Making a point to address a handful of things in your day-to-day routine—less screen time or, say, gratitude—can help to increase your mental bandwidth.
Did you know that using a TV or smart phone in your bedroom one to two hours before bed greatly decreases sleep quality? The blue light from the screens affects your body’s natural ability to produce melatonin, increasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. In addition, light emitted from screens suppresses the brain waves known as delta waves (the ones that help you sleep). Having screens in your room is making it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Once your sleep is disturbed for weeks, months and even years on end, the results can be catastrophic for you, leading to everything from hormonal imbalances to low energy and increased anxiety. First things first, get the television and computer out of your bedroom. Leave this space for sleep, sex, and sanctuary. Second, be sure to charge your phone elsewhere. You can purchase an old school alarm clock to put on your nightstand instead. Try this for the next 30 days, I promise you will thank me!
Once your bedroom is a screen-free zone, you can move on to three ways to increase your bandwidth. I’m sure you have heard of morning routines via social media and, like me, rolled your eyes wondering who the heck has time for that? Let’s get real, I am a single mom of two school aged kids, and I too thought there was no way I could have time for these types of practices in my life… However, I longed to decrease my daily anxiety and increase my bandwidth to better handle life’s curve balls. That’s when things got interesting. I decided to test out a “mini routine” using the same tactics I would use with beginner training clients. So, I started small… I mean, really small.
I knew that I needed to begin new habits if I was going to be able to stick to a new routine, even if it would be small. So I read up on habits (I highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear and Badass Habits by Jen Sincero). The most practical advice I gained was to pair any new habit with one that was already second nature. For example, right after you brush your teeth in the morning (old habit), sit down and do breathwork (new habit). Imagine you are creating a chain with links in it. Each day you are adding a new link to the chain and trying not to break it. If you do break it though, and it’s bound to happen, it is extremely important to get right back into it as soon as possible. This creates consistency, which I would argue is the most important piece of the puzzle when starting a new habit or working toward a goal.
You have your breath with you always, and most of the time it functions without you having to think about it. When you do think about and control your breathing you can use it in so many ways to change your current state. For example, imagine you are stressed out from work, come home and must cook dinner, meanwhile your kids are throwing balls in the living room (even though you have asked them not to 100 times) and you feel your blood start to boil. Typically, this is when you might scream at the kids and throw out some harsh threat that you will end up regretting later and feel bad for. Once you have brought regular breathwork into your daily practice, instead of this scenario playing out, when you feel triggered, you manage to step into the bathroom, close your eyes, and pull from one of the breathing techniques that soothe you. You then can emerge in a calm state and deal with the situation in a controlled manner, feeling good about your actions, without regret!
Not only is breathwork a great way to start the day, but this specific technique, also known as box breathing, is good for:
• Helping you cope with panic, stress, and overwhelm
• Helping you sleep when you are having insomnia
• Helping to refocus when you are busy or stressed
• Easing panic and worry
Start with one minute of breathwork first thing in the morning after either brushing your teeth (or any habit that is already second nature to you). Set your timer for 60 seconds and slowly inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold for a count of 4.
Let me clear up a few misconceptions about meditation. First, it is not magical. Second, the point of meditation is not to reach some “nirvana-like” state. Third, your mind will likely wander every time you try it for the foreseeable future, and that is completely normal. The reason to get behind practicing meditation every morning is to increase your mental bandwidth and create awareness about yourself. You probably won’t notice a shift until one day it just clicks. You might be about to have a huge fight with you sister, who happens to be your best friend, and instead of lashing out right back at her, you pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and take responsibility for your words and actions and ask for her to forgive you and you promise you will do your best not to repeat what you did in the future. Even she will be surprised for a moment that you didn’t react as you once would have. That’s when you realize that this silly meditation thing you do for less than five minutes each morning is actually working!
Meditation is known to help with:
• Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
• Building skills to manage your stress
• Increasing self-awareness
• Focusing on the present
• Reducing negative emotions
• Increasing patience and tolerance
Start with one minute of meditation and slowly work your way up to 5 minutes each morning paired with your one minute of breathwork. Find a comfortable place to sit on the floor on a cushion or sit on a chair. Again, set your timer on your phone for 60 seconds, close your eyes and focus on your breath. It can help to count your breath to keep your mind from wandering. Count 1 as you inhale, 2 as you exhale, 3 as you inhale, 4 as you exhale all the way to 10, then start over at 1 until your timer goes off. You can add a minute each day or week until you get to 5 minutes total.
True happiness is when you are thankful for all that you already have. In our society, with the use of social media, your face is filled 24/7 with the newest trend you have to buy into, or new big ticket items like cars or vacation homes, getting the promotion, and overall, just more! You can’t buy more things, do more busy work, or fake your way to happiness. But gratitude is a surefire way to get there.
Creating a daily gratitude list for all the things you are grateful for has been shown to:
• Reduce depression
• Lessen anxiety
• Relieve stress
• Improve sleep
Keep a notebook on your nightstand (right next to your old school alarm clock) and before bed each night, write out everything that you are grateful for. It sounds so simple, but this thankful brain dump at the end of your day can make such a difference in your overall well being.
By increasing your mental bandwidth while decreasing feelings of anxiety through the practices of a screen-free bedroom, breathwork, meditation, and gratitude you can really learn to rock your life this year, and beyond! Try putting it all together with a checklist like this each week to track your progress adding new daily habits.