A friend of mine was complaining that she couldn’t sleep. She kept her bedroom dark and quiet, she paid attention to her breath and deliberately slowed it down, she did exercises to relax her muscles, but none of it worked and she was tired all the time.

“What do you usually have for dinner?” I asked her.  

“I eat healthy,” she said. “Protein and vegetables. No sugar or coffee.”

I thought a moment. “But what are you feeding yourself?”

“I just told you,” she answered.

“I’m not talking about feeding your body. I’m talking about feeding your mind. What do you do right before you turn out the lights?”

“I watch the 11:00 news.”

I’d cracked the case. Her diet for her body was good, but the things that she fed her mind were giving her severe indigestion and insomnia. Grace Slick from the sixties rock group “Jefferson Airplane,” wrote a song called White Rabbit. It ended with a powerful lyric:

When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead,
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s “Off with her head!”
Remember what the dormouse said:
Feed your head. Feed your head.

What are you feeding your head? Has obsession replaced logic? Are you constantly listening to the talking heads who might as well be talking backwards about death and destruction? Is that the last thing your brain consumes before you try to go to sleep?

I used to be a news junkie. I was riveted to MSNBC and CNN. I wanted to be informed but it turned into a fixation. Whatever I was
doing, the news was always droning in the background and there was nothing comforting about it. I was anxious a lot of the time and I didn’t know why. One day, when I stopped to listen to a particularly bad piece of news for the fourth time in a half hour, I got it. TV anchors don’t report good news. They focus on train wrecks, they show devastating images over and over, and for some reason, we can’t tear ourselves away. How many times did you see the buildings explode and crumble on 9/11? How many times did you see George Floyd take his last breath? How many times did you cringe at the lies and horrific rhetoric of money grabbing racist politicians?

So why do we keep watching disasters? I think it’s become a bad habit and pretty soon, we’re anxiously waiting for the next one. I’m
not suggesting that we ignore the news. It’s important to keep our eyes open when bad things are happening, but in my opinion, we need to monitor ourselves. We need to take stock of what we’re doing and decide how much our nervous systems can tolerate without making us sick. We need to decide what to watch and when. It’s like eating junk food all day long and by the time we push away from the table, we’re surprised that we have a stomach ache. We just can’t digest all that sugar. We need to take it in small doses to preserve our mental health.

Mental health has become a widespread topic these days and some beloved athletes like Olympic gold medal winners, Michael Phelps
and Simone Biles, are bringing it to the forefront. Athletes pride themselves on being strong and able to withstand anything, so publicly admitting to mental health problems is a courageous and vulnerable thing for them to do. They have to stand tall to overcome the stigma, but when they take that step, it has a far reaching effect. They inspire us regular people to stop hiding in shame and start speaking the truth about how we really feel.

I’m one of those people. I can’t tolerate a great deal of bad news. I still read the headlines in the newspaper every morning. I want to know what’s going on. But at night, figure skaters, gymnasts and Alpine skiers flying down snow-covered mountains at 80 miles an hour are the last images I feed my head before I turn out the lights. Granted, there are dangerous people and places in the world, terrible things happen, but there are good people too, safe places to be and inspiring acts of kindness if we make an effort to find them.

We each have our own way to quiet the noise and block out the negativity I know a “foodie” who watches the food channel at night. Cooking is her preferred creative outlet and she gets satisfaction from planning her meals for the next day. I know a couple who watch Seinfeld reruns right before they go to bed so they can go to sleep laughing. It’s all about where you place your attention. If we can stop projecting and ruminating, we can find a relatively safe place to rest our minds and reset our thoughts.

However you find your peace, your mind has a simple
message for you:

Fill your life with stress and fear, you’ll feel
anxious and depressed.

Fill your life with beauty and hope, you’ll feel
beautiful and hopeful.

What do you do right before you go to sleep?