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.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people throughout the country and around the world are finding themselves rather suddenly working from the confines of their own home. If you are someone who has grown accustomed to commuting to and from your office each day, working alongside others, and being away from home for 9+ hours each day, these changes are big.
Gone are your long, social, chatty daily rides on the train to and from work where you often get to sit with that nice lady from that big finance firm and that kind gentleman from that non-profit education program.
Gone is the hustle and bustle of the subway station after work as you dart quickly through the crowd to catch your standing room only train ride home.
Gone are the opportunities to stand at your coworker’s desk and catch them up on the latest drama with the other soccer moms or the newest item on your cousin’s baby shower registry.
Gone are the lunches in the break room where you belly laugh with your coworkers for 20 minutes each day and commiserate about the latest work directives.
Gone are your hour long car rides alone where you can listen to whatever you want on the radio, whether you are blasting 80’s rock tunes or singling along to 90’s ballads.
Things are going to look very different for a while now. Your work week filled with other people, lots of noise, and hustle and bustle is now a long 5 days filled with very little physical contact with other humans, a lot of silence, and a whole lot of stillness.
At first, these changes might be a nice break from your busy work life but, after a little bit of time, you may find that you are getting antsy and would give almost anything to go back to the way it used to be pre-COVID-19. Despite the challenges of these times, though, if you follow these 10 strategies for transitioning to working from home, you just may find some joy in this new temporary normal.
1. Establish Working Hours
One of the biggest challenges when working from home is that there are suddenly no clear boundaries between work hours and non-work hours. Decide what time your work day will start and what time your work day will end. If you were a commuter, you’ve now gained some extra non-work time at home at both the beginning and end of the day. What can you fill it with that will be fun, relaxing or restorative instead of just filling it with more work? Resist the pressure to start work early or “stay” late.
2. Keep Your Morning Routine
It’s tempting to plan to stay in your pajamas all day (or at least your pajama bottoms if you have some video conference calls). But, resist the urge and instead continue to spend time getting yourself ready for work each morning. Take your shower, make your bed, do your hair, put on your makeup, and wear something that you wouldn’t wear at home on a Saturday morning. Doing so will help your brain to understand that there is a difference between work hours and non-work hours.
3. Set Up Your Work Space
Select an area of your home where you will be comfortable setting up your work space. You may even choose to select multiple areas and move your “office” throughout the day. Be creative. Feel free to order a few things online or re-purpose some wall hangings, art, or pictures from other areas of your home. As the weather gets nicer is there an area outside where you can do some work? Make your work space inviting and personalized.
4. Take Breaks Alone
When you “arrive” to work each day, take a look at your schedule and decide when you will take some breaks and then use those breaks to do something for yourself. Take a quick walk outside. Have a cup of tea in another room. Download a meditation app and do a 5 minute meditation. Read a few pages of a book. It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as it isn’t work or household chores and is something that allows you to relax for just a few minutes.
5. Spend Time With Your Children
If you are one of the vast number of parents who now have children home for weeks and months at a time, you are probably feeling the pull between attending to your work tasks and attending to your children’s needs. Plot out time each day to be with your children where you are not focusing on their at-home learning. Plan to eat lunch with them or take “coffee” breaks with them. Take the dog on a walk with them. Throw the baseball around with them. Be with them and enjoy this once in a lifetime chance to be at home together.
6. Check In With Your Partner
These times are going to put a strain on many relationships. Couples who are used to not seeing each other all day everyday may be in for a bit of a shock with just how much they will be seeing of each other’s faces soon. Or, maybe one member of the couple is an essential employee and can’t be working from home, leaving the other member of the partnership to be feeling a bit more of the responsibility of having to work from home while caring for kids. Maybe this new set up will leave you feeling a financial strain. Chances are, no matter what the circumstances, this is going to be stressful for many couples. Talk with each other about it and find out what you each will need in order to feel supported during this time. Have a little “staff meeting” with each other at the start of each work week and at the end of each work week where you check in about what worked and what could have gone better. Communication is key!
7. Feel Your Feelings
We are living through a time quite unlike anything many of us have ever experienced. No matter how stressful your job, your commute, or your relationships with coworkers may be, having it all change so suddenly can feel traumatic at times. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling anxious, angry, sad, and/or numb. Allow yourself to cry, shout into the shower water, punch a pillow, or just sit and feel nothing. There is a lot of grief in what we are currently experiencing and the only way to deal with grief is to feel it.
