I remember a time in my life that I used to think to myself "I'll sleep when I'm dead," because I had so much schoolwork and constant extracurricular activities to do. (While being an IB high school student was intellectually fulfilling, it was not the most well time in my life--though it did provide a needed escape from a difficult family dynamic and was probably adaptive at the time.)
Fortunately, over time I've come to embrace sleep as a foundational part of my wellness routine. In graduate school I set myself a rule of getting 8 hours each night, because I discovered how much better I could serve my clients when I was properly rested. While maybe it was usually closer to 7 and a half, I found that that amount of sleep really made a difference for my life and work. When things became stressful, particularly as a PhD student, I had to get more intentional to maintain good sleep so I developed a routine for better sleep.
Today's post is just a chance for me to share my favorite sleep hygiene tips that have helped me through grad school and the busy mind of PhD work.
I just finished a "5 Rhythms" beat-focused workshop and came away with a few lovely experiences I want to reflect on and share. (I learned in some recent reading that movement plus verbalizing it has more benefits than movement only--good to know.)
When I arrived at the studio, I found a wood-floored open room with about a half-dozen strangers wearing ready-to-move clothes like me, different ages, and some chatting while others sat in the space. We began movement without music and I got on the floor and used the opportunity to get in touch with where I would enjoy stretching and releasing, focusing on my hips and back that always enjoy attention.
The music started with very flowing songs that built in energy, and I found larger movements and more energy as we went. When a song with lyrics about "going into deep water" to find something was playing (if I remember right--though it doesn't really matter if I do) I found a movement that will be meaningful for me after today. I have one movement from years ago that I think this one also felt like: releasing a burden. In today's variation on that movement-need being met, I gestured from my head upwards, like lifting a hat above me, then turning my palms out and swooping my hands through the "hat" and out to the sides to be hind me with a bend from the waist and bow of the head. This repeated, as I imagined "getting out of my head." The movement that followed involved different movements from my heart, as I sought to get more into my body and spontaneity. These movements are important to me because I do find it challenging sometimes to stop thinking about what's going on (when this movement first arose, I was trying to label which of the 5 rhythms we were in at the moment) and to settle into my heart and body.
The releasing movement helped, and I found flow that moved me across the floor and had my limbs using the various kinds of space around me. That experience built into staccato, energetic music that brought beats out in my tap-dancer's feet and other parts of me, then chaos of multi-layered rhythms including the chance to bring in some West African broad and swinging movements to a drumming song. Though I had learned styles come through, I found them only as part of a more natural, personal vocabulary, and I felt free of the technical concerns they could be tied to. They became part of my own movement language. Then we moved into lyrical movement, and I felt myself getting tired, before we came to stillness at the end.
As we settled into the final, still moments before finishing, I felt inclined to ask myself if I felt safe. In the past, an experience like this would not always have felt safe for me. I noticed a couple of fears I was still carrying in the very back of my mind, and I mindfully noted them. These thoughts included a lingering fear that the others in the room might judge me for being sweaty after all that movement, so I gently reminded myself that I didn't need to fear the strangers or that judgment; they were here for the same things as me, and sweat was to be expected. Then I felt like I should ask if my body felt safe. I paused before answering myself, and found that yes, it did. As I stood to leave, I grounded my feet, and walked away keeping with me the sense that I brought safety with me, inside, and my body is a safe place to be.
As I got into my car, a song from my days at the UF dance department came back to me:
Here I stand in beauty
Beauty is before me
Beauty is behind me
Above and below me
We would sing it after a warm-up, last thing before beginning our semester-end shows. We'd stand in a circle holding hands, and the resonance of all the voices from my embodied and creative friends and fellow dancers made it a beautiful moment as we repeated the song a few times. Today, driving home, I felt new lyrics come up:
Here I stand as beauty
Beauty is within me
Beauty is before me
And all around me
After all that, it feels appropriate to end with an acknowledgement of connection: namaste.
A few weeks ago I came across a hashtag on Twitter, #BoringSelfCare, and it has really stuck with me.
The idea of the hashtag is that self-care is not all about vacations and paid services to treat yourself. Those are things that counseling students have often said they don't have time for, or can't afford. I'm sure it's not just students who believe that, but also professionals, and many of our clients. We come to believe we don't have the luxury of maintaining our wellness because we imagine it's a very involved activity. I think that's an unfortunate misunderstanding of what it is to care for ourselves, and this hashtag helps counter that.
Self-care isn't just fancy, big, or expensive gestures for ourselves. It's also simple, mundane things like doing the laundry and cleaning the floors, or exercising or eating something good. This possibility connected with me immediately, as I looked from my computer screen to my grungy carpet. I realized what a simple thing it would be to go from resenting the dirt there to cleaning it up and enjoying that freshness underfoot the rest of the day. I could suddenly see that impending chore as a chance to give a simple gift to myself instead of dreading a cleaning task to cram in with the others on Saturday. It would only take 5 minutes, less than the time I could have spent worrying about it.
Since then, I've started doing a bit of laundry here and there on weekdays, running the dishwasher and looking forward to putting the dishes away later that day, and vacuuming on random days. I'll admit, having the privilege of automation makes it an extra treat; I love when the machines (the dishwasher, the washing machine) do the work with me.
I've also been walking on the treadmill while I do schoolwork or watch a show, listening to Pandora in the car instead of the same stuff on the radio, and savoring a PSL at work as other little treats. These things help me pause, feel good, or just enjoy something I'd be doing anyway a little bit more.
They aren't costly or time-consuming, but when I remind myself to integrate pleasant or helpful little things into my day and approach them as valuable, I get more from them. I hope this might inspire you to experiment with some #boringselfcare, too!
There are so many thoughts that have come up during my reading of Bessel van der Kolk's "The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma"! Many times I pause to appreciate how well he (a stranger) understands my experience of trauma, and to recognize how the themes connect with how I experience and understand my clients. A key theme in what is going on for me while I read is the importance of embodiment and attunement with my body.
Lately I've been paying extra attention to my physical needs, trying to maintain health and mental wellness during my dissertation phase. The past few days have had an extra dose of that. I began reading just as Hurricane Irma visited Florida, and have taken the book's discussion of the physical aspects of stress and trauma as daily reminders to care for myself physically. Since the storm, I've tuned in to when I feel less at ease and in what ways, noticing when tension comes into my hip flexors, back, shoulder, or face, and noticing when my stomach feels still or unsettled or hungry, even a little bit. Those are the regular cues I've learned to watch for in myself as I've been practicing for the past few years, and have increasingly attuned to recently. When I saw the tension coming back after the storm as I got back into the swing of everyday life after fearing unknowns Irma might bring, I looked for ways to care for those physical needs. A hot shower, a session of exercise, stretching and foam-rolling before bed, or just sitting in a different chair. A nice cup of tea also helps me settle down. These are simple things, and they could seem shallow, but van der Kolk's writing verifies what I experience: that caring for my body in these simple little ways when needs first arise (instead of putting them off) helps me feel more centered, and re-balances me. Even moment to moment I can re-balance by enjoying a nice breath.
While I'm paying attention and caring for myself like this, I have more energy. In fact, while I've been putting a little extra care into this practice, I found that this week my tap dancing in class had extra pizzazz, and just today I even choreographed a bit of original tap (something I used to find very hard to do and remember). I think those are signs of good self care!
There are a few more chapters in the book on the ways we can heal trauma, and I'm looking forward to taking them at a similarly savoring pace, and integrating what I learn for myself, then sharing it with clients, too. There are so many gifts in this book, I'm keeping notes and am sure I'll review it again soon.