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If the pandemic has affected your sleep, you are not alone! If you want to sort out your sleep issues and improve your creativity — and your life — as we head into a new year, this episode with Dr. Anne D. Bartolucci will help.
In the intro, publishing industry trends for 2022 [Written Word Media; Stark Reflections; Mark Coker Smashwords]; my Sell Direct Tutorial; Mark Dawson's Ads for Authors, which now includes Booktok; GPT-4 [Towards Data Science]; AI-Assisted Author course.
Today's show is sponsored by ProWritingAid, writing and editing software that goes way beyond just grammar and typo checking. With its detailed reports on how to improve your writing, and integration with Scrivener MS Word, Chrome and more, ProWritingAid will help you improve your book before you send it to an editor, agent or publisher. Check it out for free or get 25% off the premium edition at www.ProWritingAid.com/joanna
Dr. Anne Bartolucci is a licensed psychologist and a certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist. She's the author of two non-fiction books, including Better Sleep for the Overachiever, and she's also a best-selling steampunk and urban fantasy author under Cecilia Dominic.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Why sleep matters, especially for creatives
- How the pandemic has affected sleeping habits
- The different sleeping issues we can encounter at different times of life
- Busting sleep myths
- Different kinds of insomnia
- How to improve your falling asleep time
- Why the ‘rules’ are less important than what works for us individually
- Do mindfulness and meditation help with sleep?
- How Anne manages her day job and her author life — and lessons learned
You can find Dr. Anne Bartolucci at OverachieverBook.com and on Twitter @CeciliaDominic
Transcript of Interview with Anne D. Bartolucci
Joanna Penn: Dr. Anne Bartolucci is a licensed psychologist and a certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist. She's the author of two non-fiction books, including Better Sleep for the Overachiever, and she's also a best-selling steampunk and urban fantasy author under Cecilia Dominic. Welcome, Anne.
Anne Bartolucci: Thank you so much, Joanna. I'm really excited to be here.
Joanna Penn: Well, this is super important, but before we get into the topic…
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing, as well as how you split your creative self between the two different careers.
Anne Bartolucci: That last part of the question is definitely the challenging bit. So I apparently have been writing since I was very little. My mom claims that I wrote my first story when I was two. And I'm sure she has it somewhere. Apparently, what it lacked in plot and character development, it more than made up for in enthusiasm.
I've written all through school and, of course, creative writing was always a pleasure thing, really more than a career path for me. I got the message that many people get, ‘That's a fun hobby, but you can't really do it for a career.' So I let it lapse a bit when I was in high school and definitely in college. And then when I got to graduate school, I had a little bit of a setback that I do talk about in the book.
I went to the bookstore to console myself as we writer types do. And I stumbled across an issue of ‘Writer's Digest Magazine.' And it just blew my mind because I was like, ‘Holy crap, people get paid for this.'
So I picked up my creative writing again and did it through grad school as a self-sanity thing. And then started working on my novel, which, of course, that first novel took me like four or five years. And then I pitched that for a long time, and wrote some other novels.
Finally, that one sold to Samhain Publishing in 2013. So I started out traditionally published, and they were a mid-sized genre outfit out of Cincinnati, Ohio, mostly doing romance and associated genres. I had 7 books with them when they closed in 2017 when I got my rights back.
I have been indie pubbed since then until just recently, when I signed a three-book contract with Flagstaff Publishing for a time-travel action-adventure series, and those should start coming out next year. So I guess at this point, I can call myself hybrid.
And for splitting my creative self between the two, I used to try to keep the two very, very separate, hence the pen name.
I started my online writing with a wine blog. And, of course, I live in a part of the United States where some people have some very interesting attitudes towards alcohol. Like in my state, Georgia, we weren't even allowed buy alcohol on Sundays until about 10 years ago. Now we still have to wait until 11:30 on Sundays.
Joanna Penn: After church, but, of course, I guess if you have communion, you do get your wine!
Anne Bartolucci: Yes. Especially for those of us in churches where they do have real wine for communion, although not since the pandemic interestingly. So, make your brunch plans accordingly.
Joanna Penn: You do manage these two very differently. Do you work as a psychologist now?
Anne Bartolucci: I do. I have my own private practice, Atlanta Insomnia and Behavioral Health Services. I started that in 2008. At this point, we've grown. It's me and a full-time other psychologist and a part-time psychologist, had to bring somebody else on because we got very busy over the past year, as you can imagine.
