Can’t sleep? Thinking differently could help.

When you get enough sleep, you are your best self. When you don’t… well, you may see it impact your life after a while. Your school or work performance may suffer due to drowsiness or difficulty concentrating. You may find yourself getting snippy more often with family and friends. You might feel more stressed out. Any of this sounding familiar?

I could write about sleep hygiene, but my guess is that you’ve already heard the tips before… Go to sleep at the same time every night, no technology 30 minutes before bed, a cup of caffeine-free tea, a boring book… Many of these strategies are effective, but if they don’t work for you, what then?

Sometimes when you go days, weeks, months without a good night’s sleep, it starts to affect your thoughts. You could start having thoughts like…

If I don’t get enough sleep tonight, I’m going to bomb my presentation tomorrow.

What if I can’t fall asleep until 3 am? 4 am? The whole night? What if I never fall asleep again?

There’s obviously something wrong with me. Maybe I’m going crazy.  

These thoughts aren’t helpful, but don’t try to stop or control them, just notice them. Believe it or not, trying to stop thinking about something can actually make you think about it more. If I tell you not to think about apples, what do you picture? Apples, right?

Once you notice your sleep-related thoughts, you can start to challenge them. It may go a little something like this:

If I don’t get enough sleep tonight, I’m going to bomb my presentation tomorrow. Well, for one thing, I may still get enough sleep tonight. I don’t know what’s going to happen because I can’t predict the future. For another thing, I’m really well-prepared for my presentation, and being tired won’t make or break that. At worst, I’ll yawn a few too many times.

What if I never fall asleep again? Whoa! I might be making a mountain out of a molehill here. The chances that I’ll never fall asleep again are pretty unlikely. And anyway, I don’t have control over next week, next month, or the rest of my life. I only have control over what I do right now.

Maybe I’m going crazy. Maybe, but probably not. I might just be feeling crazy because I feel powerless over this sleep problem. Lots of people have trouble sleeping. And hey, even if I’m crazy, so what? The most creative, interesting people in the world are ‘crazy.’ 

You can challenge your thoughts in your head or, if it helps, you can write down the thoughts and responses. Now you try:

I’ll never be able to sleep like a normal person. I’ll be stuck in this cycle for the rest of my life. 

Challenging response: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Guess what? You just did a cognitive behavioral therapy technique! Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for a lot of issues, including insomnia.

If you challenge your initial thought but you still don’t totally believe your response, keep thinking, keep writing. Keep going until you can see flaws in the thought. If you’re stuck, you may want to refer to this list of common cognitive distortions. A cognitive distortion is an incorrect thought that can make you feel worse. We all have them, by the way… therapists included! It’s just part of being human.

Changing the way you think about sleep can help you feel better about your situation and yourself. For more assistance and guidance, consider seeing an individual therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy. And for questions, comments, and suggestions on this post, please visit the contact page. Goodnight and sweet dreams!

You have rights!

The decision to start therapy is by no means an easy one. Sometimes people think about going to therapy for weeks, months, or even years before taking the plunge. Talking to a complete stranger about your life can be intimidating. What if the therapist is mean? What if at the end of the first session, they spring a $300 bill on you?

It may be comforting for you to know that as a therapy client, you have rights. You have rights, whether you’re paying out of pocket or your insurance completely covers therapy. You have rights if you’re young, old, black, brown, white, gay, straight, bisexual, queer, transgender, have an eighth grade or a college education.

Your rights may vary somewhat depending on the specifics of your treatment. For example, although you can get up and leave anytime during a therapy session, you would not be able to leave an inpatient psychiatric unit without a doctor’s permission.

