Archive for ‘Insomnia’

May 2, 2013

Buying a Little Love With My Tax Refund

by Dave P.

I fell in love with her the moment I put my hands on her sweet body. Visually, she wasn’t much different than the others, but once I touched her long neck and heard her sweet voice, I knew she was for me. That acoustic guitar – a Taylor 114ce – will soon be mine. She is a bit pricy, but with my tax refund, the expenditure is justifiable.

My wife and I had been hit fairly hard from the recession, but now things are looking up. Being unemployed gave me time to think about life. I used to suffer from severe stage-fright – a byproduct of being overly concerned with what others thought of me. Self-consciousness is a lose-lose proposition. It makes you miserable and can make those around you nervous. Since “all the world is a stage,” stage-fright can severely inhibit your ability to enjoy life.

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February 19, 2013

Most Common Mental Health Disorders

by Dave P.

Anxiety Disorders
Approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have an anxiety disorder.

Mood Disorders
Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder.

Social Phobia
Approximately 15 million American adults age 18 and over, or about 6.8 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have social phobia.

Major Depressive Disorder
Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Approximately 7.7 million American adults age 18 and older, or about 3.5 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have PTSD.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Approximately 6.8 million American adults, or about 3.1 percent of people age 18 and over, have GAD in a given year.

Panic Disorder
Approximately 6 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 2.7 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have panic disorder.1, 2

Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Approximately 2.2 million American adults age 18 and older, or about 1.0 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have OCD.


February 13, 2013

New Improved Closed Eye Oscillation Thought Stopping Technique

by Dave P.

Closed Eye Oscillation Thought Stopping (CEOTS) has shown to be effective for many people, but it’s not that easy to use for some. A few people who participated in the study said it made them dizzy.

This morning, I woke up early and was unable to fall back to sleep. With my eyes closed, I moved them back and forth, but to no avail. The worries kept coming back into my my consciousness and I was unable to fall back to sleep.

So I decided to try some new techniques. First I imagined an eraser clearing my thoughts. Then a squeegee. The squeegee seemed to work better than the eraser, but it wasn’t working well enough to help me sleep. Then I imagined windshield wipers oscillating back and forth while I followed them with my eyes, and voilà! I was asleep in just a few seconds!

WindshieldWiperStart of by observing the sound of your breathing, and observe the sensation of cool air flowing in through your nostrils and warm air flowing back out. Any time a thought enters your consciousness, imagine windshield wipers slowly flapping back and forth, and follow them with your eyes. For thoughts high in emotion, imagine the windshield wipers oscillating at a faster rate. When the thought is completely gone and you experience calm, return your focus to your breath. Repeat whenever a thought enters your consciousness.

You can try various techniques to see what works for you. Try the windshield wiper visualization technique and see how that works. There are few things more frustrating than not being able to sleep. I hope this helps some of you out there.

February 7, 2013

Sleep for dummies

by Dave P.

I’m so tired, I haven’t slept a wink
I’m so tired, my mind is on the blink
I wonder, should I get up and fix myself a drink?
No no no
~ The Beatles (lyrics by John Lennon)

“I’m so stupid, I can’t even sleep! What’s wrong with me?!!” Those are some thoughts that used to go through my head when I’d lay awake at night, unable to sleep. I’d sometimes get so mad at myself, I’d punch myself in the head. I often wished I could cry myself to sleep, but wasn’t able to. It was pure hell.

Insomnia is a horrible condition. It leads people to drink, do drugs, and give up on life. Michael Jackson suffered from severe insomnia and required medically induced sleep. It eventually killed him. The great American blues guitarist Michael Bloomfield had the same problem. It destroyed his career. He turned to heroin for relief, which eventually killed him.

Unhappiness and discontentment often cause insomnia. When you don’t have something worthwhile in your life to look forward to, it affects your sleep. When you have strong meaning in life, you tend to sleep like a baby.

Everyone suffers from an occasional sleepless night, but when the problem becomes chronic, you begin spiraling downward — out of control. Every task becomes arduous. You can’t think clearly. You feel lousy. Your speech becomes slurred. You can’t remember anything. You don’t feel like talking to anyone. You become irritable. You can’t pay attention. All you can think about is going home and going to bed, but then when you’re in bed, you can’t sleep, and you think about all the things that are going wrong in your life. You dread the coming day.

