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Episode 63: Circadian Rhythms and Mental Health

Good morning, everybody, and welcome to today’s episode of The Work Of Becoming podcast where I’m gonna tell a personal story about circadian rhythms and mental health.

I want to start out by saying that, although I do know a fair bit about neuroscience, I am not a neuroscience expert, and so, when it comes to the actual science behind circadian rhythms, I’m not an expert, and I don’t want you to treat me as an expert. Instead, though, what I want you to do, what I want you to take from this episode is I want you to listen to my personal experience, and I just want you to see what resonates with you. Maybe you can use it as a jumping-off point to experience your own life in a different way, but don’t take it as me giving you a protocol or telling you what to do because that’s not what I’m gonna be doing here, okay?

So, I want to tell you a story. Recently, I got back from my trip to Sedona, and when I was in Sedona, I was outside a lot, and so, I adjusted to the time zone difference between Arizona and DC almost immediately which was great. I was waking up by, like, 7:30 on my own very naturally, and I felt awake when I woke up and ready to go and motivated, and part of it is probably because I was at a retreat and I was super excited about what we were doing every day, but I woke up with a different level of alertness than I had been. And so, that made me think. That made me pause.

Then, when I got back to DC, I had a really hard time adjusting. So, for the first two or three days that I got back, I was sleeping in until 10:00 or almost 10:30 every single day, and I was not happy about that. I, personally, am a person who gets too much sleep sometimes. It is very rare that my issue is worrying about having too little sleep. Instead, my issue is that I will over-sleep, and that will impact my mental health in a negative way.

To get really into the nitty gritty of it, when I was in college, I struggled pretty intensely with depression, and one of the things that triggers my depression or a depressive episode in my life is when I am sleeping too much and, particularly, when I am sleeping in. There is something about sleeping past 9:00 that sets my hormones off in a weird way, and I am always grumpy when I wake up and I have a more difficult time that day. It actually, for me, feels better to get less sleep and wake up earlier than it does to get more sleep and wake up late. So, let’s say I go to bed at 3:00 AM. For me, it’s more helpful to still wake up before 8:00 AM even if it only means I’m getting 5 hours of sleep. Maybe I’ll take a nap or sleep more the next day. That is more helpful for my brain and my mental health than sleeping in.

So, I slept in for three days, and all of a sudden, I was in a mood. I was angry about things in my life. I was frustrated with my partner. I was really in a funk. My period was on its way, and I was just struggling to use any tactic or technique that I had in my tool book. Let me tell you. I was trying to motivate myself. I was doing thought work. I was doing thought downloads. I was doing self-coaching. I was talking to my coaches. I was doing literally everything, and I could not get myself to work out. I wasn’t eating regular meals. I was in a total funk, a funk I have not experienced in years.

I had to step back and ask myself, “What the F is going on here?” For a minute, there was a moment where I was like, is something wrong with me? Am I descending back into a different version of my life that I don’t want to revisit? What is happening? Then I connected the dots. The fact that I had been sleeping in multiple days in a row, the fact that I had a major time change, and the fact that I didn’t get any light exposure in the morning after I got back. So, I adapted very quickly in Sedona because we were out hiking all day, and then I came home, and I didn’t go outside because I dove right into work.

And so, what I did was yesterday I got up in the morning, and I immediately tried to go outside. I still got up later in the day, but I immediately went outside, and I ate breakfast when I woke up, and today, I set my alarm for 6:45, dragged my butt out of bed, went and sat in my living room with my seasonal depression light on my face for 30 minutes, did some breathwork, and I feel like a brand-new human.

Here’s the lesson I want you to take from this. Our biological and hormonal patterns are going to influence our ability to adopt behavior change. And so, if you’re really struggling, if you feel like nothing you’re doing is working, if you feel like you’re in a total funk, I want you to ask yourself, “Am I giving my body the support it needs?” We all have circadian rhythms. We have a rhythm that our body follows every day, and there’s a lot of evidence (and this is where I’m not gonna get into the neuroscience) that supports the idea that when those rhythms are off, our hormones are off, we feel funky, and we struggle with self-regulation which is our ability to get our shit done.

And so, I just want you to revisit, whenever you’re in a funk, whenever you’re struggling, if you’re struggling right now, are you giving your body a biological rhythm to follow or as close to it as is possible in the current circumstance, in the current life that you’re living? And if you aren’t, what can you do to give yourself just a little bit more rhythm, just a little bit more routine? Get your sleep schedule on track just a little bit more. Get your eating patterns similar, stable, day-by-day. That might also mean looking into psychiatry or mental health treatment. This is one of the reasons why I’m such an advocate of mental health medication, because if you don’t have the neurological basis, if your brain is not firing correctly, if your brain is not firing with the right neurotransmitters, the right amount of them in the right place, you can apply all the behavior change tactics in the world, but they’re not going to work on a brain that is not biologically set up for it to function well.

So, before you think about behavior change techniques, before you do thought work, before you do self-coaching, have you eaten, have you slept, and have you addressed your mental health?

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Hi, I'm Karin

I’m a funfetti flavor super-fan, a loving dog mom, a PhD expert in mindset and behavior change… and I’m here to help make personal development and transformation a process that’s actually fun.

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