How to Ease Suffering in Yourself and Others

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh said: “When you listen deeply, you help people suffer less.”

Perhaps you've experienced the healing quality of someone compassionately listening to your struggles. Rather than trying to fix you or give advice, they acknowledge your pain. At that moment, you feel a little less alone. From there, your inner wisdom and strength arise. It is transformative to feel seen and understood without judgment.

The same way that you can listen to a friend and soothe their suffering, you can begin to learn to listen to and heal yourself.

Mindfulness is a practice of listening. Not only do we notice sounds and what is happening around us, but we also become more aware of what’s going on within. Our sensations, emotions and inner voices are all forms of communication. When you tune in, you may notice that some of these expressions are loud and bold and others are quiet and timid.

For example, your shoulders may be screaming with tension while somewhere deep within there is a tiny voice of sadness that you can only hear when you are really still. It can be easy to wish away the tension and keep moving to avoid the sadness. What if instead, you asked your shoulders: Why are you so tense? And what if you stopped and made space for the grief your discover to share its story?

The truth is, we often don't go there because the answers can be inconvenient. They can ask us to make shifts in the way we are living. At first, that can feel scary or even impossible. However, in my experience, it's always worth it. When I heard my shoulders emphatically say, “we have too much going on,” it took some creativity (and courage) to realize there were a few things I could say no to and take off my plate. My shoulders relaxed, and I felt freer than when I would ignore their cries for help. When I acknowledged the grief within, I sought support so I could cry and feel my heartache. As a result, I felt lighter and more open to the opportunities for joy each day.

The practice is to listen as if you are going out for tea with yourself. When you are done listening, ask more questions so you can listen more. Mindfulness teaches us that we don't have to figure out how to ease suffering. The way to calm our suffering will come naturally in the process of compassionate listening. 

Mindfulness Experiment
The next time you encounter someone who expresses suffering, try the following:

  1. Ask the person how they are and listen with your whole body 
  2. After listening, take a moment to imagine how that must feel for him or her
  3. Acknowledge the struggle without trying to fix it
  4. Ask a follow-up question to demonstrate curiosity and learn more about what is happening
  5. Be present as you listen
  6. Thank the other person for sharing what's going on for them
  7. Reflect on the quality of your interaction

6 ideas for a sleep-friendly bedroom: for a sound night's sleep

We’ve spent the last 6 months dreaming up a big new feature at Calm and we’re excited to share it with you today.

It’s called Sleep Stories and is a unique new way of winding down every evening. 

Sleep Stories are soothing tales that mix music, sound effects and world class voice talent to help you drift off into dreamland.  

We believe there should be a more natural way for people to fall into a deep and restful sleep every evening. Our goal is to bring deep sleep and joy to millions of people around the world. 

Fittingly, we’re sharing our top 6 tips for creating a sleep-friendly bedroom to ensure a restful slumber every evening -

Invest in sleep props.

Invest in sleep props to help you on your way. Hang black out curtains to keep early morning light out during the summer months, and try earplugs if you are easily disturbed by noises.

Keep your bedroom decor simple and calm.

Avoid clutter, which can trigger your stress response, and make sure work papers are out of sight.

Opt for blue surroundings.

Opt for blue walls, or flashes of blue in soft furnishings: looking at this color can lead to a drop in your heart rate and blood pressure, and gentle blue hues are widely believed to have a soporific effect.

Keep a note pad or journal handy.

Keep a note pad or your journal by your bed. Then, instead of lying awake, worried you will forget something in the morning, you can write it down and allow the thoughts to pass.

Invest in a SAD lamp.

Invest in a SAD lamp which you can set to wake you up gently. Its light mimics sunlight and has been found to reduce the winter blues. It’s also a far more tranquil start to the day than a sudden blast of reality from your radio, or worse still, the blaring siren of a snooze alarm.

Listen to a Sleep Story.

