Health Journeys Wellness Reports - Guided Imagery and Meditation Blog | Health Journeys Mon, 22 May 2017 17:31:45 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb A Free Report: Kicking the Habit - Ten Keys to Positive Change A Free Report: Kicking the Habit - Ten Keys to Positive Change

Well, Good Reader,

We all have self-defeating habits we'd like to kiss goodbye. We eat too much, chew our nails, procrastinate, and get cranky in traffic. Instead, we aspire to exercise more, become patient with our kids, meditate every day and organize our closets.

Recent surveys estimate 40 million Americans, or 1 in 7 people are addicted to nicotine, alcohol or drugs, and the numbers are increasing, in spite of more than $468 billion spent on battling addiction.

The good news: there’s a spate of new research on what works for change and what doesn’t. And our very own clinical psychologist and behavioral change expert, Traci Stein, has created an insightful, free report that tells us how we pick up habits, what it is about them that’s so hard to change, and how to change them anyway.  

Traci's Kicking the Habit: The Ten Keys to Positive Change, is packed with powerful, actionable information you can put to use right away. It’s loaded with

  • practical tips,
  • step-by-step behavioral strategies and
  • self-hypnotic techniques

Traci tells us, "Habits consist of a chain of triggers, behaviors and rewards. My recommendations can help you access the wisest part of you, to change the habit chain and help create success in profound ways."

So, if there are old habits you want to kick, or new ones you want to launch, check out Traci's terrific free report, where you'll find everything you ever wanted to  know about how to make change happen.

Enjoy it with our best wishes, and pass it on to a friend.

All best,

br signature


PS: And happy Rosh HaShanah to those who celebrate the year 5777 in the Hebrew calendar. Let Traci help you install those healthy new resolutions before the Day of Judgment rolls around. (Only joking!)


]]> (Belleruth Naparstek) Health Journeys Wellness Reports Thu, 22 Sep 2016 10:18:21 -0400
Guided Imagery & Diabetes: A Special Report for Practitioners Guided Imagery & Diabetes: A Special Report for Practitioners

What is Guided Imagery, Anyway?

Guided imagery is an immersive, hypnotic, audio intervention, consisting of calming words, soothing music and positive images, designed to structure a relaxing, healing experience that targets specific health goals.

It can be spoken by a practitioner or self-administered with a recording.

Considered the “lazy man’s meditation”, because it takes no training or preparation whatsoever, it is extremely easy, user-friendly, portable and private, requiring only an audio player and the ability to press “Play”.

It works well as an adjuvant therapy alongside conventional treatment, and is also helpful on its own.

If you click on the links below, you’ll hear brief audio samples that will immediately convey to you the nature of this intervention.

Guided Imagery & Diabetes
Download the Report (PDF)

An Explosion of Research

Over the past two decades, with the development of more sophisticated research methods and a better understanding of mind-body medicine, we’ve learned that techniques that promote relaxation and mood regulation will shift biochemistry in ways that can profoundly benefit people with diabetes.

Studies investigating guided imagery1, breath management2, relaxation3, autogenic training4, hypnosis5 (all of these techniques are also forms of guided imagery), as well as biofeedback6, acupressure7, yoga8, tai chi9 and mindfulness based stress reduction10 have yielded impressive or promising results with blood glucose, HbA1c, lipid status, peripheral circulation, post-prandial hypoglycemic levels, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, depression, anxiety and improved self-care.

Guided imagery is one of the simplest, most user-friendly, portable, self-administered and scalable of interventions. It is easy to add to a treatment plan, has built-in reinforcement for continued use, and it will support motivation for increased self-care, with even the most challenging of daily regimens.

General Benefits

Four decades of research have established numerous benefits. Guided imagery is an astonishingly simple, flexible and easy tool for promoting health and wellness, getting through difficult medical procedures, managing symptoms and, in some cases, even reducing disease. [See Appendix A for a sampling of general findings on the efficacy of guided imagery for various health challenges.]

It is a practice that packs a powerful punch, because of the way it can skip around cognition and send healing messages straight into the whole being, by way of primitive, sensory and emotion-based channels in the brain and nervous system.

