On of the most important ways to keep your mind, body, and spirit working smoothly is to get a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, quality sleep seems harder and harder to come by these days. And while we can’t dream Ebola, over-active volcanoes, school shootings, or any of the other recent mayhem out of the world, there is one simple thing we can do to improve both the duration and the depth of our sleep: turn off the computer.
There are a variety of ways that computer usage, especially late at night, can compromise our dreamtime.
Bright, flickering, blue monitor screens can reduce melatonin levels
Low grade radiation from cell phones can delay crucial deep sleep, and/or shorten its duration
Processing ever increasing loads of information can keep our minds spinning even after we’re asleep–decreasing the restorative benefit of slumber, and can result in generalized stress or anxiety
Screen addiction not only overloads us with information, it also robs our minds and bodies of the hundreds of tiny mini-breaks we used to get throughout the day–standing in line at the post office, sitting in the car waiting for the kids to get out of school–forcing our systems to put even greater pressure on the rest we get at night
And then there’s the regular old adrenaline- pumping stress of getting one of “those” emails that spins you sideways right before you’re supposed to head to bed
So what can we do about it, short of taking vows of technological poverty?
Turn off your screens at least an hour before bed, giving your body and mind the time it needs to wind down toward sleep
Steer clear of Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and other quick flipping, info-dense sites after dinner–not only can the sheer volume of data keep your brain clicking even hours after you unplug, the “just one more message” mentality that seems to go hand-in-hand with these kinds of sites can make it nearly impossible to find an easy shut off point
Practice not picking up your smartphone or tablet every time you have to wait–instead, try noticing your surroundings, talking with someone, or just tune in to the state of your body and if you’re tense, take the moment to breathe through it
Consider a digital sabbath where you avoid all electronics for 24 hours–not only will it give your mind a rest, it can help save on your electricity bills, too
Finding a way to let stress slide off you as though you were made of Teflon is among the most important survival skills you can master–whether it’s dealing with the daily stresses of sheltering in place, the short and violent stress of a sudden, devastating natural disaster, or the pressure of an intense, and ongoing threat. In dealing with any stressful situation, clearheadedness is key. Here is one way to help get from frazzled to functioning when you need it most.
I have spent the past three days working at our community’s biennial Quilt Fiesta. This is my second Quilt Fiesta. In 2012 I was in charge of the gift shop. This year I worked for the local sewing machine shop. Last year I spent the entire week before and all three days of the event (and several after) stressed out of my mind. This year I enjoyed every minute. What was different? Practice.
Yes, it did help that I’d done it before, but that’s not the type of practice I am talking about here. I’m using practice in the spiritual sense of the word.
At the gift shop, I was running the show–making sure everything was well stocked, managing volunteers staffing the booth, adjusting prices, helping customers. I felt torn in a million different directions. This year I also had to restock, help customers, and generally help keep the booth running smoothly, but my most important job was to demonstrate one of our sewing machines–a sit-down long arm for free-motion quilting.
For those of you unfamiliar with free-motion quilting, it’s basically like doodling with thread. Except that instead of a pen you have a very large machine, and instead of moving that machine you move the fabric. I took my first real free-motion class less than two months ago which means I am a beginner. But I wanted to learn, so I sat my butt down on that chair and started to sew.
As a result, two things happened:
I started to get better–a lot better. And that getting better made me feel good. And that feeling good gave me more energy. And that extra energy made me more optimistic and more confident. And that helped me get better.
Free-motion quilting, like doodling, has a very meditative quality to it, and like meditation, offers a number of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and reducing depression–and not just during these meditative events. A regular mediation or other spiritual practice (including art-making and crafting) can help build psychological, emotional, and even physical resilience.
A daily meditation or art/craft-based practice of even 15 minutes a day can help you cope in even the most stressful of circumstances. And as for that other type of practice–imagine how much more confident and optimistic you’d be about your prepping plans with regular test-runs. Run through anything enough times, and it becomes muscle memory. You don’t even have to think. You just do.
These days, the big buzz word when talking about disaster preparedness seems to be resilience. It used to be more about strength regardless of whether we were talking about a building, an organization, an ecosystem, or a person’s physical or mental health. But as anyone who has ever been through an earthquake knows, when it comes to structural soundness of a building it’s the combination of fortitude and flexibility that gives you your best chance.
The same is true for people. Being able to lift a lot of weight doesn’t mean you can run fast, or dodge obstacles, or swim. The same goes for our brains. Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to develop your psychological resilience:
Cultivate strong relationships: Have someone to talk to that you feel comfortable with and can trust. It can be even better to have an assortment of people with different interests and expertise so you can get different perspectives.
Learn to roll with change: Change is constant. Learning to recognize what you can control and what you can’t in any given situation can help minimize stress and wasted energy.
Develop flexible thinking: This is one of my favorites to practice. Planning a road trip? Map several alternate routes to see which might be more fun. Working on a story, craft, or art project? Try making lists of all possible options to see how many you can come up with.
Practice optimism: When something goes wrong, especially really wrong, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even just remembering it’s there, can help make reaching it that much easier.
Take care of yourself: If you’re tired, hungry, hung-over, in pain, or physically compromised in some other way, you’re not going to be able to think as clearly or quickly as if you’ve had a full night’s sleep and a healthy meal. Likewise, if you’re over-stressed.
And this advice isn’t just good in disasters. For example, over the weekend I was working on a quilt. I had a design but hadn’t started making it until Saturday morning and it was due on Sunday. Because it was small, it didn’t take that long to make, but once I had, I realized that the design didn’t work. The thread was too close to the color of the fabric so the accents didn’t show up and without that, the whole thing just looked like big blobs of unrelated color. At first I panicked, knowing that there was not enough time to start over, but when I turned the quilt over I realized that the thread that was invisible on the front, stood out like mad on the black back. By making the back the front, the project and my sanity were saved.