Sleep Stories are particularly effective if you suffer from an overactive mind that goes into full whirr mode the minute your head hits the pillow. The soothing voices will send you off to dreamland in no time.

To celebrate we’ve made all the Sleep Stories in the Calm app completely free for a limited time. There are currently 22 to choose with new ones added all the time - stay tuned!

Why not try it out before bed tonight and let us know what you think?


3 key ingredients for good sleep

We’ve all been there—tossing and turning, willing our tired bodies to hit the sack when it refuses shuteye. To help, we turn to sleeping pills, herbal remedies, over-the-counter sleep meds and other antidotes.

But the truth: we already have everything within ourselves to get a good night’s sleep—it’s built into our amazing mechanism as human beings.

So why then do we still struggle to get good Zzz’s?

Most, if not all, slumber problems stem from not having one or more of three key sleep ingredients in place when it’s time for bed. 

1. Feeling sleepy.

It may sound obvious, but many times we go to bed before we’re actually sleepy. And by “sleepy” I mean not just feeling tired or even exhausted, but where you actually find yourself nodding off.

And while our reasons for hitting the hay may seem sound: it’s your usual bedtime, your partner is going to sleep so you should too, or you want to get “the right” number of shuteye hours—if you’re not sleepy, you won’t sleep. 

So how can you ensure your body is ready for lights out? 

  • Establish a set wake-up time. Generally, we need to be awake about 16 hours before we’re ready for sleep (assuming we’re already well-rested). The key? Having a set wake-up time and sticking with it.

If you get up about the same time each morning, including weekends, your body will establish a regular sleep/wake cycle, and you’ll get sleepy around the same time each evening. 
It can be challenging at first, especially on the weekends, when all you want to do is stay in bed and sleep late. But your body will adjust after a few weeks—making it easier to wake up earlier (which means more time to enjoy your days off!). 

  • Stay active during the day. Engage in your life wholeheartedly. Put everything into your work, relationships and leisure activities. The more mentally and physically active you are during the day, the more tired you’ll be at night, and the easier sleepiness will come. 

2. Allowing Yourself to Relax.

Relaxing in the evening is challenging for many. Life can be stressful and demanding, so when bedtime comes, we can still be wound up, making sleep feel impossible.

Here are a few tips to get relaxed before bed:

  • Give yourself at least an hour to unwind.

This means no work or stressful activities for an hour (2-3 hours is ideal) before going to sleep. You can read or listen to a not-too-heart-pumping story (be sure to check out Calm Sleep Stories for some great bedtime fiction). Or enjoy peaceful music, do a puzzle, or make love. It can be almost anything as long as it helps you relax and decompress. 

It’s important to carve out this time for yourself. Mark it into your calendar so nothing else will take its place.

  • Move your Body.

Working out 3-6 hours before bedtime has several benefits: it decreases stress and anxiety, facilitating relaxation; if exercising outside, the natural light helps maintain a regular sleep cycle (making the desire to sleep at night stronger); and it raises and then steeply drops your body temperature, which is ideal for good sleep.

  • Take a hot bath.

If exercise isn’t an option, then a good substitute is a bath. Keep it hot and soak for 20-30 minutes, no earlier than two hours before bed. This will allow your body temperature enough time to drop for optimal sleep.

3. Listening to your sleep signals.

Many of us try to force sleep or expect it to come when we want it to. But just as our body will signal when it’s hungry, it will tell us when it needs sleep.

Unfortunately, we lose touch with this innate signal because we (unknowingly) interfere with our sleep by trying to make it come.

But your body will sleep when it’s ready. 

Learning what to do, and not do, to reset your sleep cycle and being in touch with your body’s signals are fundamental to get and maintain a strong, consistent and healthy sleep pattern.

For more details on how to achieve this and cultivate great sleep, listen to the introduction to Sleep Stories at www.calm.com and check out my story in the app.


Dr. Steve Orma is a clinical psychologist, recognized mental health expert, and specialist in the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, and stress.