To help yourself make an effective list, you might say a statement like: "I am feeling bothered by:...." and complete that sentence with a list of as many issues as you can think of - including things that at first you don't consider the issue.
Sometimes you're unaware that something is bothering you.
The only symptom is that you're having trouble with sleep.
If this might be the case with you, one of the best ways to help yourself is to try and raise the issues to consciousness and work through the difficulties so that they are not left inside you where they fester and gnaw at you and aggravate your life on many levels
So, after you've covered the obvious things on your list, if they don't quite "click" with you as being the answer here - as being the thing that's keeping you awake - keep going ‘til you come up with some things that perhaps are tucked into the back of your mind - or under the surface - that are bothering you - perhaps things that you're reluctant to think about or acknowledge.
For instance, let's say that your in-laws are coming for the holidays - and even though you like them - or perhaps you don't like them, but you believe in family values and therefore are willing to put up with their presence during such times - they present all kinds of problems for you.
So your feelings are mixed - on the one hand you look forward to seeing them and you'd like the visit to go well but on the other hand you've got to brace yourself to deal with them and their problematic ways. Perhaps you weren't aware how much their impending arrival upsets you - even though you also like them - or like some things about them.
So your feelings are mixed and you have found it difficult to acknowledge the negative aspects or the worrisome part of the situation.
Or, let's say that your boss - or someone else important in your life - said something annoying or hostile or insulting recently. It wasn't direct but now you wonder what was really meant by the comment and it's bothering you - because it has implications for your well-being. So it's logical you'd be upset about it - even if it was presented as something small and offhand at the time and therefore you didn't pay much attention - until now - when you see that it might be a reason why you're having trouble sleeping. That is, this seemingly little thing has affected you more than you thought.
Be sure to put hidden tensions and upsets like that on your list. The most important items are the ones that start out hidden - that you have to ferret out from the back of your mind. You'll get to these issues faster if you actually write down - in black and white - all the problems confronting you -
especially, as we say, the hidden ones.
You might try completing this sentence: "In truth, under the surface, I see now that I am also bothered by...." - and write down every issue that comes to mind that might be bothering you - under the surface.
Once you've got your list of all the problems confronting you - even teeny tiny ones - and especially hidden ones - take each issue and write a list of coping actions you could do to help resolve each problem. Or, if not resolve it - perhaps it's not that easily resolved - at least cope with it.
Taking the example above, if you're bracing yourself for an onslaught of relatives, your list of resolutions might include: Making sure that they're occupied with things to do that take them away from the house; or, maybe making sure that YOU'RE occupied with things that take YOU away from the house. Or, in the case of someone important, like a boss, saying something offhand but hurtful to you, you might consider discussing the issue with that person in a non-threatening, constructive manner.
Now some of the coping actions on your list might present other problems - such as the item we just mentioned - creating activities that take either your relatives or yourself away from the house - as perhaps your spouse might not think that's a great solution.
Ok - write down that secondary problem, too, and a coping action for that problem. For instance, in the case of an unhappy spouse, you could discuss your feelings and strategy with your spouse beforehand so you can get cooperation, or, on the other hand, perhaps it would be better if you DIDN'T discuss the problem beforehand. In the case of discussing your upset with your boss, if you've recently asked for a raise, you might want to put off bringing up the sticky issue until a better time.
THE POINT HERE
The point is to get all the options out of your head and onto paper in black and white - so you can stop mulling over them endlessly but instead constructively view them and assess the pros and cons of each - so you can deal with the real issue successfully - whatever it is.
LIST COMPLICATIONS AND COPING STRATEGIES
In this fashion you're going to come up with a list of coping strategies for each problem that's upsetting you. Make the list as complete as you can. Anticipate every secondary complication you can and include coping strategies for each complication - all the way down the list - ‘til you've exhausted the possibilities you can think of - for now.
It's pretty much guaranteed that when you get back into bed you'll think of some more problems or coping strategies, so you might as well take that list with you and leave it next to your bed, so you can add to it as things come up - without having to get out of bed. (Don't forget to take the pen, too!)
Now look at each of your coping actions.
Do you feel confident they will bring a resolution to your problem? Do you feel there are complications to them?
Then write down those complications and also note the worst that could happen as a result of that action as well as the best that could happen as a result of that action.
