R U OK? Day ambassador on better habits to survive and thrive in an uncertain world
"Self-care isn’t selfishness; it’s self-preservation.” – Chelsea Pottenger
How does being on your phone before bed affect your sleep?
In an experiment over a week, accredited mindfulness and meditation coach Chelsea Pottenger used her phone while in bed, then tracked her sleep.
Quality not quantity affected
The founder and Managing Director of EQ Minds fell asleep easily and slept her usual 7.5 hours, but only 50 minutes were spent in deep sleep. The quality of her sleep was impacted. “All week I was waking up tired and exhausted,” the international wellness speaker told the fourth and final session of our Month of Mindfulness.
This article sets out tips from Chelsea's four sessions on better sleep, the benefits of meditation, winding down after work, and energising your mornings. In October we continue our wellness programme with a free series of events in our Mental Health and Wellbeing Week. Speakers will include former Lifeline CEO and Beyond Blue CEO Dawn O’Neil AM, and Landcom CEO and Lifeline Chairman John Brogden AM.
Lack of sleep affects cognition
Sleep experts recommend 1.5 hours of deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep within 7-9 hours total. If you get less than five hours sleep a night, you’re 300% more likely to catch a cold. Sleep deprivation also leaves you cognitively impaired and unable to retain information.
“People are not very good at predicting how poorly they’re doing when they’ve under-slept,” says Dr Matt Walker, author of Why We Sleep.
Tips for better sleep
So, what are Chelsea’s tips to getting a good night’s rest?
· Jump off the screens half an hour before your bedtime.
· Turn off half the lights at 8 p.m.
· Avoid powerful overhead lights. Invest in a warm bedside lamp.
· Read a paperback; nothing too heavy.
· Install blockout curtains, or wear a sleep mask.
· If you suffer insomnia: Write in a journal, listen to a sleep story or guided meditation, count backwards from 1000. If you are still awake after 20-30 mins get up and do something relaxing, then return to bed.
Develop your own routine
Chelsea’s personal sleep routine also includes taking magnesium, practising meditation, having a hot shower, stretching, and talking to her partner in bed. She used an Oura ring to track her sleep.
Brains like regulation and routine, says Chelsea. Darkness prompts the pineal gland to start producing melatonin; it naturally occurs at 9 pm for “larks” and 10.30 pm for “night owls”. A pre-sleep routine is one of the best things you can do for your brain, and thus, your wellbeing.
SESSION THREE: MEDITATION
What do Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Holly Ransom, Tim Ferriss, Emma Watson, Russell Brand, Jerry Seinfeld, and Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common?
They meditate regularly. Successful people so often do, according to Chelsea.
Better memory, less stress
Partnering with Growth Faculty for a Month of Mindfulness, she shared scientifically proven benefits of meditation. They include reducing brain fog, improving memory, reducing stress, and increasing our ability to regulate our emotions and think rationally when it’s needed most.
Stay even if the mind wanders
Chelsea says many people have tried meditation but lose heart. ‘I tried meditation, I just have too many thoughts’ is a common lament, she says.
So, she says, take your brain to the gym! Train your brain like you would train your body….in small amounts that increase over time.
“If you meditate and your mind wanders off and you bring it back (even for one microsecond), then that’s like one bicep curl,” says Chelsea.
Start with one minute of meditation
First, check your posture by downloading a helpful chart from EQ Minds.
Then, build up week by week:
· In week 1 = practice 1 minute.
· In week 2 = practice 3 minutes.
· In week 3 = practice 5 minutes.
· In week 5 = practice 10 minutes.
Remember, says Chelsea, everyone has thoughts during meditation. Just bring it back to the breath. Anytime is a good time to meditate. Start small, in short, sharp practice. To learn how to start and keep meditating, go to EQ Minds.
SESSION TWO: OPTIMAL WAY TO FINISH YOUR WORKDAY
The stress of lockdowns, high workloads, uncertainty, isolation, loneliness, homeschooling, and relationships can be overwhelming.
Partnering with Growth Faculty for Month of Mindfulness, Chelsea began Session Two during the week of R U Ok? Day by urging us to look out for our friends, colleagues, and family.
· What are they saying?