Imagery travels primarily via “right brain” sensing, perceiving, feeling and apprehending, rather than through left brain thinking, judging, analyzing and deciding.

Indeed, imagery is the gift that keeps on giving, creating a highly receptive reverie state, where healing images can act like a depth charge dropped deep beneath the surface of the mind, reverberating again and again, delivering rich, complex, healing messages to mind, body and spirit. Impact is cumulative and intensifies over time.

It is fast, powerful, costs little or nothing, and gets easier and more effective with continued use. Its end-user needn’t be smart, rich, well educated, young, strong, nor mentally healthy to reap its considerable benefits.

Listeners can be bone-tired, disgusted, depressed, disbelieving, listless, resistant, distracted, mentally disabled, physically unfit or at death’s door, and yet the imagery will still bestow its benefits.

In addition, it easily, comfortably and non-competitively supports other ongoing therapies, helping to anchor the inroads made by conventional treatment.

To summarize, guided imagery offers a wide range of general benefits:

  • Promotes relaxation
  • Reduces stress, anxiety
  • Counters depression
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Improves blood pressure
  • Improves focus, concentration
  • Improves performance
  • Helps with sleep
  • Boosts energy
  • Increases self-esteem
  • Promotes and maintains smoking cessation
  • Improves surgical outcomes
  • Helps patients tolerate difficult medical procedures
  • Reduces pain and ameliorates other symptoms
  • Decreases side effects of medication and treatment

Particular Benefits for Diabetes

In addition, guided imagery has some special advantages for those working to promote the proper management of diabetes. Among other things, it can do the following:

  • Lowers hemoglobin A1C
  • Reduces blood glucose, in the short and long term
  • Helps with circulation and neuropathy
  • Raises endorphin levels - decreases pain, lifts mood
  • Enhances feelings of empowerment, hope, mastery
  • Increases motivation for self-care, even with a difficult daily regimen
  • Reduces anxiety-based behaviors, including compulsive eating, smoking & drinking
  • Is user friendly - doesn’t ask a lot from weary, discouraged end-users
  • Delivers immediately felt benefits, thus reinforcing continued use
  • Is self-administered, allowing the end user to be in control
  • Has portability – can be uploaded to a phone or MP3 and used anywhere
  • Facilitates transition – can be introduced in the hospital and brought home
  • Offers wide application - listeners don’t need to be trained, focused, motivated, smart or even awake to benefit from use

Practical Tips for Success

  • Put some imagery audio clips on the phone line at your hospital and make them available to patients who are getting stressed on the floor.

  • Upload clips of guided imagery, breathing exercises, affirmations, walking meditations to your patient’s smart phone or MP3 player and show them how to use it.

  • If they’re technologically intimidated, order some Playaways for simplifying mistake-proof use.

  • Remember, this technique works well with other treatments and tools. Not only does it not compete with them, but it supports them by promoting hope, motivation and self-care, along with improved biochemistry.

  • If there is resistance to trying guided imagery, start with one that helps with sleep. Patients are more likely to relax and let go when trying to sleep.

  • Don’t get discouraged if a patient doesn’t “get it” at first: skill, efficiency, speed and impact increase with practice.

  • Don’t “sell” it too hard. But you may want to play a segment in the office, so they can hear it with you first. Otherwise, they may not try it out on their own.

  • It helps to advise people to not worry about being perfect at this – half-baked attention works, too.

  • People who are not used to being both relaxed and awake at the same time will routinely fall asleep while listening. Reassure them this is okay - it will benefit them anyway.

  • If dozers want to know what’s on the recording, they can listen sitting up, standing or walking. But it’s okay for them to nap.

  • Tell people they can change the narrative in their own minds to suit themselves. If they’re religious, let them invoke Jesus or a symbol of faith at the start; or you can encourage them to fill in the blanks with favorite people and places. They can also ignore parts they don’t like.
  • Remind your patients that they don’t have to be “visual” for this to work – the imagery engages all the senses – sights, sounds, tastes, feel, smells, emotion. (Remember, only a little over half of the population is strongly visual.)

