Mindfulness and Prayer
I don’t know about you, but my insomnia hits me with mental gymnastics. My brain does cartwheels and flits about like an annoyed wasp, just looking for something to sting. It doesn’t keep still for even a moment. I have a multitude of contributors to my insomnia, but hyperarousal is a biggie. Hyperarousal means excessive mental arousal – when the mind goes into a state of heightened responsiveness and causes higher levels of alertness, anxiety, heart rate, and respiration. So as you can imagine, it is difficult to sleep in that state. And during these nights for me, mindfulness and prayer help my insomnia.
Skills to help calm my busy mind
There is no magic pill to take to overcome a busy mind. While we could sedate it into submission, it can require an awful lot of medication for that to happen, which is not a long-term strategy for managing hyperarousal. Over the course of 5 years of psychological therapy, I learned skills that have helped calm the farm when it comes time to hit the pillow.
Meditation seems like such an innocuous concept. It is hard to imagine that just redirecting thoughts will make a scrap of difference. But in the early years of my therapies, I diligently started doing meditation exercises and despite my skeptical outlook, it made a difference.
I find meditation guides to be the most helpful for me; if left to my own devices, my mind will wander off in search of shinier objects. But with a gentle voice guiding me, I can focus on leaves in a stream or cloud in the sky and slowly, slowly bring my heart rate down. I even made a meditation to listen to, with the sound of water running over rocks in a stream and my own voice lulling me into a sense of peace.
Meditation is often accompanied by breathing exercises – slow, deep, paced breaths that can help to lower the heart rate. I try to settle into a natural breathing rhythm as focusing too long and too hard on my breathing makes my heart go faster. There is a fine balance for me in finding the right breath rate. As my breathing slows, I try and notice any tightness or clenching in my body and release it, while my mind is picturing the imagery conjured forth in the meditation.
Finding meditations that work
Meditations are found on YouTube and music streaming services and apps. There is no shortage of options. I found it important to have a voice I liked to listen to. It has to be a voice that makes me feel calm. I’m sure it’s a case of different strokes for different folks – the voice that calms me will irritate someone else. And vice versa.
The soundtrack of background noise or gentle music needs to offer a sense of serenity. Some people prefer no background noise at all. Some people will be lulled to sleep just by the sound of a babbling brook – no voice-over necessary. It is important to find the meditation that works for you.
Mindfulness and prayer
But at the end of the day, meditation is just a way to focus the mind, relax the body and stop distractions. For people who hold faith, prayer is another powerful means of calming the mind – depending of course on what you pray about. In an overly simplified context, anxiety often worries about the future while depression worries about the past. Whereas prayer is focused on the moment – it is a very mindful act.
Prayer that is combined with gratitude is very calming. Giving thanks takes away from a sense of worry and brings thoughts into the present moment. Prayer can also be about hope which is another way to reduce anxiety about sleep.
On the flip side of that, I have found that just praying for sleep makes me more stressed – I have to focus on the bigger things in my life. Gratitude for my comfortable house and good health. Thanks for my job and the sunshine out my window. Hope for my children and my career and my book sales.
I use prayer and gratitude to deliberately turn my thoughts in a positive direction, and for me, this has contributed to a greater level of peace which can, on occasion, lead to sleep.
When our minds are playing tricks on us to keep us awake, it is handy to have some tricks up our sleeves to turn it around and take control. Meditation and prayer have become comforting routines I can turn to when my bouncy little brain wants to take over.
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