Harness the Current

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Continuum Consulting Services LLC

In normal times, sleep disorders affect 25 percent of Americans annually, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. But these are not normal times. Indeed, the pandemic has created “…a perfect storm of sleep problems,” notes Donn Posner, president of Sleepwell Associates and a Stanford University School of Medicine professor.

Blame it on the state of the world, the isolation from friends and family, the burden of home and work threaded together or lost. The stress mounts and the outlets are few and so there you are, at 2 a.m., wide awake and wondering how you’ll cope.

But there is a way, if not to sleep, at least to understand why so you can find some meaning for the sleeplessness. As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”

That “why” is called social change, inextricably linked to personal changes in attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. And its calling card is “cognitive dissonance.”

What is Cognitive Dissonance?

Named by social psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1950s, cognitive dissonance is a mental state that creates discomfort when we face new information that contradicts our current beliefs or assumptions. The theory goes that you can’t hold two mental models—or cognitions—in your brain with ease. So after some discomfort, you accept the new model.

Cognitive dissonance is what we’re facing today, at every fractal level of our personal lives and our society. Those who have been marginalized are upsetting the power table. The cubicle has been replaced by the kitchen table. We’re getting to know the neighbors we’ve nodded at in passing for years.

The social cracks—in prisons and nursing homes and low wage jobs—have broken apart and the pain is searing. The world is upside down and we’re all holding on for dear life and some of us not so well. Yes, it is a difficult time, but it is also an exciting time.

What Your Sleeplessness Is Heralding

We are at the forefront of social change. A new social model, with a new set of priorities and beliefs about what is “right” and what is “true,” is emerging organically and without much effort on our part. We are watching it as it happens.

Our job is to bear witness to it, adapt to it and support it where and how we can. It is also to wrestle with the personal challenges that are a necessary part of it, challenges that demand we question often-deeply held assumptions—about how to work, what is important, and who we want to be in community with—and re-align our lives accordingly.

This is big work, 2 a.m. work, work that demands courage and resilience and, yes, admittedly, some sleepless nights.

What You Can Do

Take heart. Embrace the cognitive dissonance that has you tossing and turning at 2 a.m. Put some practical structures in place, as Posner suggests. And if you still can’t sleep, find some peace in the knowledge that what you feel is a new world order settling into place, and your sleeplessness just may be a necessary part of it.

What To Do If You Still Can’t Sleep:

  • Get out your colors. Draw what you feel, in symbols and colors. Then, write about what you draw to decode the message.
  • Start writing. If your mind is dissing you, write a rebuttal. If your head is full of details, make a list. If you’re lost, ask for guidance and record what you “hear.”
  • Meditate on “what if”: What if your life was exactly as you’d like it to be? What would it look like? Who would be in it? Who would you be in it?
  • Go to the yoga mat. Get out of bed and onto the mat. Stretch. Hold a pose. Breathe.
  • Accept. Sometimes, all you can do is accept what you cannot change. So love the darkness for what it is, and who you are becoming.

M. Carolyn Miller, MA, is a strategic partner with Continuum Consulting Services, LLC. An award-winning writer and senior instructional designer, Carolyn designs and develops creative learning experiences.