  • Take advantage of a group setting. The altered state is contagious, and people will have a more impactful experience in a group. So introduce imagery in a support group or even very large audience if you can.

  • Music increases the effects of imagery, unless the listener is a music major or musician who gets analytical or hypercritical about music, in which case it may be better without music altogether.

  • If a listener has hearing problems, the music can mask the words. In that case, it’s better to get an audio without music or to read from a script found in a book, while playing the background music at lower level.

  • Remember that the patient does not have to be a “believer” in guided imagery in order to benefit from it. Even a skeptical willingness to give it a try is enough to get the ball rolling.

  • Keep in mind that people who normally would not give it a try, will almost always when under the gun – especially when facing surgery or other scary situations.

  • Imagery is great with a massage or a Reiki treatment or other forms of physical touch. Touch helps with relaxation and increases the kinesthetic power of the images. [A newly published study in Military Medicine (Sept 2012) shows that guided imagery combined with Healing Touch significantly reduced posttraumatic stress, depression and cynicism, and improved mental quality of life in combat-exposed Marines facing re-deployment – in only 6 sessions/3 weeks, which is just plain astounding.]

  • Encouraging the use of the same posture or hand-positioning with each imaging session creates a conditioning cue that helps the patient respond with an immediate relaxation/healing response to the posture.

  • You can reassure your patients that losing track of the guided narrative is not an indicator that they are listening incorrectly. A wandering mind is just part of the experience. The imagery is still being absorbed.

  • You will notice that people will often tear up, get runny noses, cough, yawn, feel heaviness in their limbs, get tingling along the top of their scalp or in their hands and feet, or experience minor, involuntary muscle-movements. These are normal responses to guided imagery. You can reassure your patients it’s all good.
  • Keep in mind that an indicator of a strong response during the imagery is unusual stillness, increased coloring in the face, and an ironing out of lines and wrinkles. After the imagery, a person’s voice will be deeper and lower, the breathing slower and more relaxed.

  • Usually an imaging exercise will clear a headache or remove back pain, joint pain or stomach aches, because of the combination of muscle relaxation and increased endorphins. But occasionally people acquire a headache. Physical movement, pressing acupoints, changing posture or using additional imagery to release the trapped energy will remedy this.

Try It!

This is a technique that is worth trying. It won’t be for everyone, but it can do a world of good for a substantial number of patients. And it can make your work a lot easier and more rewarding.

And don’t forget yourself or your family, either. It can help you relax, lose weight, sleep better and feel more positive, too. And it can help your kids take a test, win at sports or ace a recital.

So check it out. You won’t regret it.


Featured Guided Imagery for Diabetes


More guided imagery to support diabetes can be found


Imagery has been found to reduce anxiety and depression11, lower blood pressure12, reduce cholesterol13 and lipid peroxides14 in cardiac patients, speed up healing from cuts15, fractures16 and burns17, reduce blood loss18 and length of hospital stay in surgery patients19, beef up short term immune function20, reduce pain from arthritis21 and fibromyalgia22, increase comfort during all manner of medical procedures23, improve motor deficits in stroke patients24, reduce fear in young children undergoing MRIs25 and needle sticks26, cut down bingeing and purging in people with bulimia27, improve success rates in infertile couples28, accelerate weight loss29 and improve concentration in developmentally disabled adults30, to name just a few of the established benefits.


1 Wichowski HC, Kubsch SM.Increasing diabetic self-care through guided imagery. Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery. 1999 Dec;5 (6): pp. 159-63.

2 Richard S. Surwit, Miranda A.L. van Tilburg, Nancy Zucker, Cynthia C. McCaskill, Priti Parekh, Mark N. Feinglos, Christopher L. Edwards, Paula Williams and James D. Lane. Stress Management Improves Long-Term Glycemic Control in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2002 25: 30-34.

3 McGinnis RA, McGrady A, Cox SA, Grower-Dowling KA.Biofeedback-assisted relaxation in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2005 Sep; vol. 28 (9): pages 2145-9.

