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Posts Tagged ‘baggage’

  1. All Aboard for Slumber! How to Catch the Zzz’s You Need

    May 15, 2016 by Diane

    backpacker waiting for train

    You know how it is: after a string of sleepless nights you run to catch the train to slumber, but it takes off without you. Maybe you were caught up watching TV or surfing the ‘net. Maybe you were caught up in your own thoughts–about stress at work, the mounting debt, the kid who promised to be home at eleven and now it’s after midnight. Whatever the reason there you are, weighed down by your baggage, staring down a long empty track of sleeplessness.

    So you hoof it, straining to catch that train, painfully aware of every pebble and blade of grass underfoot; but no matter how hard you labor, the farther off it gets.

    Welcome to insomnia.

    Whether you struggle with it nightly or wrestle with it in spells, insomnia is a challenge not for the faint of heart. That long trudge through an even longer night causes muscle tension, increased stress hormones, impaired thinking, and a foul mood.

    But there is a way to get your sleep back on track. All you need is a ticket. And I’m here to tell you how to get it.

    Why me? Because I’m an expert insomniac. I’ve missed the train so many times I’ve started to blame the platform. I’ve read the books. I’ve taken the classes. And I’ve found a few techniques that got me back on the slumber train.

    Here are three tips to help you hop on board, too.

    According to Rachel Manber, Director of the Stanford Sleep Health and Insomnia Program, you need three things for a good night’s sleep: a strong sleep drive, a correctly timed circadian clock, and a calm mind.

    Build a strong sleep drive

    The sleep drive sends sleepiness signals to the brain. When the drive is strong, we spend more time in deep sleep. When the drive is weak, we toss and turn in bed, feeling tired but wired.

    How do we make it strong?

    First, set a regular bedtime and rising time and stick with it, no matter how little you slept the night before–even on weekends. If six a.m. is your wake-up call on work days, then it’s up-and-at-‘em at six a.m on your days off. When the alarm buzzes, get out of bed. Don’t linger. Don’t fall back asleep or lie there mentally writing up your to-do list for the day.

    Why is it so important to get out of bed? Because when you get up and start moving, you’re setting the sleep drive. And the longer you stay awake, the stronger the drive to sleep.

    But it’s Sunday, you say, what’s the harm in sleeping in?

    Well bucko, when you oversleep, you’ve essentially flown across country. You’ve developed jet-lag. You’ve taken the pressure off the sleep drive, and you’ve messed up your circadian clock. To keep the pressure on so you’re drowsy at bed-time, you’ve got to get up, stay up, and get moving.

    Set your circadian clock

    The circadian clock sends “wake up” signals to the brain in the morning, and “go to sleep” messages at night. When it’s in sync, you’re alert during the day, and sleepy at night.

    To regulate your circadian rhythm, you need a little hormone called melatonin. Our bodies manufacture it naturally, secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. But we often muck up our melatonin levels by staying up late under bright lights, or oversleeping in the morning.

    When the sun starts to rise, our melatonin levels drop, making us more alert. To help it drop, open the shades and look into the sun, or take a walk outdoors. If it’s dark outside when you rise, then use a light therapy box to mimic the sun. At the very least, turn on the overhead lights as you get ready for your day. You can buy inexpensive full spectrum bulbs at places like Target that replicate daylight.

    At night, you want your melatonin levels to rise. So turn off all electronic devices (computer, iPhone, TV), dim the lights, and engage in a pre-sleep ritual for 30 minutes. Brush your teeth. Read a book that’s not too stimulating. Have a conversation with your spouse; one of those conversations where you normally mumble, “Huh? What did you say?”

    Then turn out the lights.

    Our circadian clock is also regulated by our body temperature. You want to raise your temperature in the morning—get up and get moving—and lower it to help you sleep deeply through the night. Take a shower or bath two hours before bedtime to allow your body to cool down, and crack open a window when you go to bed if it’s safe to do so.

    Calm your mind

    A calm mind allows you to drift off to sleep, and fall back asleep when you wake during the night. Everybody wakes several times during the night. A good sleeper will turn over and go back to dreamland. A bad sleeper will lie awake, ruminating on o’possums.

    There are three ways to achieve a calm mental state: deep breathing, relaxation exercises, and meditation or prayer.

    After your pre-sleep ritual, turn out the lights, lie on your back, and breathe deeply into your belly. There are many different methods of deep breathing, or pranayama, as it’s called in Hindu yoga. I find alternate nostril breathing to be very calming. Here’s a short video on how to do it.

    Or just breathe through your nose, filling your belly with air, for the count of four, then exhale through the mouth for the count of six. Do this ten times. The long exhale taps into your parasympathetic nervous system, lowering your blood pressure and giving you calm vibes.