It's a full load of patients and all the administrative stuff. I realized with telehealth that I can't do as many telehealth sessions in a day as I do in-person sessions just because it is more of a physical strain on my eyes. It's more of a brain strain because I'm having to extrapolate a lot more information from a lot fewer cues. And so I cut back on those hours and have tried to expand my writing hours, which has gone with mixed success.
Joanna Penn: It's so interesting that you said that with telehealth, presumably through Zoom or whatever, Skype, makes you more tired because I feel like before the pandemic people assumed that it was easy to do this stuff. But now there seems to be this understanding that it is very tiring, and speaking through Zoom is just or even more tiring than doing it in person, right?
Do you think that there is now the acceptance of how tiring online communication is?
Anne Bartolucci: I hope so. It's going to be interesting to see what happens with insurance reimbursements as we move forward because they're trying to pay us less because they're like, ‘Oh, well, you don't have as much overhead if you're just sitting at home with your computer.' I don't know that they're really thinking about the balance of it's a lot harder physically.
They are not necessarily noticing it, but other people, especially those whose whole lives have moved on to these video platforms definitely notice. We have this term Zoom fatigue to describe all of it. Even though we don't use Zoom, we use a HIPAA compliant platform that comes through our electronic health record system, but it definitely is a valid thing.
I know I've heard you talk on your podcast about how you were doing online events that you have cut back. I've done the same thing because it's no fun to sit and talk to your computer for five hours giving a workshop.
Joanna Penn: Exactly. You and I recording this without the video on but some people say, ‘I want the video on so I can watch your body language.' And I'm like, ‘But I don't want to have to look at your body language because it's tiring.'
So, even though we're in front of the computer now, I feel like having the video off and the lights turned down can really help. But, of course, you can't do that in a psychological appointment. It's like, ‘Excuse me, any way to turn the lights down?'
Anne Bartolucci: Not really. And then patients get really disappointed if they can't see my cat when I'm working from home.
Joanna Penn: Oh, there you go. Yeah. Anyway, let's get into the topic, which is we're talking about sleep. It's a crazy question, given how we have so little of it.
Why is sleep so important for mental health and happiness, as well as creativity for writers?
Anne Bartolucci: If you think about it, we know a lot of why we need sleep because of what happens when we don't sleep. So if you're not sleeping or if you've had a rough night, we notice that we're not as sharp the next day. We notice that it's a lot harder to communicate maybe. It's harder to focus on things, and we're grumpy.
It's really hard to be creative when you're in this foggy, grumpy, irritable state, especially if that's your normal state because you haven't been getting good sleep for a long time.
I was at a convention this past weekend here in Atlanta, and I heard at least two people talk about how when they come to a thorny problem in their writing and their manuscripts, they will think about it before they go to bed. And then often when they wake up, they'll have a solution.
We have all these interesting mental processes that happen when we sleep. Our brain doesn't just shut off. It is working through the night and it's able to work in different ways while we sleep than it does during the day.
Joanna Penn: And lack of sleep or sleep issues, how is that related to depression and mental health? Especially during the pandemic, you mentioned how much more work you've got now. Even people who didn't have mental health problems, now do.
How does sleep play into depression and mental health?
Anne Bartolucci: A lot of times people look at anxiety and depression and sleep and think, ‘Oh, well, sleep problems are secondary to anxiety and depression.' And at this point, we don't even talk about primary versus secondary insomnia because we have enough research that shows that if people aren't getting enough sleep, they're more likely to develop anxiety or they're more likely to have relapses back into depression.
If you think about this part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which basically helps the executive of the brain know what to pay attention to. So if your frontal lobes are your executive, the prefrontal cortex are the administrative assistant sitting outside the executive office saying, ‘Okay, pay attention to this. Don't pay attention to that.'
When we are sleep-deprived, the prefrontal cortex actually is less active. So the secretary is just letting everything through, including the emotions from the more ‘primitive' part of the brain. I don't like calling it the primitive part of the brain because it's still very necessary.
Let's just say the older, more mature part of the brain is letting everything through, and so it's a lot harder for our brains to sort out what's important. What should we react to? What should we not react to? Which leads to more experiences of negative emotion and with anxiety, and we're focusing on things that make us anxious and worried.
Joanna Penn: It's crazy how important it is, and yet how much we all struggle. And so what are the different types of insomnia?
People say, ‘I have insomnia,' but it's not just one thing, is it?
Anne Bartolucci: No. We divide insomnia into a few different types. There's sleep-onset insomnia, which is difficulty falling asleep at the beginning of the night. And then there is sleep maintenance insomnia, which is where people have long awakenings during the night.
