape quarantine? When will there be a vaccine? When can I see my friends and family again? When can I go have a meal in my favorite restaurant (will my favorite restaurant even survive this pandemic?!)
We’re all asking ourselves, constantly, when will things go back to normal?
The difficulty with this type of mindset is that it’s so future-based. There’s a lot of anxiety right now, but trying to stay present, and manage and regulate your anxieties now, will be much more helpful for our mental health than trying to project too far into the future.
We have to get used to the fact that this is a waiting game, so, how do we stay present when the future is so uncertain?
Using the breath to calm ourselves
Breathing is part of our autonomic nervous system, which means we don’t have to think about it, we just do it automatically. But being able to control our breath can help us manage our state of mind, and help calm us down. And we all have this natural ability, which is pretty amazing.
One of the exercises that’s easy to do on your own is called the 4-6-8 breath:
Try it for yourself:
- First, empty the lungs of air
- Next, breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds
- Hold the breath for a count of 6 seconds
- Exhale forcefully through the mouth - you can purse your lips and make a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds
- Repeat this cycle up to 4 times
The 4-6-8 technique forces the mind and body to focus on regulating the breath, rather than replaying your worries. It’s really effective if you have trouble calming down, winding down at night, or are dealing with insomnia.
Keep in mind that the exhale is a very important part of being able to settle your nervous system. It’s through this 8-second exhale that you’ll really find yourself calming down, and that’s mainly because this lets you focus on the counting, and not getting caught up in your thoughts.
Some sleep hygiene tips for restless feelings and anxiety
When it comes to our overall wellness, sleep is just as important to our health as diet and exercise. Unfortunately, quality of sleep is one of the first things that suffers when we’re facing heightened stress and anxiety in our day-to-day lives, because we often don’t pay it much attention!
Even during these uneasy times, there are some fairly simple sleep hygiene tips that can help you decrease the anxiety you’re feeling and help you improve your sleep habits.
Remember these sleep hygiene tips
- Less blue light. We know it’s difficult, but keeping your phone or other screen usage to a minimum before bed will really help you calm down and get ready for rest. The blue light emitted from our smartphones disrupts our melatonin production, which can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.
- Cool it down! Our bodies actually prefer our bedrooms to be a bit chillier. That’s because our body temperature tends to decrease around bedtime, and continues to drop until its lowest point at about 5 am. If we have our bedrooms too warm, it can disrupt this natural cycle.
- Keep it by the clock. Try to to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends! This consistency helps to regulate your body's internal clock, which helps you fall asleep and stay asleep all night long.
If you’d like to contact Su Lim directly and learn more about the different services she offers in her practice, please visit Su Lim Therapy.
• Everyone’s experience during this crisis is very different, and though COVID-19 is affecting us all, it’s affecting us in different ways.
• One way we can stay mindful and present when the future is so uncertain is to use a controlled breathing exercise, like 4-6-8 technique, to calm down and recenter.
• Some simple adjustments to your sleep routine can help you fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer.
Did you know?
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S.