    You can also try an “ocean breath,” where you breathe in through the nose while constricting your throat slightly, and breathe out through the nose with that same constricting sound. It’s almost, but not quite, a snore. Do ten.

    After your deep breathing, relax in your sleep position and let go of thoughts. This is where a good meditation practice comes into play. If your muscles are tense, breathe into the tight places and breathe out the tension. Practicing a progressive muscle relaxation technique—or any body relaxation exercise—during the day, will help you conk out at night.

    The stress we accumulate during our waking hours affects our ability to sleep. So take regular breaks at work: stretch, walk around, breathe deep, bring your awareness to the moment, and remind yourself that whatever stress you’re carrying, most likely won’t matter ten years from now.

    Besides, you don’t need that extra baggage. You have a train to catch.

  2. When Anxiety Takes A Holiday, It Hitches A Ride With Me

    October 5, 2015 by Diane


    Retro car with Luggage on the roof, tourism

    Have you ever seen the movie Death Takes a Holiday? In the movie, the character of Death takes on human form to discover why people cling so desperately to life, and the whole time he’s on holiday, NOBODY DIES.

    I wish Anxiety would take a holiday. Because if Anxiety took a holiday, then I could go on holiday without feeling like the cord that tethers me home is about to snap and release me into a pitch-black universe, alone, for eternity.

    But alas, Anxiety never takes a holiday. Or if it does, it hitches a ride with me.

    For five days in Truckee, I lived in its clutches. But all was not a disaster. I learned the following lessons, which I will now pass on to you.

    1.  Before you pack, make sure the air at your destination is breathable. After filling the car with my bags, my clothes, my hiking gear, my books, my laptop; after wrestling with my nerves for days—that internal electrical system that sizzles and sparks whenever I think about going away from home; after giving my baggage a final once-over and then locking the back door to my cottage, my phone rang. “Let’s check the air quality,” Dave, my road buddy, suggested. With all the wildfires in California, Truckee was in the line of smoke. Sure enough, the air quality index pegged Truckee as: Don’t Bother Going Outside Without A Gas Mask. Which meant living out of my suitcases for three days until the air cleared. And wrestling with my nerves all over again.

    2.  Bring snacks for the road. If your road buddy is anything like mine, he won’t stop for lunch. Or a vista point (well, maybe one). Or a pee break if that business can easily be accomplished on the side of the road.

    3.  If your road buddy drives like mine, shout encouragement, like: “Slow down!” and “Why are you merging back and forth?” and “Two second rule! two second rule!” If, on the other hand, you drive anything like me, be prepared to hear your road buddy shout encouragement, like: “The speed limit is seventy, not fifty-five!” and “Merge, merge!” and “Keep up with traffic!” Be prepared to see him slam on the imaginary brakes from the passenger seat when you speed to a stoplight, and make noises in his throat when you drive forty in a parking lot.

    4.  If you’re heading into an altitude of 6500 feet and up, pack a good salve. Your nasal passages will dry out and crack and bleed and the chapped skin around your lips will turn bright red and give you a clown mouth.

    5.  When driving to higher elevations quickly, be prepared for your veins to explode. They won’t actually explode, but they will feel that way. At 7,000 feet, my carotid artery felt tight. At 8,000, it was the veins in my arms. At 9,000 feet, I thought my head would burst. When we pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead for Mount Rose, I looked up to the 10,779 foot peak and panic set in. “I can’t breathe,” I said. Dave tried to reassure me by pointing out the woman waddling to the restroom who was a good two hundred pounds heavier than me. “If she can breathe, you can.” It helps to have a level head at high elevations, especially if that head isn’t yours.

    6.  When hiking through dry riverbeds filled with rocks that can send you upsy-daisy quickly, when trudging up steep granite inclines with no obvious marked path, or end, in sight, make sure you bring a competent guide. Dave has an eye like a compass. He can find his way anywhere. I, on the other hand, get lost in my hallway (which, if you follow my blog, you already know.) However, I’m good at keeping up a steady stream of whining, like: “Where’s the f—-*ing path?” and “Where are the f—-*ing petroglyphs! I want to see the f—-*ing petroglyphs!” and finally, “I can’t go any farther!” If your human compass says, “It’s probably only another mile,” well, do the math in your head. One mile means two miles round trip, and you still have three miles downhill retracing those unmarked paths over slippery slopes. So, refuse the invitation to continue upwards, park yourself on a boulder, dig out your peanut butter and banana sandwich from the bottom of your backpack and enjoy the view, even if you think you can’t swallow. Trust me, it’s not a swallowing problem. It’s anxiety.