Or terminal insomnia, which I tend to lump in with sleep maintenance insomnia, which is where people just wake up before their alarm or before they're supposed to be up and they're awake for a long time and never go back to sleep.
To get back to your question about why it's become worse during the pandemic, this feeds into the question about how to improve our sleep. One facet of it is that people used to have bigger barriers between the stressors of the day, work stressors, school stressors, and then home life. I've been listening to your podcast on the anthropology for world-building. And in your intro, you talk about St. Cuthbert and how he went to his island, and he put his wall up so he didn't have to look at his day job.
And I was thinking, ‘Cuthbert, dude, I am right there with you,' because as soon as I could get back into my physical office, I did. Because it's really hard to turn off the brain, to turn off the work brain when we are working from home.
Here in Atlanta, a lot of people have really long commutes. And so they lost that. So while they might have been able to sleep a little bit more, they were having a harder time drawing that separation between work-life and home and sleep life.
Joanna Penn: Absolutely. And we'll come back to how we can improve sleep. I just wanted to return to the different types of insomnia because in my family, there was always this story. My granddad, my mom's dad could fall asleep anywhere. And my mom would tell the story of he would go out to hang out the washing and he'd sort of hang himself over the washing line and he'd fall asleep there.
Anne Bartolucci: Oh, no.
Joanna Penn: The family story is we can fall asleep anywhere. I absolutely was that person really until a couple of years ago. And I'm in that certain bracket of age where hormonal changes start to impact my sleep. So I do often wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and I don't go back to sleep. And I've always been a morning person, but anything with a 3 in it can be a little bit annoying.
Anne Bartolucci: Yeah. That's early.
Joanna Penn: But then it's funny because I've started to tell the difference between that kind of waking up. And then when I wake up because of stress or anxiety or reasons where my mind…it's either my mind or it's my hormones. I have different reactions to that kind of sleeplessness.
Is that a common thing for people to have these different reasons for insomnia at different times of their life?
Anne Bartolucci: Yes. As you mentioned, especially for us women and I am right there with you in that bracket. And nobody ever talks about perimenopause, they always talk about menopause. So you think you're safe until you're 50, but you're really not.
Joanna Penn: No, you're 10 years behind.
Anne Bartolucci: Yes, exactly. It's one of the things that people think that they should be able to just go to sleep and sleep straight for seven to eight hours and never wake up. And the thing is that it is normal for adults to have awakenings during the night.
The hope is that if you do have an awakening, okay, maybe you get up, you go pee, or you roll over, or you think for a couple of seconds or a few minutes, and then you fall back asleep. That's normal.
If you are waking up for more than a half-hour total during the night, that is considered insomnia.
And as for the different reasons, sure we can get into them a little bit during insomnia treatment, but we basically do very similar things regardless of why people are waking up.
Joanna Penn: It's interesting. Again, I do like a drink. I've been quite open about that on the podcast, but I have noticed that I used to really like a Pinot noir, and I've almost completely stopped drinking red wine now because I can feel the impact on my sleep, whereas I'm quite fine with Prosecco or Rose.
Anne Bartolucci: Oh my gosh, me too. I have really cut back on my red wine drinking. And you see my last name, this is my last name. This is not my husband's last name. I feel like I should be able to drink those good Italian reds, but yes. More than two glasses, or sometimes even more than one glass and it comes back to get me later.
Joanna Penn: It's almost being much more self-aware around the things that make a difference in those. I tried valerian tea for a while. That did make a difference for a bit, and then it stopped working. So I gave up on that.
I think there's a difference, like you said, about the acceptance. It's like, okay, this is just part of life. And I'm lucky in that I don't have any kind of day job so I can work. I often will just start work at 4:00 a.m.
Anne Bartolucci: Oh, wow.
Joanna Penn: And then I just stop and by 4:00 p.m, I'm like, ‘Okay, pretty much it's all over, red rover.' I feel like the anxiety about not sleeping can often just build up and build up and then make it harder to sleep.
How do we get over that fear of not sleeping and maybe accept where we are at?
Anne Bartolucci: Definitely. That is honestly a lot of what we treat in my practice is anxiety over not sleeping. And that's really come to the forefront in the past year, not just with the pandemic where everybody's just more anxious and the anxiety is attaching to whatever it can.
Also for the people who have had COVID and who have had these really rough weeks of sleep and it's being perpetuated by the fact that yes, that was such a rough week, it was a traumatic experience. And they're afraid that it's going to happen again.