4 Kostić N, Secen S.Effect of autogenic training on glucose regulation and lipid status in non-insulin dependent diabetics. Medisinski Pregled. 2000 May-Jun;53 (5-6):pp 285-8.

5 Xu Y, Cardeña E. Hypnosis as an adjunct therapy in the management of diabetes. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 2008 Jan;56 (1): pp.63-72

6 McGinnis RA, McGrady A, Cox SA, Grower-Dowling KA.Biofeedback-assisted relaxation in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2005 Sep; vol. 28 (9): pages 2145-9.

7 Bay R, Bay F. Combined therapy using acupressure therapy, hypnotherapy, and transcendental meditation versus placebo in type 2 diabetes. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies. 2011 Sep;4(3):183-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jams.2011.09.006

8 Shantakumari N, Sequeira S, El Deeb R. Effects of a yoga intervention on lipid profiles of diabetes patients with dyslipidemia. Indian Heart Journal. 2013 Mar-Apr;65 (2): pp. 127-31.

9 Ahn S, Song R. Effects of Tai Chi Exercise on glucose control, neuropathy scores, balance, and quality of life in patients with type 2 diabetes and neuropathy. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2012 Dec;18 (12):1172-8.

10 Rosenzweig S, Reibel DK, Greeson JM, Edman JS, Jasser SA, McMearty KD, Goldstein BJ. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is associated with improved glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a pilot study. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine.. 2007 Sep-Oct;13 (5):pp. 36-8.

11 McKinney CH, Antoni MH, Kumar M, Tims FC, McCabe PM. Effects of guided imagery and music (GIM) therapy on mood and cortisol in healthy adults. Health Psychology 1997 Jul;16(4): pp. 390-400.

12 J. M. Hermann. Essential hypertension and stress. When do yoga, psychotherapy and autogenic training help? MMW Fortschr Med 2002 May 9;144(19): pp. 38-41.

13 Bennett P, Carroll D. Stress management approaches to the prevention of coronary heart disease. British Journal of Clinical Psychology 1990 Feb;29 ( Pt 1): pp. 1-12.

14 Schneider RH, Nidich SI, Salerno JW, Sharma HM, Robinson CE, Nidich RJ,Alexander CN. Lower lipid peroxide levels in practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation program. Psychosomatic Medicine. 1998. Jan-Feb; 60 (1): 38-41.

15Ginandes C, Brooks P, Sando W, Jones C, Aker J. Can medical hypnosis accelerate post-surgical wound healing? Results of a clinical trial. Am J Clin Hypn 2003 Apr;45(4): pp. 333-51.

16 Ginandes CS, Rosenthal DI. Using hypnosis to accelerate the healing of bone fractures: a randomized controlled pilot study. Alternative and Complementary Therapies in Health and Medicine. 1999 Mar;5(2): pp. 67-75.

17 Fratianne RB, Prensner JD, Huston MJ, Super DM, Yowler CJ, Standley JM. The effect of music-based imagery and musical alternate engagement on the burn debridement process. J Burn Care Rehabil 2001 Jan-Feb;22(1): pp.47-53.

18 Dreher H, Mind-body interventions for surgery: evidence and exigency. Advances in Mind-Body Medicine 1998 (14): pp. 207-222.

19 Halpin LS, Speir AM, CapoBianco P, Barnett SD. Guided imagery in cardiac surgery. Outcomes Management 2002 Jul-Sep;6(3): pp.132-7.

20 Gruzelier JH. A review of the impact of hypnosis, relaxation, guided imagery and individual differences on aspects of immunity and health. Stress 2002 Jun;5(2): pp. 147-63.

21 Sharpe L, Sensky T, Timberlake N, Ryan B, Brewin CR, Allard S. A blind, randomized, controlled trial of cognitive-behavioural intervention for patients with recent onset rheumatoid arthritis: preventing psychological and physical morbidity. Pain 2001 Jan;89(2-3):275-83

22 Citation: Whiting P, Bagnall AM, Sowden AJ, Cornell JE, Mulrow CD, Ramirez G. Interventions for the treatment and management of chronic fatigue syndrome: a systematic review. JAMA. 2001 September 19; 286(11): pp. 1378-9.

