Ellen’s Writing about Psychological Wellness


  • On Insomnia
  • Holiday Visiting Woes
  • Unsuspected Dangers of Holiday Feasting
  • Mental Health and–of all things–HOUSEKEEPING!



Tips for a  Good Night’s Sleep


If you are reading this article I don’t have to tell you how insomnia can wreak your whole day.  You already know.  You may also know some of the tips on Sleep Hygiene I have collected over 35 years of practice as a clinical psychologist.  And if you have others, I want to hear from you.

Does it seem obvious?  Yet many people do not stop to think that their ease in falling asleep and staying restfully asleep may be related to the safety, cleanliness, and beauty of their bedroom sleep environment.  For many, the bedroom is a multi-purpose room including library, A/V centers, and computer work stations.  Not good.  For best sleep, make your bedroom dedicated to sleeping and making love only.  Oh, all right, plus light recreational and pleasurable reading… No thrillers with adrenalin rushes, please.  


How many people watch the local news at 11 PM?  And then, with sirens still echoing in their minds, they try to go to sleep.  Try for a week speding the last two hours before sleep without TV, without any upsetting or high-effort activities.  I am confident that anyone with sleep troubles will notice a distinct improvement.  


Then there is caffein.  Again and again my clients have found that abstaining from all coffee, tea, caffeinated soda and chocolate, even that morning cup, even de-caffeinated coffee, even de-caffeinated coffee only in the morning for heaven’s sake, … Made the crutial difference in their being able to fall asleep.  


Of course falling asleep is not the only form of insomnia that plagues us.  What about awakening at 3 AM with fretful thoughts and dread swimming around your consciousness?  A wonderful prevention for this horrible experience is to make a “worry date” with your mind.  Set a time, say 30 minutes every day.  Make it a time removed from bedtime.  Use a timer, a journal to write in, and sit comfortably in a quite room, undisturbed by family or telephone.  Tell your worries to come pouring out.   Sit there.  Be patient.  They will come.  Jot down the gist, and especially jot down action steps that occur to you would be helpful in solving the problems that plague you.  When the timer dings, stop, saying to your worries, as though they were children, “thanks you for coming, we will meet again tomorrow at this same time, and now please go away and do not bother me until then.”  Be sure to faithfully keep your worry date, or else the worries won’t listen to you when you say, “Go away now, it is not time for worrying.”  Eventually you will find that your need for worry dates lessens and you can space them out, shorten them.  


One of the most miserable experiences surely is the condition when the body seems asleep, heavy, reluctant to move, and yet the mind is racing, fearful, wide awake.  Advice: wake up your body (I know, I know, it says, “No, I need my sleep!”) and sit up.  Turn on the light.  Read a little.  Go to the bathroom.  When you are very sleepy and can hardly hold your eyelids open, turn off the light and lie down again.  


Here are some more tips for falling asleep: establish for yourself a “sleep induction posture”.  Mine is to lie on my back with a low pillow, curling it to support my neck, and another pillow under my bent knees.  Hands at my sides.  Then I inhibit any impulses to toss; I adopt an attitude of curiosity and inquiry as to the flotsam and jetsam of my day that bobs through my consciousness.  Next thing, it’s morning.  If I am having real difficulty, I might use my “still point sock”:  an old cotton sock with two tennis balls tied into it that I put behind my head at a level just above my hears.  The cranio-sacral therapist says it induces your c-s rhythm to pause and then restart, inducing deep relaxation.  


Err on the side of being too cool.  Being warm, even just a tiny bit too warm, seems to aggravate insomnia.  Darkness is important, as light stimulates cessation of the brain’s melatonin production.  For some people, any amount of light makes a big difference.  For everyone, soaking in a very hot tub of water is relaxing, and if you put a heaping cup of epsom salt dissolved in the water your muscles feel like cooked spaghetti in about 15 minutes, or as long as you can stand it.  Then go directly to bed.  


