What should I wear? What’s for breakfast? What’s on the radio? Where should I park? What do I have to do today? Where should I start? Where should I go for lunch? What’s for dinner? What are we doing tonight? What should we watch on TV? Which movie should we see? Which bill should I pay? What should I get at the grocery store? Should I see a doctor for this? Which workout should I do? Should I go to the gym or exercise at home?
Imagine you’re at the gym and you’ve just finished a grueling workout. A personal trainer, your friend, and others in the gym have been shouting at you for the last two hours. You are lying on the floor covered in sweat, nauseous. Every breath makes your lungs feel like they are on fire. Gradually, your heart rate returns to normal. Your breathing gets easier, and you’ve stopped sweating, but you just can’t get up from the floor. Your body is weak. Your physical energy is depleted. Your paralyzed on the floor unable to move. You fall asleep. When you wake you find that you are able to get up from the floor but you’re moving slowly. Your energy level is still low. You begin a new workout but this one doesn’t go as well as the last. This time you only make it an hour before you find yourself on the floor. You sleep it off again and upon waking you’re moving just a bit slower. You begin your next workout but this one is worse than the last. Thirty minutes into your workout you pull a muscle. You’re angry, frustrated, and resentful. Why are people crowding around the machines? You rest again, but it’s futile. This time when you try to work out you fall down. You injure your knee and now you can’t exercise for a couple of months. It’s easy to see the problem here, right? You worked to hard, didn’t get enough rest, and the quality of each workout declined while the risk of injury increased. Now, what if I told you that the same thing happens to our brains with decision making?
What is Decision Fatigue?
Research tells us that on average most people make 35,000 decisions a day. This is around 2,000 decisions per hour or one decision every two seconds. Does your job require you to make decisions? What kind of decisions? Some decisions are important but not life or death. Teachers make hundreds of important decisions every day. Some decisions have life or death consequences. Doctors and engineers make decisions that impact the health and safety of other people’s lives and families. Some people have time to think through their decisions and what the potential impact and consequences might be. Researchers can spend weeks or months making their next decisions. Teachers very often have very short notice, if any at all, to make very important decisions. Firefighters and emergency room physicians often only have seconds to make life or death decisions.
All these decisions require a certain amount of energy in our brain. Our brain, like our muscles, has a finite amount of energy available for decision making. We deplete it quickly. Factors in our life that drive the number of decisions we have to make determine how quickly we use up the energy we have. When that energy is used up our mind, like our body, becomes fatigued. This is decision fatigue. The consequence of decision fatigue is that the quality of our decisions deteriorates the more fatigued our brain becomes.
What Are the Signs of Decision Fatigue?
Do you feel exhausted all the time? Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your phone while your list of chores grows longer? Are you irritable? These are signs you’re in a state of mental fatigue.
How Do We Fix Decision Fatigue?
Unfortunately a good night’s sleep isn’t enough to refresh our ability to make good decisions. We live in an age where information and choices come at us very fast. Our smartphones and tablets contribute to the problem. There are two strategies that I have found to be the most helpful.
First, reduce the number of decisions you have to make by automating them. For example, meal planning eliminates the choice of what to eat thereby eliminating the need to make a decision. The movie Dear John featured a man whose father was autistic. His father made the same weekly dinner menu his entire life. Every Monday night was meatloaf. There is genius in this. The character had devised a strategy to reduce the overwhelming task of deciding what to cook for dinner by sticking to the same menu. But in doing this he also eliminated the need to decide what to put on the grocery list. These decisions were already made freeing space in his mind. I’ve employed a similar strategy by agreeing on a weekly menu with my daughter. I’m not as rigid as the character in the movie. I easily adapt to a change of plan and I rotate menus as I don’t want to do the same menu for the rest of my life. But I do love not having to think about dinner or grocery shopping. All those decisions are made. Another decision you can automate is what to wear. When I put away my laundry I arrange all of my outfits for work. When I get up in the morning I just put on the next outfit. I never stand in my closet staring at my clothes wondering what to wear. It’s another decision I don’t miss having to make. What decisions in your life do you think you can automate?