23 Richard S. Surwit, Miranda A.L. van Tilburg, Nancy Zucker, Cynthia C. McCaskill, Priti Parekh, Mark N. Feinglos, Christopher L. Edwards, Paula Williams and James D. Lane. Stress Management Improves Long-Term Glycemic Control in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2002 25: pp. 30-34.

24 Page SJ, Levine P, Sisto S, Johnston MV. A randomized efficacy and feasibility study of imagery in acute stroke. Clinical Rehabilitation. 2001: Jun;15(3):233-40.

25 Smart G. Helping children relax during magnetic resonance imaging. The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing. 1997: Sept/Oct; 22(5): 237-241.

26 Preliminary doctoral dissertation results presented by Rachel E. Albert, MSN, RN, at the 19th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Pain Society in Atlanta, 2000.

27 Esplen MJ, Garfinkel PE, Olmsted M, Gallop RM, Kennedy S. A randomized controlled trial of guided imagery in bulimia nervosa. Psychology and Medicine 1998 Nov;28(6): pp. 1347-57.

28 Domar AD, Clapp D, Slawsby EA, Dusek J, Kessel B, Freizinger M. Impact of group psychological interventions on pregnancy rates in infertile women. Fertility and Sterility 2000 Apr;73(4):805-11.

29 Johnson DL, Karkut RT. Participation in multicomponent hypnosis treatment programs for women’s weight loss with and without overt aversion. Psychol Rep 1996 Oct;79(2):659-68.

30 Porretta DL, Surburg PR. Imagery and physical practice in the acquisition of gross motor timing of coincidence by adolescents with mild mental retardation. Journal of Perception and Motor Skills 1995 Jun;80(3 Pt 2): pp.1171-83.

]]> (Belleruth Naparstek) Health Journeys Wellness Reports Thu, 08 Aug 2013 00:00:00 -0400
An Epidemic of Sleeplessness An Epidemic of Sleeplessness

We are a nation of people who long for a good night’s sleep.  Restful Sleep is the new Holy Grail, sought by one in three bleary-eyed Americans. 

In fact, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has declared sleep insufficiency to be a nationwide public health epidemic, with a whopping 50-70 million US adults suffering from some sort of sleep or
wakefulness disorder. 

Even the Surgeon General of the Army, LTG Patricia Horoho, has focused considerable effort and resources on improving the quality and quantity of our soldiers’ sleep, seen as critical to their health and welfare.

The Downside of Sleep Insufficiency

Sleeplessness is associated with motor vehicle crashes, industrial accidents, weight gain and occupational errors.  People who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from hypertension, diabetes, depression, cancer and obesity.  And they die sooner. 

At the very least, sleep insufficiency results in irritability, poor judgment, muddy thinking, strained relationships, less satisfying sex, sub-par functioning and generally decreased enjoyment of life.

An Epidemic of Sleeplessness
Download the Report (PDF)

What Causes Sleep Insufficiency?

A big factor in this escalating epidemic is our round-the-clock access to technology and the increase in flexible work scheduling.  But it is also heavily associated with obstructive sleep apnea and snoring; it’s a common side effect of menopause; and it’s often a result of garden variety stress, anxiety and posttraumatic stress, too.

Two Common Kinds of Sleep Trouble

The two most common manifestations of sleeplessness are the kind where you have trouble falling asleep, and the kind where you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep.

Tried & True Tips for Better Sleep

Fortunately, there are quite a few simple, proven behavioral suggestions that can really make a difference.  Some you may already know about, but some you may not. Several of them are easy to implement, some not so much.  A few may be completely unrealistic for the life you lead.  I suggest you pick and choose what makes sense for you. Even doing a couple of things differently can produce some truly dramatic positive improvement.