8. Reach Out
With limited social gatherings, it is going to be very easy to find yourself feeling isolated and lonely very quickly. Make it a point to reach out to friends via text, Facetime, social apps, and even the good old telephone. Schedule group chats with your friends where you can check in together a little bit without being physically near each other. Maintaining friendships and connections may take a little more effort these days. It’s worth it!
9. Focus On Your Health
It is really tempting with gyms closing and our lives turning inward for a while to open up that bag of chips and throw our diets and exercise plans out the window. The reality is that we need to do the opposite right now. Make a plan for your meals and for at home workouts. Commit to your plan with a friend or your partner and check in regularly. After all, what boosts our immune system more than taking care of our bodies with good nutrition and healthy fitness habits?
10. Change Your Social Media
Many people’s inclination right now might be to limit your use of social media but I think we NEED social media right now. We need to feel connected to each other, part of something bigger. Lean into social media but do it in a completely different way. Hide, snooze, and ignore a whole lot of people for the next 30 days. If you are feeling deeply triggered, irritated, hurt, or angered by someone’s posts, get them off your feed for the time being. There’s no space for that right now. Fill your feed with lightness. Hide the news — you can find it when you need it. Post fun photos. Ask engaging questions. Talk about books, movies, and television. Share helpful tips. Post recipe reviews. Share at home workouts. Social media can be an important lifeline to each other right now if we use it in the right way.
These days ahead of us are going to feel strange, challenging, and sometimes even painful. But, if we are mindful and deliberate in how we approach this time in our life, we just might find that these days could be ones filled with memories, laughter, and a renewed connection to ourselves and the people we love.
Today I am being super irresponsible and breaking lots of rules.
I’m taking a long vacation with my family.
The kids will miss quite a few days of school.
I will be out of my office for two full weeks (I’ll still be teaching remotely, having a few video supervision sessions, and will be available via email for clients though).
I said goodbye to my 5 fur babies for the longest time ever.
I’m spending money I really should be saving.
I get to be back in my family’s happy place for what will likely be our last long trip for many years as next year my oldest will be in high school.
I get to spend this vacation with my boys, our 3 best friends and our children get to spend this vacation with 4 of their cousins.
I get to experience a cruise for the first time with my children and try something new together.
I get to invest in memories that will last a lifetime.
My work reminds me daily that life is short and unexpected so I know I will never regret this trip and our time together.
Book the vacations. Travel with the people you love. Live life to the fullest. No regrets.
Online shopping and home delivery are two of my best friends in life. Need a last minute school supply and don't feel like sorting through half-empty bins at the local Target? Hop on Amazon.com and they can be at your door within 2 days. Need a gift for a party this weekend? Amazon will do that for you. Need someone to ship toilet paper to you every month so that you never run out? Amazon can do that.
You know what else Amazon is good for? Helping you manage your stress and anxiety. Honestly. There are lots of products available on the Amazon website that can be useful tools to have in your anxiety management toolkit and below you can find 7 of my favorites. 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.
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. (For more information on how I use essential oils, visit "Seven Ways to Use Essential Oils.") 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 $120. That's a small price to pay for some anxiety relief.
6. Adult 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!
So many people have fallen prisoner to the fast paced nature of our lives. We wake up and immediately rush head first into the day. Many of us don’t even have time to sit and eat our breakfast, opting instead for breakfast in the car or not at all. We field phone calls and texts on our way to work or while shuttling the kids to school, shout reminders at our phones, and consider it a luxury when we can take a quick break to use the restroom. The evening routine is much the same, especially for those of you with busy children. It’s a sprint to the finish line of the day, scrambling to get dinner tossed on a table, wrapping everything up for the day, and preparing to do it all the next day. Then our day comes to a screeching halt as we climb into bed and wonder why we can’t seem to be able to fall asleep.
Recently a patient came to me with her head hung in shame as she shared that she has been spending time exploring a new hobby. This new hobby isn’t taking any time away from her family or her responsibilities yet it seemed to her as it had no real value. It wasn’t earning her money. It wasn’t teaching her a new skill. It wasn’t helping anyone. It was just fun. And she felt guilty for having fun. For many of us, we’ve forgotten how to give ourselves permission to slow down, have fun, breathe, and enjoy life.
