Monday, June 15, 2015

Anxiety and How it Effects Sleep

Many people who come to see me for sleeping issues are also experiencing some degree of anxiety.

In this 11 minute video I discuss anxiety, what it is, how it can negatively affect your sleep, and a few techniques and ideas that may help.

Having experienced heart pounding anxiety in my own past, especially about sleeplessness, I can honestly say that it can be a frightening experience and when we are in the middle of it, it can feel like there is no way out. 

Anxiety is a structure of thinking that can become habitual over time, however regardless of how long we have had anxiety, it is still a strategy running within the mind, which means that it can be altered and even released. 

There is a transcription of the video below (excuse some typos please).

If you have any questions about the video or anxiety please contact me.

Just a quick talk about anxiety. Anxiety with regard to sleep and getting enough sleep and falling asleep is actually quite a major and it's kind of natural. If something isn't happening over time and continues to not happen over time, i.e. not getting to sleep and the next day feeling kind of a bit stretched because of that, then that can lead to a natural, what I like to call a ‘natural degree of caution’. It's kind of like a cautionary thing that occurs in the body, which then can lead and expand into anxieties and real concern. The thing about anxiety is something that we do and we do it really well and because we're kind of designed to look after ourselves, we're kind of designed to take care of ourselves and if something's getting in the way, then anxiety is actually kind of a strategy that's driven by a very high intention, i.e. self preservation. The strategy, however, of anxiety can be quite uncomfortable and it can be quite concerning, especially if you've never had it before. 

So, how does anxiety work? Well anxiety in a nut shell and putting it very, very simply is a strategy, and is being triggered by a certain stimulus where we imagine ourselves in the future, and to imagine ourselves in the future having a bad experience or having a really uncomfortable experience. So it's really an imagining, which can happen so quickly for most of us, which then just basically leaves us feeling very tied up or scared and uncomfortable and often in the gut area. Some people hyperventilate, many different kinds of symptoms. The kind of anxiety that I've worked with clients around sleep specifically is really the anxiety about not getting to sleep. So more often than not, it's an anxiety that we run, i.e. do during the day. So we're thinking about going to sleep at night, but we say "last night I just didn't get to sleep and what it's going to be like tonight in bed? I'm going to be uncomfortable and my thoughts will be racing. I can't shut my head off”, and all these different things and so we kind of project ourselves into the future and we project ourselves in a way that we imagine having these experiences that don't feel good. The paradox of that is even though it's driven by a desire to self preserve, which is "I want to keep away from that kind of experience", what it doesn't do is necessarily help us to overcome that experience because well it's obvious. We feel anxious about that future possibility. 

A really good strategy around this is to consider how is this occurring? Well how it generally occurs and not always the same for everybody, but generally we imagine the future scenario and we imagine it as if we're there generally. So generally we imagine that we're there experiencing it so it could be I mentioned I'm laying in bed and I'm just like my head is just racing and I'm rolling and turning over and blah, blah, blah and I just can't get to sleep. With respect to sleep, the word sleep, look at that video that I put in about the problem sleep. It'll help with that. So what I'm doing right now is I could do it right now. I could be  feeling tired, which would trigger me think about going to bed and then in that moment, I'm going "I'm feeling real uncomfortable because I'm imagining being in bed and it's just not happening". Okay so what is it that we really want and this is always a really good question to ask ourselves. What is it that I really want? Most people would say "I want to go to sleep". Yes you do, but as an outcome that's not a good one because you won't know when you are asleep and that itself can create anxiety because "I won't know when I'm there. I don't know how to do it. I don't know how to get to sleep. All I know is I just lay there and suddenly I'm awake again". My wife is like that. She just rolls over, thinks of two or things that she's grateful for and the next thing she's waking up the next morning, which is fabulous. That's a good tool actually.

So, what can we do? Well, let's use the mechanism. The mechanism is the structure of how anxiety works and anxiety is when you imagine being in the future and feeling really uncomfortable about not being asleep and all the repercussions after that. So, that's a strategy of using the imagination to go into the future. So what if we think "what is the outcome that I really want". Well, having studied this quite a lot and talking to a lot of people, the outcome actually is and a well formed outcome is to feel good the next day. So, if I have that as an outcome, then what if I was to imagine that I can see myself in the future feeling good. Looking out into the future beyond the event and this is the key because anxiety is about an event. It's about an event. [unclear 5:40] and it's massive so you push that away and that can help. I mean literally get your hands and go 'ugh' and push it away. That can be helpful. Get your body involved. Push that a long way away like you've got really long arms, like [unclear 5:58] or woman. So you push that imagining away and then replace it with a whole new one, which is "actually I can see myself tomorrow morning 20 minutes after waking up and I'm just feeling good. I'm not feeling excited and Anthony Robbins and all that stuff or all black or whatever. I'm just feeling good. I'm feeling ready for the day and I've got energy. I'm having a good breakfast" and that sort of thing. Make that picture compelling. What does that mean? Put a bit of energy into it. put it in color. A smile, a smile goes a long way so put a smile into it and you know "here I am, ready for the day. I've got my suit on or I've got my frock on" I don't know what it might be. You might want to be a swimmer and you've got your trunks on, whatever it might be or a gardener and you've got your chainsaw or whatever. There I am and I'm ready to go. For me, it would be "I've got my Vespa and a bottle of aspirin" and I'm whizzing off to the office. So whatever works really and now that's the outcome and the outcome is where I'm feeling excited or I'm feeling a heavy energy. Now that is an outcome that is beyond or on the other side of the initial anxiety event.

