Q: When I feel stressed, I have difficulty falling asleep. How do I combat the stress?
A: Trying to fall asleep when we are stressed is next to impossible: our minds are racing, our adrenaline is pumping, and our body is ready to tackle the world. Of course, bed time is the worst time to be having these thoughts because we need our sleep to help us function the next day. Here are 5 simple techniques to start teaching our bodies to relax and get ready for a good night’s sleep.
Keep a piece of paper and pen beside your bed, and when those racing thoughts refuse to leave your mind, write them down. I am always asked what the benefit of this strategy is, and the answer is easy. Getting it out on paper stops the thought from racing in your mind like a hamster on a wheel. This process slows down your hamster and allows your body to start relaxing. Try it for a week. Write down your fears, worries or whatever stress is keeping you up at night.
Do something relaxing before you get to bed. This means no working or answering emails for at least an hour before bedtime. Create a list of activities you enjoy and find relaxing, and then pick something off it each night before bed. One possibility is taking a bath with some good-quality essential oils. I love Pure and Simple’s Lavender essential oil; it’s a great product. Another one is taking the dog around the block if the weather is nice out.
Turn off the TV and put the book away when you are in bed. Make sure the room is pitch black. I would recommend investing in blackout blinds. They can be expensive, but you can find portable ones made for kids that cost around $60-$80. I have used a product called Gro Anyhwere Blinds in my bedroom when I have needed a good night’s sleep and didn’t want the sun to wake me.
Try some breathing exercises. You can listen to a breathing exercise on your mp3 player as you fall asleep. There are tons on the market, but you can try a free one on elibay.com. Alternatively, you can just try three sets of 10 deep breaths: as you are breathing, say “inhale” and “exhale” to yourself. You may also want to add a drop of the lavender essential oil to help your body calm itself.
You can try some homeopathic stress relievers. These are non-habit forming and can help relax your body and slow down your mind. Some great products are Nerve Tonic by Hyland’s and Pascoe Calm by Pascoe Canada.
Just remember to be patient with yourself: your body needs time to form new habits and this doesn’t happen overnight.
Natalie Shay is a Psychotherapist and Stress Management Counselor. She coaches individuals and consults with organizations with respect to topics such as stress management, burn-out prevention, work/life balance and emotional eating. She works with clients to help them overcome ineffective habits and create healthier new ones. Natalie can be reached at
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