A Time and Place for Sleep

  • If possible, try to go to sleep and wake up routinely at around the same time each day. It is understood that for some this is easier said than done - babies, shift work, roving work schedules and various family constraints can make this impossible. But try it if you can do it.
  • Consider napping – napping is a beautiful thing - but not after 4 pm.
  • Don’t sleep late as a regular practice.  Getting up early generally helps sleeping at night.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and well-ventilated.
  • Sleep on a firm mattress.
  • Keep your sleeping space simple, uncluttered and pleasing to the eye. Surround yourself with a few objects that feed your spirit and nourish your soul.
  • Invest in real-deal, room-darkening window shades. This is money well spent, and may be the most effective thing you can do for your sleep.
  • If you need to get up to go to the bathroom, use a flashlight rather than turn on an overhead or bedside light.
  • Mask disruptive noise with a fan (even if it’s turned toward the wall), white noise or soothing nature sounds.

Some Lifestyle Changes

  • If you work out or exercise at night, it would be better to switch to the morning or afternoon – not just before bedtime.
  • If you’re a worrier, try to make a habit of writing down, before bedtime, all the things you need to take care of for the next day, so that you are, in essence, getting them out of your head and onto a sheet of paper.
  • More general journaling of your thoughts and feelings also serve the same purpose in a more wide-ranging way.
  • Consider doing something relaxing around an hour before bedtime. Meditation, guided imagery, listening to music, reading, yoga breathing and the like can be an ideal nightly ritual. Balancing your checkbook or watching a violent TV show is not recommended.
  • Try to resist falling asleep right after dinner.  Instead, do some light exercise - walk the dog, do the dishes, water the plants, call a chatty friend and talk while walking around the house… things like that. You want to do modestly active things like that, to gently prevent you from sleeping on an overfull stomach, but don’t rev you up.
  • Getting sufficient natural light during the day is equally important for regulating your melatonin. So be sure to get outside during the day if your work keeps you cooped up in artificial, man-made light.

Food & Drink

  • If you drink alcohol at dinner or after, it might help you fall asleep in the short term, but it’s also likely to be what’s waking you up 2 or 3 hours later.  Booze is a terrible intervention for insomnia.
  • While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to forego caffeine (that’s not just coffee, folks – tea and soda count, too), nicotine, sugar-loaded desserts, chocolate and big meals at dinner or after mid-afternoon.
  • On the other hand, a glass of warm milk or some other source of calcium can soothe jagged nerves. So can chamomile or lavender tea.
  • If you’re hungry, a half a turkey sandwich or a banana can promote sleep, too.

Calm the Mind

If you wake up in the middle of the night and your mind revs up with worries, plans, problems, irritations and the like, you will either need to pleasantly distract your mind – with reading, music, guided imagery, meditation; or else you need to get out of bed and address these things in a more proactive way. The worst thing you can do is to just lie there thinking “I have to get some sleep!!! I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow!!”, because, of course, once you’re having that conversation with yourself, you won’t be sleeping any time soon.

Keep it No-Tech

  • Speaking of reading, avoid backlit reading, as on an iPad.  That kind of light wakes up your brain, with or without you knowing it.
  • And speaking of computer light, you’d be surprised what a perfectly dark room can do for you.  Use a thick hand towel to cover your digital clock, your phone and anything else that emits those weird lights, and your body will produce the melatonin it needs to get you your zzzz’s. 
  • In an ideal world, you’re not supposed to have a TV or computer in your bedroom, but if you do, shut ‘em down and/or cover those too.

Learn about Sleep

Stay informed of the latest information and research findings. There is a wealth of data on effective treatments for sleep insufficiency. For example, Investigators from the University of Michigan School of Nursing in Ann Arbor examined the effects of using guided imagery targeting sleep on post-cardiac surgery sleep disturbances (problems with sleep quality, time taken to fall asleep and total sleep time) and systemic inflammatory response. The patients who used the guided imagery had consistently better sleep quality, more total sleep time and took less time to fall asleep. And they also enjoyed a greater decline in inflammation over time, as measured by their cortisol levels and C-reactive proteins.

Sleep Resources

As for resources, you can condition yourself to fall asleep to guided imagery or any kind of guided meditation – so much so that in a short while you’ll only hear the first paragraph or two and then you’re out.  This is because imagery has just enough content to distract your mind – it’s called “cognitive recruitment” – while, at the same time, the voice tone, pacing and music take the primitive brain from agitation to a peaceful calm.  Even people who describe themselves as addicted to sleeping pills have reported that guided imagery weaned them away from meds and produced as good or better sleep without the side effects.

