As a therapist, I talk with patients every day about developing coping tools and strategies to help them better manage anxiety. Things like deep breathing, challenging faulty thinking, and building self care strategies are often what we focus on in sessions but there are some products that are widely available via online in in person retailers that people should also consider adding to their anxiety tool kit.
Here are 7 must-haves* for anyone with anxiety and since each of these tools has a variety of options and price point, you can totally individualize each option!
1. Weighted Blanket
Are you someone who likes a good hug or snuggling up under a warm blanket? Do you feel better when you can sit somewhere that makes you feel safe and secure? A weighted blanket provides all of those physical sensations. I first used weighted blankets over 25 years ago when I worked with children who had sensory processing difficulty. The blankets were heavier than your normal blanket and would help calm them and make them feel safe. I soon learned that they also worked for me, giving me an instant feeling of calmness even from holding the blanket on my lap. Today, weighted blankets are available in a variety of sizes from lap blankets to king size blankets and in a wide variety of weights. I promise you, a weighted blanket will quickly become your favorite item to turn to when feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
2. Essential Oils
I use essential oils all the time in my home and in my office. When it comes to anxiety relief, there are essential oil blends specifically formulated to reduce stress, improve relaxation, and help you to calm your mind. You can use some of these oils topically (mix them with a carrier oil first such as almond oil) or even ingested. I prefer to diffuse a few drops of them in an essential oil diffuser. Just a few drops will help to ease any stress and anxiety you or your family may be feeling and it will leave the air smelling fresh!
3. Workbooks and Journals
If you are self-motivated, workbooks and journals can be a great tool to use to help you gain insight into the root causes of your anxiety. You can set some time aside each morning or evening to review a section and complete some of the worksheets included. Although not a replacement for one on one counseling, workbooks and journals like the ones below can be an excellent way to help you start to gain control of your anxious feelings.
4. Zen Garden
If you have ever seen these tabletop Zen Gardens, you know how calming it can be to allow yourself to do nothing but rake the sand and lay out the decorative rocks. Adding one of these to your desk at work or to a tablespace at home will provide you with a daily reminder to slow down and breathe.
5. At Home Fitness
One of the most effective ways to combat anxiety is to find a way to release some of the pent-up anxious energy. Exercise is a perfect way to do this. If you don’t have time or the funds to go to a gym, there are lots of ways that you can work out right in your own home. Cardio has a lot of benefits when it comes to anxiety management so a simple home exercise machine like a rower or a stationary bike can be a good addition to your routine. You can get one delivered to your door for less than $250. That’s a small price to pay for some anxiety relief coupled with physical fitness.
6. Grown Up Coloring Books
There is something very calming and relaxing about coloring an intricately designed picture. I’m not talking about cartoon character coloring books like we had when we were young. These coloring book options for adults are meant to take some time and are even more enjoyable when done with a set of good quality thin tip markers or colored pencils. This is an activity you can do with others too. So, grab a few friends, put out some refreshments and get your coloring on! Watch as your anxiety starts to drift away.
7. Bath Bombs
You either are a bath person or you’ve never actually had a good bath. A nice hot bath at the end of a long day can be a great way to quiet your mind and increase your relaxation. Bath bombs can make the experience even more beneficial by adding some calming fragrance and skin softening properties to the water. Don’t like bath bombs? Try bath salts or take a bubble bath. No matter how you prefer your bath, make some time to pause from your daily hustle to slow down and relax.
Wouldn’t it be great to feel like you have a bit of a better handle on your anxiety? Can you imagine your life without the weight of anxiety always looming over it? Isn’t it time to add to your anxiety management tool kit? Go ahead and invest in yourself!
*Some of these links are considered “affiliate links,” meaning if you click through these links to make a purchase, I might earn a small commission. Keep in mind that I link these companies and these products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. All of these are products that I have used personally or professionally and many have also been successfully used by my clients and colleagues.
Sometimes you will be too much for people.
Sometimes you won’t be enough.
Sometimes they will find you too sensitive
Sometimes they’ll say you are too insensitive.
Sometimes you will make decisions that hurt others.
Sometimes the decisions of others will hurt you.
Sometimes you will be lonely.
Sometimes you will wish for solitude.
Sometimes you will feel like all eyes are on you.