The second strategy I use can be summed up in one word – unplug. I am addicted to my phone. I check it constantly. This is a steady stream of information going to my brain and depleting my mental energy. My solution is to unplug for at least 30 minutes every night. If the weather permits I like to take my dog for a walk. My phone goes in my pocket and stays there. No earbuds. No headphones. I listen to the wind in the trees, the cars going by, kids playing ball, and the sound of my dog happily panting as we walk. It’s my favorite way to recharge.
My advice, focus on setting habits that automate as many decisions as possible. This frees up space in your mind for creativity, critical thinking, and increases your energy. Take some time every night to unplug. Make your mental health as much of a priority as your physical health.
Depression, anxiety, post partum depression and anxiety, mental fatigue, stress, post traumatic stress, bipolar, borderline personality, addiction, ADD, so many labels. So many mood and mental disorders. They’re all different. Each provides its own torment, but there is one thing they all have in common. Each and every one is stigmatized the world over. People suffer in silence, fear, and shame. Treatment in the United States is difficult to get even with the best of insurance. Primary care physicians, out of their area of expertise, are reluctant to prescribe psychiatric medications. This makes sense if you think about it. If you had cancer would you rather have your chemotherapy prescribed and monitored by an oncologist who specializes in cancer treatment and sees cancer patients every day, or the family physician who hasn’t studied cancer therapies since their days in medical school? I’d want the oncologist. So it goes with psychiatric care and medication. Unfortunately, even in urban areas with heavy population, quality mental health care is difficult to come by. This is a topic I care deeply about because it affects me and my family. I will write more about this in future blog posts. I want to remove the fear, stigma, and mystery out of mental illness.
What Am I Thinking About This Week?
This week, I am continuing my theme drawn from the first word in my 2019 mantra – refresh. I’m thinking about how we manage and care for our mental health on a day to day basis. What strategies and steps can we take to manage stress, anxiety, and overwhelming fatigue? What can we do to fight off the overwhelming weight of depression when it drags us down and threatens our family and our work life? The health and fitness industry spend millions of dollars keeping us focused on detoxing our bodies and drinking shakes that promise weight loss, eternal youth, and happiness. But if you have even one of the labels above then you know happiness isn’t mixed up in your blender. I wish the health and fitness magazines and websites would put more focus on our mental health. My instagram is flooded with personal trainers, fitness coaches, and weight loss experts. They all have a product to sell. Vitamins, shakes, exercise programs and support groups. None of these are inexpensive, and none of these truly address our mental health needs. I wish more therapists and psychiatrists would share their insights and wisdom on social media.
What Will I Write About?
I’m not going to try and sell you any product or program this week. I’m going to share the small amount of insight, wisdom, and strategies I’ve learned these last few years. I’m going to share four blog posts this week. First, I’m going to write about decision fatigue. I’m going to share my thoughts on what I think is one of the easiest ways we can reduce stress and relieve some of our daily anxiety. Next, I’m going to write about morning rituals and how important they are to set us up for a day with less tension, stress, and anxiety. My midweek blog post will be a topic close to my heart. I’m going to share my thoughts on cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. My last blog post for the week will be on the topic of meditation. I’m going to tell you what it is and what it isn’t. I’m going to share a couple of my personal techniques that have helped both my daughter and I.
Thank you to all who are following my blog. My hope is that you find this space interesting, inspirational, maybe even motivational. Comments are always welcome. Please click the like button so I know someone has been here. I pray you have a wonderful week.
“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
My grandmother taught me that prayer when I was a child. She made me say that every night before I went to sleep. The prayer is from the 18th century which was a time when childhood deaths were very high. As a child I didn’t understand the morbid nature of the words. Kids in the 1970s didn’t die in their sleep from a sudden onset of measles or other childhood illness. But when I became a mother and started to teach my daughter to say this bedtime prayer I was horrified when I realized the meaning behind the words. So, I let the ritual of my childhood go, and I didn’t teach my daughter the value of saying bedtime prayers. I do wish I had. Bedtime prayer is so much more than a cute childhood tradition.
Are bedtime prayers a Christian thing?
Prayer is communication from your heart to a higher power, to the universe. You don’t have to be Christian to say a bedtime prayer. Jews say the Shema, Hindus say the KaracharaNa, and Dias for Muslims. In fact, you don’t have to be religious at all. Non secular parents have started teaching their children bedtime rituals focused on gratitude. Many atheist parents have their children say the following poem by Dani Shapiro from her memoir Devotion
May I be safe; may I be happy; may I be strong; may I treat others with kindness; may I live with ease
Isn’t saying a bedtime prayer a kid thing though?
