If you’re having trouble sleeping, rest assure that you’re not alone! In fact, you’re among millions of people who are experiencing sleep problems.
The Sleep Health Foundation in Australia reports that almost 60% of Australians regularly experience at least 1 sleep disorder symptom such as trouble falling or staying asleep. Similarly, the National Sleep Foundation in the U.S. reports that disordered sleep affects nearly two-thirds of American adults— and stems mostly from stress.
Sleep disorders can be seriously harmful. According to the Adelaide Institute for Sleep, poor sleep can result in memory and mood disturbance, daytime sleepiness and poor concentration. Long-term sleep loss can contribute to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In addition to affecting your health, it can impact your safety (higher risk of accidents when tired), work performance and relationships.
While there are many tips to improve sleep, unless your stress is managed, other remedies may not be as effective. It’s also helpful to understand that you can’t make yourself fall asleep. What we can do, however, is create the right conditions for sleep – in our minds and our environment.
Better than Counting Sheep is an e-book that outlines 15 ways to improve your sleep. Included in the guide are 3 HeartMath techniques which are based on 25 years of scientific research by the Institute of HeartMath. This stress management system is used around the world by people in military organisations, healthcare, schools and businesses with consistent good results.
When using HeartMath techniques, it’s helpful to understand the desired mind/body state called Coherence. When you’re in coherence, your internal physiology is balanced. Your heart, mind, emotions, nervous system, hormonal and immune systems are operating in a coordinated and optimal way. Research has shown that generating coherence is directly linked to better sleep, significantly less fatigue and improved mental abilities. When you’re coherent, you not only save energy, you have a greater capacity to perform well, remain calm, think clearly and control your emotions. You have a better coping capacity.
If a good, deep, restful sleep is elusive to you, the techniques in Better than Counting Sheep may help you to enjoy better sleep and improve your life. It won’t happen overnight, but if you establish and maintain a good sleep routine, also known as good ‘sleep hygiene’, it’s likely to improve. Different techniques work for different people. Find what techniques suit you, adhere to them and be patient. If your sleep still doesn't improve, please consult your doctor.
Request your FREE e-book at https://www.stockdalewellbeing.com/contact.html
My elderly father, who has lived through the Great Depression of the 1930's, and WW2, recently commented that he has never before seen such widespread, community anxiety in Australia since the outbreak of COVID-19.
Fear and anxiety about this disease can be overwhelming for many reasons. Aside from the obvious concern of contracting the virus personally, people are concerned about their:
- high-risk family members and friends,
- separation from family/friends,
- job security,
- the survival of their business,
- the welfare of their staff or team,
- travel restrictions and the possibility of being "stuck" somewhere,
- the long-term economic consequences- national and international!
Knowing how to cope with these stressors can make you, the people you care about and your community stronger.
By reducing your stress, you switch off your Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) which protects you from immediate threats like an attack. Your SNS contributes to the Stress Response which triggers physiological changes that enable you to fight against the threat, escape from the threat, or freeze. When you're in this stressed state, your immune system is impaired. It's not needed to run, fight or freeze.
However, when we feel calm, we activate our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which enables us to rest, regenerate and digest our food. Our PNS deploys our immune system which of course is designed to protect us from diseases. When we're calm, our thinking capacity is also enhanced, enabling us to think with more clarity and make better decisions, including health decisions. For example, when we're stressed, we might choose harmful ways to feel relief like smoking or excessive drinking, instead of helpful ways like exercise, or walking in nature.
The Stress Response is designed for emergencies and quick recovery. Once the crisis is over, the body usually returns to the unstressed state. However, when we 'get stuck' in stress, (for example, long-term worry about COVID-19), our energy is drained, our immune systems are compromised and we are more vulnerable to disease.
Emotional management is key to reducing stress and activating our PNS. There are many ways of managing our emotions which I teach through my online workshops and coaching sessions. An effective, evidence-based way to replace fear and anxiety with calmness and managed concern is a HeartMath technique called Care Focus.
1. Breathing at a slow, relaxed pace, pretend you are breathing through your heart and imagine that you are calming your mind and emotions with each breath.