Sometimes you will feel invisible.
Sometimes the people you need to cheer you on won’t be there.
Sometimes people around you will shout things that aren’t true.
Sometimes you will feel too focused on a goal.
Sometimes you will feel lost and directionless.
Sometimes you will lie awake at night unable to find sleep.
Sometimes you will crawl under the covers, afraid to face the world.
Not all the time.
Sometimes you will feel valued, seen, and appreciated, despite your flawed parts.
Sometimes you will find your confidence, support, and direction.
Sometimes you will be at peace and rest easily at night.
Through all the sometimes, there will be constants to hold on to.
Your life has meaning.
You are not alone.
Tomorrow is always a new day.
Sometimes you just need to hold on.
Life is messy today.
Right now from my home office window, I can see the first snow of the season as it drifts gently down into my backyard — a backyard that still is somehow straddling not just summer and fall but now also winter.
The hammock that I like to lounge in on hot summer days is still sitting under my favorite tree.
That favorite tree is still in the process of shedding its vibrant orange and red leaves, many of which now cover my backyard.
Summer, fall, and winter are alive in my backyard-all at once.
My yard is in the space between. The space where nothing is clear. The space of messy overlap.
My life feels like it is in that messy space too.
My kids are remote learners but also attend school in person a few days each week.
I am working full time but I haven’t seen the inside of my actual office in months.
I am exhausted but also cannot sleep.
I am content but also cry at the drop of a hat.
I am hopeful but also anxious.
I feel loved but also lonely.
I long for the warmth of summer but also enjoy the forced hibernation winter brings.
I crave connection but also need time to be alone.
I am like my backyard — messy, unclear, and clinging to different seasons all at once.
Today I will embrace the beauty that this in-between space brings.
Today I will marvel at the scene of summer, fall, and winter co-existing in one messy space. One beautiful messy space.
Sometimes there is beauty in the mess.
Even my mess.
Even yours too.
Today my laptop crashed.
In the middle of my workday, with 27 tabs open as I balanced insurance billing, reviewed new client documents, read emails from my children’s teachers, and did some online shopping before my Kohls cash expires, my laptop was like “Nah. Peace out. I’m done.”
I have never identified more with a machine than I did in that moment.
It reached its limit. It simply had too many internet tabs, excel documents, word documents, sticky notes, and programs running all at once.
It just couldn’t do it anymore.
How many of you can relate? How many of you, right now, are at the end of your rope? How many of you feel like you can’t do it anymore either.
My laptop and I are right there with you!
As I sat staring at the screen, unable to engage the mouse, or the escape button, or any reset tricks, I realized that I had no choice. I had to force my laptop to reset.
As I pushed the power button, sending the laptop into its power down mode, I felt a twinge of jealousy. How lovely would it be to power down right now? How nice would it be for someone to walk in and say to me: “You need to reset. I’m shutting everything down for you and giving you a chance to catch your breath and restart.”
I’m quite sure a lot of you can relate. As a psychotherapist, I get to have some insight of how people, in general, are doing. You know what, the pulse check right now is pretty concerning. People’s lives are filled with stress, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness right now. So many people have a million tabs open at a time and are completely overloading their operating systems, at risk of crashing at any minute.
Don’t be like my laptop. Don’t wait until you have no choice but to shut down.
Take a break now.
Close some of your open tabs.
Schedule a reboot.
Give yourself a break.
Recognize that we all need a break and if you don’t schedule one for yourself, eventually you will just get stuck and need a forced reset — probably in the middle of some important project or at the worst time possible.
Take a few minutes, maybe right now, but at least soon, to figure out how to prevent your own crash.
It’s hard to find these days.
I don’t think it’s been here for over 6 months.
Between the kids and 2 parents working from home and 3 noisy dogs and 2 cats (or 4 dogs and 1 cat if you count the cat that thinks she is a dog), this house is very loud.
Silence here is simply not a thing.
Sometimes I can sneak away and soak in the bathtub while the bathroom fan drowns out the noise of dogs barking, video games being shouted at, pianos being played, cats knocking stuff off tables, and dishes being washed.
In those moments, I can almost hear silence.
But tonight I found silence that I didn’t know I was missing.
