• The Book That Changed My Life (and Helped Me Friggin’ Relax)

    October 13, 2015

    As you guys might remember, I have a history of anxiety and sleep issues. My brain never shuts off, so I often spend a lot of time laying in bed (sometimes for hours and hours) making mental To Do lists and worrying about everything and anything. I realize this constant brain noise prevents me from sleeping, so I am always looking for new strategies to help calm my mind.

    sleep and stress

    Not long ago, I discovered a book called 10% Happier. And if you know me in real life, there’s a high probability I’ve already told you about it because it has changed my life for the better.

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    10% Happier was written by Dan Harris, an ABC news anchor, and I immediately loved it. First off, it’s just a really great story. Harris talks about his experience overseas following 9/11 as well as his role as a religion correspondent, so it was easy to get sucked in. What really resonated with me though was how much we had in common with regard to how to our brains are wired. We can’t shut them off and, a lot of the time, they wander to the worst case scenario. This means we end up worrying all the time, like when we’re driving in the car somewhere, taking a shower, and, worst of all, at night when we have hours and hours alone with our thoughts, which, of course, leaves us totally exhausted the next day. Ok, let me rewind a little…

    When Quinn was born, I started to have some sleep issues. (I’m sure the majority of new moms can relate.) I would hear him on the baby monitor and immediately bolt up in bed to check on him. Even if he wasn’t crying, I would still check the monitor all night long. I’m sure this is normal behavior for first-time moms, but after feeding Quinn in the middle of the night, I couldn’t get back to sleep. My mind would race from huge scary things to the tiniest possibilities and back again. Over and over. All night long. I was worried about my newborn (was he too cold? too hot? hungry? was he still breathing?), but I was also thinking about everything I needed to do. My brain just wouldn’t stop making mental To Do lists, so there were many nights that I didn’t sleep at all. Not a wink. I would watch the clock until the sun came up. It was awful and so incredibly frustrating because I knew I needed sleep in a bad way. Eventually, I was so sleep-deprived (and having the worst flare of my life), something needed to change.

    As I dove even deeper into Harris’ book, his words were all too familiar. I could relate to him on so many levels. At times, it even felt like I could have written parts of his book. Our sleep issues were so similar and his meditation strategies made so much sense to me. In fact, I even started photographing parts of his book that really struck a chord with me. I wanted to remember them later on, especially when I struggled to sleep. Here are a few that really had an impact on me:

    “Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress.”

    Whoa. This was me in a nutshell. Always thinking about the future and never appreciating the present moment = continuous stress. Yes. Exactly. I would try my hardest to fall asleep, but then I would keep thinking about what I needed to do the next day. Or worse: I would think about not being able to sleep and how tired/cranky I would feel the next day. And, not surprisingly, all of those things would stress me out even more. Making the present moment my friend instead of my enemy has really helped me deal with, well, everything.

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    Here Harris writes about Eckhart Tolle, a popular spiritual author and author of The Power of Now:

    “In his books, Tolle repeatedly denigrated the habit of worrying, which he characterized as a useless process of projecting fearfully into an imaginary future. ‘There is no way that you can cope with such a situation, because it doesn’t exist. It’s a mental phantom,’ he wrote.”

    This hit home for me in a major way. Ok, so all that constant worrying is a big waste of time because those worries don’t even exist? Aha moment. Realizing this was life-changing. I was basically spinning my wheels about nothing– well, nothing real. Worrying is just imaginary nonsense and wasted energy. Worries are things that could possibly happen, but haven’t. This made so much sense to me and when I stopped worrying about every little detail of my life, my sleeping habits got so much better, and I was just a happier person overall. Waking up after a solid night’s sleep definitely helped improve my mood, and, I swear, I hardly ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed anymore!

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    And this, people, is what changed everything for me with regard to shutting off my brain and getting a good night’s sleep:

    Picture the mind like a waterfall… the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall.

