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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?