There is this big sleep myth that we must get eight hours. We see that number everywhere, eight hours of sleep. Whereas that's an average. The National Institute for Health here recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours with the very often not mentioned caveat that some people can sleep safely on average for an hour outside of those hills. So it's a bell curve.
Adult sleep range may be even as wide as 6 to 10 hours. And another thing to consider is that we need different amounts of sleep on different nights.
You might have a range of sleep that you know your body likes. I know my body likes between seven and a half to nine hours of sleep a night. And if you think about it, that's a pretty big range.
But on nights when maybe I've been more active, I have to admit I have not once logged 10 hours a day for 4 days straight ever. But you probably slept great on those nights when you were walking all day.
Joanna Penn: Oh, I don't know. No, I didn't, actually.
Anne Bartolucci: You didn't?
Joanna Penn: No. Again, I fall asleep very easily and I would fall asleep. And for people listening, that was the St Cuthbert's Way pilgrimage I did recently. I fell asleep very quickly, but then, again, I would wake up at 3:00 a.m. So I'd find that almost the being physically tired doesn't actually necessarily help with that waking up insomnia. Although I don't like the phrase terminal insomnia, that sounds pretty serious.
Anne Bartolucci: I know. That sounds like something that might come up in one of your books.
Joanna Penn: Exactly. Yeah. Maybe that's giving me an idea.
Anne Bartolucci: Oh, there you go.
Joanna Penn: And we should say that seven hours to nine hours or whatever, that also includes these normal periods of waking for short amounts of time.
Does anyone really sleep without waking up after a certain age?
Anne Bartolucci: It's very rare for adults. I have had patients who have said that they've gotten there or that before their insomnia developed a couple of years ago, that's what they were doing. But I suspect they were waking up briefly and did not remember it.
Generally, when somebody is sleeping seven, eight, nine hours straight, that's when they are in their childhood, teens, maybe early 20s, or late 20s. Generally once we get past 30, we are going to have small awakenings.
Joanna Penn: Any other common sleep myths?
Anne Bartolucci: The one that really irritates me is when should you go to bed every night at the same time. That is not the case because a lot of times if people are going to bed before they are truly sleepy, they're going to lie awake in bed, which then teaches your body and your brain that bed is for being awake, not for being asleep.
I have a lot of people who perhaps their problems started because they heard that eight-hour number. They said, ‘Okay, I'm getting up at 6:00 in the morning for work. That means I need to be in bed by 10:00, even though my body isn't getting tired until 11:00 or 12:00.' And so they ended up getting themselves into trouble with that.
Joanna Penn: Some people really are night owls, aren't they? Their body wants to be awake in the dark. And it seems such an unacceptable way to live in the modern world, and yet it feels like there are a proportion of people who are that way.
Some people really are night owls, aren't they?
Anne Bartolucci: Yes. That's another one of those things that really irritates me is that idea that the ideal sleep schedule is from 10:00 to 6:00. And there is there's even information out there that, oh, well, you're only going to get really good sleep in those hours before midnight. And that's really not the case.
We all have different circadian rhythms. It's one of my big soapboxes in sleep that we should be able to live and work according to our natural rhythms rather than being shoe-horned into whatever this ideal is. Honestly, that's one of the reasons why I am self-employed, so that I can set my own hours because I'm a little phase delayed.
I don't think I've ever gotten up regularly at 6:00 since I was in high school in the '90s and had to get up early because I had to have that perfect '90s hairstyle. That fell off quickly.
Joanna Penn: I love that. You used ‘phase delayed'. I think that's brilliant because you're right, it's not necessarily a night owl, someone who wants to be awake when it's dark. It's that just even a couple of hours difference to even your potential, your partner, your kids.
There are going to be difficult things in relationships is setting when that happens. I also find a lot of writers were into this because they can't necessarily work normal job hours.
I have found writing is a career you can do when you're phase delayed.
Anne Bartolucci: Exactly. It's perfect for us. And there's another one of those sleep myths versus writing myths is that the best writing time is first thing in the morning whereas for me, my brain just does not work like that. It works better for me to write after dinner.
I talk about this in the book Better Sleep for the Overachiever, that I struggled for so long trying to fit into that (so-called) ideal mode of, ‘I must get up early. I must write for an hour before I go to work. I must do this, this, and this in order to be successful.'
Finally, I threw all those rules out the window and thought, ‘You know what? Let me just write when it works for me.' That is when I'm getting my NaNoWriMo words done this month is after dinner and it pushes my bedtime a little bit later, and that's okay.