    When I’m having one of those nights when my mind is racing, I picture myself standing behind a waterfall… in that cool, dark space, with my worries rushing past me. I can honestly say this metaphor hasn’t failed me yet. It always calms my mind and helps me sleep soundly. It’s definitely my go-to strategy when I’m struggling with an overactive mind.

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    10% Happier is such an amazing book, and it’s honestly made me a better mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend because I am a much happier person when I’m not worrying about every little thing in my life. And as cheesy as this may sound, I feel like I can do anything! and conquer the world! when I am relaxed and well-rested. If you struggle with anxiety and sleepless nights, I can’t recommend this book enough.

    Question of the Day

    What book changed your life? 

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    { 23 comments… read them below or add one }

    Cori @ She's Going the Distance October 13, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Definitely the snickerdoodle or cake batter. I have such a sweet tooth so anything to curb it!

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    Bets October 13, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    This sounds like me. When I put my daughter back to bed after feeding her I check on her so many times to make sure the fan is hitting her right, that she is breathing, that her head looks comfortable, etc. I always worry about what will happen next, if she eats at this time, how will that affect her night, etc…I think I need to read this book. I’m glad its helped you!

    Reply

    Allyssa October 13, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    I really appreciate this post because I deal with anxiety and at times sleepless nights, so i will definitely be checking this book out! I have read Chemistry of Calm, which I thought was interesting too, so I can’t wait to read the book and start implementing some of those strategies. I really liked the waterfall metaphor and plan to use that ASAP!

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    Julia @ Lord Still Loves Me October 13, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    Dang! I just saw this book at Barnes and Noble yesterday. I almost purchased it but decided against it. I’m trying to stop impulsive buying, but now this makes me with I had. Thank you for the honest review!

    Dodie Smith’s book, I Capture The Castle changed my book. It was the first time I realized I could be a writer myself.

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    Erin M. October 13, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    I’m addressing the same issues in my life right now! My therapist has me reading Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s about mindfulness-based stress reduction…definitely a life changing book!

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    Emily October 13, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    I also love Jon Kabat-Zinn, especially his book Coming to Our Senses and Byron Katie’s A Thousand Names for Joy. Both helped me connect with my life more as it just unfolds and to appreciate the present moment as the doorway into that experience. Remember this is YOUR one precious life, live it up and out of your head. Thanks for sharing Tina!

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    Anna October 13, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    After I commented earlier, I ended up downloading this on my kindle this afternoon ($1.99!). I was having an off day and just needed to take some time for myself. Game changer! Totally turned around one of those no good terrible bad days 🙂

    Thank you, Tina!

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    Bethany October 13, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    I understand the constant worry and making up the worst things in my head. Digging deeper into my faith truly gave me the peace I needed!

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    Kimberly October 13, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    This post could not have come at a better time. I had the hardest time falling asleep last night because my mind would not stop thinking! Kept thinking about things that I couldn’t change. I was making up worst case scenarios in my mind that didn’t exist, and I felt so angry or sad, and the cycle continued. Thank you for the recommendation for this book! I went and bought it immediately for my Kindle!

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    Ella October 13, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    I love this, it resonates with me for sure. I don’t mean to sound like some religious nut, but I find a few verses from Matthew 6 really comforting to help me banish worry. I don’t usually go around posting religious stuff but I’ll just put it here for reference: “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you…”

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    Sheena @ Paws and Pavement October 14, 2015 at 12:06 am

    I will check it out. I have trouble with over thinking and stressing. My favorite book is The Power of Habit. Our whole life and decisions are based on habits and how we make bad and good choices based on habits. Love it!

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    Jennifer @ Tri Stuff I Like October 14, 2015 at 12:22 am

    Thanks for the recommendation! When I was in high school I read a book about perfectionism and basically the lesson was “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” It totally changed the way I handled everything life threw at me. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the book, but I am definitely a more balanced person because of it.