Other modalities, such as yoga, guided breathwork and acupressure, or simply listening to meditative music are also highly effective. For our curated list of resources, click here.

See your Doctor   

If you’re in the middle of a heinous insomnia cycle that’s lasting way too long - weeks or even months - and you’ve tried all of the above to no effect, you would do well to see a skillful family doc or internist for a prescription – not as a permanent solution, but to break the cycle of sleeplessness and get you back on track. Work with your provider to find a good medication that works well for you, without producing a “hangover” the next day. It’s best to experiment over a weekend or on a week night when you don’t have to be terribly sharp the next morning.

So try some of these and track your sleep to see how it changes.  There are several sophisticated and reasonably priced sleep efficiency monitors you can get for accessing state-of-the-art feedback. You wear them on  your wrist, and they tell you how well you slept - how many hours you actually got and how many times you woke up during the night.  The Fitbit does this, as does the Zeo and the Sleep Tracker.  Somehow getting the feedback of a sleep efficiency rating each morning becomes very motivating. 

Hopefully a few of these changes will produce some wonderful and lasting results that will yield unanticipated benefits in all parts of your life.  Sweet dreams and best wishes.

Featured Guided Imagery for Better Sleep

]]> (Belleruth Naparstek) Health Journeys Wellness Reports Wed, 17 Jul 2013 00:00:00 -0400
Freeing Ourselves From Procrastination Freeing Ourselves From Procrastination

This is a perfect time of the year to talk about setting goals and actually achieving them. An arch nemesis, procrastination, is ubiquitous, however. Nearly all of us procrastinate some of the time, and some of us do it nearly all of the time. Chronic procrastination can cause significant problems for us.

In order to conquer procrastination, it’s important to understand what it is and isn’t, why people procrastinate, and ultimately, what we can do to get things done.

What is (and isn’t) Procrastination?

Put simply, procrastination is putting off either starting or completing something that we’ve consciously agreed to do.

It’s worth noting that procrastination is different from choosing to begin a project at a later time either because there is adequate time to do so, or because the benefits of putting off a task outweigh the costs of doing it right away.

Freeing Ourselves from Procrastination
Download the report (PDF)

For example, let’s say you are planning to have a dinner party in three weeks. Buying fresh vegetables today to make a salad you’ll serve in three weeks would be an impractical choice (the vegetables will surely go bad by then). So putting off shopping for salad ingredients until later - perhaps a day or two before the event - is a much better decision. This planned, logical delay is different from procrastination – which might look like going to the store to buy vegetables a half hour before the guests are to arrive, when you are unlikely to have adequate time to get home and prepare them.

Additionally, procrastination is different from prioritizing another task as more pressing and thus attending to that task first. Being able to prioritize is adaptive and in some cases, essential for our survival. Keeping up with household chores is important, but putting off seeing a doctor when we’re very ill because there’s so much laundry to do is something most of us would consider unwise.

Finally, contrary to popular belief, procrastination is unrelated to how smart we are, or our actual ability to complete a task. Lot’s of very smart, capable people procrastinate. Nor is procrastination necessarily the same as being lazy, although people who put things off may be told (and believe) that laziness is the reason.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Putting things off can temporarily reduce our anxiety about a task, alleviate boredom or other unpleasant feelings associated with the work, and can allow us to indulge our impulses to do more interesting things.

The problem is that in the long term, people who procrastinate tend to do less well on tasks than they would have otherwise, and some never reach their goals. In the end, procrastination often creates more problems than it solves.

Eight Common Reasons Why We Procrastinate

Some of the most common reasons for procrastination are:

  1. Not liking an aspect of the task at hand

  2. Anxiety
    In the short term, avoiding the task reduces anxiety.  In the long term, however, task avoidance tends to increase feelings of anxiety and self-blame.