After my oldest and I ate dinner, he left the kitchen to take a shower. My youngest and my husband were out running an errand. The dogs were sleeping peacefully with their recently full bellies. I have no idea where the cats were but they were quiet.
Work was done.
TVs and radios were off.
The street was empty.
All I could hear was the gentle humming of the ice machine and the soft snores of the dogs.
Rather than getting up to do the dishes or flip over the laundry or sort the mail or prep backpacks for tomorrow, I sat.
I took in the silence.
I breathed in the silence, allowing myself to be fully present for the first time all week.
I felt the chair legs beneath my feet (because I’m short).
I felt the smoothness of the kitchen island built by my family during the height of quarantine.
I felt the air fill my allergy-induced asthma lungs and took my first full deep breath all day.
I felt my mind wander but I brought it back each time to focus on my breathing and the sounds of the silence.
I sat fully present in that moment for as long as it lasted.
Gradually the silence was filled. The ice machine dumped its newly formed tray of ice. The shower turned on in the bathroom down the hall. A car pulled down the street, waking two dogs, causing one of them to bark and the other one to tip tap up and down the hallway, her way of asking to be let outside.
As I stood to do those dishes and flip over that laundry and sort that mail and pack those backpacks, I noticed a lightness inside.
The weight I had been carrying all week was lighter, somehow made less heavy just by being in the silence.
Then I remembered an important fact about me. Silence refuels me. It recharges me. It recenters me.
But silence is hard to find.
Tonight I remember that I have to try harder to find it, even if I have to find it in some stolen moments at a kitchen island.
This past weekend I ran away. I took my family north for one last trip to the mountains to take a break before the next chapter of 2020 begins.
There were lots of reasons to not take the trip. My pet sitter wasn't available. The hotel cost more than I wanted to spend. The weather wasn't going to be great. Covid-19 is still a thing and would prevent us from doing the things we usually like to do up there. It would have been easier to stay home, save money, and try again another time.
But, we went anyways.
It was the right decision.
On our final day up there, we stopped for ice cream. My eye fell to the homemade chocolate chocolate chip flavor on the menu. Once again, there were many reasons not to order it. I just worked hard to lose 10 pounds in August. I would probably only eat three bites before declaring it too sweet. I would probably get a tummy ache.
But, I ordered it anyways.
It was the right decision.
A few minutes later, my family of 4 sat at a picnic table overlooking the mountains as we enjoyed our ice cream and talked about our trip, the upcoming school year, and the start of the football season.
Then it hit me.
Life is short.
I’m so glad we invested in the moment this weekend. I feel recharged and ready for whatever September has in store for us. The weekend was just what we needed.
So, what's your ice cream in the mountains going to be this week? What is that one thing you have a million reasons NOT to do but deep down you know it will serve you well? What would it take to make it a reality?
Those of you who know me have probably heard me mention the use of essential oils in our household. There are multilevel marketing companies selling quality essential oils, therapists and doctors diffusing essential oils in their waiting rooms and more mainstreet retailers are now carrying essential oils in their stores.
But, if you are anything like I was a couple of years ago, you likely are overwhelmed and confused by all of the essential oil options and uses today. Here are the top 7 ways my family uses essential oils in our home:
My oldest son gets migraines fairly often and I am frequently hit with tension headaches. Essential oils have done wonders for our headaches. I prefer to use the straight Peppermint Essential Oil while my son prefers to use Head Ease Essential Oil Blend. As with all essential oils, they can be diffused with water in an essential oil diffuser (see the end of this post for a link to some of my favorite diffusers) or diluted with a Carrier Oil and then applied directly onto the skin. When it comes to headaches, essential oil applied to the temples can knock a headache away in just a few minutes.
Do you ever have those nights where you just can't relax and calm down? Those nights where you stare at the clock and watch your sleep opportunity literally tick away? Those are the nights we find ourselves turning to either pure Lavendar Essential Oil or Good Night Essential Oil Blend. As with the oils for headaches, these can be diffused or mixed with a carrier oil and applied to the temples.