We need to change our perspective on priorities in life and it starts with our own lives. I challenge each of you to take some time and consider how you can implement at least a few of these 9 strategies for improving self-care:
1. Practice healthy sleep hygieneHow do you approach sleep each night? If you are like most people, you finish whatever tasks need to get done for the evening, brush your teeth, change your clothes, hop into bed and then pick up your phone or turn on the tv. I get the temptation. Scrolling mindlessly through social media or perusing blogs like this one can certainly help us to calm down and make us FEEL like we are preparing ourselves for bed. But, truthfully, these actions are examples of poor sleep hygiene. We don’t chomp on sugary candy while we are brushing our teeth, right? So, why are we activating our brains with electronics when we are trying to get ready for sleep?
Take stock of your bedroom. Could you add an essential oil diffuser, salt lamp, soft lighting via lower watt light bulbs or even flameless candles? How would some relaxing music make you feel at night? What about reading a book (a real book, or on a kindle — not a tablet with harsh lighting)? Think about how we approach bedtime for babies. We turn down the lights, soften our voices, turn on some white noise, darken the room and just make everything a bit cozier. What would happen if you did the same for your own sleep?
2. Nourish your bodyI know that you know what foods fuel your body well and what foods you eat because they are convenient and/or satisfy you emotionally. Can you make a commitment to increase your focus on nourishing your body in at least one concrete way? Can you make a concerted effort, for example, to increase your water intake or decrease your soda intake? How would it feel to cut back on your sugar consumption or limit your fast food trips? These changes don’t just happen magically. They need planning. I encourage you to pick one small goal to better nourish your body, write it down and figure out how to stick to it. After a week, check back in with yourself and see how you are feeling.
3. Get movingHere we are. We are at the part of the list where people start scoffing and scowling at their computers and phones. “If I HAD time to exercise, I wouldn’t NEED to be reading an article on how to improve my self-care!” I get that. I know how minimizing it can feel when someone tells you that if exercise is important to you, you’ll make time for it. I know that there are many of you out there who literally cannot find time or the funds to go to a gym or invest in workout equipment at home. I’m not one of those people that will try to shame you into making it work. What I will ask you though, is can you find 5–10 minutes a few times each week to go for a walk during your lunch break or in your neighborhood? What about while waiting for your children’s games or practices to start? Could you pop on a Zumba, yoga or dance video on YouTube or download an exercise app that will guide you through a quick routine a few nights each week? What would it take to get you to invest just 5–10 minutes in yourself, not to lose weight or burn calories, but just to get moving and give you a break from working and thinking?
4. Get some fresh airIf you want to be super efficient, you can combine tip #3 and tip #4 so that you are getting moving while outside and getting some fresh air ? Even if you are not moving while getting the fresh air, though, just the act of being outside for a few minutes can reap great rewards. Take a few moments to really breathe in the fresh air. What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you see? Is there a spot at your house or at work or in your neighborhood or outside a coffee shop where you could just sit for a few minutes? Extra challenge: don’t look at your phone while doing it. Just be.
5. Remember that “No.” is a complete sentenceWe are so quick to say no to ourselves. “No, I can’t take a break.” “No, I can’t buy that for myself.” “No, I can’t take that trip with my friends.” “No, I can’t upset my boss or my coworkers.” What would it take for you to give yourself permission to live by the rule that “No.” is a complete sentence? Are you saying yes to people because you feel like you have to? Consider saying no. You can even add filler to the sentence and even add and apology: “No, I’m truly sorry but I can’t.” I’ve seen this shift in thinking become monumental for people. The next time you are asked to do something that you really don’t want to do, think about whether you really NEED to do it. Is it truly worth it? If not, it’s ok to say “No.” You don’t need a “good enough” reason. What do you want to say “No.” to in your life right now?
6. Stop the negative self-talkI explore this concept a lot with my patients when I first meet them and they almost always deny that they do it. “No. I don’t do that. I don’t talk badly about myself.” But, then we get to talking and I start to hear things like “I’m so crazy.” “I don’t know why I do this to myself.” “Ugh. I was so stupid.” “I hate that I’m such a screw up.” Each time it happens, I encourage them to lean into it, to turn that inner negative voice up for a week and really listen for it — not to believe it but to understand where and when it comes into play. Most times, they are shocked to then find that they have a pretty constant loop of negative self-talk running through their heads almost everyday. The first step in stopping that loop is to identify it. Do you have one? Catch yourself next time you find yourself beating yourself up. Would you say something like that to a friend? Probably not. So, why is it ok to be so mean to yourself? Whenever you catch yourself doing it, counter that negative thought with a positive one. For example: “Ugh. I was so stupid. I can’t believe I did that!” can be countered with something like “Ugh. I really am feeling badly about what happened. I have to remember that I am a human and will never be perfect. I will do better next time.”
