I am working on my Doctorate and seeing clients as part of my training. One client’s problems have inspired me to read Greenberg’s Emotion Focused Therapy in depth. I’d been dipping into it all week, but the night before I was to see her I was skimming though the theory and trying to get to the useful part (i.e. ‘what do I DO’ or ‘how do I USE this’) .
[As an aside, if we meet you’ll probably find that with therapy, I am very much about the usefulness of a theory and its practical application or technique. If I just wanted to set my imagination of fire with interesting ideas just for fun, I’d read philosophy.]
So yeah, there I am rather late at night with my nose stuck in a book. (Perhaps sadly, this is not unusual for me). I like it and I’m quite absorbed in it and, as I said, I’m torn between wanting to get enough background but also eager and motivated to get to the bit I’m on the hunt for: technique. I check the clock. 11:00pm. I tell myself ‘5 more minutes’, but then 5 minutes, becomes 10, then 20 and suddenly I’m coming up on midnight. I have to admit defeat by this point as, even if I feel asleep right now, I will not get 8 hours of sleep. I like sleep. More so, I need sleep to function properly, so I pack it up and get ready for bed.
Now, if it ended there, there would be no real point to posting this in a Blog. (Instead, it would be a rather boring personal diary entry). But the problem is: I can't fall asleep. I’d decided to put the activities away and go to bed, but the activities are not done with me. I’ve left myself no time to unwind so I am lying there with my mind still whizzing, still thinking about the book contents, still having moments of self-recrimination ‘why didn’t you got to bed sooner…’. However, this is the kind of thinking I would reflect back to a client as "unhelpful".
What is my salvation?
So I lie in bed and throw on some Binaural Beat sounds on Spotify to help relax and encourage deeper sleep. This is something I have done a lot the past year or two when I’ve gone to bed a bit late. Maybe it's placebo, but I do find I wake up feeling more well rested. So if it works, don't knock it.
But I'm still lying there, feeling ramped up. Now it's around 1am and I'm still having trouble switching off. There are still thoughts, even if I decided to stop the self-blame ones. Now what??
Physician, Heal Thyself. (This is where the 'practise what you preach part comes in')
My mind starts flipping like a rolodex. (Remember those? Probably not...in fact I had to Google how to spell that [Note: my first attempt was wrong]}. I'm thinking about what relaxation technique to use. I start with some breathing exercises. Slight improvement and I'm feeling calmer after a few minutes, but still tense. I've become aware of the tension in my body, which is good as it's a newly identified problem to target. I move onto Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Bingo! I cannot say how long it took (as the last thing you usually want to do when you can't fall asleep is look at a clock!) but focusing on releasing tension from my muscles and body starts to work. I am feeling more and more relaxed and....well, I mainly just remember waking up hours later.
Now, yes, Progressive Muscle Relaxation helped me in that moment. However, the main take-away is: I shouldn't let myself get into that state. Previously, I'd promised myself to stop working at a certain time. I'm human and I dropped that guideline on this occasion as I was too engaged with what I was doing. One night, ok, but too many nights like that of working late into the evening and there is typically one one destination: chronic stress, then burnout. I'd be slowly teaching myself a 'new normal' way of being that is actually abnormal.
It took me about an hour to unwind that one night. It didn't even feel like stress; I enjoyed what I was doing. So imagine how long it may take to unwind if your body is used to this being your normal...? Probably not a 1:1 figure, but more time-consuming to remedy.
So please, nip it in the bud early!