3. Colds and Respiratory Viruses
When you have kids, there will inevitably be times where you feel like you are living in a germ factory and few things are worse than the discomfort brought about by a head cold. We love to diffuse Eucalyptus Essential Oil or Breathe Easier Essential Oil Blend. When my boys have a cold, I'm extremely generous with the oils, I belnd them with a carrier oil, apply to their chest, back and even the bottoms of their feet AND I diffuse the oils. I don't know that it shortens the illness, but it certainly makes it easier to sleep.
We've all done it. Despite frequent re-application of sunscreen, wearing gigantic beach hats and triyng to hide under rash guards and giant umbrellas, we all have come home with a sunburn on ourselves and our children. While I am always partial to pure aloe to help the sunburn heal, my children have become very fond of how it feels to have a blend of carrier oil and Peppermint Essential Oil applied to their skin before bed after a sunburn.
5. Food Smells
I love cooking but I HATE the way my hands and my kitchen smell after working with garlic and onions. A good Lemon Essential Oil or Simply Citrus Essential Oil Blend mixed in with a carrier oil can cut through the most offensive food odors. Diffusing these in the kitchen also tends to freshen the air without overpowering the scent of whatever is cooking.
6. Stinky Shoes
You know that horrid smell when your children wear their shoes outside in the wet, rainy weather or, worse yet, when they decide to wear their shoes without socks? You know that smell. The one that kicks you in the stomach and makes you want to burn the shoes. Before you burn them, buy yourself a bottle of Four Thieves Essential Oil. Now, be forewarned. This stuff smells awful. But, it works. When you have a foul smelling sneaker or trashcan problem, put some of this oil on a cotton ball and leave it overnight in the shoe or in the trash can. Somehow it absorbs the terrible odors. It has also been said that diffusing this essential oil can build up immunity and ward off illnesses. I cannot get past the smell to try to diffuse it. Let me know if it works for you.
As I revealed in my blog, Raising Aliens, I am raising stinky alien-like boys. Sometimes these aliens make our house smell very unhuman-like. During times like these, I love to diffuse some nice essential oils throughout my house. My favorite is Hope Essential Oil but Eden's Garden sells a wide variety of very pleasant smelling essential oil blends and sets like this one.
While there are countless companies that sell essential oils these days, I prefer the Eden's Garden product line as their oils are affordable, reliable, consistent and ship super fast through Amazon. The last few sets that I purchased from Eden's Garden came with a detailed booklet with over 100 ways to use essential oils. It's been a great resource!
To view a variety of different diffuser options, please visit the link below:
Essential Oil Diffusers
Before I became a parent, I had some basic parenting expectations for myself. For example, I was quite positive that my children:
Once I became a parent, however, that list quickly got tossed into the garbage. Parenting, it turns out, is something that you can never fully prepare for or predict. I am often making things up as I go along, course correcting and adjusting as I evaluate how I am handling the monumental task of parenting. Most days I feel like a total failure but sometimes, every once in a while, everything falls into place and often, when it does, it's because I listened to that little feeling in my gut - my intuition.
Two nights ago, after a weekend full of sports game, field clean up, work, errands and kitchen painting, my 8 year old laid in his bed and sobbed in my arms about how all he wants is "one day to just do nothing." He was tired of school, tired of sports, tired of running errands, tired of having to clean his room. He was tired. His gas tank was empty.
I talk about this concept a lot with my patients - the notion that we are like cars (crude comparison, I know) and if we don't take care of our cars and fill them with fuel, eventually they will sputter and leave us stranded on the side of the road. My little guy was very quickly running out of fuel and was close to breaking down on the side of the road. With my patients, we brainstorm ways to refuel ourselves. For some of us, it's exercise, for others it's time with friends, for others it's time alone. For my insightful 8 year old, he had identified that what would refuel him was a day to just be a kid.
My initial reaction was to validate his feelings and commit to finding a time to take a day off together but as we talked, I felt that feeling. You know the one: that intuitive, instinctive feeling in our bellies or our chests that is left over from evolution. Usually it tells us what we need to know in critical moments - like when we are in danger. But, if we listen, it can also help guide us in our decision making process and let us know which decision is the "right" one. My gut was telling me that I needed to make time now.
I tucked him in to bed and then set to work rearranging my schedule so I could be home the next day. When he woke in the morning, I invited him to stay home with me and have his day off. He smiled bigger than I had seen in a few weeks, hugged me and ran into the living room. I also invited his older brother, who had been fighting off a virus, to stay home as well. It took him a good 30 minutes to make his decision but he also ultimately decided that he could use a day off too.