  3. Worrying we will fail

  4. Worrying we will succeed
    Sometimes we are consciously or unconsciously conflicted about achieving a goal.  Weight loss, professional success, and finishing school are some common examples of goals where this is an issue. For example, feeling undeserving of success, or believing that success will threaten someone close to us are common reasons why people may repeatedly sabotage their goals via procrastination.

  5. Lacking confidence that we have the ability to complete the task
    This is also known as “low self-efficacy.” If you think you can’t do something, you are unlikely to stick with it.

  6. Difficulty with concentration and focus
    This can lead us to be easily distracted by external factors, like the beep of incoming emails, or by internal factors, such as the impulse to surf the internet (e.g., “Oh wait, I just need to check online to see what the Kardashians wore to the Oscars….”).

  7. Having a hard time breaking the larger goal down into smaller, discrete tasks

  8. Believing we will have to work all of the time in order to finish something

So, What Can We Do?

The good news is that there are a variety of things we can do to stop procrastinating and get things done. Commonly recommended tools, usually used in some combination, are cognitive-behavioral strategies, insight-oriented therapy, and mind-body techniques such as guided imagery, hypnosis or mindfulness meditation.  These approaches can help foster a greater understanding of what has been getting in the way of completing things, and help us to interrupt the typical chain of thoughts-feelings-behaviors by substituting new and more effective behaviors.

  1. Reconnect to the goal
    People who want to kick the procrastination habit need to reconnect with the part of them that originally agreed to the goal.  If we use the example of weight loss, we need to remember why it is we decided to lose weight in the first place. The reasons are most motivating when framed positively (e.g., “I want to be healthy and have more energy” or “Because I want to be able to dance at my children’s weddings” versus “Because I hate my body right now”). It’s important to partner with our “inner ally,” who encourages us, rather than empowering the “inner critic.” Remembering why we agreed to the goal can help us negotiate with the part of us that feels like giving up.

  2. Analyze the chain of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that got us off task
    Using the weight loss example: “When I think of going to the gym, I worry about being the most out-of-shape person there. This makes me feel anxious and hopeless. Then I typically find other ‘legitimate’ activities to distract me, like doing chores, or  I might eat something sweet to calm me down.” 

    Understanding this chain can help us change our response (the behavior) to unpleasant thoughts and feelings, perhaps looking something like this: “When I get anxious about going to the gym, and start to crave sweets, I make a deal with myself to breathe for a few minutes to calm down, and then agree to go to the gym anyway, even if only for 5 minutes.” Changing the behavior ultimately affects the entire chain (we see that we can survive, and perhaps even enjoy exercise and the associated payoff, thus decreasing our anxiety and hopelessness). Changing the chain can lead to success.

  3. Break the larger goal into smaller, achievable tasks
    The research shows that breaking down a task into manageable pieces makes working toward goals less daunting, and reduces anxiety. It also provides multiple opportunities for smaller successes. Each triumph can lead to greater self-efficacy, or the understanding that we can, in fact, achieve our goal.

  4. Visualize success
    See yourself moving along points on a timeline toward the completed goal. Guided imagery and hypnosis are especially powerful tools for making success a mental, and eventually literal, reality, and decreasing anxiety and self-doubt.

  5. Practice mindfulness
    Mindfulness practice, such as attending to our own breath, and observing our own thoughts as they come and go, without grabbing on to them, is a very effective tool for learning to observe distressing feelings like anxiety, self-doubt, and fears of success or failure - without buying into them.

  6. Train the brain to improve focus and resist distractions
    Mindfulness is also an excellent tool for engaging and strengthening the frontal and prefrontal areas of our brain. These areas are responsible for analyzing situations, coming up with the best plan for success, and staying focused. Regular mindfulness meditation can help us notice potential distractions and bring our focus back to what we’re working on. In addition, recent research has shown that long-term practice is associated with increased thickness in these brain regions, indicating a very real physiological change.

In summary, procrastination is a challenge for a large number of people, and can cause significant problems. The good news is that there is quite a bit we can do to change old patterns, develop new skills, and get
things done!

]]> (Traci Stein) Health Journeys Wellness Reports Sun, 03 Feb 2013 00:00:00 -0500