Here are some client rights that apply in all types of mental health treatment:

  • Right to know you have a qualified therapist – You have the right to ask a therapist about their credentials, specialties, and training.
  • Right to self-determination – You have the right to stop going to therapy at any time. You also have the right to be a part of creating your goals for therapy. You decide how, when, where, and for how long you receive services.
  • Right to privacy – All of your health information is confidential. Mental health professionals are not allowed to release information about your treatment to others without your consent. So for example, if a family member calls your therapist and starts asking questions, that therapist cannot even confirm that you are their client (unless, of course, they already have your permission to do so).
  • Right to respect and dignity – You have the right to be safe and respected at all times during mental health treatment. No therapist can abuse you in any way; verbally, emotionally, mentally, physically or sexually. Therapists are not allowed to discriminate against you based on your age, race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, or any other part of your identity. If you are being abused or discriminated against by your therapist, you can make a report to the Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-368-1463. (If you live outside of Illinois, this number will be different for you).
  • Right to fair payment – You have the right to reasonable fees that you are able to pay. Therapists must work with you to make sure this happens. Therapists must also be clear about how much you will pay, and the possible consequences of failing to pay for services.
  • Right to access your records – You have the right to have a copy of your records, including your mental health assessment, care plan, progress notes, etc.

You can read more about your rights at psychcentral.com, or myshrink.com. For more detailed information about ethical guidelines, you can read the Code of Ethics for social workers (many of whom, like me, are also therapists) here.

The purpose of therapy is to help you. Therapists may have credentials and knowledge, but only you are the expert on yourself and what you need. So don’t hesitate to ask questions, and let the therapist know if anything they say or do makes you uncomfortable. Being assertive will help you get the best possible experience from therapy.

 

*If you are an immediate risk to yourself or someone else, therapists may have to break confidentiality or set your wishes aside for your safety and/or the safety of others. As much as possible, therapists should tell you clearly when, why, and how they are breaking typical protocol.

Surviving Loneliness

Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt completely alone? Maybe you weren’t getting along with family, and didn’t know who to turn to. Or maybe you were surrounded by family and friends, but didn’t feel like they understood you. Perhaps you were scared of disappointing or worrying others by bringing up what you were struggling with.

No matter your circumstances, everyone feels lonely sometimes. Yes, everyone, no matter how many Instagram and Facebook friends they have, and no matter how upbeat they seem. Loneliness is just part of life.

People who have had depression know that depression takes loneliness to a whole new level. One of the most common signs of depression is isolating from others – not returning phone calls, canceling appointments or plans, and so on. Some other common signs include not wanting to get out of bed, feeling like there’s no hope, feeling emotionally numb, frequent crying, sleeping all the time or hardly at all, and having lots of thoughts about death or suicide.

Despite this post, WebMD, and online quizzes (many of which I myself have taken over the years), please understand that only a licensed professional can give you an accurate mental health diagnosis, including depression.

If you think you may be depressed, the first and often most difficult step is talking to someone about it. Hiding your feelings (which could include sadness, hopelessness, frustration, apathy…) from others often increases shame, giving those negative feelings more power. Acknowledging your feelings to someone can ‘break the spell’ and return some of that power back to you.

The first person you talk to about feeling depressed may not be a mental health professional, but rather, someone in your life who is kind and supportive. This could be a family member, but not necessarily; it could also be a friend or trustworthy co-worker. You’ll want to talk to someone who is a good listener and who will want to help you. If you can’t think of anyone like that in your life right now, you can call the Illinois Mental Health Collaborative Warm Line, at 1-866-359-7953. The Warm Line is open M-F, 8 am – 5 pm; you can find out more information at this site.

If you are having increased suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself, please seek help. Call 911 or text “CONNECT” to 741741 (a confidential crisis line that anyone can use).

And as always, feel free to contact me with questions or suggestions about this post. You e-mail or visit my “contact” page. Thank you!

First blog post!

Here is my first post!

There a few ways I’d like to be able to use this blog. First, to provide information about therapy and mental health. Second, as a platform for content I’ve found helpful or inspirational, whether it’s a podcast to recommend, or an inspirational quotation.

Whether you’re a client or a clinician, if you have a recommendation for a book, podcast, video, or anything else about mental health, please use my contact page or e-mail address (rebeccaaogle@gmail.com). Your input is helpful, so thank you in advance!