You read that right. I let my children miss school and neither of them were physically sick. But, I would argue, both of them were mentally and emotionally running out of fuel and needed some time off. After all, mental health and emotional health are just as important as physical health. In fact, they could be MORE important than physical health as it has often been suggested that when we are emotionally and mentally run down, we are more susceptible to illness.
The rules of the day off were quite simple - there were no rules. Also, there had to be fresh baked banana bread (per my 8 year's old request.) We stayed in our pajamas and sweat pants for the day, ate fresh banana bread and just "were." The boys played games, watched tv, played video games, drew, colored and played outside. It was like a snow day, the blizzard kind, where the roads get closed down and everything pauses. Except there was no snow and no need to shovel.
As dinner time rolled around, I found myself reflecting a lot on the day. My boys were smiling and their fuel tanks were refilled. I also noticed that my fuel tank was much more full. Hearing my children just be children and do the work of children - play - was a beautiful thing. If we, as adults, can take a breath and really evaluate our lives, we probably will find that we could benefit from more snow days, minus the snow, in our lives.
No matter how busy our lives are, I strongly believe we all can find a way to fit some snow days into our schedule. Sometimes the laundry, dishes, phone calls, bills, errands and work can wait. Sometimes it is ok to ask others for help. None of my hospice patients have ever looked at me while approaching their final days on Earth and admitted that they wished they had worked more, kept a cleaner house or spent less time with their loved ones. No. It's the opposite. Almost everyone I have been with at the end of their lives shares the same sentiments - it's the small things that matter in the end - time with children doing nothing, time with friends over coffee, tea or wine, lazy mornings with their partner. It turns out that often the things that refuel us are also the things that we treasure and need the most.
So, my challenge to all of you is to tune everything out for 5 minutes. Really. Do it. Let the dishes pile up. Leave the stack of bills on the counter. Leave the laundry in the baskets. Let those calls you need to return wait a few moments. Look around at your life. What is truly most important? What fills your tank? How can you make room in your schedule this week to fit in some of these activities?
I suspect that for many of you, you are running on fumes now. You are flying down the highway at 90 miles an hour, seeing your gas needle nearing closer and closer to "E." Yet, you are ignoring it, hoping that you can run on fumes, "just" a bit longer. Pull over now and fill that tank. Stop putting you and your own needs last. Make your own snow day!
I have a challenge for you.
Quickly list the last 10 mistakes you made. Did you forget a meeting? Leave an important document at home? Swap your children's lunches, homework folders or school supplies? Say something hurtful? Eat something you shouldn't have? Texted at a red light? Participated in road rage? Parented in a way that you didn't like?
Now, quickly list your 10 biggest flaws. Are you too heavy? Too selfish? Too materialistic? Not forgiving enough? Too judgemental? Too unhealthy? Too lazy? Too tired? Not organized enough? Too forgetful?
If you are anything like me, listing your mistakes and flaws is pretty easy. They probably are part of the negative self talk narrative that kicks around inside your brain pretty regularly. They are the thoughts that creep into your head at night when the house is finally quiet and you relive the moments from the day, super critical of all the things that you did wrong.
Now, list the last 10 great things you did. Then, list your 10 greatest attributes.
Were these second lists harder for you? I know they are for me. Not only does it take me longer to find the positives about myself and my actions, it also makes me feel uncomfortable to share them.
A few months ago, while scrolling through my social media feed I came across a clip of Kristen Bell talking about how she balances motherhood and working. In essence, she said that she tries her best and doesn't beat herself up when she isn't perfect. Even though I closed the clip and continued on to read about the best brownie recipes, looked at the best slow cooker meals and caught up on my friends' social media lives, Kristen Bell's voice stayed there in my brain. (Honestly, ever since Frozen, when has her voice or the voice of Idina Menzel not been in any parent's brain?). Don't beat yourself up. I guess on some level I kept telling poor Kristen Bell to shut up. Let me beat myself up, Kristen Bell. I need to be better, do better. I can't mess up. I need to be perfect.
