a peek inside the fishbowl

28 Mar, 2020

sleep and worry

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

One of the website articles I’m editing at work right now is a Q&A written by a sleep expert at The Royal. Dr. Lee and I first met when I interviewed him for this article about sleep trackers. We had a really good conversation, after which I did a lot of reading on the topic. I am fascinated by sleep. I think we all know that we feel lousy when we haven’t slept well, but many don’t understand that it is a critical element of our daily functioning, physical, and mental health.

One of the things he mentioned in his recent Q&A is something he called worry time. Basically, you give yourself permission – and a limited period of time ever day – to worry. You set aside a time to write things down, make to-do lists, itemize worries (whether they are rational or not), and then close the book on them. CLOSE.THE.BOOK. And when it’s not worry time, you just tell your brain, hey brain, save it for worry time.

His advice reminded of my coronavirus chronicle (a.k.a. my paper diary) in which I describe our comings and goings and family updates. I didn’t really think about it as worry time, but that’s essentially what it is. It’s an end-of-day brain dump that is remarkably calming.

The idea of setting certain thoughts aside is also echoed in Chel Hamilton’s mini-meditations, which I have enjoyed listening to for the past few months. I used to wonder why, in a guided meditation, participants aren’t asked to disregard or totally ignore intrusive thoughts. Instead, it is gently suggested we (1) acknowledge that our brains are doing what they are supposed to do (e.g. THINK ABOUT STUFF), and then (2) set aside those thoughts for the duration of the meditation. In one of her podcasts, Chel instructs listeners to imagine themselves putting those “buckets of junk” aside and picking them up later if they choose to do so. What I’ve learned that this is not just a nice sentiment, but by acknowledging that intrusive thought and then dismissing it, you are actually training your brain. It’s a mental push-up that builds a kind of resilience, which is actually pretty cool.

I sometimes choose to imagine intrusive thoughts as bubbles that I dismiss with the flick of a finger. Sometimes, when my brain wakes me up in the middle of the night I imagine those thoughts as dirt on a carpet. I run the vacuum cleaner over them again and again, until I eventually fall asleep.


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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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