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Welcome to our fifth and final lesson in our series on self appreciation.

Before I get into the final lesson, I would like to make one last argument for the importance of self appreciation. Regardless of what ambitions you have, be it achieving success at work and in relationships, having the love and respect of your community, or being the best parents that you can be, you must first start by honoring yourself. You cannot expect others to have more respect for you than you have for yourself. You cannot be a good parent or a good friend to others if you are used to mistreating yourself. If you take yourself for granted, others will take you for granted as well.

Even if you argue that you have no ambitions, and that you just want to be happy, content, or fulfilled, you still must learn to appreciate yourself. Think about it, would it be possible to find happiness, contentment, or fulfillment if you don’t like yourself or take good care of yourself? If you believe that someone else is going to bring you joy, or take care of you, then you are going to spend the rest of your life looking for someone who will do for you what you are not doing for yourself. Why would anyone do something for you that you are not willing to do for yourself?

This brings us back to learning how to appreciate ourselves. So far we have talked about ways to start the day, keeping gratitude journals, reaching out to the people we care about, and the importance of getting fresh air on a daily basis. In our final lesson we are going to talk about how to end each day with bringing the focus back to ourselves.

If you are like me, by the end of the day you are exhausted by having attended to work, family, loved ones, and your basic needs such as food and hygiene. At the day’s end, all you want to do is relax and unwind. It is nice to spend some time watching TV, listening to music, catching up on the news, reading, or engaging with social media. Any of these activities are helpful in getting our minds off of the worries of the day. Unfortunately, they are also demanding of our attention and take energy to do, even if we are not aware of the mental energy we are spending on them. 

Before you delete this email and unsubscribe from my list, please know that I am not recommending that you stop doing any of these things that bring you joy and comfort at the end of the day. What I am suggesting is that you engage in these stimulating activities outside of your bed, and then engage in proper “sleep hygiene” before going to bed.

Decades of research have shown us that proper sleep plays a critical role in our mental and physical health. In the field of psychiatry we know that we cannot treat anyone’s mood disorder or anxiety without first making sure that they get restful sleep every night. We also know that engaging in any sort of stimulating activity right before going to bed interferes with our ability to sleep well. The term “sleep hygiene” describes the dos and don’ts of bedtime.

Let’s start with what NOT to do. Your bed serves three and only three purposes: Reading, sex, and sleep. Anything else you do in bed should really be done somewhere else. When I was in medical school, we were taught that the bed was for only sleep and sex. I added “reading” to the list myself because I know we all take our phones and books to bed with us and I can’t talk anyone, including myself, into stopping that habit.

If you can help it, do not have a TV in your bedroom at all. The images and sounds on a television stimulate your brain. If you have a habit of falling asleep with the TV on, then the entire night your brain is struggling to get some sleep while fighting off the lights and sounds that are trying to get its attention. It is exhausting for your brain, and you will wake up tired. If you must have a TV in your bedroom, make sure it is off before you go to sleep. The same goes for any other electronics, such as tablets, phones, and laptops. These days most of us are reading on an electronic device. Make sure you put away the device before falling asleep. If you’re reading an actual paper book, then it is important to put it away and turn off the light.

For more on sleep hygiene, the CDC recommends you read this page:

Other than good sleep hygiene, which I believe is essential for your health, I recommend more specific self-appreciation activities. You can do many of the activities I’ve suggested in my earlier newsletters on this topic. Here are the old suggestions as well as some new ones:

  • Two minutes of slow breathing (seven seconds on each inhalation, seven seconds on each exhalation).
  • Five minutes of meditation or prayer.
  • Stretching in silence. 
  • Repeating positive mantras (e.g. “today was a good day,” “I am taking good care of myself,” “I am surrounded by love,” or any other mantra that feels good to you). One mantra I wrote down in an Eckhart Tolle lecture and that I repeat to myself is “I align myself with the present moment.” It is very soothing for me.
  • Snuggling with your loved one or your pet.
  • Reading what you have written in your gratitude journal.
  • Write down what’s worrying you on a piece of paper, fold it and put it away, telling yourself you’ll attend to it later if needed. Then make a conscious decision to forget about it for the night.

The idea here is for you to remember that self-care is your highest priority, and that you are willing to put in the effort it takes to honor and appreciate yourself. I want this to be that last thought on your mind before you go to sleep. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you for the work you put into this.

Thank you for staying with me for these five weeks. I hope you have picked up some healthy, positive habits. If you have tried any of my suggestions, comment below or write to me and let me know. I am always happy to hear from you.

Laguna Beach, 2020

Personal Story:

I have been an insomniac my entire life. My parents lovingly called me the wandering ghost, because I walked around the house all night, restless and unable to sleep. One night when I was about eight years old, I had the genius idea of trying to balance my pillow on my head during my nightly wanderings. My parents were shocked to find a silhouette of a creature with the body of a child but a massive, misshapen head moving about the house. I have never been able to live that story down!

During my years in med school and residency I learned a lot about sleep hygiene and the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, but never had the motivation to try to change my own habits. I thought I’d never be able to sleep. That was just who I was. After I contracted Lyme disease, I was desperate to find any technique that would ease the excruciating pain and help my debilitating fatigue. That is when I started truly exercising the deep breathing techniques that I have mentioned throughout my newsletters, as well as regularly meditating. It took some practice. My mind was used to running the show and did not want to quiet down, so I encountered a lot of inner resistance to continuing the breathing and mindfulness practices.

Mostly out of desperation I persisted with the practice, and slowly but surely, the exercises became easier and more effective. I found that I could breathe into the pain rather than fight it, and although it did not go away, it lost its iron grip on me. I also found that I slept longer and felt more rested in the mornings. The practices, however, went much further than just helping me sleep better. I am healthier, in better shape, more focused, and more at peace. I also believe that my commitment to self appreciation was what finally triggered the determination to write my memoir. I am currently working on the third draft and am hoping to publish it one day.

Today I am grateful for having contracted Lyme disease. It was a profound turning point in my life that caused me to stop and look at how much I had taken myself for granted. It reminded me of the crucial fact that I was not going to achieve anything unless I took my well being seriously. In the darkest moments of my despair, I made the decision to love and appreciate myself, and have never again taken myself for granted. Every day that I am alive, I am grateful for the simple gift of living on this beautiful earth, being able to breathe, seeing my loved ones, and most importantly, loving myself.

I thank you for reading my newsletters and my personal stories, and hope you will stick around for the future lessons that I will be posting.

Sayeh Beheshti, M.D.