People who suffer from insomnia often spend a lot of time reading books about insomnia. While proper sleep hygiene is important, spending an inordinate amount of time reading about insomnia isn’t going to help and can actually make your problem worse.

When people are unhappy, they often do things that reinforce their unhappiness, like reading about depression, insomnia, or other problems. They do so because they can relate to the material. We experience temporary pleasure when we connect with something. Even a good cry provides us with pleasure by stimulating the release of endorphins in the brain.

The problem with spending too much time learning about your problems is it strengthens the negative thinking part of the brain. What is needed is the opposite — the exercise of the positive thinking part of the brain! But that’s a bit difficult when you feel crappy due to lack of sleep. But there is hope.

First of all, take a step back at your life and ask yourself where you want to be in five or ten years. What are your goals and aspirations? Don’t factor in your insomnia because we’re going to solve that problem. What do you want out of life? Friends? Family? A career? A nice home? Hobbies? Don’t say, “a lot of money.” While it takes money to acquire some of the things we want in life, it in itself will not make you happy. And be realistic. Setting a goal to learn how to fly will only lead to disappointment or worse if you actually try to fly!

Goals provide us with meaning in life. Now, what would it take to achieve those goals? Set a course. Again, ignore your insomnia for now. What will it take? Training? Additional education? Just hard work? Map out your path. Remember to keep it positive. At this point, it may seem futile because it’s hard to do anything when you can’t sleep, but that is simply an obstacle that can be overcome.

Next, we’ll address sleep hygiene.

Wind down before going to bed. Write down anything that’s bothering you or problems that you need to address the next day. That will cut down on the ruminations and worry.

Meditate before going into your bedroom. Meditation actually gets you into a pre-sleep state with increased alpha brain waves.

Keep your bedroom cool. Your body releases tryptophan and increases serotonin levels as it cools, which cause drowsiness. A hot shower before bed will raise your body temperature, and you’ll feel tired when it cools down. Exercise also raises your body temperature, so don’t engage in any strenuous activities before bed. Sex may be the exception.

You can meditate while in bed to help you fall asleep. Simply observe the sensation of air flowing through your nostrils — the cool air entering and warm air exiting. Listen to the sounds of the night. Feel the comfort of your bed. Just observe.

If you live in a noisy area, some earplugs can help. A sleep mask can provide you with a dark environment — even during the day.

But what do you do when your brain won’t shut down when you’re trying to fall asleep? After all… it’s dark and quiet — the perfect time to think about things without any disruption! We seem to get some kind of satisfaction from rehashing our problems, but it also generates anxiety. There is also the worry about not being able to sleep, which, of course, prevents you from sleeping.

Many people resort to sleeping pills or alcohol to help them fall asleep, which often do help you sleep, but they affect the quality of sleep. You’ll spend less time in deep sleep and not feel refreshed when you awaken. Personally, sleeping pills always made me feel worse than if I didn’t sleep at all. I’d feel dizzy and spaced out the next day.

If you’re not really worried about anything but your mind just won’t shut down, often simply observing your breath can help. But if your thoughts are high in emotional content, extra strength thought-stopping techniques are needed!

I’ve written about this before, but it works well for those who have tried it. Get into a comfortable position and simply close your eyes and slowly and gently move them back and forth. You can combine this technique with mindfulness practice. Observe your breath, but when a thought enters your consciousness, move your eyes back and forth to erase it. Then return to your mindfulness practice. If you’re feeling anxious, move your eyes back and forth until you have calmed down. Then go back to your mindfulness practice.

If you’ve suffer from severe, chronic insomnia, you might benefit from SSRIs such as paroxetine (generic Paxil). They cause drowsiness and reduce anxiety. Ask your doctor if it might help.

Once you get your insomnia under control, you’re free to pursue your goals and reach your potential.

February 6, 2013

You are the star of your life

by Dave P.