Now what does that do? Well it seems to us subconsciously that this thing that we've been feeling anxious about won't last. It says that that thing will come to pass and wait a minute. On the other side, I've got energy. Now which is more compelling? Which is the thing that actually is going to be more fulfilling or meaningful? Well I don't know about you, but for me getting on the Vespa or having my suit on or whatever, those sorts of things are more enjoyable and more compelling so the mind starts to gravitate more towards that and we start to, because we're insatiably curious deep down inside, part of us start to say "I wonder how, I wonder how I can generate that outcome". Now this isn't something that's a [unclear 8:16]. It's like brushing your teeth. You have to do it every day and if you've been experiencing certain things for a period of time, then that means that there's a little bit of a rut in the road. There's a little bit of a trench that we're tracing. However, the repetition of a new and truly compelling and truly meaningful idea or strategy such as this one can actually embed itself quite quickly. Certainly when we acknowledge when it's happening and that's the second part.

The first part is change the strategy from "I'm imagining myself in an uncomfortable experience of not being able to get to sleep", push that away and then swap that with a new strategy, which is "actually I can imagine myself tomorrow morning 20 minutes after waking up feeling great" I can picture that and there's a nice picture of me and I'm sitting there and I'm ready to go and with that, when you actually start to have that experience, acknowledge it. One thing we don't learn to do, we really notice crappy things. We really notice when things aren't going that well. It's raining again. I slipped on the pathway because it's so wet. When something goes quite well and this is really extraordinary, like "I went on that roller coaster". This is really extraordinary and you don't really acknowledge it and give it any energy or positive feedback. So part of building a nice new strategy pattern is also building some feedback into it and so like when it actually happens, that feels good and it's surprising because I like surprises. It sounds a bit corny, but it actually works. When we give positive feedback from outside of us, it feels good. Unless we have a really low self esteem and then it's like "you're just saying that", but if we give ourselves positive feedback about something that is honestly feeling like it's working for us, then that can build the pattern, the new pattern. 

So try it out. Anxiety is nothing more than imagining ourselves in the future as if we are really there and we're having a bad experience. It's usually about a specific event, i.e. getting into bed. So the way around it is to use the same kind of future strategy, but picture ourselves and that's very compelling. It's kind of like window shopping for motivation so you picture yourself out there 20 minutes after waking up the next day and you're smiling. Yeah, I've got energy and you make that picture really compelling as if you're window shopping and you make it really nice. Yeah, I want that. That makes more sense to me. You do that often and you do that about daily things even. Events that are coming up during the day. You see yourself just a little bit after the event is completed and it releases a huge amount of possible discomfort or anxiety about the event because we can see ourselves beyond. The unconscious mind goes "yeah, that makes sense. Now what do we have to do? What are those skills and resources we have inside to make that happen".

Try it out. It's good fun. If you have any questions, just please email me.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Helping children with nightmares etc

In this video I talk about nightmares/fears, worries etc and how to help children with these disruptive challenges.

The structure or How the child is thinking about the nightmare is the most important factor when talking to them about it. And what we want the child to experience is a lessening of the intensity of the emotion they were feeling so that they can relax and get back to sleep.

The video is just over 8 minutes long, and below is a written transcription of the video.


Hi there. Just a short video with respect to helping children sort out their problems with worrying at night. Bad dreams, fears about things that go bump in the night, that sort of thing. What we're going to talk about really is structure, not content. The thing that we learn in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) , which is so useful is that structure actually makes most things work and what I mean by structure is like if I can think of what kind of ice cream I like, what I have to do is picture in my head and then I mention it once, kind of strawberry looking and that picture is kind of life size and I can imagine kind of holding it and get a compulsion of I really want it. So the content, it could be chocolate, it could be anything, I'm sorry. Any flavour, but fundamentally where is it? How am I picturing it? If I pictured it in black and white, would it really be as exciting? Probably not. 

So with children, it's really important I've found and sitting with our daughter, Phoebe is talking about what happened and what it's all about is actually kind of like a little bit like red rag to the bull or flicking a bit of fuel in the flame. What really is more important is you know, is it in colour or black and white? Well, it's in colour daddy. Is it life size or bigger or smaller? It's kind of bigger than life. And how close is it to you in your dream? It's right there. Well, lets be fair. If something larger than life, colourful and right there, it doesn't matter what it is. It's going to be pretty freaky. So here's the thing, what we do is we say okay, what would happen if it was a little bit further away? Does it feel as bad when it's a little bit further away, like two or three meters away? Well, no but it's still there. Of course. Okay so it's over there and you make it smaller so it's like that big, but it's five meters away. It's on the other side of the room and it's that big. How does it feel? It's still there, but it doesn't feel okay. If you imagine it kind of a little bit fuzzy and stuck red hair on it. See that's the thing. As soon as you do something like that, you change the structure. The first thing that happens is something changes with respect to how they feel about it because it's different, it changed and also they realize unconsciously that they changed it and they didn't know they could. That's the most important part. Learning that they can change how they feel by changing how something looks in their head because they can't see it out there, but it's kind of there because they're hallucinating it. 