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    Erica D October 14, 2015 at 8:00 am

    I have this book and tried reading it but couldn’t make past 1 or 2 pages before falling asleep every night. I didn’t make it past the first two chapters. I’ll have to try reading this again. Thank you so much for being open about your anxiety, I have such similar symptoms and am constantly wondering if I’m the only person who’s brain will just not shut off, some days it drives me crazy. I choose not to take medication because I don’t believe in it so I’m always open for tips to help calm my brain.

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    Margaret @ Simple Fit Foodie October 14, 2015 at 9:44 am

    This book sounds so great I will probably check it out next. I definitely have some stress/anxiety and also sleeping issues, although I’ve been working on them and they are getting better for sure.

    The book that changed my life 100% is called “You are a badass: how to stop doubting your greatness and start living and awesome life” by Jen Sincero and I recommend to anyone and everyone struggling with stress/anxiety and also self-confidence/self-love issues. It is SO great. Written very bluntly and down to earth and she incorporates a bunch of stories from her own life and I find I can relate to SO many of them on some level. There is a big focus on loving yourself and not comparing yourself to others and how those play a big role in reducing anxiety especially.

    Thanks for the post!

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    Michele October 14, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    First of all I love Dan Harris! Such a cutie 😉 Anyway, I think I need this book. I’ve heard him talk about it. Have you seen the clip of him having a panic attack on the air? Scary stuff that I can relate to. I suffer from extreme anxiety and when I try to sleep I can’t turn off the thoughts in my head. I toss and turn and think and think. It’s horrible. I’m going to see if I can download it now.

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    Tina October 14, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    I watched it. He definitely looked freaked out!

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    Jessica October 14, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    I really needed to hear some of this. And the waterfall thing- wow! When I first read it, I thought trying to visualize a waterfall of worries would stress me out, like my problems would run out of my control. (I can’t even count sheep to try to sleep without it stressing me out) But I tried it, and immediately just a sense of calm washed over me. Thanks for the great insights and the book recommendation!

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    Vicky October 15, 2015 at 12:13 am

    I like that waterfall imagery a lot, thanks for sharing that one.
    Although, admittedly I was cynical about the set-up experiences, I’ve found great value in the book “Loving What Is…” by Byron Katie. I’ve used her 4 questions so many times to re-examine negative thoughts or assumptions that were really bugging me.

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    Jesica @rUnladylike October 15, 2015 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for recommending this to me when we were in Seattle :). I enjoyed reading it. Dan is an incredible writer. As I was reading it, I was marveling at how he could be so eloquent and hilarious at the same time. And what interesting insights into the news business. I too can never seem to shut off my brain. I’m pretty good at being in the present, but at night I can’t stop thinking. Sometimes it causes me to be unable to fall asleep. I wish we had an off/on switch for our heads sometimes. xo

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    lynn @ the actor's diet October 17, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Always looking for a good book, and reminders to stay present. Thank you, Tina!

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    Kimberly October 18, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    Hi Tina – so glad you found Dan’s book! I work for a Boston-based startup that partnered with Dan to create a 10% Happier app. It’s an easy to understand, no “woo woo” course to help you start meditating. Plus it comes with a 1-to-1 coach. If you’re interested let me know and I’d be happy to get you set up with a complimentary course.
    Honestly with a 15 month at home + my own fitness and professional goals meditating is what keeps it all together some days 🙂
    You can check it out here: http://www.changecollective.com/10-percent-happier/

    Reply

    Kelly January 4, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    @Kimberly:

    Hi, Kimberly – I just stumbled upon your comment and checked out the site you recommended. It sounds amazing! Is your comp course open to anyone, or just Tina?
    Thanks!
    Kelly
    Kellynandrews@gmail.com

    Reply

    Marissa October 19, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    You should try ASMR on youtube. This is the ONLY thing that has put me to sleep without use of sleep aid. It took some time to get used to sleeping with earphones, and at first it seems weird….but it is so relaxing and it helps calm your mind. My favorite youtube channels are: HeatherFeatherASMR; ASMRequests; AccidentallyaGraceful ASMR. Check it out and sweet dreams!!

    Reply

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