Joanna Penn: That's great you say that because, well, I'm one of those people who does write in the morning and sometimes really early, but now I think this is so important.
Dean Wesley Smith, who's been on the show and he's a virtual mentor for me. And he, I think, starts about 11:00 p.m. His writing phase is definitely over the night. And it's so interesting to hear that. Some people listening that it doesn't matter when it is. We're all different.
Let's talk about how can we improve our sleep. The early bits or sleep rituals.
How do we improve with falling asleep?
Anne Bartolucci: If you think about it, we are behavioral creatures. Even though we have evolved, we are still very behavioral creatures and our bodies and our minds like our routines. Admittedly, some people intellectually like routines a little bit better than others, but generally, we can train ourselves.
One big way to improve falling asleep is to give yourself adequate time and space to wind down. So think about those computers back in the '90s. You remember they took such a long time to shut down all of their various processes that we chose a song to play while they did that. Our brains are kind of like that.
Giving ourselves at least an hour of no screens because screens have that blue light that is activating to our brain and also a lot of the content on screens, even though we might tell ourselves it's relaxing, it can be activating.
Joanna Penn: Especially in the pandemic, the doom scrolling. ‘Oh, just check it. Check it one more time.'
Anne Bartolucci: Oh gosh, yes. I would have to say that's probably the biggest piece of advice that I've been giving since, oh, about say 2016 in this country, which is to really limit your news exposure.
Joanna Penn: I used to wake up in the morning and check the news and twitter. And that borders on addiction and I completely get it in my own behavior.
I read on a Kindle Paperwhite, which has an e-ink screen and I dial down the brightness all the way, and because it's only black and white…well, it's not white, it's kind of dark gray by the time that happens.
Is using eInk screens like a Kindle or Kobo device okay?
Anne Bartolucci: Yes. As long as you have dialed it back so that there is no glow at all, that's great. I got the Kindle Oasis for that reason because that is the one where you can dial it completely dark and you do need a light to read it. So you can see if perhaps the Paperwhite is still giving you enough light that it could disturb sleep.
I know you say you have no trouble falling asleep, but it's interesting after having looked at tens of thousands of sleep diaries at this point, late-night light exposure can definitely impact sleep later on.
Joanna Penn: I also wear an eye mask, quite a thick eye mask and I also wear earplugs. My husband does maybe snore. And so I pretty much cut out all light in that way as well and sound. So I go into my little sensory deprivation tank.
Anne Bartolucci: My husband maybe snores too. I understand.
Joanna Penn: Does that help? Is that something you recommend for people, the eye mask, earplugs combination?
Anne Bartolucci: Only if they are really sensitive to light and noise.
Joanna Penn: I think I am.
Anne Bartolucci: Otherwise, we try to make sleep as simple as possible and so we try to not have too much extraneous things that need to happen in order for somebody to sleep, which is also another reason why we recommend that people not use sleep medication and we spend a lot of time getting people off-sleep medication. And that includes over-the-counter things like diphenhydramine.
As we were talking about before, melatonin, we can get that very easily here. I know you guys can't. But when you're taking something, you're giving yourself the signal that, ‘Hey, I can't sleep on my own.'
Joanna Penn: I must say when I come to the U.S., it does shock me. I know lots of people who take something to go to sleep and then take something in the morning to kind of get them going or that kind of thing. And that medication, it must be very easy to get hooked on that.
I have thought at times going to a doctor and getting something.
But what I found is that getting rid of the anxiety around sleep has actually just helped a lot.
Anne Bartolucci: Oh, definitely.
Joanna Penn: Your book is full of all the things so that you understand what's natural, as opposed to some sort of pop news tells you it's normal.
Anne Bartolucci: Right. And the pop news will just take the very simplest thing without the context and try to put that out there as a hard-and-fast rule. With a few exceptions, there really aren't any hard-and-fast rules that are going to work the same way for every single person.
Joanna Penn: There's one that says don't eat or drink X number of hours before bed. And then another one that says have some hot milk with honey or whatever.
What about eating and/or drinking before bed?
Anne Bartolucci: That's a great question because that's another one of those things that's super individual. You want to find this balance where you're not going to bed hungry, but you're also not going to bed stuffed. You want to be, shall we say, comfortably satisfied when you go to bed.
For some reason, having hot milk helps with that. Maybe there's probably not enough tryptophan in there to make a real big difference, but it has some carbs and it has some protein, which keeps you from having those blood sugar spikes. So there's probably something to that.