I’ve given this a lot of thought. For thousands of years, across cultures and continents, one thing humans have always done is incorporate some form of prayer in their daily routine. Seems logical to me that there must be some purpose for prayer in our lives no matter how old we are or what our spiritual beliefs are. Our world today is chaotic. We are overloaded with information coming at us fast. In the cult of busy that has sprung up in this digital age we rush through our days without taking time to pause and reflect. Our jobs keep us connected nearly 24/7 with laptops, mobile phones, and tablets. At night we crash in our beds exhausted craving sleep only to be kept awake by our racing mind.
Creating space in our evening hours for reflection, meditation, and prayer is more than just reviving a childhood routine. Routines are just habits. Things we do mindlessly. Bedtime prayer is a ritual. Rituals are intentional acts we set apart from our everyday life. Bedtime prayer should not be a mindless childhood rhyme or a bible verse recited from memory. Bedtime prayer should be something that lifts us up out of the mundane pace of life and for a few moments connects us to something more sacred. Bedtime prayers should not focus on the fear of death or the wrath of God. Bedtime prayers should focus on gratitude and appreciation. Bedtime prayer should be a ritual of thanks and a time for personal reflection.
Bedtime is a perfect time to pause and reflect on the day. What went right? What is good about life? It may be that the only thing good is that you were able to get out of bed but giving thanks for that small victory is powerful for overcoming depression and anxiety. Bedtime is a perfect time to reflect on what could be better. What could you improve with a bit more discipline and effort? Creating space in your bedtime routine for a few moments of prayer is a powerful tool to help you let go of stress, practice gratitude, and find peace.
Sure, bedtime prayer is great if you’re religious but what if your an atheist? I’ve got news for all you nonbelievers. Bedtime prayer is just as helpful for you as it is for us secular folks. As a Lutheran, I believe that I am communicating to God from my heart when I pray. That can be intimidating sometimes. I mean, what the hell do you say to the almighty? So when I find myself overwhelmed by the idea that I am talking to God, I remind myself that I am made of stardust. I am stardust speaking to the stars. Maybe this image is more comfortable for you if you’re a nonbeliever?
Taking time before I close my eyes for the night to give thanks and reflect on my day is one of the ways I refresh my mental health. It’s my mental pause and reset. It gives me the clarity to see that maybe it wasn’t such a hellish day after all. It forces me to remember what is going right rather than ruminate on all that is going wrong. And as a Christian, it comforts me to know that God is listening.
My personal bedtime prayer is below. Feel free to try it out. I would love to hear what you think in the comments.
Dear God, my day is drawing to a close and I’m ready for a good night’s sleep. As I close my eyes tonight I pray for loved ones around me, for friends, and all who need you. I pray that your comfort, mercy, and grace as plentiful as the stars in the sky will touch all who need it. Bless me with rest so that I wake refreshed and ready to begin another day. Thank you for blessings so undeserved and too numerous to count.
I close my prayer with my favorite bible verse.
2 Timothy 1:9
For God’s not given me a spirit of fear but a spirit of love and of power and a sound mind to live each day and glorify his name.
Insomnia got you? I know your pain. So so tired but can’t fall asleep. Or worse, you fall asleep only to wake up and toss and turn the rest of the night! I know a few hacks that will help you fall asleep and stay asleep. They work better than sleeping pills and are safer.
The magic pill I’m talking about is lavender. Not your grandma’s lavender soap. I’m talking about real lavender oil. Lavender oil was prized for its hypnotic effect by the ancient Romans. Essential oil isn’t the only way to use lavender. Below are some of my favorite ways to use lavender to help me get to sleep and stay asleep.
First came adult coloring. We found a way to relieve our anxiety by resurrecting a popular childhood pastime. Now, there is a way to relieve insomnia by resurrecting another childhood treasure – bedtime stories for adults!