7. Start a gratitude or reflection journalWhen our heads hit the pillow each night, so often our brains start reminding us of all the things we did wrong or didn’t get done. A good way to dull this noise is to prevent it from even starting. At the end of the day, spend a few moments writing in a gratitude or reflection journal. This can be as fancy as a beautiful leather journal with handmade paper or as simple as a cocktail napkin with some scribbled notes or even a note on your phone. Use whatever method is easiest and most meaningful for you. Write down at least 3 things that you are grateful for and/or that you are proud of. Maybe you drank enough water today. Maybe you went on a walk with your kids. Maybe you put down your phone and sat outside with a cup of tea. Maybe you cleaned out a closet. Maybe you had fun with some great friends. Bringing our attention and focus to the positive can be such a healing way to end our day.
8. Play!I’ve had the great honor of being present with people as they approach the end of their lives. Not a single one has ever told me that they wished they worked more, took less vacations, spent less time with the people that made them happy, or that they regretted the fun moments in their life. Not a single one. Yet, our priorities are so often around work and obligations, making other people money and other people happy. While I’m not at all encouraging you to quit your job or leave behind everyone relying on you, I am telling you that it is ok to give yourself permission to play. Have fun! What would be fun for you? Make it happen
9. Schedule time for yourself and hold it sacredTake a look at your calendar. When can you squeeze in some time to get moving, get some fresh air, take a bubble bath, read a good book or just take a nap? Find it and book it. Pencil it into your own schedule. No, PEN it into your own schedule and hold it just as sacred as you would an appointment for your children or a meeting with your boss. This means you have to be truly mindful when you initially schedule it but then, no changes! Start small — just a 5 minute block is more than you are doing now.
Now that I am Getting "Me" Back, I have been much more mindful of the concept of balance in my life. For many years, I have grappled with the age old question "Can we really have it all?" While I tend to believe that we can, in fact, have it all, I don't necessarily think we can have it all in total balance all the time. In other words, sometimes something has to be focused on a little less so that our other needs can be addressed. Recently I was reminded via Timehop of how important tracking my macros used to be to me from a physical standpoint and I realized that macros are a great metaphor to how to balance life.
So, what are macros?
I'm sure there is a scientific explanation for macros but you won't find it here. In my experience, macros are components of nutrition - namely carbs, proteins and fats. They are elements that make up the food we eat. Our body needs carbs, proteins and fats each day to help it function at its best. When I was working out 12+ hours/week, my body always functioned best when my average daily intake of food was 40% carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein. Other people's ideal macros may be different. It took some trial and error and experimentation to determine what was best for me. Was I perfect every day? Hell, no. But, it sure felt good when my pretty little macro pie chart was perfect. There was no denying that everything just clicked when those three elements were balanced in the way that worked for me.
So, how does this relate to life? Easy. What are your life macros? What are the components of your life that each are good in their own way but need to be balanced in order for you to function at your best? In other words, what makes up YOU?
My macros include my various roles in life: psychotherapist, clinical supervisor, professor, mother, wife, friend, healthy woman and pet owner (perhaps pet collector?). Are all of my roles equally balanced each day? Hell, no! Are there areas which need to take more of my attention or fill my life more than others in order for me to feel whole? Absolutely!
Are you ready for a small homework assignment? (Sorry, sometimes my CBT and professor sides start to show). Grab a writing utensil and piece of paper. Or, open up a new document on your computer.
1. Make a list of your life macros. Who are you? What is important to you? What are your various roles? What makes you YOU? Write those down.
2. Assign a percentage to each of your life macros. How much of your attention and focus each week gets directed at each macro? Be honest. This should be how things get distributed on average each week, not how you want them to be distributed. Don't forget about your elementary math skills - these percentages need to add up to 100%
3. Are there things that are missing from your list? Things that make you YOU but you are not giving attention to right now? Add those to your list and write "0%" beside them.
4. Draw a pretty little pie chart of your life macros so that it reflects the assigned percentages.
5. Take some time to reflect on your chart. How does it feel? Is it accurate? Are you proud of it? Do you wish it were different? If your pie chart is perfect and you feel totally balanced, bravo! Store that chart somewhere handy and refer to it regularly to make sure you are keeping your life macros in balance. If not, read on...