Are they confused and/or moody? Are they unable to switch off? Are they lonely or concerned they’re a burden to people? Do they lack self-esteem?
· What are they doing?
Mood swings, withdrawing, isolating, less interested in their appearance, change in sleep
· What’s going on in their life?
Relationship, health or financial issues, constant stress, or experiencing the loss of someone/something
“The quicker you can pick up the signs and symptoms the quicker they can recover,” she says. A list of professional organisations is available here.
Chelsea’s 3 steps to help you move from overwhelm:
Step 1: Recognise
· Acknowledge the stress – comfort eating, skin issues, sleep issues, drinking….
· Write it down – what’s causing it. Write a list.
Step 2 – Get some space
· Do a self-care technique: deep breathing, meditating, listen to music, gym, chores, take a break, walk outside, get into nature, call a friend.
Step 3 – Shift from overwhelm to problem solving
· Look at what’s on the list – then focus on what you can control.
· Prioritise – what’s the most important to your success today – go into action on that one thing.
By focusing on what you can control you will have more energy and more resilience.
Optimal way to finish your work day!
Lockdowns and remote work blur the line between work and home life. To transition, take a “micro shower for your brain”, says Chelsea. It helps to wash the day off, if you like.
1. Master diaphragmatic breathing: Inhale for four seconds through your nose, hold for two, exhale out of your mouth for eight. This helps to calm you down.
2. Think about belly breathing. When you inhale your tummy goes out, when you breathe out the tummy goes back in.
3. Repeat in your mind – “Release, Release, Release.”
4. Imagine your body releasing tension. For example, you might relax the jaw, and have your feet grounded.
It works like a line in the sand to delineate between work and home at the end of each workday.
SESSION ONE: 9 TIPS TO OPTIMISE YOUR MORNING ENERGY
“The most beautiful thing about being a human being is that every single morning we get to start fresh.” - Chelsea Pottenger.
Tip #1 Don’t reach for the phone first thing
Chelsea says a brain awakening from sleep is very impressionable. Looking at the news or emails on our phone can trigger our fight-or-flight response, leading to the release of stress hormones.
Tip: Instead of checking your phone, list five things you're grateful for. By doing this each morning the part of your brain responsible for empathy and compassion (the right supramarginal gyrus in the cerebral cortex) starts getting stronger. Oxytocin and dopamine increase, and being pleasurable, they'll prompt us to find more things to be grateful for.
Tip #2 Make Your Bed
Making your bed is something your mother taught you. It’s also the serious topic of a famous address given to University of Texas graduates in 2014 by Navy Admiral William H. McRaven.
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
Tip #3 Brush your teeth with your opposite hand
Chelsea says this tip, from the book “The End of Mental Illness” by Dr Daniel G. Amen, does many things including helping to stimulate the part of the brain where dexterity sits, and bringing you into the moment.
Tip #4 Drink a tall glass of water when first wake up
We all sweat while we sleep so Chelsea recommends drinking a large glass of water first thing.
Tip #5 Take a probiotic and prebiotic
Chelsea says research shows our gut health is the second brain, and it has a direct impact on our brain. Gut bacteria manufacture about 90% of the body's supply of serotonin, the key hormone that stabilises our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.
Tip #6 Exercise and Tip #7 Have a cold shower
Exercise is well-documented as a good morning energy booster. But change up your shower afterwards. Chelsea spends 2.5 minutes in a warm shower but finishes it with a 30 second blast of cold water. She says research shows people who take cold showers are 21% less likely to call in sick at work. It also increases our alertness.
Tip #8 Do some meditation
Spend part of your morning doing a meditation. Chelsea says there is much research showing it’s good for the brain. We become less stressed and more in the moment. Meditation courses can be found at EQ Minds.
Tip #9 Write down your to-do list
Take a moment to write down your goals for the day. Ask yourself ‘What is the most important thing for work and my mental and physical health today?’
Energising your morning doesn't mean cramming it with new activities. Chelsea recommends choosing one thing you can stick to over the next few mornings. Whether it’s thinking of things to be grateful for, drinking more water, brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand or not checking for phone for 10-15 minutes in the morning, you’ll feel more energised and less depleted.
As Chelsea says: How you start the day is how you are going to show up for the rest of the day.
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