CREATE A "CHART" TO HELP YOU VISUALIZE THE SITUATION
You might also draw a "chart" with two columns:
Positive aspects of an action and negative aspects.
Fill in every single detail you can in either column.
Now assess the situation while looking at your "chart."
In this way, you'll have some sense of what the best course of action, ultimately, will be.
This process works for all kinds of problems -
Should I take that new job? Should we sell the house? Should I leave my relationship? Should I sue the landlord? Should I go to Paris or the Adirondaks?, etc.
The more honest you are with yourself - the more effective this process will be for you.
WHEN YOU'RE VERY ANGRY
Now then, let us say that one of the things that's upsetting you is that someone has done something that makes you angry - very angry. In fact you're fuming - and that's a major reason why you're awake right now. You just can't get this thing out of your mind. You'd like to really give that person a piece of your mind, but that's not practical at the moment - as in the case of the boss above.
WRITE YOUR NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
Here's what you can do to give yourself some relief: Write a letter to that person, stating exactly what he or she did that upset you and why it was so upsetting. And here's the key thing - tell them off in the strongest terms possible - no holds barred - let ‘em have it right between the eyes - mince no words - you must be as blunt as possible.
And you can do this with impunity because you must also resolve - before you write the letter - to throw it away in the morning! YOU WILL NOT SEND THIS LETTER! - no matter what - you're not allowed to send it - or the exercise won't help you with your insomnia - because you'll start thinking about all the repercussions of sending the letter - and that will keep you awake longer yet.
Now then, in the morning, if it seems to you that a letter would be an appropriate way to express your feelings and might lead to a positive resolution of the problem, then you can re-write this letter, explaining what this person did that upset you and the effect it had on you - and then suggesting a positive, win/win resolution.
Do not throw in all the rage and insults you wrote the night before. That was just an exercise to get your feelings out of your system - where they're disrupting your sleep - and onto paper - where you can examine them, acknowledge them and experience them - and then deal with them in a mature and constructive manner.
Your mature-self - the self that runs your life in the most positive way possible - wants only to write a letter that will ultimately help you - not one that might hurt you down the line or cause retribution from someone.
A similar exercise is to write down - or imagine - all the terrible things you'd like to do to someone who has hurt you. Assuming that you're not normally a physically aggressive kind of person, you can let your imagination go - be as brutal as you wish - even murderous. Because it's only a fantasy. And after you've dispatched your nemesis - in your mind - you might feel a bit of relief. And you can always bring back that image, any time you start feeling upset again. It's actually a healthy way to deal with your hostility toward someone who has hurt you - so long as you don't act on your wishes - and so long as your fantasy serves to ultimately bring you closer to a sense of resolution and peace about the issue.
WHEN YOU ARE UPSET WITH YOURSELF
Now then - what if the upsetting thing that happened is that you yourself did something you wish you hadn't done - perhaps said something hurtful or out of place - or did something hurtful? - even if you didn't mean it - or maybe you did mean it. We don't always behave in a perfect manner - and some of us know when we've misbehaved.
Also, sometimes we have to fire someone we like and we feel sorrow for having had to do that. Or, we need to break up with someone we like, but with whom the relationship is not working - or we have to deliver unfortunate news to someone, news that is hurtful or shocking, and we feel badly when that happens.
If you're feeling badly because of your behavior and that's keeping you awake, there are things you can do to help yourself get some sleep. You can start by acknowledging to yourself that what you did was painful to the other person.
If it was something necessary - like firing someone you like - or having to give bad news to someone - then you can comfort yourself by writing down all the reasons why you had to do this. You might also want to note all the positive aspects of this action that will ultimately be beneficial to that person. Perhaps it is best for him that he was fired and now must deal with the underlying issues involved in that. Or, in the case of bad news, the person is perhaps better off knowing the bad news, than not knowing. You can give yourself comfort by being totally honest as you write down your assessment of the situation and the implications.
Try not to rationalize yourself off the hook, though - because ultimately that won't help you much. If your behavior was not so great you will feel better by acknowledging your true assessment of that behavior. It takes a strong person - and a very good person - perhaps even a great person - to admit that "What I did was hurtful, even though I didn't mean it to be, or didn't want it to be," or, maybe, that "What I did, in truth, was mean and rotten."
