DIAL – A Day In A Life – Silja Litvin – Psychologist & CEO
Day In A Life
Silja Litvin is psychologist, founder and CEO of PsycApps Digital Mental Health and developer of the multi-award winning eQuoo – the Emotional Fitness Game. Her company uses AI, gamification and psychology to help people help themselves.
Here she talks about what makes her ideal day and gives us tips, tools and techniques for mental wellness.
- Reads non threatening, light comics/books before bed
- Uses SAD Lamp to feel awake in the mornings
- Uses progressive relaxation and gratitude journalling when stressed
- Minimise mobile phone distractions when doing any heavy/thought intensive work such as research, studies and assignments.
- Emotional Intelligence is key to healthy happy relationships and lives.
I think the most important part of my day is to make sure that I’m rested because I have sleep issues.
Before I do anything I put on a compassion focused meditation for between 10 and 15 minutes then I let my cats into my room.
I lie on my back I put the meditation on in then one of them (cats) comes into the room and that’s 15 minutes of blissful breathing, centering myself and just enjoying the moment.
Q. You mentioned that you have sleeping issues, is that due to your brain going into overdrive, bad habits or other things?
I’m sure there are issues with bad habits like using the phone too long and not going to bed at the time that would be best for me. I went to sleep clinic with the NHS recently. We did a trial where I spent the night there and we are looking at different things.
Q. And what are you doing once you are up and about next?
I then go down and make myself a healthy breakfast. Either I make myself a smoothie or some eggs with a bit of carbs like toast and avocado. I’ll then have a coffee and I’ll usually listen to an audio book during this time.
I try to limit the amount of processed foods and sugars I consume. I grew up in the States and grew up with the worst eating habits ever. My ideal breakfast, if you’d leave me to it, would be bacon and egg McMuffin from McDonald’s with a creamy milkshake and an apple pie. I’ve been able to manage my sugar intake a lot better now.
With a smoothie I put some banana, some frozen fruits, mostly strawberry, almond milk and a half scoop of protein. It really keeps me feel full for 3-4 hours. I try to keep away from bread or croissants as I sure love to eat them. Our brains are just wired to want the sugary stuff for energy. Unfortunately, we are not running across planes all day, we’re just sitting in front of a computer.
I love homecooked food but because me and my partner work quite hard and long hours there is often a convenience factor. We do try to choose the right things to eat though. My ideal thing would be to have a homecooked meal, so maybe in a a perfect world I’d rather have my own home cook , more so than bags and shoes!
Q. And what would you drink throughout the day?
I have 1 cup of coffee in the morning, 2 litres of water throughout the day, a coke cherry zero for lunch and that’s pretty much it. I usually have a 1.5 litre bottle in the day and half a bottle of Pellegrino in the evening, so that’s how I know how much water I get through.
I’ll then go upstairs to my home office where I turn on the computer and look at my phone for the first time. In total that’s probably about 45 minutes from getting up. This is obviously my ideal day, there are days when I wake up and the first thing I do is look at my phone! So after about 1.5-2 hours of catching up I’ll put my phone on silent and I’ll start working on the creative stuff.
I always have a to-do list next to me. A lot of them are text heavy, for example when I’m doing my research. I notice that I can’t get anything done when I have my phone on and getting constant notifications. I don’t get into that zone when my phone is on and I keep checking my notifications. So I’ll turn my phone off for an hour or two and go into a deep flow. Then when I pop back up I really feel like I’ve achieved something.
Q. Is there anything else you do to help you minimise distraction?
I have a neighbour who sings really badly, and she sings all day so sometimes I have to put on noise cancelling earphones as well.
I also have a SAD lamp to help me feel more awake. I actually didn’t know for a while that you are only supposed to use it for 1-2 hours max as using it more could bring the onset of jetlag because of the blue waves stimulating you.
After that I’ll then go to the gym and spend about 30mins cardio and 15 mins weights. Come back and goof around a bit on the computer and make/order lunch.
I prefer a light lunch because anything heavy puts me into a fatigue, so I like to have a salad with a protein like fish or chicken. Itsu is good for stuff like that.
Then after lunch I’d want to go another 2 hours deep into something (work, study, research). An ideal day of finishing work would be to finish about 6/6.30/7pm. This is when I don’t have a million calls. Yesterday was the busiest day of the year and I had either calls or meetings every half hour from morning at 8am and evening at 9pm.
Then in an ideal day I’d go to the shops to buy stuff for the house and then my partner would come home to whisk me away for a romantic dinner, where we have exactly one and a half glasses of wine (my current limit without getting a hangover). Although my tolerance goes down every year, so maybe next year I’ll only be able to sniff it!
