Guest Blogger: Rebecca Lucero M.S., LMFTA
I work as a marriage and family therapist. Often, my clients come in seeking help for their marriages, children, addiction recovery, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and abuse. Although it can be easy to focus on the problem the client presents, I find that it is helpful to assess some basic conditions before zoning in on the client’s complaint. I like to ask my clients about their diet, exercise routine, stress level at work and home, and sleep habits. It might seem like I should be asking more profound questions after all my training but I find that these questions reveal important information.
I like to think of an analogy to explain the importance of these basic health questions. If you are going to use a car in a race, we can talk all day long about how the car would perform better with new tires or some other improvement. However, if we ignore that the car hasn't had an oil change or that the car doesn't have gas to complete the race, putting new tires on the car won't make a difference in the race results. When clients fail to take care of themselves physically, it can create or exacerbate emotional and mental health issues. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell which came first, sort of a chicken or the egg situation. Research has proven that anxiety and depression disorders are often co-occurring with sleep disorders (see link). Some studies actually claim that sleep disturbances lead to the development of sleep disorders.
In our culture we often brag about how little we sleep get because busyness is a badge we wear with pride to prove our value to society. But, research suggests that by treating sleep disturbances, we can actually prevent the development of psychiatric conditions (see article here). Understanding that our sleep habits are connected to our mental health and emotional well-being is vital to living the best life possible for each of us. One reason it is so dangerous to ignore our need for sleep is that it is impossible to get back the hours of sleep that we lose (see link). We can lie to ourselves and say that we are special and require only 4-5 hours of sleep, but every body and brain has its limits. Your brain or mind is an organ in your body. When we fail to nourish that organ, it will start to underperform. So while there are many things that I do to help clients resolve their relationship problems and achieve their goals, I find that it is important to encourage my clients to invest in their physical and emotional health by getting enough sleep. Clients must work hard in therapy as they process their past traumas or experiences in new ways to find solutions. As they make decisions to support their physical health, they better enable their brain to do the difficult mental and emotional work of therapy.
Rebecca Lucero M.S., LMFTA