Next step is to think of ways you can make the situation better. Is an apology called for? Should you offer further explanations? - or comfort? Or perhaps send a gift? - flowers? Maybe a phone call or a note expressing your feelings would be the best way to handle the problem.
Once again, write down all of your options and all the repercussions of each one and that will help you assess the best action to take.
You'll feel much better once you've acknowledged your true assessment of your behavior and have decided on a positive course of action. You can always change your decision in the morning, but for the time being, having a plan will help calm you down and give you some peace of mind.
And you'll know that you're a better person for having done this. And that is a good thing.
The world is a better place when people behave decently and with integrity - and when people attempt to right the wrongs they have perpetrated on others.
A GOOD EXAMPLE OF HOW DIFFICULT SOME PEOPLE CAN BE AND HOW THE iSleepless SYSTEM WORKS:
HERE IS A SOMEWHAT TYPICAL SITUATION TO PRACTICE ON:
[This example of a problem is taken from THE STRESS MANAGEMENT SOURCEBOOK by J. Barton Cunningham, PhD. Lowell House, a Division of NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. 1997]
A PERSONAL STORY
It is late at night, 3:23 A.M to be exact. I cannot sleep. Again. Every time I close my eyes, I think about what happened to me yesterday. The scene is alive in my mind where a colleague (Brad) suggested that I had been manipulative. He said that I had written the report and that I had lied and was trying to exclude him from our project.
I was helpless at first, mute and extremely hurt. I strive very hard to be principled, to be honest, and integrative rather than conflictive and divisive. Why must he treat me this way? I was unable to express myself. Other people tried to help and deflate his comments and support me. But Brad kept speaking and he pointed his finger at me. He was threatening me.
Finally I lost it. I let go and called him a little fool, among other things. I told him that his ego was getting in the way of his logic. I'm afraid I went on a bit.
I try to take my thoughts away from this event and look again at the clock. Thirty minutes have passed. I try to meditate but my mind keeps coming back to this incident. I think of things that I could have done to be a good facilitator and problem solver. These are brilliant ideas that would have moved Brad to speechlessness, or, better yet, recognition that I am right and he is wrong. I see them now. But when a person acts like Brad, I cannot let him get away with it.
My breathing slows a bit and I get up and go downstairs and make myself some green tea. I again return to bed and tell myself to think of relaxing, breathing "calmness in" and "tension out." I still cannot sleep."
Sound familiar? It does to us!
Ok, what could this guy - let's call him Bud - have done to deal with his thoughts of Brad at 3:23 a.m. that he didn't do?
1. Much earlier in the evening, before Bud got into bed knowing full well he was upset, he should have gotten something soothing into his system. Not green tea, which is a something of a stimulant, but something more like chamomile tea with a bit of honey in it - or warm milk (with a bit of honey, if desired) - or a banana shake. Bud also could have taken a valerian capsule, a kava-kava capsule (a natural tranquilizer) or an over-the-counter sleeping pill to help him out. Once these things were in his system, especially earlier in the evening, they would have helped Bud eventually to have gotten some sleep.
While these remedies were working internally -
2. Bud should have taken out pen and paper and written down his analysis of the situation. Brad is obviously very difficult. And it would be ok if he called him a jerk or any other insulting names he felt like - after all this is his private thinking piece. In Bud's analysis of the situation he should also have noted possible ways of dealing with Brad, given his difficult personality. Maybe there is some merit to Brad's unhappiness and frustration - only Brad is not good at expressing it in a constructive manner. Maybe Brad needs some positive stroking - because he lacks self-confidence. Maybe Brad is jealous of Bud. Bud needs to put some thought into what is really going on in this situation - under the surface - and what are possible constructive ways of dealing with it.
3. Bud should have noted how others in the group tried to back him (Bud) up. That's a real positive - something to be grateful for - and important to note - so Bud could feel good about it and remember to act in ways that would reinforce such positive action from the group. Instead, Bud glosses over this fact - as though it were of no consequence.
Why is Brad more important to Bud than the others in the group? Problem there for Bud to work on! Also, some of those people in the group might have suggestions as to how to deal with Brad. So that item could go on Bud's list of ways to resolve this problem: Speak with Bob and Barbara about how to deal with Brad. Just having this item on his list might have given Bud a bit more peace of mind.