I love Asian fusion food, so we’d probably go to a restaurant like Zuma. A lot of it is light and tasty and I’ve always enjoyed going there and never had a bad meal.
Q. What would you then do to power down on a day?
I like to do two steps to relax and enjoy reading. In the evenings I love reading science fiction or fantasy books – that’s “my” genre and I love reading them.
And then about half an hour before going to sleep and while I’m lying in bed, I actually start reading comic books. Stuff like Donald Duck, Garfield or Calvin & Hobbes because it really powers down, they are completely non-threatening and light reading.
Q. Moving on from the perfect day and if there are stressful times, what would you do to get yourself more balance?
When I’m stressed and tired I’m a lot more prone to eating bad stuff. For example, yesterday when I was extremely busy, I found myself eating half a Mars Bar. That’s a typical sign that tells me that I’m stressed.
When I feel myself getting more aggressive, that’s another key indicator for me. That aggression can turn to anger and I can get upset over the smallest things. Like if I drop a pin or something, I’ll go grrrr (gnashes teeth). I also have breathing issues, I tense up and don’t feel like I can get enough air, so I’ll slow myself down and do a few core breathing exercises such as progressive relaxation.
Progressive relaxation works on the assumption that in everyday life we hold tension in body parts out of stress. So we don’t notice that, and we think we are being relaxed when we are not. What you do is you go through a body scan where you clench parts of your body such as fists then let it go, clench your arms and let it go etc. It gives you the ability to let go of these tensions and be aware of them.
Taking a deep breath in (counting 4 in) then double the speed breathing out (counting 8 out), do this 5-6 times. This slows down your heart rate variability which tells the brain that you are not stressed. You produce less cortisol and Noradrenaline and your body relaxes. You feel infinitely calmer and it brings you in the moment (mindfulness) because when you are stressed you are anticipating what is going to happen, what isn’t happening or that you are late or something. By coming back to the moment on top of the breathing helps to ground you in the now.
The problem with lots of people is that to relax they will often self-medicate with alcohol. After a few sips of alcohol you can feel it instantaneously, so they get feedback straight away. They understand that they are feeling a change. Whereas when you do breathing it takes a long time for you to start knowing your body to have an effect. It’s less intense so people have an issue with keeping it up because they don’t feel it straight away. It’s less tangible.
I read a study where people would do a certain gratitude exercise. When they feel stressed or anxious they would be given a task to write down 3 or 4 things they were grateful for. They showed significantly less stress symptoms, were significantly happier and slept better. So, when I have started to feel myself getting irritated, I write down three things that I am grateful for.
Another thing that happens when you are stressed is all those emotions that are processed go through your brain through the limbic system, amygdala and pre-frontal cortex, these are stress emotions. If you interrupt it by using the cognitive part of your brain, the fear or anger emotions get interrupted so it’s like a brain hack. It’s similar to dealing with panic attacks and asking to count 8 blue items in the room or count backwards from 100 in segments of 7 because they are using a different analytical part of their brain it interrupts the panic cycle.
I also try to stick to 15 minutes meditation in the morning, so I set my alarm clock a little earlier than I have to. I try to walk a bit in between appointments to get some form of movement in the sun.
Sometimes it’s really hard to do self-care when you are super busy but it’s not like that every single day. The days when I’m not so busy but still feel myself getting stressed out, I will often put my phone down, turn on flight mode and go deep for one or two hours and that really calms me down.
Q. Do you find it easy getting that balance once you take away your phone usage?
It takes a little time because my mind is bouncing all around my head but then it kind of slows down and starts to focus more. The first five minutes are difficult but then it works.
If I’m working on my computer, I have to close all the windows otherwise notifications just pop up and I find I can’t concentrate.
Q. Your game Equoo is an emotional fitness game. Can you tell us importance of emotional intelligence and how the game can be a benefit?
Everything in life is about relationships. As long as you’re not a monk living on top of a mountain you are constantly surrounded by people that you have to interact with. The better that interaction is, the happier and healthier you are, and emotional intelligence/fitness is a key to that success.
With our game you learn psychological skills – skills you need every day but most people don’t know about: like Emotional Bids or generalisation. You get to play with the skills in the game – going on an interactive adventure – but the real effect kicks in when you leave your phone, go out into the real world and encounter a situation where you’re now better equipped to deal with it in a productive and healthy way. You’re levelling up in life, so to speak. We’ve won multiple awards with the game, have thousands of players and top media like Forbes and Techcrunch have written about us!
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