I tossed and turned. It didn’t seem to matter what what position I lay in, I couldn’t get to sleep. My mind was a whirlwind of activity . It churned with ideas and sequences for an upcoming workshop with a new client. I tossed and turned some more, eventually falling asleep, only to spring awake almost immediately. It was as if the whirlwind had prodded me awake. After a while a thought adds to the whirlwind, “If this keeps up, I’ll be shattered tomorrow!”. It adds to the stress. The more I try, the less I sleep.
When I talk to my coaching clients, I’m not alone in finding it hard to relax and switch off sometimes.
It seems we get the “whirlwind” from 3 categories:
Stressful thoughts about things yet to be completed, things that make us worried or anxious, overload, tight timelines, big decisions…
Creative thoughts like big ideas, great solutions, new directions…
Processing thoughts like when you have learned something new and your mind is filled with it and how it fits with other things you know…
Fortunately, the Guerrilla Mindfulness tactic can be really effective in those moments.
Guerrilla Mindfulness is:
3 long, slow rhythmic breaths
Acknowledge how you feel
Clarify your intention
When I can’t sleep for the whirlwind I use it this way:
Focus on the rhythm of your breathing. Make the breaths in and out the same each time. Breathe into your belly. To do that, ‘lock’ the muscles of your ribs together and let your belly expand and contract with each breath. Try to keep your ribcage still as you breathe in and out. Let the belly fill and empty. Breathing this way is deeply relaxing.
Acknowledge how you feel, without getting into the story of why. You might be stressed, anxious, frustrated, excited, or curious. Use as few words as you can to describe your feelings. Acknowledging your feelings in this way reduces the stress hormones in your system.
Be clear about your intent - it might be ‘I’m going to park this for now, relax and sleep.”
Go back to breathing into your belly - slow, deep, rhythmic. I usually find I’m asleep before I count 7 cycles. If the whirlwind interrupts your breathing, be kind to yourself. Gently notice the thoughts and return your attention to breathing. Even if you don’t sleep, your gentle focus on the breath will have you more relaxed tomorrow than a night with the whirlwind.
Sometimes you’ll wake up again during the night with the whirlwind spinning again. Rinse and repeat as often as you need to. I also find it helpful to do a quick brain dump into a notebook to get the whirlwind off my mind.
And of course, if you find yourself getting stuck in a pattern of long term sleeplessness, seek help.
Next time, we’ll talk about using Guerrilla Mindfulness when you need to be switched on and ready for action.