These past few months of 2016 have been especially stressful in the mind-numbing, head-spinning, winter’s-coming-and-I-just-want-to-hide-under-my-blanket-so-I-stay-up-all-night-on-my-computer sort of way. I’ve been keeping busy by working on a few certifications, helping clients battle their own holiday blues, feeling small in this great big world of sorrows, and wondering minute-by-minute if I’m enough for my kids and my husband. Seriously, winter is NOT my season and it’s only just begun!
I knew that I needed to sleep more in order to reduce my stress levels, so when an activity tracker that also measures sleep and stress levels showed up in my Facebook news feed at 20% off for Black Friday, I took the bait. It was the most beautiful tracker I had seen and I couldn’t wait for it to be delivered.
Until I got it…
Why the heck did I buy this? I know that I need more sleep, AND I know that I’m feeling stressed, so why would I need to track it?
As a piece of jewelry, it wasn’t actually pretty, and as a tracker, well, why would I want a bracelet that sends off signals next to my skin when I keep my phone in a Safe Sleeve to block the radiation? Was checking a synced app on my phone to see if I was feeling stressed really going to help me to not feel stressed? Would it “free up” more time for sleep??? Of course not!
As with so many impulse purchases, I had buyers’ remorse. I packed the bracelet up to send back to the manufacturer and I made a plan to help myself get through the next few months. Instead of making resolutions for the new year, I made some lifestyle changes for right now (and then decided to share it with you for the new year!)
I came up with a list of things I could do to improve my health and my outlook, and these were my top three:
2. Limit social media
3. Buy less, give more
It turns out that the activity tracker wasn’t such a bad purchase after all. When I realized how I had let technology use me instead of the other way around, I stopped charging my phone in my bedroom. All those late-night hours spent looking for a distraction from my own life had led me to buy without thinking instead of doing the one thing that would help me to feel better – SLEEP! My husband and I have never had a TV in our room because of the sleep disturbance that television can cause, but the iPhones somehow made their way in and while he goes to bed just fine, I feel like I have to keep hitting refresh to make sure I haven’t missed anything in the social media world before finally crashing, feeling beyond exhausted.
The thing is that while I’m busy getting caught up on someone else’s life, my lack of sleep is causing me to miss out on mine. Too little sleep leads to irritability and makes me less able to enjoy time with my family. I have a harder time coming up with creative solutions to the kids’ problems and less patience for handling their needs. I don’t have the energy to complete simple tasks, so everything takes longer and I have a harder time remembering what it is that I wanted to get done in the first place. I am easily distracted, I am depressed, and I am downright dangerous behind the wheel. In fact, driving after sleeping for four or five hours is just as bad as driving drunk, and these drowsy drivers are four times more likely to cause a fatal accident than someone who has slept seven hours or more. Fortunately, I haven’t had problems, but I am acutely aware of how tired I am when I get in the car.
Long term, insomnia is one of the leading causes of inflammation in the body. We now know that inflammation is the culprit for most lifestyle diseases, such as: cancer, heart disease, asthma, type 2 diabetes, and autoimmune disorders. When we don’t sleep, we don’t allow our bodies to perform their basic maintenance functions. Digestion breaks down, stress levels remain high, and brain function suffers. While our society seems to treat sleep as a luxury, it is just as important to our physical and mental health as food and exercise are.
In addition to being a distraction from sleep, it turns out that having the phone by my bed was making technology all too accessible. When I took the phone out of my room (and realized that I didn’t need it as a back-up alarm for the clock that I bought over the summer so that I could move my phone out of my room…) I didn’t feel the urge to use it as much during the day either. I realized that I didn’t have to know everything that was going on in the lives of my classmates from high school – or the Facebook friends of friends I’ve never actually met. Revolutionary, I know!
I also found that many of the apps that I had been using to make life easier were completely unnecessary. I used Time Out to remind me to take breaks from my screen, Flux to darken my screen, Bedtime to remind me to put the phone away, and Insight Timer for meditation. As soon as I took the phone out of my room, I no longer had a use for these. I do still like Insight Timer, but I find that having a phone nearby isn’t really great for meditation. I can use mala beads to time my ujjayi breathing in the same way that I would use them to count out a mantra, but I’ve also found that I don’t actually need to know how long I’ve been meditating. I can just stop when I feel ready to stop. I’ve learned that my body knows how to take care of itself if only I take the time to listen.
Which brings me back to the tracker. I don’t need to know every minute statistic about my life in order to be healthier, just as I don’t need to step on a scale to know that I gained weight over the holidays (you did too – seriously, don’t bother checking it).
So how can I feel better? Limiting social media gives me time to sleep more, to read more, to love more, to move more, and to breathe more so that I can be a better wife, mother, friend, and coach.
Now all that’s left is the issue of feeling small in this troubled world…
I took the money that I had spent on the activity tracker and I repurposed it. During the month of December, I made small donations to over twenty charities that I believe will help to make this world a better place. Maybe I haven’t created world peace on my own, but at least I’ve done something. And, as we look forward to 2017, I continue to find ways to create peace at home and to become more active in my community, and I think that’s a step in the right direction.