Rather than getting into the content, the story, the narrative, which could be really interesting. What was the beast doing? It's actually more important to consider is it in color? Get into the structure and it's kind of fun and what you notice is that their body starts to relax quite quickly because there is an unconscious recognition that this thing is no longer as frightening or worrisome as it was.

Now the thing that is also quite cool is that if this is a recurring dream or if it's a dream that's happened once or twice and they're kind of similar, like monsters and things like that, once again, it's the unconscious doing its thing. The unconscious doesn't really know that what it's doing is freaking us out because it's just doing what the unconscious does and so what we want to do is while the child is awake and not in bed, nowhere near going to bed, just say now that dream you told me about the other day, was that in colour or was it in black and white? Well it was in colour. Was it life size or bigger? It was life size. How close would it have been? It was right here. What would it have been like once again if it were smaller and further away, black and white and a little bit fuzzy, a little bit out of focus? What would it be like?

What you're doing at that point is you're giving them an unconscious experience. You're bringing something that is normally unconscious up to the present and children are great for this because they live unconsciously most of the time and you shift it or at least you teach the unconscious that there can be some element of control and then they take that information inward and they might not necessarily see it straight away, but they learn something and that could also influence the way the unconscious is doing what it does. Assuming it worked for us and it certainly worked for me.

I had a recurring dream for many, many years. It was quite horrific and a bit graphic. Don't tell the psychotherapist about this, but what I suddenly awoke to, excuse the pun, was that what if I did something with this during the day. So I brought this memory of the dream to mind and I started to change certain aspects of it. Well, interesting enough, it was actually that night, I knew something was different and I never had the same kind of dream, but what I did do was I got myself out of it and that was about two days or a week later. I can't really remember. It was such a long time ago, but I actually found myself in the dream again, but I got myself out of it because I knew that I could change it. 

A very graphic experience with a client many, many years ago who would refuse to go to sleep anymore. She was a young woman who was just really exhausted, huge red eyes and she was having the most horrifically graphic dreams where she was actually the person doing it and it was quite horrific. So the long and the short of this, I don't want to get into a lot of drawn out content of the story, but all we had to do was I said to her, I asked her to close her eyes for just a few seconds and I asked her to go into that dream that she was really scared of, which kind of sounds horrible, but I knew that this was going to have an input. I see all the [unclear 6:12] and all the knives are made out of [unclear 6:17] and immediately colour came back into her face and she opened here eyes and said "can I do that" and I said "well do you want to do that" and she said "yes" and I said "well go back and do it again, but this time imagine you're in a clown suit" and she started laughing. 

The thing that we forget is that we're in control. The thing that we're being told over and over is you can't control it. It's not a good thing. The unconscious is curious and if it only knows one way of doing something, it's only ever going to do that one way of doing it until we initiate a new way of doing it or give a new suggestion and as we start to take control and teach our children how to have a healthy degree of control in their thoughts and their feelings and of course their sleep and of course their day to day outcomes. So give it a try. Move away from content. Move away from the story and just simply ask "was it in colour or black and white"? What you might have to do is say "listen, I can see you're really upset and I can see this has been very scary for you", not condescending, but really acknowledge it for them because they need to know that you're acknowledging and understanding that they've been really scared. Then say "listen, can I ask you a question. This might sound a bit funny, but was that dream in colour". "Oh, it was in colour". "Was that dream like how big was it"? "It was like really big". "Like were you right in it"? "I was right in it". So then you say "okay, what would it be like if you weren't in it and it was like over there somewhere. What would that be like"? You might be surprised by what you get back from them.

Give it a go. It's really interesting and it's so much fun. I mean, not fun, but it's fun to see the change and it's fun to give your children a tool because what we noticed with our daughter is this actually starts to positively influence the way she thinks about so many things. She starts to take control of her thoughts, her feelings and ultimately her behaviour.

Have fun. Enjoy.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sleep and Peak Performance Webinar

Recently I was asked to give an online webinar to the Personal Trainers Council of NZ and its members.

Below is the video recording via YouTube. The first few minutes is a little info from the PT Council and the webinar organisers and then I get straight into it. Enjoy!

The upshot of this webinar is that Sleep and getting a good sleep has huge influence on Peak Performance.

When we are training, be it our brains or bodies (or both), we are building the muscle, ironically, when we are resting, and resting is the key.

What and listen to find out more, and of course if you have any questions feel free to contact me.

"Hi Jean,
Thank you so much for piping up in Dave's workshop & reminding us about Aaron McLoughlin's sleep webinar.  You were right, he is good to listen to his content is practical & informative.  Really enjoyed it." G. Christchurch