In my last post I discussed a difficulty that many people with narcolepsy face, being unable to relax without falling asleep. Time spent relaxing while staying awake is really important in order to prevent burn out, and finding ways to do that can help us minimize feelings of anxiety and depression.
While some people’s idea of relaxing might involve lying down with their eyes closed, it might not be the best option for those of us with narcolepsy. When we spend all of our time either artificially kept awake by medications or in a sleepy state unable to do anything, life can start to feel overwhelming and pointless really quickly. This is why it is such a good idea to find the activities that will allow you to get that relaxation time without inducing sleep!
Here are some ideas:
Arts & Crafts (and other hobbies)
The recent craze of adult colouring books is not based on nothing, it is actually similar to meditation in its ability to produce a focused-yet-calm state. Pouring your energy into creative pursuits not only helps with staying awake, but can also be a good form of emotional release. Other hobbies like playing music, building computers or woodworking can also be great ways to keep your body and mind engaged, and take advantage of your focus without the need to stress out.
Creating something at the end of your relaxation time also tends to bring about a sense of achievement, which boosts motivation and helps prevent the feeling that you are just sleeping your life away. Even if it is just doing a small drawing or baking a cake, the feeling of having completed a task with a tangible outcome is definitely satisfying.
It has been suggested time and again by researchers that physical activity plays a major role in regulating our moods. As a fairly newly-converted runner, I know that the feeling of reaching a “flow state” where movement feels effortless and thinking takes a backseat is one of the best I have ever felt. The positive effects of this mind and body relaxation continue to benefit me long after the sweat has dried!
By all means, do whatever type of activity feels right for you, but personally I have found that activities that do not require much equipment or transport or organisation (e.g. pilates, running) work best as I can do them at a moment’s notice whenever I feel up to it. This means that I don’t have to wait for an “appropriate” time only to find that I am actually too tired or sore, I just go when the mood strikes me.
Activities like yoga and pilates can be preferable options for those with high blood pressure, heart issues, or simply want to keep it slow and steady. They also stretch the body, making up for strains that can be caused by too much time spent lying down. Just don’t hold those lying-on-floor poses for too long, I speak from experience here! 😉
For those who consider themselves “unable” to switch off due to racing thoughts, meditation can be an amazingly helpful tool. It can take some practice to get used to, the important thing is to not get annoyed about “failing” and just enjoy whatever happens. Even just sitting and relaxing for a minute can feel good and help ease your symptoms, so if you fall asleep try not to worry too much. Guided meditations can be very helpful for those who find this difficult.
I will admit that I have had mixed results with meditation, with sessions sometimes turning into a nap. For this reason I’d suggest not trying it if you have other places to be in a hurry! However even the times that I have fallen asleep have led to very relaxing (almost healing) lucid dream experiences that left me feeling refreshed upon waking anyway.
Although I singled out TV and movies as typical fall-asleep activities, I have found that the interactive nature of gaming means that it keeps you much more engaged (and therefore alert) than most similar history programs. Some online games also allow for a social aspect, which might be of benefit to those who aren’t always up to meeting people elsewhere.
However, I do have to note that video games (particularly console games) can give me pretty severe cataplexy attacks so I personally tend to avoid them!
A day at a spa is many people’s idea of a perfect relaxation activity, so light up the scented candles and give yourself a break right in your own home. Taking the time to do things that make you feel good is so important, and something that I feel people with chronic illness often struggle with. We feel that our time spent awake should only be spent on more “important” things than caring for ourselves, which is such a bad habit to fall into and does real damage to our self esteem (and our mental health in general).
Doing these little self-maintenance tasks like painting your nails or taking a nice bath give you the permission to feel like you are worth the time and effort. Personally, I know I always feel much better about myself when I take the time to do my hair properly. While it might seem like a silly thing to care about, it makes me feel good about myself, so it helps me to be happier and more productive in general! I see it as an investment in my own mental wellbeing (while also staying awake!)
Narcolepsy is actually linked to a few different sexual problems, so this may not be a good option for everyone, but I did want to put it out there for the others!
Having a bit of fun with your partner (or whoever, not going to judge here) can be a really good way to just let your mind focus on pleasurable feelings and let go of some tension you’ve been carrying around. Your brain can also make things a bit easier, as it naturally produces hormones during sex that will help to keep you alert. (Well, for most of us anyway. Unfortunately I have heard the opposite from some PWN.)
So here’s the thing about multi-tasking, it has been proven to be less efficient than doing one task at a time. However, in your leisure time when you aren’t in a rush to do anything in particular, doing more than one thing at once can help with the most important task of all: staying awake.
For example, when doing Pilates (or most activities!) I will often throw on a podcast to listen to in the background. I’ve probably mentioned this before but I am actually crazy for podcasts, as I find my brain really responds to having to listen to people speaking. It’s one of those things that can quickly jolt me out of my zombie-mode.
I know a few of these might be starting to sound repetitive if you’ve read some of my other posts, but I only suggest things that I know have worked for myself or other narcoleptics that I know! And as always it comes with the disclaimer that different things work for different people. If there was a magic bullet that would make things easy with no effort, you would have heard about it already! 😉
In the end it all boils down to finding an activity that you find stimulating but not stressful. Most of these activities allow for your body to take some control while your brain can have a rest on autopilot for a while. It’s a little bit like the positive side of automatic behaviour!
If you have a certain activity that you rely on for staying awake when you just want to relax, let me know in the comments section 🙂