    7.  After battling your nerves, cracked nasal passages and lung-busting hikes in high altitude, after feeling pretty good about overcoming all those challenges and kicking anxiety and its baggage to the curb, do not, upon your return home, squat down and attempt to budge an immovable object. You will blow out your spine. Which is exactly what I did. I spent the next week on ice, longing to be back in that high-altitude, nasal-drying, vein-bursting land of pine and granite, trudging up unmarked rocky paths to breathtaking views. Because in hindsight, or maybe just from the vantage point of the mattress, Anxiety isn’t so formidable after all.

  3. The Resilience of the Writer’s Spirit

    October 19, 2014 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    Two weeks ago, I stumbled off the writing track. Way off track. Way, way, way off track. All the way to Truckee.

    My plan was to spend five days in Truckee, writing.

    But first I had to pack.

    I packed winter and summer clothes, because the nights are below forty and the days above seventy. I packed shampoo and conditioner and face wash and body soap and a blow dryer and floss and toothpaste, and I zipped down to Walgreen’s to buy a travel toothbrush. I packed flip flops and slippers and hiking boots and sneakers and a backpack and a beach chair and suntan lotion and gluten-free snacks. I packed a bag of books because I wanted plenty to choose from, and oh yeah…I packed my laptop.

    I stuffed all my baggage into the backseat of my Corolla and sped down the expressway to pick up my ol’ pal Dave, who stuffed his version of baggage–plus an ice chest the size of a train depot–into the trunk (and whatever available space remained in the back seat), and somehow we both squeezed into the front and off we went, the car sinking, to relax in the high Sierra.

    By the time we arrived, the Bickersons had arrived as well.

    You know the Bickersons. They bicker about everything. The Bickersons appear whenever you’re stressed or overworked, or you’ve spent too much time in your head or in front of a computer or packing. They hijacked our bodies and controlled our vocal chords and complained about the country music station on the car radio, and the wind blowing every last hair off our heads through the open window. They complained about the ringing in our ears and the stiffness in our hips from the long ride, and they complained about having to stop at Safeway to load up for the week.

    And unpack the car.

    Oh, the Bickersons made their presence known.

    The first thing I unpacked was my laptop. I brought it so I could work on my novel.

    Dave brought hiking gear so he could conquer the highest ridgeline.

    I set my laptop on the mile-long kitchen table in the two-story, three-bedroom pine and granite “cabin” where we were staying, plugged it in, and headed out to the deck. I plopped down in a wooden folding chair with my feet on the railing, looked out at the pines and yellow aspens and the dried mules ears, then closed my eyes under a brilliant blue Truckee sky and meditated while Dave sipped coffee and the Bickersons vacated.

    My laptop sat unopened on the piney table.

    The next day I dragged my beach chair from the trunk of the car and set it up at the edge of Donner Lake and contemplated the rugged granite mountain peaks. I thought about the survivors of the Donner party, near starvation, trudging over those peaks for thirty-three days through sixty feet of snow in spots, all the way to Johnson’s Ranch some one hundred miles away. I contemplated the resilience of the human spirit while visualizing my car crammed with the comforts of home.

    My laptop sat unopened on the knotty pine table.

    The morning after, Dave and I drove to North Lake Tahoe and hiked around Spooner Lake and talked to a geezer on a bike who had breezed down the Tahoe Rim Trail. We saw a lot of geezers on bikes. All of them were in better shape than…well…me. That afternoon, one of them passed Dave who was sweltering up a steep incline for an hour on a borrowed bicycle. At an overlook, Dave stopped to cool the sweat from his T-shirt, grumbling to a fellow biker how embarrassed he was that an old guy had passed him by. The other biker peered at him and said, “Didn’t I just pass you? I’m the old guy.”

    The resilience of the human spirit.

    What about the resilience of the writer’s spirit? Where are the granite peaks that we trudge over? Where are the steep climbs that we swelter up?

    They’re there. Oh, they’re there. I just wasn’t forging them. I was relaxing in the thin dry Truckee air, my nasal passages and lips cracking in the altitude.

    Those 50,000-word novellas we pound out in thirty days during National Novel Writing Month are the mountains.

    Those 1500 words we aim for in one hour are the steep inclines.

    That novel that we rewrite is the long uphill climb.

    They’re there.

    But sometimes we need to kick back in a beach chair and be a mere mortal in God’s cathedral.

    Takeaways this week:

    It’s okay to take a vacation from writing. The subconscious will continue working while you loaf.

    When the Bickersons arrive, it’s a clear sign you need some downtime.

    When the vacation is over, put that writer’s cap back on, pick a goal, set a timer, and power onward. You can do it. I can do it. We’re writers.