By Emily Tonn, RMHCI
Most of my patients are familiar with the benefits of healthy sleep patterns on physical and mental health. The challenge typically presents itself when we start talking about how to change an unhealthy sleep pattern.
Adequate sleep helps with improved focus, decision-making and creativity. Sleep also plays a vital role in emotional and behavioral balance, self-control and the ability to utilize effective coping skills. Lack of sleep can lead to increased stress, anxiety and depression. In addition, relational problems with family, friends and co-workers can develop.
When I work with patients to establish healthier sleep patterns, I often hear “I just can’t turn off my thoughts” or “I’m too stressed to relax”. One strategy that I use with children and adults is the Stress Data Dump activity. When applicable, I ask patients to devote time to this activity daily.
Using a notebook, down the middle of the page list anything and everything that is on your mind. What do you feel stressed about? What are you worrying about? What do you have to “get done”? Nothing is too big or small, just write it down. If it’s on your mind it’s list worthy. Sometimes this step is enough in the moment. The ultimate goal is to determine what you actually have the power to control or change.
Go back through the list and identify which items you and you alone have 100% control over. Circle these items. Draw a line from each item and identify one small action step that you can take to manage this thought, worry or stressor.
Everyone can benefit from some help with reviewing his or her personal list. Parents can help children review or even create their lists. Adults can review their list with a significant other or friend. An outside perspective can help you process what you do and do not have control over.
While you will not automatically be able to toss aside the things you do not have control over, the Stress Data Dump activity will help you learn how to focus your thoughts and energy towards the things you do have control over while simultaneously developing an action plan to move forward.