Weekly Articles

Is the pandemic keeping you awake at night? Try these techniques to help you sleep

Start with a little sunlight

Sleep is always important for good health, and that’s especially true in this challenging time. When you rest well, you’re better equipped to face the day. But right now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, heightened anxiety and unstructured time may cause insomnia even in those accustomed to a full night’s sleep.

That’s not good, for more than the obvious reason.

“It’s possible that sleep plays a role in strengthening the immune system and its response to infection,” says Dr. Rachel Darken, the sleep medicine fellowship director in the Department of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “That could be part of the reason why sleep has been preserved in our evolutionary development.”

These days, many people who are used to going to work and living active lives are spending more time at home, and that has consequences. Darken says that scientists think there is a “bidirectional relationship” between insomnia and anxiety.

“Anxiety influences sleep and sleep deprivation influences anxiety — they feed on each other,” she says. And, “even if you’re not particularly anxious about the new coronavirus, the disruption in your routine can lead to difficulty sleeping,” Darken adds.

More bad news for insomniacs: Losing sleep can lead to a level of immune dysregulation, “a kind of pre-inflammatory situation,” Darken says. “That can put the body in a bad state and keep it from responding appropriately to infection or make you more prone to chronic diseases. That’s not good for you.”

An expert’s tips on how to sleep better

What can you do about insomnia?

First, establish a routine, even if there is no reason to get up or go to bed at your usual time each day. “It’s important to maintain consistency,” Darken notes. “That may decrease some anxiety and help you sleep better.”

She also recommends these standard “sleep hygiene” practices:

  • Spend time in the sunlight or use a lightbox (of 5,000 lux or higher) each day
  • Exercise early in the day
  • Reserve your bedroom for sleep
  • Spend time winding down before bedtime
  • Put clocks out of sight once you’re tucked in

At the end of your day, Darken suggests, keep the lights dim and avoid anything that involves the outside world. That means social media, news reports and emails. Read a book, she says, take a relaxing bath or listen to music you enjoy or a soothing podcast.

“Maybe your mind is going all day, being anxious about the virus, your bank account or whether you will run out of toilet paper, but it’s not helpful to think about all this at bedtime,” Darken says. “If you start to think about your anxieties, tell yourself to stop, that you’ll think about them tomorrow instead, say at 10 a.m.”

Set aside a ‘worry hour’

Leslie Davenport agrees. A licensed integrative psychotherapist based in Tacoma, Wash., Davenport recommends setting aside a “worry hour” each day to address anxieties.

“That helps us develop a strength, just as you would strengthen a muscle, over our mental habits,” she says. “Designate a specific time to let yourself be with your fears, a time when you can write, think or talk with a friend. That allows you to honor your feelings and give them an outlet, and it also gives you more influence over your feelings.”

If your mind is reluctant to restrict gloomy thoughts to just an hour each day, Davenport cautions, you’re not likely to get a good night’s sleep even if you follow the recommended sleep hygiene steps.

She recommends staying attuned throughout the day to when your mind starts to race and then “reeling yourself back” to the present moment.

Davenport offers this metaphor: “If you’re driving 60 miles per hour all day, you don’t keep going at that speed as you pull into your garage,” she says. “Whenever you catch yourself making up a doom story about the future, slow down. Try to let go of projecting, and just be in the moment.”

That can be a challenge, especially because we’re all subject to the “negativity bias,” Davenport says. “Research shows our brains are more tuned in to bad news than good news. And a negative event is amplified five times over a positive one in terms of how our brains or bodies react. That’s another reason why being intentional at this time is so important, so we can get our thoughts and feelings back to a neutral place.”

Try relaxation exercises just before bed

A master yoga teacher based in Oakland, Calif., Margi Young teaches classes, trains yoga teachers and leads retreats all over the world. But sometimes, when she slides under the covers at night, her fears for the future rise up.

“Just as we lie down, ready for sleep, sometimes our minds wake up and race toward terrifying thoughts,” Young says. “It’s so easy to put ourselves in a contorted posture and start catastrophizing.”

Young knows how to call a halt to that and her tips are useful for anyone, whether or not you’ve ever practiced yoga. “To calm anxiety and avoid insomnia,” Young says, “I recommend a quieting of the body and the mind through a yoga pose called “shavasana,” which brings mindful relaxation.”