Bud should also have noted all the things he did wrong - wished he hadn't done - like calling Brad a little fool. He should have analyzed why he fell into that trap - (all his buttons were pushed? - or whatever) - and talked to himself about ways to avoid doing that (escalating a negative situation) in the future.
4. Then Bud should/could have written a poison pen letter to Brad telling him how obnoxious he was. He could have really told him off - given him a good piece of his mind. Bud also could have listed all the "brilliant" ideas going through his head. Then, of course, he would tear that letter up, without sending it - because it wouldn't get him anything positive from Brad. But it would have helped Bud to get the poison out of his system.
5. Then Bud should have made a list of the actions he was actually going to do - like apologize to Brad for calling him a little fool (maybe) or talk to the others about constructive ways to handle Brad (definitely), etc.
Once he had done all of this, then we suspect Bud would have had a more positive, less skewed view of what really went on in that meeting (i.e., Brad was difficult but the group backed up Bud), and a better sense of having "dealt" with the situation. At that point Bud should have told himself - "Ok - enough - finished for now. I've done everything I can - I'm going to sleep!"
And we believe he actually would have gotten some sleep then. Granted, if he started this process at 3:23 a.m. it would be around 5:00 or 5:30 a.m when he finished. But he'd still be ahead - and he would have learned more. And if he'd started this process earlier, as we think he should have, he could have gotten almost a full night's sleep.
Those of us who lie awake at night mulling over how we've been "victimized" by a Brad, can learn from this example. And when you learn from something "bad" that happens, it's not so bad anymore. You turn it into something positive. And that's the best goal you can have.
BUSINESS / FINANCIAL PROBLEMS
If you are dealing with a stressful business or financial situation and that's what's keeping you awake - definitely start with a list of things upsetting you - perhaps the list is more properly entitled, "Business - or financial - problems I'm facing now." For instance, you're in debt up to your ears - or even over your head - like so many of us these days.
Of course that's very upsetting - frightening - downright terrifying. It's no wonder you're up worrying about it.
What can you do? The most helpful thing you can do for yourself is to work out a Plan of Action to deal with your problem in a constructive way, starting right now. Again, take out those mighty tools - a piece of paper and a pencil or pen (yes, the computer) - sit down and analyze your financial situation or business problem.
MAKE A LIST
Then make a list of every single thing you could possibly do to help work your way out of this problem. Organize these ideas into actions you can take - steps - even small steps.
Small steps can add up to big results. Include every single resource you can think of that could help you - such as financial advisors or counselors, lawyers and accountants, trusted friends or relatives, co-workers, books or educational courses.
There is always someone or something that can help you. Always. And there are always more stones to turn over. You just have to have that item on your list so you can go knocking at its door. Sometimes it's a matter of doing something different for a while - so that a new idea can pop up inside your head - and then - bink! - the solution - or a new source of help - or a new idea - comes to mind. You'll feel much better once you've actually written out a methodical plan of action you can follow.
If there are no solutions you can see, then make a list of people and institutions that can be of help to you coping with your problem. There are always clergy and other helpful people ready, willing and able to give you comfort. There are support groups - there are organizations that help people dig their way out of debt - there are lawyers - there's no end to the people who can help you when you've got a sticky problem. That's what's so wonderful about living in this country at this time - there's so much help available. No one needs to struggle on alone without some kind of help or support.
Let's take another common problem - you've got too much to do in too little time with too few resources. (My sister used to say that she felt like the princess in Rumplestiltskin (? - I think that was the fairy tale) who had to spin straw into gold by daybreak. Ok! - We can relate to that!...)
Naturally that produces stress.
But taking a few moments to write down all the elements that are causing you this stress - and all the possible resolutions that could help you - and coping strategies for each - will help you to view your overloaded situation with a bit of equanimity.
And as a result, perhaps you will come to see - through this process - some resolutions you didn't see or think of previously. For instance, maybe you should delegate some of the tasks you've taken on yourself. Or maybe you should hire more help. Or maybe you've got to explain to your boss that there's only so much you can reasonably be responsible for. Or maybe you should give yourself more time off to do other activities that are pleasurable. That might give your system some temporary relief from constant stress and also allow you to return to your tasks with fresh energy and a new view.