Again, for certain people, it works, and for other people, it doesn't. So for example, if somebody has reflux issues, they probably don't want to be drinking a glass of warm milk before bed because that's going to then disturb them.
Joanna Penn: Any other things on improving sleep?
Anne Bartolucci: Since you talked about, or since you asked about food, exercise is another one of those things that there's a lot of conflicting information about. We hear you should not exercise close to bedtime, and that's another one of those really individual variables.
Whereas some people, especially if they are a bit more anxious, tend to benefit from exercise closer to bedtime because it's helping to burn off some of that cortisol that's built up during the day from their anxiety. So for some people that works.
Otherwise think about how exercise affects you. Some people exercise wakes them up. They're the ones who are at the gym at 5:00, 6:00 in the morning and they're great for the rest of the day. I wish I was one of those people. I'm one of those people where exercise wears me out. If I exercise first thing in the morning, like I did today, I am probably going to be a little tired for the rest of the day, but you know what, at least I got it over with.
Joanna Penn: Oh, that's interesting. I always exercise in the morning pretty much. After lunchtime, I'm not interested.
It's good to know that there are no rules. There's different categories and it's like each part of us fits into a different category.
We're all individuals, which is a relief, I suppose.
Anne Bartolucci: Yes. I would say the only hard-and-fast rules for sleep if you want to know where to start with the basics are: try to wake up at around the same time every day because we have these circadian rhythms, these internal clocks that tell us when to be awake, when to be asleep, when to be hungry. If you want your body to know when it's supposed to be asleep, it needs to know when it's supposed to wake up.
That's why they say get up at the same time every single day. It's not just to torture you on weekends like a lot of people think. On the other hand, don't go to bed until you're sleepy. And then yes, cut out screens an hour before bedtime and have a routine. I would say those are the basics.
Of course, there are tons of other interfering things that happen that keep people from sleeping, which I talk about more of those in the book, but I want to say if you want just the core rules, those would be them.
Joanna Penn: Again, simple, but it's not easy.
Anne Bartolucci: No.
Joanna Penn: But such is life.
Anne Bartolucci: I'm very thankful that I sleep well because I will admit the getting up at the same time, I try to give myself an hour range and no more, although sometimes that can be difficult, especially after I've gone through a period where I'm now in introvert exhaustion. Like I mentioned, I was at a convention last weekend and we're recording this in early November, which means that we just had daylight savings time go off. And, oh my gosh, that extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning of convention was the best thing ever.
Joanna Penn: You do have a section on mindfulness and meditation, but you do also acknowledge it's not for everyone because this is something that people say. My husband goes through phases when he will meditate every day and he finds it very useful, but it's not something I've found useful.
Tell us a bit about mindfulness if people want to try it or some of the alternatives.
Anne Bartolucci: I think you bring up a great question because there is a little bit of a distinction in that mindfulness is more of a way of approaching reality whereas meditation is a type of mindfulness activity. There are a lot of other different mindfulness activities that people can do if meditation just really isn't their thing. And that's fine. Sometimes it's not.
I have had so many people tell me that they have failed at meditation where just to make a little distinction, a lot of times people think that the purpose of meditation is to clear your mind. Our minds don't do that, their job is to think, they're really good at it.
The point is to get practiced at noticing when the mind is wandering and then bringing it back and noticing when it's wandering and bringing it back. By doing that over and over and over again during the practices, you then learn to better do that outside of the practices in times when it's more important.
For example, if you wake up and your mind starts wandering in a not-so-useful direction, you're able to catch it more quickly before it gets as far as making you be up for hours. I do like to try to draw that distinction because there is so much misconception about mindfulness.
I'm a regular meditator. I have found it to be very useful, but there are other aspects of mindfulness that I've found to be just as useful outside of that. For example, non-judgemental observation is a core mindfulness principle, and you've already talked about applying it, perhaps without realizing it, in that when you wake up, you don't get upset about being awake, you accept it. You approach that non-judgementally.
Joanna Penn: That's made a big difference to me, actually. And, in fact, talking about our hormonal phase of life, I'm taking that attitude now a lot more about a lot of things and also having had COVID, and all the things I've been through this year.
Maybe acceptance is just an attitude towards life in general.
Anne Bartolucci: Right. Exactly. I was thinking about this question and a lot of times people want to use mindfulness for stress reduction, which it's very useful, but if that's not really your philosophy or your thing, there are a couple of questions to ask that might be good alternatives that are still tangentially related.
For example, when you find yourself getting upset over something, one thing to ask that comes maybe more out of the cognitive therapy world is, ‘Where am I blowing up the drama?‘ Because as humans, we're wired for drama and our minds will automatically do that without us realizing it. That's why we like stories. Because they're full of drama.
