Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have been so uptight lately that I haven’t been able to sleep well. I just can’t relax enough to fall asleep. I guess it’s the result of too much stress. Things are very stressful on my job – both in terms of my workload and my boss’s expectation of me. When I get home from work I’m tense and kind of hyper and sometimes frustrated and drained. Then I have to deal with my kids’ needs, a messy house and lots of responsibilities I have to attend to in order to be ready for the next day. I hardly have time to talk to my husband. On the weekends we have all kinds of activities related to my kid’s sports. I never get a chance to just take a break. Lately I’ve been having a glass or two of wine to wind down at the end of the day – although I know this isn’t a good habit to get into. What can I do to relax, feel less uptight, and be able to get a restful night sleep?
Dr. Norquist responds:
The stress in our lives can emanate from several different levels; the physical, the mental, the emotional, or the spiritual. Environmental and lifestyle factors are also significant contributors to our daily stress. Your stress, it appears, can be dealt with mainly by addressing the physical level, along with lifestyle factors. In order to do this, you must make a commitment to consistently practice a relaxation technique. There are several to choose from. Meditation, progressive relaxation, abdominal breathing, and guided imagery are all very powerful relaxation techniques. Choose the one(s) that are the most appealing to you and set aside a special time in your schedule to practice relaxation. You will find its benefits immeasurable. Due to space limitations, I’m not able to describe each of these techniques in detail here, but there are many good books that you could turn to for more detailed guidance. An especially useful one in this regard is The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, by Edmund Bourne. Yoga, acupuncture, and massage would also be very beneficial for you. Try to eliminate or reduce caffeine and sugar from your diet, drink plenty of water, and increase your intake of whole, natural foods. Vitamins B & C, Calcium-magnesium, and zinc are helpful for stress and anxiety. The herb Kava Kava, and the homeopathic remedy coffea cruda can be helpful for reducing muscular tension and mental over activity that is interfering with your sleep. As always, you should consult with your medical doctor about these supplements, especially if you are on any medications.
As you probably know, the wine at night is only making the situation worse. Alcohol interferes with our sleep cycles and has a negative overall effect on our health. Try a cup of tea (Kava Kava, Chamomile, PassionFlower, or Sleepytime) instead. Make sure you allow yourself time to sit, relax and refrain from busywork (or TV) for 30 minutes or so at the end of your day. Try to connect with your husband, and share your day with each other. Take some time to just BE. To do this you may need to let go of some of those things you thought had to be done that night. Work on simplifying your life. See what you can let go of, or delegate. Make relaxation time a priority in your life. Things are so out of balance that your body is letting you know that you have to do something about it. If you continue to ignore this need, you may create a physical/emotional condition that forces you to learn the value of relaxation in your life.
Dear Dr. Norquist:
How are you? I am 28 years old married 6 years. My husband is 40 and here is my problem. I am truly not happy in this marriage, and have not been for some time. My problem is, and has been since I was a kid, is that I always try to make everyone happy–sacrificing myself. I am scared to leave him–because it would hurt him. I am also scared to leave because my parents would be devastated. They are very old-fashioned Italians, and do not believe in divorce unless, of course, there is violence, but there is none. I met him when I was 18, married 2 weeks after my 22nd birthday. My feelings have always been to hide my TRUE feelings always, and I don’t know why. I always feel I need to sacrifice my own happiness to keep peace–to keep everyone else happy. I really would like to know how to go about standing my ground when people tell me I am crazy (my parents), and to think of myself, to make myself happy. I don’t want to be selfish in this, so how do I go about doing this? And while I’m at it, how do I get self-esteem? I have none. This has plagued me for years. I don’t know how to overcome it. Please help me if you can.
Dr. Norquist responds:
This is a difficult question to answer in a few paragraphs. I’m glad you want to do something to better this situation, because the desire to feel worthy is the inner drive that is necessarily to propel you into making the necessarily changes. It is the fuel that will get you there. The changes you need to make are internal ones – although they will probably eventually lead to external changes. You have bought the belief that others are more important and more powerful than you are. This is just a mental construct – a notion you habitually live your life around. It has no power if you stop giving it power. You give your power to others by seeing them as more important than you are. The truth is, you have been given this life – and what you create with it is up to you. I believe you are responsible to yourself and to God to do the best you can to develop and grow this light you carry, this inner spark of life that is your gift. To grow this light you have to start taking responsibility for your own feelings and needs. In your efforts to please others (a goal that is never successful for long), you have neglected to steer your own ship – or to even recognize that you have your own ship to steer.
Take time to get to know your own ship, your own self, and discover what path you would like to traverse. This entails finding your own center. You have been living life off-balance – leaning way over to please others. This way of living will not bring you love in any permanent way. Start to notice the inner tugging you sense when you are ignoring your own feelings in order to please another. Recognize and listen to these inner stirrings. These feelings and needs are heard in the heart, not the head. Give them voice. Empower yourself by choosing to act in accordance with your inner feelings and needs. In this way, you can start to reclaim your own life.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding and treating physical symptoms and health-related concerns. Practitioners of the following techniques are available to answer your questions: psychology, acupuncture, therapeutic and neuromuscular massage, yoga, meditation, spiritual & transpersonal psychology, Reiki, Cranial Sacral Therapy, and Alexander Technique Ó 2002 Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center