Take it as it comes, specialize in having fun.
~ Jim Morrison

No matter what happened in the past, you can’t change it. There are no “do overs” in life. But we can learn from our mistakes and use them to help us grow. People who don’t get to experience mistakes often develop a fear of failure. We don’t need to be perfect. Our imperfections are what make us human.

Put your mistakes behind you. You are the star of your life. If you were writing a script for today, you wouldn’t decide to spend it ruminating and worrying. That would make for a boring movie!

Ruminating can become a bad habit if you do it too often. The parts of your brain that you use most develops strong neurological connections. The more you do something, the stronger the connections become. That’s what you want if you’re trying to learn how to play the piano, but it can take a serious toll on your state of mind if it involves maladaptive thinking.

Research psychologist Martin Seligman found that people who ruminate a lot are prone to depression. Ruminators often suffer from low self-esteem, which is why they seek the approval of others. When they don’t get it, they obsess, worry, and ruminate, which results in the loss of respect from others and the diminishment of self-respect.

When you find yourself ruminating, try this. Simply close your eyes and move them back and forth fairly rapidly — about twice the speed of a clock pendulum. Don’t try to block the rumination, but instead, try to ruminate while oscillating your eyes. You’ll find it to be extremely difficult to think about anything since the process of moving your eyes back and forth requires a fair amount of concentration; there’s not much processing capability left over to process other thoughts. Any time the maladaptive thought enters your consciousness, simply close your eyes and move them back and forth.

I did a study on this technique, which I call Rapid Eye Oscillation Technique, or REOT, and the people who tried it reported it to be effective. I use it all the time to help me fall asleep and to stop ruminations that would otherwise disrupt my day. Nothing else has ever worked for me.

You can be the star of your life if you stop worrying so much about what others think about you. While we all want to be liked and respected, if your sense of self-worth depends on the approval of others, it will have the opposite effect; people will like and respect you less.

Be yourself. Be authentic. If you don’t like yourself, work on self-improvement. Develop your conversational skills. Make an effort to learn new things every day. Show gratitude for your relationships and the good things in life. Work on being a positive person. Try to make the world a better place. Take it as it comes. Specialize in having fun.

February 5, 2013

Theory of relativity: in life, everything is relative

by Dave P.

I’ve made a lot of progress during the past 10 years. I’m happier, I’ve gotten my public speaking anxiety under control to the point where I can actually enjoy delivering a presentation, and my performance anxiety no longer prevents me from playing music in song circles — something I’ve wanted to do for decades.

But that doesn’t make me a great public speaker or performer. If someone else had the mental and emotional state that I experience when doing those things, they might seek out professional help! For me it’s an improvement. For someone else, it might be a setback or handicap. Everything is relative to how things were previously.

A woman in my Toastmasters group was criticized by a relatively new member for not moving around enough when giving a talk last week. Previously, she would just stand in one spot, barely moving. Last week she used the stage more than she had ever done so before, so relatively speaking, she did well.

We all want to be happy, but happiness is relative. If at one time, you suffered from clinical depression but are no longer depressed, you feel a lot better; you’re happier than you were, even though relative to others, you don’t seem to be very happy. People don’t go from being depressed to happy overnight, but we can become progressively happier.

I’m far happier now than when I was unable to get a restful night’s sleep. I suffer from central sleep apnea, which means my brain sometimes forgets to tell my body to breathe. (Obstructive sleep apnea is an actual physical problem where your airway is constricted.) I’m on oxygen at night, which helps. When you’re unable to get a restful night’s sleep, you really don’t want to do anything because you can’t think clearly, you feel lousy, you say stupid things, you have no energy, people don’t like you, and you don’t like yourself very much. I still have an occasional bad day, which is frustrating, but for the most part, I’m optimistic and am now able to do things that I was unable to do before.

We can have better relationships if we work at it, and relationships are the number one determinant of a person’s happiness. And it’s really not that difficult. Just show gratitude for people’s good qualities and don’t pay so much attention to their shortcomings. That’s what we do automatically when we begin a relationship, but over time, we often focus more on the negative and the things that irritate us.

My wife just called me for lunch! Gotta go!