We tell ourselves stories that might be more full of drama than they need to be. Maybe we're filling in what other people are thinking without checking with them or without really knowing how often do we do that.
Another way to approach it is, ‘Okay, is this thought useful or not useful?‘ And it sort of relates back to your interview with Becca Syme, with question the premise. ‘Is this a useful premise for me to be operating from, or is this a useful thought for me to be engaging with and chewing on right now?'
Joanna Penn: Right now is the point, isn't it? It's like, ‘Okay, I've woken up and I'm thinking about this, this, this, and this. Maybe I could leave that till later rather than focusing on it.'
Now also, I do find breathing exercises useful because I'm someone I do hold my breath. When I think, when I do a lot of things, I hold my breath. It's on my list, learn breath work. But I have learned some basic breathing, like belly breathing and things like that to four-point breathing or whatever it's called and counting breaths.
I have found breathing exercises to be quite useful in some ways.
Anne Bartolucci: Yes, that's one thing I definitely do with all of my patients is we all start off with diaphragmatic breathing or as you call it, belly breathing, not only because it helps to calm the mind, but because breathing like that, breathing from your belly and keeping the chest still helps to turn on the parasympathetic or calming part of the autonomic nervous system, which then helps us to come out of fight or flight more quickly.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic.
Joanna Penn: The book has a lot about mindset and you talk about your author experiences in the examples, which I think is brilliant. It's very revealing. And I appreciate what you share in the book. Maybe you could share just a couple of things.
What have you learned from your indie author journey that informs your work as a psychologist?
Anne Bartolucci: Oh, that is a great question because typically people want to know how being a psychologist has helped me be a better writer. So that is a very creative way to ask the question.
I would say first, just being a writer has helped me to be a better psychotherapist because I'm a lot more creative. I believe, as a result, I'm able to look at things in perhaps different ways than what we were taught and then how. I'm able to explain things in different ways if people don't quite get the traditional wording and the traditional language. So that has definitely helped.
Broadly, as you know and as you read in the book, my indie author journey has had plenty of ups and downs. It's helped me be a better psychologist because it's helped me to accept for that there are going to be ups and downs, that there are going to be successes and failures.
I think it's helped me to be a little, maybe not a lot, but a little bit more tolerant of uncertainty in my business and also know, ‘Okay, well, this thing didn't work. It doesn't mean I'm a failure. It just means I need to try something else.' I can bring that to my patients as well, which is, ‘Okay, you know what, so you tried this thing, didn't work. It's okay. Try something different.'
Joanna Penn: I think that's really important. And do you enjoy the fact that you have this very different day job because sometimes there's this feeling in the community and I do try and dispel it, but I am a full-time creative entrepreneur.
Having a day job is also a really great thing because it means the entire pressure isn't on your creative work as such?
Anne Bartolucci: Yes. I was so relieved to hear, I think, I can't remember if it was you or Mark who was reading that part in The Relaxed Author, which is if you have a day job that you like, or that works for you, it is perfectly okay to not want to be a full-time author. I had already felt that and I was like, ‘Yes, validation.'
Joanna Penn: And to be honest, it's actually may be easier and better because it separates what you said at the beginning about a problem between separating the barrier between home and work. This is something I just struggle with so much.
If you can separate your life into these different areas, both of which fulfill you in a different way, that just seems magic.
Anne Bartolucci: I know you've talked about how hard you found it to write from home during the pandemic because you like to write at coffee shops, and I am the same way. I prefer to not write in the space where I see my clients.
That's another thing that I have found that's nice about writing in the evening because I put the day job to bed at 6:00 or 7:00. We're done. No more day job stuff. No more emails or looking at the calendar or anything like that, and at least I try to follow that rule.
And then after that, my mental shift is switching my home office to, ‘Okay, this is my writing space now.' I have my headphones and my music and the cat's always there regardless of which job it is. I have my wine. Obviously, I don't have that while I'm seeing patients.
Joanna Penn: Do you find that having the different names helps you switch your headspace?
Anne Bartolucci: Yes. Although it's funny since turning 40, my Cecilia Dominic persona, I would go to conventions. We're very fortunate to have a lot of local fantasy and pop culture conventions here in the Atlanta area. The biggest one is, of course, Dragon Con, but we have a bunch of smaller ones as well and across the Southeast.