Finally, just as babies thrive on regular hours, so do we.  Have a standard time for going to sleep, and a standard time for getting up in the morning.  I have even dispensed with the nagging alarm clock and clock radio, — What a relief.  I use instead a timer that turns on my halogen lamp.  Sunrise! 

~~~ ~~~


When Holiday Visiting Is Woeful



“Why do I feel like a little kid when I get around my parents?”  Many times I have heard this lament from my 20 and 30-something clients.   Job success, a circle of supportive friends, positions of responsibility in the community all seem to melt away when you find  yourself home for the holidays.

    It’s natural.  Being  with parents, staying in your old room, celebrating annual festivities all throw you into the consciousness states of the last time you lived there day to day, usually in adolescence.  Who wants to go back to their teen years?!  You may find yourself feeling stupid or being defensive and touchy.  “Why am I blowing up at my mother over table manners, for God’s sake!?”  

    No, you’re not a nut, and it doesn’t mean that the maturity you take for granted in  your regular life is somehow invalid.  It’s just that  little-appreciated problem of changing states of consciousness.  We all do it all the time, and yet, like the blind spot in the retina, our minds conceal this fact from us, pretending that we are always one coherent, continuous personality.  Remember that song by Billy Joel about finding the “stranger” in your lover… or in your self?  

    Once you get over the surprise at learning that  you can be a whole collection of different, state-specific personalities, you can begin to cope.  If you find that being with Mom jerks your chain, throwing you into a version of yourself you thought long outgrown, you might try some of these:  

•    During a stay at the Old Place, have frequent, scheduled phone contacts with your friends from  your current, adult life.  Ideally, friends who understand your quandary.

•    Give some thought to the flow of the days before arriving “back home” and plan some activities that will help  you to re-center.  Things like taking a walk, going out to the coffeehouse, journaling, reading the book or magazine you have brought with you, listening to music you like–perhaps on earphones.  Specify the day and hour for each one of these, don’t leave them as vague intentions.

•    Take a little time to do “spotting”.  Think ahead to the time with parents.  You probably can guess the moments likely to trigger you.  Things like when Dad criticizes Mom’s cooking and they squabble, or the way they expect you to sit and watch their boring TV programs after dinner.  Then ask yourself, Now what could I do at that moment?  Sitting at home the week before, you’ll be able to dream up all sorts of remedies you would never think of once plunged into the situation.  Change the subject; tell a joke  you’ve saved for that moment; or, bring it up in advance and let them know, “You know, Mom, I’m looking forward to being home with  you, but I want  you to know up front that I’m not going to watch TV with you.  Let’s take a walk instead.”


It is amazing and wonderful how much better things can go as a result of just raising consciousness and making a little preparation.  Happy holidays!


~~~ ~~~


(published Oct/Nov issue, 2008  Promise Magazine) 


    October and November have two major challenges to any American watching their waist:  the Candy Bonanza Blow-out at Halloween and the Gargantua’s Feast at Thanksgiving.  If you are like many of us, you start sliding on October 31 by dipping into the Trick-Or-Treat leftovers and just when you are starting to get a grip, but perhaps haven’t yet lost the five pounds from Halloween, along comes Thanksgiving.  “Everybody indulges at Thanksgiving, right?”  So it is a patriotic duty…right?  


    Wrong.  The fact is that overeating is highly addictive behavior.  Would you be so foolish as to try heroine or crack just to go along with a holiday?  But I’ll bet you never thought of overeating as an addiction.  So an addictive substance, like tobacco, is something you just don’t want to mess with at all.  Nobody likes to be enslaved to a substance or a behavior that dictates what they do.  And overeating is just like that.  


    I remember as a child waltzing right into that danger zone at candy time and turkey time, and I imagined that everyone in the country was overdoing it along with me.  It felt almost a civic duty.  So let’s raise consciousness about this now.  One moderate plate of food can be just fine to celebrate the Pilgrims and the Indians.  Not too much…save room for desert.  One desert.  Think about it.  Get your brain ready.  Overeating is addictive.  “One is too many, and a thousand is never enough.”


    And now, what about those of us who read this and say, “Oh Ellen, I am way beyond that.  I am a food addict and no mistake!”  A word to you:  there is help.  Just as Alcoholics Anonymous has meant recovery for so many alcoholics over the past sixty odd years, Overeaters Anonymous offers a solution for the compulsive overeater.  And I may note, that O.A. is equally the answer for anorectics (so afraid of getting fat they starve) and bulimics (so afraid of getting fat they vomit or use laxatives or over-exercise). Cincinnati is blessed with a thriving O.A. Community.  You can find a meeting any day at www.oa.org.  There are even telephone bridge meetings and online meetings!  In any case, addiction is a disease, not a moral failing.  I hope you hear that.  It is a disease.  And there is recovery.  


    So enjoy all those little ghosts and ghouls that come to your door, and then have a great Thanksgiving feast…safely, and with moderation.  


~~~ ~~~


Easy Ways to Boost Your Mental Health:




Many people with self-esteem problems, motivation problems or mild depression don’t realize the potent effect that the appearance of their homes has on their psychology. Susan was not unusual. “What in the world does my housekeeping have to do with my mental health?” she asked.


Our homes actually represent our attitudes toward ourselves. Want to know what you actually think of yourself? Take a good look at your living space. And don’t start with your living room, where friends might come. Start instead with your private space, your bedroom.


I imagine some people cringing as they read this, and no wonder. For years I left the bedroom ’til last in my home beautification project, since no one saw that except me and my partner. The bed was rarely made, reading material littered the bedside table, and dirty clothes lay on the chair. Windows were rarely cleaned, and things like curtains and bedspreads were neglected. I’ll never forget the time I decided to try making the bed religiously every day. I was astonished at the morale boost it gave me to know, all day long, that at home in my bedroom, my bed was made, and if someone happened to walk by my bedroom, they would see a made bed.


If you are one of the huge number of people who neglect their housekeeping and then wonder why they are chronically a tad blue, give this a try:


Spend 15 minutes a day, Monday through Friday, or an hour and 15 minutes on the weekend doing superficial cleaning like stacking disorderly piles of books, magazines and papers; dusting; running the vacuum cleaner; and wiping down surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom.

Then gather the clutter together into boxes and toss a sheet or table cloth over the pile.


Before starting this experiment, however, write down a few statements that reflect your usual mood and feelings about yourself. Then after a week, or even better, after three weeks, write them down again. Then compare. You are probably going to love the result. Susan said, “Wow! I thought I’d have to analyze my whole childhood to get results like this!”