2. As you breathe, visualize mental and emotional calm and poise streaming into your mind and into all your cells. Hold a conscious intention in your heart to change feelings of anxiety or fear into managed concern. Practise will increase your capacity to maintain care and compassion without creating burnout in your system. Any progress is good progress when reducing fear. Be patient.
3. Finally, radiate compassionate care and calm into your environment to help reduce the fear and see people making smarter choices from an attitude of managed concern.
I encourage you to practice this Care Focus for 5 minutes each day to help you, your close company and your community.
Feel welcome to get in touch and let me know how this technique makes you feel.
When Tim Ferris (author of 4 Hour Work Week) interviewed Adam Robinson (global investments guru), he asked Adam, "What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months or in recent memory?"
Adam replied, "Well, this purchase is not less than $100 but it is too close to pass up. The HeartMath biofeedback monitor. I enthusiastically adopted biofeedback HRV training, and in a few weeks, learned to quiet my mind, gaining the ability to achieve a Zen-like calm on demand."
So what is this HeartMath biofeedback monitor and HRV training about?
HeartMath is an internationally respected stress management system that uses simple heart-based techniques to reduce stress and shift our mind/body to a state of "coherence". When we're in coherence, a specific rhythmic pattern of our heart increases our emotional resilience, clarity and creativity. When we’re in coherence, we’re in an optimal state of mind/body balance, a state of grace, ease and flow.
Our ability to create and sustain coherence is determined by our ability to regulate our emotions, which can improve with daily practise. Biofeedback devices, referred to by Adam Robinson, are available to help train you to shift from a stressful state into coherence.
(Image used with permission from the HeartMath Institute)
I teach my clients, with or without a device, HeartMath techniques that effectively reduce stress. I encourage them to practise the following “Quick Coherence” technique every morning, every night before sleep and whenever a stressful event occurs.
Step 1: Focus your attention in the area of your heart. Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest area, breathing a little slower and deeper than usual.
Try inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds, but most importantly, find a rhythm that feels comfortable.
Step 2: Make a sincere attempt to experience a regenerative feeling such as appreciation or care for someone or something in your life.
Try to re-experience the feeling you have for someone you love, a companion animal, a special place, an achievement etc., or focus on a feeling of calm or ease.
Sustain that feeling and enjoy being in coherence.
Go to www.stockdalewellbeing.com to to find out more about the HeartMath approach to stress management.
About ten years ago, my marriage suddenly ended, triggering shock, grief and deteriorative life changes.
My new life was completely unaligned with my heart which caused prolonged stress. Unsurprisingly, 18 months later I was diagnosed with cancer.
Thanks to my support network, the surgeons and whatever other universal forces came into play, I survived the cancer. I also woke up to the importance of reacting carefully to the cards we are dealt.
As Epictetus said, “It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” According to Admiral James Stockdale, who survived 7.5 years of torture and imprisonment during the Vietnam War, this philosophy underpinned his attitudes, actions and ultimately, his survival.
If I knew then what I know now about the link between stress and our health, I would have looked for effective ways to overcome depleting emotions (heart-break, grief, fear) that impair our immune system. By doing so, I would have gained more clarity and had a greater cognitive capacity to consider other actions that were more aligned with my heart and values. If I knew then, what I know now about the link between stress and our health, I would have made better decisions and my body may not have opened the door to cancer.
The good news is that there are effective ways to reduce stress and manage emotions. I teach them to clients in workshops and one on one, via video calls.
The first step is to determine whether you have too much stress. A small amount of stress can improve motivation and performance. Excessive, prolonged stress impedes your immune system and makes you vulnerable to illness- mental or physical.
Most people know when they're experiencing stress overload. Signs include: worry, muddled thinking, impaired judgement, hasty judgement, nightmares, insomnia, indecision, negativity, loss of appetite, over-eating, loss of sex-drive, alienation, depression, anxiety, irritability, loss of confidence, breathlessness, skin irritation, fatigue, muscular tightness, deteriorated posture and headaches.
If you're not sure whether your stress level is healthy or too high, you could try a free online stress test. If your score indicates that you have a moderate, high or very high risk, please take action to care for yourself.