I know; it sounds silly. Coloring sounded silly until we tried it. There is some science to support a bedtime story for adults is as beneficial as it is for children. Reading to children does more than just improve their vocabulary. It signals that the day has come to an end. Resurrecting old habits is easier than creating new ones. Have you heard of the sleep paradox? Simply put, sleep comes when we’re not trying to fall asleep. When we try to fall asleep our analytical brain monitors our efforts which keeps us awake. The more we try to fall asleep the more awake we become. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I read. Surely reading a book will help me relax and then I can fall asleep! Unfortunately, when we read we are using the analytical side of our brain. Experts say we should turn off all electronics two hours before bed. In fact, we shouldn’t even have our phones or tablets in our bedrooms. Our eyes are fatigued from staring at screens all day and the electromagnetic fields will keep us awake.
I recently learned two interesting facts about sleep. First, as our bodies drift to sleep our hearing is the last of our senses to shut down. But, it’s also the first of our senses to come back as we wake up. Second, when we are in REM sleep we dream in pictures not in words. So what do these things mean?
Listening to a story as we lie in bed taps into an old childhood ritual. It signals our bodies that it’s time to sleep. It helps turn off our analytical brain creating more space for the peaceful brainwaves needed for a deep, restful sleep. Using audio to read rather than our eyes helps to systematically shut down our senses preparing our mind and body for sleep.
So where do you find bedtime stories for adults? One of my personal favorites is a podcast called Levar Reads. This podcast is free on most podcast apps. Levar Burton reads short stories. Remember Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow? Well, now he is reading short stories from modern authors. The stories are anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes long. Levar’s voice is just as hypnotic now as it was 30 years ago. Sometimes I’m able to stay awake until the story ends. Mostly, I make it about 15 minutes.
If podcasts aren’t your thing try audio books. The Audible app lets you download and listen to audio books through Amazon. There are other apps that let you listen to audio books for free. Popular audio books include the Harry Potter series, The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, Treasure Island, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Check out the audio books available at your local public library. Many libraries now allow you to check out audio books through Audible.
Another way to listen to a bedtime story is through a meditation app. Calm is the most popular app for bedtime stories. Matthew McConaughy reads a story on Calm. Unplug is one of my favorite apps. The content is diverse. In addition to guided meditations and videos there are bedtime stories. I would tell you more about them, but they put me to sleep too quickly to remember what they are about!
One of the most important things we can do for our bodies and our minds is to get a good night’s sleep. It’s the first step to refreshing our mental health. Rather than hiding from my electronics at night, and lying in bed awake trying to will myself to fall asleep, I’ve been bringing my phone to bed and putting it to work reading me a bedtime story.
Shushybye, close your eyes, and quiet your mind. Let your body rest and wake up feeling refreshed.
I’m exhausted. Drained. Running on empty. I struggle to get out of bed every morning. I hit snooze a dozen times. I drag myself through the day, come home from work and crash on the sofa, and then go to bed. The alarm goes off the next morning and the cycle repeats. Sound familiar?
I hate being tired. The days blend together and tasks on my to do list pile up. The first word in my 2019 mantra is Refresh. Refresh is a verb. It means to give new strength, energy, or to reinvigorate. Refresh is my focus for the month of January. I’ll be blogging about ways to refresh the mind, the body, and the soul. I want to refresh my mental health.
Exhaustion is not just physical it’s mental. A good night’s sleep can restore physical exhaustion. But mental exhaustion requires more than sleep for recovery. Mental exhaustion is what happens when our mind is overwhelmed. Stress, anxiety, depression all lead to mental exhaustion. How do we shut off the noise in our mind and refresh our mental health?
Insomnia, poor sleep, too much sleep, restless sleep, what the hell is a good night’s sleep anyway? And how do we get it?
I’m not talking about fatigue fighting. I want to prevent fatigue. I’m setting my intention this month to carve out time to do things that will refresh my mental health. Meditation, music, prayer, rituals, and mindfulness are tools I will be using and sharing with you. Did you know there are bedtime stories for adults? Did you know applying lavender oil to your feet will help you sleep? Do you know what decision fatigue is? I’m going to write about all of these things this week. I’m going to share all the apps, oils, and ideas that help me. I hope you will follow along and share your ideas as well.
Happy New Year!
Today is the beginning of 12 new chapters. It’s the first of 365 opportunities. It’s 52 chances to turn dreams into realities. 2018 is in the past. All the mistakes, failures, and disappointments are behind us.