There are usually more resources for help with our problems than we've been thinking of. Make a list of every possible source of help for your financial or business problem. You will feel more supported - and that's important - that helps to give you a bit more energy to cope with these problems.
PLAN OF ACTION
You might also write out a Plan of Action to deal with your problem. Make a list of steps you can take - even small ones. Small steps can add up to big results. You'll feel much better once you've actually written out a methodical plan of action you can follow.
Often stress is intensified by a sense of helplessness. The more you are able to take control of the situation, the better you will feel.
Articulating a problem by writing it down - and listing possible resolutions by writing them down - helps to give you not only a sense of power and control - but real power and control to help you resolve your issues.
PROBLEMS YOU CANNOT CONTROL
If you are unable to get control - as is the case with many problems - for instance, with serious illness - still there are things you can do that will give you some comfort and will increase your sense of control over the moment, yourself and your own personal space.
One is to reach out to others for comfort - or simply for a respite from the problem - a breather.
Another is to seek counseling from a professional or from a pastor. For more information, go to our segment on SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP.
Prayer can also be of comfort. For more on that, go to our segment on PRAYER.
Another is to take some time off from your stressful situation to do something enjoyable - such as socialize or take a walk, go to a park and look at the trees and smell the daffodils - or take in a movie.
You cannot deal with a stressful situation every minute of every day and not be seriously worn down by that experience. It's important to breathe some fresh air - in every sense of the term.
Sometimes it's a good idea to simply stop everything you're doing and take one long, deep breathe - counting to 8 as you breathe in through your nose - and then slowly, gently breathe out your mouth - as you count down from 8 - just to give yourself a tiny moment of relaxation.
Do it again - three times is most helpful.
YOU CAN STILL COUNT YOUR 'BLESSINGS'
After you do this you might review in your mind everything that is ‘ok' with you right now. For instance, you can say to yourself, "I'm alive - I'm still breathing - I'm still here - I'm not starving to death - I'm not destitute - I've got a roof over my head and three squares a day - I'm a free person - I'm not in prison - I'm not being tortured - No one's trying to break down my door, etc. - (assuming that these statements are true, of course.)
Sometimes it helps to remind yourself that even though things are tough, you're truly not in the worst condition or situation in the world.
There are always more wretched situations than yours. And that's the truth!
Sometimes we've said to ourself: "Well, at least we're not a Kurd (or a Kosovar) stuck on a freezing mountainside!" or, "At least we're not imprisoned on trumped up charges - in 'Persia,' about to be executed in the morning!" - or in Iraq under Saddam Husein (!) because those situations are truly worse than anything we've ever known.
Once you get a handle on your situation - or take a breather from it - you might be able to calm down and handle other aspects of the problem better. If you're dealing with a stressful situation, you need your wits about you - and that means you need to be operating efficiently and effectively. You cannot do that if you're worn down and worn out from constant stress. You've got to stand back every once in a while, take a break and assess the situation in order to make better decisions - or simply just get away - take a mini-vacation from the pain.
THE WORRY DRAWER
Once you've got a better handle on your situation, try mentally tucking your worries into an imagined drawer for now. And once you've done that be sure to shut the drawer - tight - and actively turn your attention to something pleasurable that's not at all related to work or your troubles.
WHEN YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING...
If you're having trouble sleeping because you didn't do some task that you should have done - for instance you haven't even begun a report that's due in two days - you can help yourself by simply starting to do that task.
If you're not able to complete the task right now - before going to bed - or back to bed - just starting it - or getting yourself organized to start it - can help.
You'll feel much better once you get over the hurdle of actually starting the task.
STARTING AN UNPLEASANT TASK
Let's say the task was to write a letter that is unpleasant for you. Well, if you just start writing that letter - just a rough draft - nothing final - write it completely wrong - that's ok - it's just for now - it's just a beginning - - this starting action may well give you some relief - because you'll have overcome the first hurdle - and also you'll have created some material to start working with the next time you sit down to deal with the task. And you'll also have created something to think about - that will help get the wheels turning and the task completed.
We hope these suggestions have been helpful to you and that you get back to sleep tonight and have a good day tomorrow!