You can do the pose on the floor or in your bed. “With a pillow under your head, lie on your back in a neutral position, with your arms resting slightly away from your body and your legs a little apart,” Young says. “Then scan your body, noticing places that feel tense. Let that tension release until you feel your body softening, melting into the bed or the floor.”

Next, Young recommends, pay attention to your breathing. “This is science; breathing mindfully helps calm your nervous system and helps slow your heart rate and your metabolism,” she says. “Inhale deeply to a count of four, breathing all the way to your fingertips and to the tips of your toes. Then exhale to a count of six. Do this six times, and you should feel yourself sinking into sleep.”

Some people fall asleep easily enough, but awaken long before morning. Others can’t get back to sleep after getting up at night to use the bathroom. “That’s when I always want to think terrifying thoughts, but I make myself breathe with the longer exhale again,” Young says. “Without fail, I put myself back to sleep.”

Rest well.



How to plan for the unique financial challenges women face

Gaining the freedom to pursue your dreams

As we celebrate another Women’s History Month, I’ve been reflecting on the role of women in the financial ecosystem.

Women make up half the population but for so long have been treated like a niche demographic in financial services. Today, women are largely responsible for their families’ financial decision-making, and we hold the majority of consumer spending power. Certainly, we are anything but a niche.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Women are a true financial force, controlling over half of personal wealth in the United States, to the tune of $14 trillion. By 2030, we’re estimated to control two-thirds of it, thanks in large part to the coming wave of intergenerational wealth transfer from Baby Boomers to succeeding generations. That’s a lot of assets in female hands.

I’ve heard many times that investing in women is a great way to invest in whole communities. Globally, working women put significantly more of their earnings into their families than men do, 3 and women are responsible for 70%-80% of all consumer spending, which means we’re putting a lot of money back into the economy.

With all of this economic power, you might expect women to feel they are on top of their financial lives. Unfortunately, that’s not the current case.

Research shows that women are much more likely than men to experience financial anxiety (57% vs. 47%) and to feel stressed when discussing their finances (49% vs. 38%). Moreover, just 12% of women are “very confident” they’ll be able to retire comfortably.

These numbers might seem disheartening, but we can turn the tide through education, goal-setting and planning.

Planning for the challenges women face

It is true that women’s needs and obligations often differ from those of men, so we should be having candid conversations about money acknowledging that fact.

For one, women provide a disproportionate amount of caregiving in the U.S., and much of this labor is not only unpaid but may also lead to a reduction in income. For instance, we may put our careers on hold or reduce our working hours to care for children and/or aging parents.

Spending less time in the workforce can have far-reaching financial effects, in some cases preventing participation in company-sponsored retirement plans, or preventing a smooth career trajectory and the pay increases that come with it.

On average, women live about five years longer than men, meaning many of us outlive our male partners. Because of the career interruptions I just mentioned, that means many women are living longer on less income.

Finally, women may not be taking full advantage of the investment opportunities at their disposal, or the potential for their assets to grow, as they are more likely to take a conservative approach to money.

Setting and meeting goals

When I talk to women about their money, I encourage them to think of it as a vehicle for realizing their personal vision of success. Through thoughtful planning, you can garner the financial freedom to pursue your dreams, bring stability to your life and the lives of your loved ones, handle the inevitable obstacles life throws in your path, and contribute to the causes close to your heart.

That all sounds great, but how do you get started? There are a few basic steps for developing a money management strategy.

First, define your goals. Some of the things you’ll want to consider are the personal and professional milestones you hope to achieve in the short- and long-term. You might ask yourself what being financially comfortable means to you. Even if it seems far away, you should begin to think about what an ideal retirement will look like, whether it’s traveling the world or moving close to your grandchildren.

With your goals articulated, a sound next step is to come up with a saving and investment strategy, keeping in mind that it may very well change over time. A great place to start is with your workplace retirement plan, which may offer access to professional advice. If you have other financial wellness resources available to you at work — such as financial planning or coaching, or educational programming — enthusiastically take advantage of them.

Get your family involved in this planning as well. With your partner, be honest about financial values and fears. Level-set on goals and expectations for retirement. And be sure you have information about and access to one another’s financial documents and accounts so you’re prepared if something should happen to one of you.

If you have kids, talk to them about money too. You might discuss values around money, what their definition of success looks like – understanding it may differ from yours – and how they may be able to use their resources to affect positive change. Also get them thinking about important concepts like credit, budgeting and starting to save and invest early.