Social media influencers and life coaches are busy. Newsfeeds are full of memes and posts motivating us to be “better” and to set intentions. I hate NYD intentions. We make a grand promise to the universe and then feel like a complete failure a year later vowing to get it right next year. Last year I adopted a mantra rather than set an intention. My mantra was Just Breathe. When life became overwhelming, when problems turned into crisis, and I felt like there was no room left in my rope to tie another knot I would tell myself ” Just Breathe.” I would close my eyes and take slow deep breaths. It was calming. It brought clarity. I included meditation in my morning routine. Looking back at 2018 and how I used this mantra rather than try to live by a goal-based intention I am so grateful for the inspiration, peace, and hope my mantra gave me. Because it worked so well last year, I’m doing it again this year.
This year’s mantra is three words – Refresh, Nourish, Connect. They were chosen to remind me to take care of myself first. The ups and downs of the last couple of years has taught me that if you do not put yourself first then you will wind up depleted emotionally and mentally with nothing to give to those who depend on you most.
Refresh. This word reminds me to take time out to pause and reset. It’s a reminder that it’s not lame, lazy, or selfish to go to bed early or take a nap. It’s taking time to recharge my energy levels. It’s not silly to sit with my crystals and my singing bowl and meditate. It’s taking time to clear out the noise in my mind. It gives me peace and allows me to focus.
Nourish. To me this word is about so much more than food. Yes, I will be trying to lose weight this year, and I’ve signed up with Weight Watchers to help me on that journey. But, I’m not interested in just nourishing my body. This word is my reminder to nourish my mind and soul as well as my body. Nourish is my reminder to carve out time to curl up on the sofa under a blanket and read. Nourish is the mantra I will use as I reconnect with my Lutheran traditions and grow spiritually. Nourishment is for the body, mind, and the soul.
Connect. This word is my reminder that I am not an island. It’s not irresponsible to ignore the household chores and spend time with friends. It’s a reminder to put my phone away when I am with my family and friends. I spend enough of my day staring at a screen. Face to face human connection is important for our mental health. Connect is about sharing ideas and starting conversations.
These three words – refresh, nourish, and connect will be the themes that guide my blog writing this year. I’ve redesigned my blog space around them and you’ll find tabs under the menu labeled Refresh, Nourish, Connect. I’ve mapped out blog posts for January, February, and March. This month, I am focusing on Refresh. I’ll share with you all the ways I am taking time to rest, recharge, and revive my mind, body, and soul. I welcome your ideas, thoughts, and opinions in the comments.
What is your new year tradition? What are your intentions or mantras? What do you think of when you hear the word refresh?
Here it comes. A new year. The stores are discounting the last of their holiday merchandise to clear room on the shelves for Valentine’s day. While the brick and mortar stores are cleaning up the remnants of Christmas a different industry is getting ready for its busiest time of year.
The diet and fitness industry is gearing up. Social media feeds are overflowing with life coaches selling you happiness, self confidence, and a healthier you in a bottle of vitamins or a meal replacement shake. Join their online groups and make new friends! Share your fears, your insecurities, and your doubts with strangers in a group chat. Everything you need to change your life delivered to your door conveniently charged to your credit card.
May I suggest a different approach for 2019?
New Year New You!
Shave inches off your newsfeed rather than your waistline
Reduce the amount of negative self talk in your head rather than the calories on your plate
Feel amazing, hot, and confident not because you choked down a chalky shake and a handful of supplements but because YOU ARE amazing, hot, and confident without all that crap!
Healthy living should be because you love yourself and you want more out of life; it should not be because of what you see on your Instagram feed. We do not put enough importance on our mental health. We have an endless supply of resources to help us lose weight and exercise. We’re obsessed with our gut health and our heart health, but what we should be talking about is our mental health. Depression and anxiety are deadlier than gluten or sugar, but we’re too busy meal prepping to notice.
This year why don’t we worry less about the ingredient list and prioritize our mental heath, our emotional health, and our relationships? This year, let’s focus on all of our relationships- our relationship with food, with our bodies, with social media, with our family and our friends. Rather than drinking laxative teas and meal replacement shakes and popping fat burners and working out 2 hours a day, why don’t we just celebrate the skin we’re in with all of its flaws?