However, today I was struck by how profoundly ironic my life can be at times. Just before seeing my first psychotherapy patient for the day, I realized that I had completely forgotten about an important professional meeting. It was a meeting that I had sought out and scheduled myself; a meeting very crucial to some of my own professional goals. I scheduled the meeting, confirmed the meeting and plopped it into my color-coded electronic calendar. I had already selected my outfit for the day, prepped my materials and put together some speaking points. But, somehow, between the hustle and bustle of back to school for my children (you know, things like school supply shopping, emergency contact form completion, book fair order forms, field trip permission forms, classroom volunteer background check forms and helping the children and our family get used to new routines and new personalities), football practices, football games (our family participated in 5 football games in just 24 hours last weekend), an out of state business trip, multiple family birthday parties, preparing a 40 page manuscript on anticipatory grief and working, I somehow thought the meeting was on Friday, not Wednesday. And so, I never showed up to this very important meeting.
Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Anger. I felt all of these emotions at once as soon as I realized my mistake. Then came the barrage of negative thoughts about myself. But, like any good professional, I buttoned up my feelings, put them in a nice little box and went on with my sessions (of course, after reaching out to the other meeting attendees, apologizing and rescheduling). Like I always do, I approached my patients from a strengths-based perspective, helping then to identify and re-frame their own instances of negative self talk, saying things like, "Did you hear that? Did you hear what you just said about yourself?" or "Tell me about a time when you successfully handled a similar issue."
Later on, while working on some paperwork, the irony hit me. I spend so much time all week encouraging people to be like Kristen Bell - do your best and don't beat yourself up. Yet, I spend even more time each week beating myself up for not being perfect.
I need to Let It Go.
I need to stop beating myself up. I need to stop trying to be a perfect version of myself. I need to stop the negative self talk loop that often plays in my brain.
I need to listen to Kristen Bell!
But, I suspect that I am not alone. When I look at the other women in my life; stay at home mothers and mothers who work out of the home; single mothers and married mothers; first time mothers and mothers with multiple children; young mothers and less young (but not old) mothers, I see many of us in the same plight. We strive for perfection, get caught up in comparing ourselves to others, set completely unrealistic expectations for ourselves and then when we are anything less than perfect, we beat ourselves up - relentlessly.
We need to let all of that go. It's going to be difficult but here is what I suggest we do as we move forward:
Chances are your To-Do list is a mile long and you've over-extended, over-promised and over-committed yourself. Practice saying No. Someone once told me that "no" is a complete sentence. It is perfectly fine to sometimes say No. That's it. Explanations, excuses, alternatives are not always necessary. Stop trying to please everyone.
Set Realistic Goals
Re-evaluate your goals. What is a more realistic version of your goal? Set yourself up for success. Rather than setting a goal to clean out every closet in your house this weekend, would it be ok to set a goal to clean out only one? Would the world really implode?
Identify the Good
Practice identifying the things you do that are good; the ways in which you are already enough. Stop giving so much power to the negative stuff. If you need to stand in front of your mirror and tell yourself that you are enough, do it. If you need to write lists of your positive qualities, do it. If you need to write yourself love notes in dry erase markers on your mirrors, do it. Why not? You probably are perfectly fine doing just the opposite and reminding yourself of all you do wrong.
Take Care of You
Figure out what refuels you and schedule some time to do it. Maybe it's a walk in the park. Maybe it's lunch with a friend. Maybe it's sitting at home alone and choosing to leave the laundry for a bit while you drink a cup of tea and read a book. Do it, and don't allow guilt to enter your brain.
Help Each Other
Part of my self-loathing this morning involved texting my husband and a few friends to let them know how terrible I am. One dear friend reminded me that I am human. She's right. No one is perfect. All of us are human and all of us have flaws. It's ok. I need to stop trying to be perfect and we need to remind the women around us that it's ok for them to not be perfect either.
For the next few weeks, I'm going to take Kristen Bell's advice and try to not beat myself up so much. Wouldn't it be great to let go of at least some of the insane pressure we put on ourselves as mothers? What if, for the first time in forever, we focused on our own strengths and not our own flaws?
Mental Health & Wellness
Now, more than ever, we all need a little support to help get us through the rough spots. With all the pressures of life, it can be a challenge to find time to not only take care of yourself but also to truly understand who you even are anymore.