Living with a mental illness is challenging, living with one that is not stabilized can be debilitating. So what can you do?
I’m often asked what are the things I do to keep well and mentally stable? So I’ve decided to write a couple of blog posts on this very point. I use the acronym FSTEP that stands for Food, Sleep, Treatment, Exercise, and Perception. By assessing and keeping my attention on each one of the FSTEP elements, it supports my mental health stability and high function life I’ve been accustom to for the past 15 years. If you feel like using or trying it out you can download it here for free.
FSTEP – Sleep
There is a ton of research that points to a fundamental element in recovery is the consistency in sleep schedule and the number of hours we get each night.
Six to seven nights a week I operate with a sleep schedule that is consistent and predictable – my bedtime is 9:30 pm and my wake up time is at 6 am. This applies to weekends too. On the nights when I’m in bed later, I make sure my next morning allows for a sleep-in.
If there is a special occasion to stay up late I include a nap either the day before or after to make up for the interruption. I won’t stay up late to watch TV or try to catch up on work. My sleep consistency allows for a level of performance I would not normally get if I were inconsistent with my sleep schedule. I wasn’t always like this; I used to mess with my sleep and would pay the consequences in a number of ways like:
- a decreased capacity in my performance in all areas of my life,
- a decreased ability to deal with stress,
- and a self-absorbed behavior in my relationship with my husband. It was more about me than us (I didn’t see that at the time), which didn’t make for a joyful empowering partnership that we have now.
Because I live with a risk of being triggered (lack of sleep is a big one) I am responsible with how I now operate when it comes to my sleeping habits:
Things that can help support you in regulating your sleep time and consistency:
- Create a partnership with someone (even if they don’t live with you) whom you make a promise to about what time you are going to bed and waking up. Text them when you are about to go to bed, and when you wake up. Have them hold you to account for this. Studies show that when you make a verbal promise to someone and they hold you to account for the promise (e.g. follow-up) you are 95% likely to fulfill on the promise. Not bad odds for something that will support your mental health stability.
- Set your alarm and make yourself get out of bed / walk to another room and to turn it off. Remind yourself that using the snooze option won’t give you the results you are looking for.
- Create a consistence set of tasks to do in the morning and do them every day – this helps with regulating your brain to get up at the same time. I get up, make coffee, make my bed, feed my cat and spend 15-30 minutes catching up on what has happened in the last 24 hours on Facebook, LinkedIn and twitter.
- Limit the amount of coffee / caffeine you take before you go to bed. It’s suggested that limiting your caffeine intake will support restful sleeping.
- A simple meditation is something that will calm your nervous system and support you to relax prior to going to sleep.
- Journaling has been offered as a strategy for many challenges for those with a mental illness. One thing I’ve noticed since I began journaling on a daily basis – even if I’m dead tired and I take 2-5 minutes before I lay my head on the pillow and turn out the light, it seems to give me a chance to empty my mind. In the past when I’ve gone to bed with a full mind of the days events, I experience a sort of “raciness” like the excitement and stress of the day hasn’t slowed down enough or been processed. By taking my time to journal, I’m finding that it’s “emptying the cup” and allowing for a more restful beginning of my slumber.
- For more sleep support and consistency, ideas check out this website: Association for Natural Psychology
The key is to play around with the different strategies
and see what works best for you.
I checked in with some of my fellow peers on LinkedIn and here’s what they had to say:
A Teacher from NJ says: “Reading before bed; no TV or movies at night, keeping electronics of all types out of the bedroom, (maybe keeping TV, computers on shutdown after 11:00 PM until the morning, using the timer); listening to soft music; praying; exercise during the day have all helped.“
An Entrepreneur from Toronto says: “Just routine… going to bed every night around the same time. Putting the Blackberry in Bedside mode. I still watch TV etc while in bed and that doesn’t affect my sleep …. as long as I switch it off around the same time every night. But even more important: getting up every morning around the same time (no difference between weekdays or weekends). And off course the soft noise of blowing wind by the CPAP.”
An Author from Seattle says: “Xanax, over-the-counter Costco sleep aid, and, oddly, watching an old Criminal Minds or Fraser show (recorded and saved). Also Buddhist-style breathing when TV is off–concentrating totally on my breath going in and out, allowing no thoughts.”
An Account Executive at an IT consulting firm says: “Consistent bedtime, exercise (for me, running or weight-lifting), limiting computer/TV before bed (especially news), reading in bed, prayer.”
A Mental Health Educator from NY says: “I’m beginning to find that my sleep cycle and my moods seem to be separate from one another. My moods have been pretty stable for almost a year, but I still have wicked insomnia that inevitably leads to irritability/depression. I find that doing artwork right before I go to bed at least helps my brain calm down, even if I don’t sleep…”
Bottom line: no matter what strategy you use, the key to your own Mental Health stability is finding something that works for you.
Let us know what you do to manage your sleep?
If this post made a difference for you please tell me how or forward it to someone that could use this information.