Let’s learn to love our squish! Show off our stretch marks and cellulite with pride of a life lived! Let’s start 2019 knowing our worth and welcome the New Year with intention rather than resolutions.
This year I am dieting my newsfeeds. I’ve removed all accounts that drive me to comparison. Comparison is the thief of joy. I want my newsfeeds to be filled with things that make me laugh, spark my imagination, light my soul on fire, and generate discussion. I am detoxing my negative self talk. I’m going to make an effort to be kinder to myself. I’m going to transform my confidence rather than my body. I’m going to stop obsessing on all the things I can’t do and celebrate the things I’m great at! I’m going to remind myself that I’m a rockstar!
Make 2019 the year of YOU. Not a skinnier you, or a “better” you. Just YOU, just as you are. Pay more attention to the people and the things that make you feel empowered. Spend time with yourself. Take yourself on a date! People will only love you as much as you love yourself no matter what size clothing you wear. Be more you and less of a wannabe to attract the people and the things in your life that bring you joy.
First, to my blog followers I want to say thank you for following me, reading all my words, and supporting me. I am so grateful to have you all in my tribe.
Next, I apologize for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been busy managing life, which has been quite overwhelming lately. My daughter’s mental health spiraled downward. The medication regime she was on to treat her bipolar II, anxiety, and major depressive disorder just wasn’t working. We fought against overwhelming anxiety that gave her daily panic attacks and night terrors. Her bipolar swung to the manic end of the spectrum which brought on severe OCD, and trouble sleeping (on top of the night terrors 🙄), and her depression left her numb, spiraling downward to hopelessness and despair. So she did the bravest thing I’ve ever seen her do. She put her new job and all of her future plans aside and chose to get inpatient treatment for her mental health. This hospitalization was different from the last. During her last hospitalization her primary focus was simply to get out of the hospital. She blew off her outpatient treatment. But this time was different. This time she chose to go in, and she went forward with purpose. She wanted to get well. She spent seven days in the hospital. Her medications were switched, monitored, and adjusted. She participated in group therapy. She reflected on what factors in her life trigger her mental health in a negative way. After her release she spent 6 days in the outpatient hospital program and put all of her energy into learning skills and techniques to help her manage her disease on a day to day basis. Did all of this cure her? Did she emerge free of anxiety, depression, bipolar, and OCD?
But she came home stronger, centered, more confident, and happier. She is doing great. I am so proud of my daughter for putting her health first. The decision was costly. Some family and friends were uncomfortable with the idea that she was in a psychiatric hospital. She lost her job. But what she gained far outweighs what she lost. Situations like this give you clarity. You find out pretty quick who is in your corner. My daughter’s childhood friend proved her unwavering love and devotion. She supported my girl every day through the whole ordeal. And while some family kept their distance, others joined in the process of helping her on the road to wellness.
In the middle of this, one of my cats was diagnosed with chronic renal failure. For awhile we were not sure if she would be with us at Christmas. I’m happy to report that Daisy Mae is stable and comfortable. We know that we are on borrowed time but we are choosing to focus on the joy she brings every day rather than the fear that each day may be the last.
And in the middle of this chaos and upheaval, I chose to leave the company I’ve worked at for nearly three years and start a new job with a different company.
It’s been an eventful couple of months. As the year winds down I’ve started thinking about 2019. What do I want to do? Where do I want to go? Where do I want to be? I’ve got a few goals written down, and a couple of passion projects outlined.
One of those projects is this blog. I’ve been trying to work out what niche I want my blog to fit into. What do I want my readers to gain from visiting my site? I’m so excited to tell you that starting in January 2019 you are going to see a refreshed Michigan Wonder Woman site! This blog will be dedicated to self-care. Posts will be grouped around three main themes – Refresh, Nourish, and Connect. I’ll tell you more about these later.
For now, I want to say Merry Christmas to my Christian friends, Joyous Kwanza to my African American friends, Happy Chanukah to my Jewish friends, Happy Solstice to my pagan friends, and to those I have missed I wish you joy in whatever you are celebrating. My wish for all of you is peace, love, and joy.
And all at once, summer collapsed into fall – Oscar Wilde