January 31, 2013

Live in the present

by Dave P.

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

January 29, 2013

Respect yourself (Part 1)

by Dave P.

“If you don’t respect yourself ain’t nobody gonna give a good cahoot.”
~ The Staple Singers (written by Luther Ingram and Mack Rice)

Often, when we feel sad, depressed, angry, or anxious, we do things we would not ordinarily do. Rather than show appreciation for the people in our lives, we take out our frustrations on them. A factory worker who was chewed out at work might go home and abuse his wife. A sales person who didn’t make his or her quota might go out to the bar and drink too much, and then drive home drunk. When we should be relying on our social support network to help us manage life’s stressors, we often do things to hurt them. We don’t want pity. When people feel sorry for you, they lose respect for you. No, we want to be strong, and strong people deal with stress by being aggressive towards others or by drinking. Or so goes the common attitude.

Our self-respect can be damaged in a number of ways. The most common is promising to do something and not following through. Obviously, if you do that at work, there will be repercussions. But people do that all the time outside of work. I’ve had many people sign up for my workshops and then just not show up. I could usually get a pretty good estimate of the number of people who would show up by dividing the number who signed up in half.

Many of my workshops were for people who suffered from anxiety. Anxiety depletes the dopamine levels in the brain, and dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for motivation. That explains why people didn’t show up. If I could have offered a pill to help them with their social anxiety or fear of public speaking, those numbers would have been a lot higher. But overcoming those issues requires work, self-discipline, and confronting your fears head-on. You have to really want to overcome your problems in order to put yourself through that, and sometimes we’d rather just play it safe. Sometimes our desire to avoid pain is stronger than one of experiencing joy.

People often mean well but don’t follow through. They might volunteer to help out at the local home owners association with the best intentions and then realize they don’t want to be inconvenienced. Or they volunteered because they thought others would respect them or like them more because of their offer. By not adhering to their promises and obligations, they’ve lost the respect of others, but more importantly, they’ve lost self-respect.

I was out for an evening walk with our dog last summer when I heard muffled screams. I looked ahead and saw a car moving slowly down the street. People were having a fight inside. I walked quickly towards the commotion and they sped up and turned the corner. Some ten minutes later, the car re-appeared — the screams more intense. The car pulled over to the curb and the passenger side door flew open. A woman fell out of the car, screaming and crying. I ran towards her and could see a large man pushing her away. I yelled, “Hey! What the hell’s going on there!” as I ran towards them. He saw me, gunned the engine, and drove away, leaving the woman laying in the road, sobbing.

She was okay, but shoe-less, without a phone, and without anywhere to go. Her face was battered from the fight. I told her I was going to call the police, but she pleaded with me not to. Instead, she asked to use my phone to call a friend. I walked her down to a corner store where she could wait safely until her friend arrived. I told the clerk to keep an eye on her and to call the police if her assailant came looking for her. She hugged me after I told her to give me a call if she needed anything.

I could have easily just ignored the woman’s cries and gone home, but I would have had to live with that. I would have lost faith in my own eyes of the man I aspire to be. Sure, we all screw up once in a while and don’t do what’s right. The only way to restore our self-respect is by acting in ways that reinforce it. The question we should ask ourselves is, “What would you want others to do if you were in that situation?” The cost for not acting is far greater than any inconvenience you may experience.

In Buddhism, the forth element of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Action, which is to act ethically in all situations. Our actions have consequences or karma. Not helping those in need has negative karma. Helping those, or at least trying to help, has positive karma. The Buddha called that Right Intention. Sometimes we try to do what’s right but fail and sometimes even cause the situation to become worse. When we have Right View, which involves an accurate understanding of the situation, the risk that we will cause harm is minimized.

Most of you have probably heard of the Golden Rule. In Christianity and many other religions, the golden rule states that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. The problem with that is, people sometimes feel that if they do some good things, the bad things they do don’t matter. The negative form of the Golden Rule is that one should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated, which is the Jewish form. If we combine the two, we get self-respect.