Preparing for the expected and the unexpected

For all of our careful planning, life is bound to throw us curveballs. A change in employment, an accident or illness, or the loss of a loved one can take a major financial toll on top of the physical and emotional trauma. In the short term, work towards building an emergency fund in a liquid account, which could cover three to six months of essential living expenses if you find yourself short on income.

Depending on your age, estate planning may or may not be top-of-mind, but one of the best ways you can care for your family is to get your financial affairs in order. Proper estate planning can help you manage estate taxation, ensure your assets will go to the intended beneficiaries and minimize family turmoil.

When it comes to healthcare, plan for the best but prepare for the worst-case scenario. You can do this by making sure your health insurance plan covers the essentials, considering life and disability insurance policies, getting important legal documents in place (including a healthcare proxy and medical directives), and factoring the long-term cost of healthcare into your overall wealth management strategy.

The bottom line

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by all the life events we need to prepare for. But women are tough, and we’re smart, and we’re planners.

Feeling in control of your finances can propel you in so many other areas of your life, so you owe it to yourself to define your goals, start a dialogue with your loved ones and create a game plan. The modern face of wealth is female, so walk confidently into your financial future.


11-year-old opens thrift shop to help families in need

An 11-year-old entrepreneur is chasing his dreams and making a difference in his community at the same time.

Obocho Peters, a Brooklyn, New York fifth-grader who has the title of CEO for Obocho's Closet, is on a mission to help low-income families save money on clothes while also advocating for the importance of education.

He first created his online thrift shop, which sells donated clothes and shoes for children under $10. His business, I Am Obocho LLC, was established in 2018. In December, he officially achieved his goal of opening a physical store location in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood on his 11th birthday.

He said the idea first emerged after he went to see "Avengers: Infinity War" and asked his mom for toys of characters from the film. He learned that she couldn't afford them, so he sold some of his old clothes to get money to buy them. That's when he said he realized that other kids around him may have the same issue and that he wanted to help.

"I was inspired by all the superheroes helping to make the world a better place," Obocho said. "I wanted to be a hero myself by helping my mom."

From there, he started collecting donations from the community and raised more than $10,000 from his GoFundMe campaign to open his shop. He says that he knew that he needed a space after his home started to fill up with donations.

Prior to getting his shop, Obocho spread the word about his business by setting up shop at his local discount store Bargain Land along with selling items as a vendor at events.

His mother, Sasha Peters, who is a single mother originally from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, believes that parents' investment into their children's dreams plays a huge part in their child's success.

Obocho Peters, an 11-year-old entrepreneur, receives a hug from his mother, Sasha, at his thrift shop located in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Feb. 17, 2020.

"You have to nurture kids when they come up with ideas and you have to pay attention to everything they say because they're telling you how to groom them to be a better version of themselves," she told ABC News.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams awarded Obocho as one of the "Heroes of the Month" last June --- an honor that celebrates people for their bravery, selflessness and service.

Adams says that he's proud that his team got to give Obocho the distinction because of his "sense of his obligation to give back."

"This young man personifies the great things young people are doing across our country and particularly in Brooklyn," Adams told ABC News.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams honors young CEO Obocho Peters as Hero of the Month at a ceremony in June of 2019.

In addition to Peters assisting her son with the launch of his website, she also registered him for business classes after school to help cultivate his entrepreneurial spirit.

She also became inspired to fulfill her dreams of becoming a fashion designer and seamstress and recently quit her job as a social worker. She said that she also plans to help her son build his brand, which includes operating his social media pages and coordinating events.

Among the local events are financial literacy sessions where Obocho hosts dozens of participants ranging from 5 to 55 years old. The seminars, which have nearly tripled with participants since the first session, are geared towards teaching families how to save for college.

Peters says that for her, seeing her son's personal growth is one of the things she's most proud of as she recalls him being a "shy kid" who would frequently have panic attacks before speaking engagements --- and with the help of mentors such as local entrepreneur and music artist, Mental Barton, he's already beginning to break out of his shell.

Earlier this month, he received a standing ovation while delivering opening remarks during a Black History Month event hosted by The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce as he discussed his business and future endeavors.

Barton, who has been mentoring Obocho for about two years, says that he's grateful for the chance to help him build "his own voice and abilities" by allowing him to join him on stage during performances across New York City.

"His drive and vision has gotten much bigger... I see him breaking outstanding barriers," Barton said.