6. After you have spent some real time reflecting on your macro distribution and chart, make a new one - one that reflects your ideal life macros. What would your ideal life macros be and how much attention would they receive?
7. Now it's time to create an action plan. What would it take to be able to shift your current life macro chart to your ideal one? What small things can you do today to help get your macros moving in a way that works better for you?
Spend some time evaluating your life macros and seeing how making some adjustments might move your life to a more balanced and satisfying state.
Winter in the northeast is super fun.
Strep, flu, stomach bug and other weird viruses are hitting everyone these days. A quick scroll through social media will show another family down for the count. Facebook has become filled with photos of puke buckets, cans of lysol, and photos of sick children camped out on couches. Suddenly all those political posts don't seem so bad anymore. As if these germs don't pose enough of a challenge though, here in New England in February we also have to contend with blizzards, Nor'easters and snowstorms that are measured in feet rather than inches. Do you know what that means? Snow days. Lots of them.
So, despite the cute snowmen, picturesque snow covered trees, delicious mugs of hot chocolate, and laughing children sledding down hills, It's simply not a fun time of year for many of us. We feel stuck and feel like things will never start moving forward again.
We are in the doldrums.
But, the doldrums are a funny thing. They are a place, actually - a place near the equator where everything is often quite still. The winds and seas are calmer and life feels paused in the doldrums. Somehow over time the term doldrums began to be used for life's slumps - those times in life when we are just stuck: times like the thick of winter in New England. Yet, when I was in the doldrums during my Fall 2000 Semester at Sea I found my days in the doldrums quite magical. I remember sitting on the deck of the Universe Explorer, sun on my face, watching the dolphins gracefully gliding alongside our ship. They loved the stillness of the ocean. Those doldrums were inspirational and recharging for me. There was something beautiful about that stillness.
It can be hard to find the beauty in the winter doldrums though. These doldrums are filled with germs, guilt, white-knuckled driving, power outages, stretches of days without seeing the sunshine and let's not forget about the bitter cold. The winter doldrums suck.
So, as I sit here facing yet another potential snow day (third day in a row), more income lost (self-employed folks don't get paid snow days) and am bracing myself as I wait to see if child #2's recent stomach bug will hit the rest of us (please, God, no), I wonder how I can make the winter doldrums more like the physical doldrums. How can I change my perspective?
Let's face it. We have very little control over what happens to us during the winter doldrums. Aside from frequent hand washing, house cleaning and not sharing drinks, we cannot do too much to avoid the winter germs. We also can't do much about the winter weather either. The only thing we can control is how we react to the situations cast upon us in the winter doldrums.
These winter doldrums will pass. Spring and summer always come. Yes, it may take extra time for the ball fields to be cleared, defrost and be ready for opening day. Yes, we may have more snow days and find our kids in school a bit longer in June. Yes, we may be hit with more illnesses. But, days are already getting longer. Spring is coming.
Maybe the snow days and bugs aren't about interrupting our life. Maybe they can be about mandatory pauses from the rush of our typical days. Remember the dolphins I saw playing in the doldrums all those years ago? Maybe we need to be those dolphins and soak up the playful moments the winter doldrums provide us. Snuggle on the coach with our children, break into the hallway closet's mountain of board games, tackle some home projects, re-arrange some furniture, write, read, play. Slow down. Find the fun. Just be. And, when it gets to be too much, remember another thing I learned from my 100 days living on a ship: looking at the horizon can help cure seasickness. When the winter doldrums just get to be too much for you, turn your eyes towards our horizon - the spring - and remember that we are heading in the right direction. We'll get there. We just need to hold on.
Now, let's talk about sunshine. While we can't make the sun appear, there are some tools for those of us who really need the sunshine. Light therapy started as a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition where individuals see increased signs of depression in conjunction with lower exposure to sunlight. Over the years, access to light therapy boxes or lamps has become easier and far more affordable. So, while I cannot make the next snowstorm avoid us, I can bring some sunshine back into my life. I am finally going to purchase one of these lamps for myself and for my office. I've included some links to some highly rated options in case you want to join me in purchasing some sunshine.
In the meantime, find a way to be a dolphin the doldrums!
NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp
Day Light Classic 10000 LUX Bright Light Therapy Lamp
Verilux HappyLight Liberty Personal Portable Light Therapy Energy Lamp
Circadian Optics Lumos Light Therapy Lamp 10000 LUX Full Spectrum LED
If you are like me, you probably can feel the growing holiday tension out there and with each passing day, the tension gets thicker and thicker. You know what I mean. You can feel it when you are shopping in the stores. People scurry by each other, avoiding eye contact as they shop for the "perfect" gift. They fight over the last pink stocking in the Target dollar bin (I saw a woman grab one out of a fellow shopper's hand two days ago as she declared "I saw that first!” ). They roll their eyes, sigh loudly and make rude comments about cashiers who are "too slow." They yell at each other over parking spots. They flash each other the middle finger as they cut each other off on the roadways. Yes, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. For sure.
So, with only a few days left until Christmas day, I have a few tips that may help to reduce some of the holiday stress and allow us to enjoy the true spirit of the holidays.
1. Re-evaluate your expectations
Chances are you have a "To Do" list a mile long. I'm going to guess that the bulk of that list contains items that are designed to make other people happy. Are you searching for the perfect gift for your children or partner? Are you planning a perfect family gathering that will allow the family to get along and not argue? Are you hoping to finally get approval and a public acknowledgement of your worth from that family member that never gives it to you? STOP! Sit down with your list and really look at what's important. Maybe you don't need to make a perfect roast for the family on Christmas day. Maybe a crockpot ham would be just fine. Maybe you don't need to bake sugar cookies from scratch. Maybe pre-made dough would be fine. Where can you cut corners and make things a little bit easier? Scaling things back a bit won’t turn you into a Grinch but it may preserve some of your energy…and sanity.
2. Get off social media
Ok. Maybe that's not realistic. But, at least change the way you experience social media. Chances are that at least 75% of the pictures and posts you see on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat are perfected (read: fake) versions of pictures and posts that have been taken, retaken, edited, deleted and re-written at least 5 times. It's not real. For every "perfect" post you see from a contact on social media, there are probably an equal number of imperfect moments from them. So, when you see that super happy family on Facebook and you think "Why can't we be like them?" remember that the same family could have yelled at each other in the car just five minutes before the post. Don't compare yourself to people on social media. And, let's face it, social media can be plain hurtful. Are there posts from people that always tend to hurt your feelings? Posts that will undoubtedly trigger some unpleasant memories? Go ahead and hide those people. Don’t be dramatic and unfriend them or post passive aggressive memes about them, simply hide their posts. You have the ability to control who you see on your feed. Take a few minutes and clean it up.
3. Spend time with your people
You know the people I'm talking about - the people with whom you can be yourself. They accept you - even when your hair and makeup aren't done and you elect to wear sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Schedule time with them where you can just be you. Or, if time is tight, turn to them via phone calls and text messages. Reach out to them when you feel like you are sinking – they are probably feeling the same way!
Look at children. They have this great ability to let stress roll off their shoulders. Most of the children I know are not stressing about finding the perfect gift, planning the perfect party, cooking the perfect meal or breaking the bank with gift giving. You know why? (Well, a big part of that is because children are selfish little creatures - not a bad thing, that's just where they are developmentally.) I think a big part of it is because they know how to play. As I write this, my oldest son is sprawled out on my couch, wearing his pj's and drinking his decaf coffee while he plays video games. (Boy, did I leave myself open right there for a whole lot of judging.) He could not be happier. Later today he will hang out with some of his friends and they will probably do nothing but flip water bottles, make Musicly videos and watch the Pats game. You know what? They will have a blast because they are playing. We could take a page from their book. Take some time to play. What does that look like for you? Just because we are grown-ups doesn't mean we can't have fun.
5. Nurture yourself
Santa probably isn't going to leave you a big fat pile of presents on Christmas day and, if you are a parent, Christmas is sort of all about the kids. So, take some time and do something nice for yourself. Stop and sit at Starbucks by yourself and have a cup of hot chocolate. Get your nails done. Take a nap. Buy yourself a Christmas gift. Take a bubble bath. Go to the gym. Do something for you. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take up a lot of time but it sure can make a difference and you deserve it!
I know this list isn’t going to remove all of the Christmas stress from your lives. The holidays can be intensely overwhelming and, at times, painful. But, maybe, just maybe, if you take a few minutes and follow some of these tips, you just might find the holidays a little more bearable and, hopefully, even enjoyable.
And, if not, there’s always wine and chocolate.
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
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.