Self-respect also involves our dignity. It’s about not allowing people to take advantage of us. Have you ever gotten a call from an acquaintance who all of a sudden became friendly because he or she wanted you to help them move? Or maybe someone decided your home would be a good place for a party, even though you’re not close to anyone who will be attending. Or maybe someone just is using you to get a ride somewhere. We have a right to say no when someone is trying to use us. Those kinds of friendships are toxic. We don’t need them in our lives.

But what about if you’re lonely and don’t have any close relationships? Fear of being alone is sometimes greater than the strength needed to keep toxic people at a distance. If that’s the situation you’re in, only self-improvement can get you out of that rut. Self-improvement is important for everyone, whether you’re a dishwasher at the corner diner or the CEO of a major corporation. Successful people continually work to improve themselves. Happy people generally do the same. Self-improvement gives our lives meaning, and meaning is one of the five elements of happiness as defined by positive psychologist Martin Seligman.

You shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave
~Dave Mason

Self-respect involves working to make the world a better place. That doesn’t have to involve something like saving the whales or eliminating hunger in Africa. We make the world a better place by smiling at someone who looks like she might be having a bad day. It might be helping the clumsy kid at school pick up his books. It could be letting someone into your lane in rush-hour traffic. It’s also about offering something of value when speaking to people. Offer a little humor, an interesting story, or just an interest in what the other person has to say.

Depression is believed to be learned helplessness. It’s about not having a feeling of control over your life. It’s about feeling like you’re a victim. When you have that victim mentality, you lose your self-respect.

Many social scientists believe that welfare and affirmative action generate a victim mentality. The entitlements were originally designed to provide a safety-net for, when, though no fault of your own, you run on hard times. It became a way of life for too many people and created a continuous cycle of dependency on government rather than personal responsibility. The reform of the 1990s eliminated many of the problems.

End of part 1

January 28, 2013

Can’t sleep due to ruminations or worry? Try this.

by Dave P.

Most people suffer from occasional sleepless nights. When the problem becomes chronic, it’s time to take action, but what do you do? You can get a prescription for sleeping medication, but they often leave you feeling worse the next day. You can try counting sheep or visualizations, but those techniques are limited in their effectiveness.

A fairly new technique that has proven to be effective for stopping unwanted thoughts is called Rapid Eye Oscillation Technique (REOT). You simply close your eyes and move them back and forth with varying degrees of rapidity depending on the context.

To help with sleep when you can’t turn your brain off, simply get into a comfortable position and slowly oscillate your eyes (move them back and forth) until you fall asleep. Doing so has the effect of clearing your working memory and clearing your unwanted thoughts, which allows you to fall asleep. It’s almost impossible to think of anything else while you’re oscillating your eyes, which is why it works.

REOT can also help with emotionally charged ruminations. Try to recall the stress inducing memory while oscillating your eyes fairly rapidly. You’ll find that doing so removes some of the emotion from the memory, which makes it less vivid and less likely to disrupt your day.

January 9, 2013

Stop the negative thinking

by Dave P.

Much of the anxiety we experience when speaking in public is self-induced. We see people in the audience as a threat. Most people are not a threat. Unless you happen to be speaking at a psychopath convention, the threat you perceive is all in your head.

Too often, we’re overly concerned with what others think of us. We want people to like us, to think we’re intelligent, competent, honest, and hard-working. And we’re devastated when they don’t. We try to live up to other people’s expectations. Some people are forced into careers chosen by their parents, spouse, or even society. We want to be respected for what we do, and our occupations define who we are to a great extent.

Many people work at a job just to pay the bills and just bide their time until retirement age when they can finally do what they want. That’s not living. That’s wasting time. Sure, we need to earn a living and provide a good life for our families, but we also need to be authentic. When we’re trying to be someone we’re not, we’re not living up to our potential. We only have a brief time on this earth and not living up to your potential can create existential anxiety.

When we devote an abundance of our time to negative thinking and worrying what others think about us, it becomes a bad habit. The way we think affects the actual structures of our brains. The parts of the brain used for negative thinking grows and the parts used for positive thinking shrinks. The brain is like the muscles in our bodies; the parts that are exercised grow strong and increase in size, and the parts we don’t use tend to wither away.

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