I would go to conventions and I found for a while that Cecilia Dominic was a lot more outgoing, a lot more confident maybe, a lot more just…I'm trying to think of the right word. Maybe just like genuinely an author persona, whereas Anne Bartolucci is like more of a therapist persona, but since I've turned 40, the two have pretty much merged.
Joanna Penn: Oh, that's interesting. You're on the show with both names but I am interviewing Anne, not Cecilia, but you're able to reconcile them both.
Are you more comfortable sharing your professional side now?
Anne Bartolucci: Yes, now I'm much better able to reconcile the two of them. And I call the Cecilia Dominic persona the not-so-secret alter ego because if it's appropriate, of course, I will share that with my patients and here in my office where I see patients physically, although still only about a third of them coming in in-person, I have my ego shelf on the top of my bookshelf with all my books. So they see them.
Joanna Penn: That's great. And, of course, no judgment for anyone who doesn't want to share their alter egos and their writer names, but obviously, I did this myself and I find it useful.
Last question before we wind up, we're almost out of time, but so now, obviously, you're marketing non-fiction books and also your steampunk and urban fantasy under Cecilia.
What differences have you found between the writing and the book marketing processes?
Anne Bartolucci: So I don't know if this is the case for you, but for me, writing non-fiction is a lot harder.
Joanna Penn: Oh, it's the opposite for me.
Anne Bartolucci: I thought you might say that.
With non-fiction, when you get stuck, you can't just kill somebody off. The police don't like that. So I get non-fiction to be a lot harder. And a lot of the things I talk about in the books, in the book like perfectionism and procrastination and imposter syndrome, I experienced while I was writing that book because I was trying to be as genuine as possible and as honest and upfront about my struggles as possible.
I had to recognize and resist that little voice that kept saying, ‘Oh, nobody really cares what you have to say.' When I'm writing as Cecilia, of course, it's fictional worlds, fictional characters, and I feel like maybe they're a little bit more separated for me. So I would say that would be the difference in the writing.
And then as for marketing, I've definitely learned a lot about marketing from being an indie author, which has helped me with my non-fiction and even my practice. I would never have thought to run Facebook ads, for example, for my practice had I not done it first as an indie author.
I still do mostly the paid ads for the fiction. I have a newsletter that I've had for a while. Talking to other authors, doing newsletter swaps and things like that, whereas for non-fiction, it's definitely been more of a strategy of let me get this book into the hands of people who can recommend it.
For example, I send copies to a bunch of my referral sources and that was one reason that I put it out in 2019 or in 2020, which was because I knew they needed resources for their patients. And so I was so busy at the practice, like, ‘Okay, I can't do a lot of publicity for this right now, but let me just get it out there so the people who need it can have it as a resource.'
And I'm also doing podcast interviews like this one. I did one for the ‘Self-Employed Life‘ a few weeks ago that just recently dropped. I ended up not being consistent about pitching other podcasts, but I'm going to get back to it. So yes, getting the non-fiction into the hands of experts and people who can recommend it is that strategy, whereas the fiction, it's more of, I guess, a wide wider strategy of getting it directly to consumers.
Joanna Penn: I think that is interesting. And, of course, the book is Better Sleep for the Overachiever. Although if you don't feel like an overachiever, it's still useful.
Anne Bartolucci: Thank you.
Joanna Penn: I'm sure you called it that, but it's also if you feel like you're an underachiever, it's also useful. Brilliant.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Anne Bartolucci: You can find my Cecilia Dominic self at my website, ceciliadominic.com. And that is ceciliadominic.com since there are two ways to spell Cecilia. Mine's one with an I.
If you are interested in Better Sleep for the Overachiever with the blog that I update occasionally, that one is at overachieverbook.com. I was really excited when I got that website domain.
And then if you're interested in me or my practice, if you're here in the States, of course, we can do telehealth with anybody in Georgia. And we're also SIPAC providers, which means that we serve several other states as well. So you can find us, and I say us, not as the royal we, but since there are three of us, at sleepyintheatl.com.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Anne. That was great.
Anne Bartolucci: Thank you, Joanna. I really enjoyed it.
John Ravi says
It was a very informational read! I am a startup owner nad ablogger. Creativity is abig requirement in my job. But lately, I have bene struggling to remain creative, and my sleeping schedule has been disrupted as well. I think tips from a licensed psychologis will definitely help me a lot. Thanks a lot for sharing this amazing resource, I gained a lot of relevant information from this, and I will definitely follo them to improve my life.
As someone who despises AM time and even moved continent due to sleep phase delay…. Thank you for working to counteract these stupid early bird ways are the only ways myths!