Stress Relief

There were lots of things this past holiday season that kind of pushed my anxiety button (full disclosure—it’s not that hard to find. I’m the kind of classic worrier who spends a half hour trying to fall asleep but failing because the next day’s to-do list, and all the ways it won’t get done, is bumbling around in my head). It was the first time I’d ever understood the stereotypical busyness of that time of year: There were countless parties and events to attend, including a host of before-Christmas festivities with my immediate family because my new husband and I were to spend the holi-day visiting his out-of-town family. There was twice the presents to be bought and wrapped, twice the budget to finagle, packing to be done, work projects to complete and travel plans to be made—all with an expected air of merriment and relative calmness. Oh, and did I mention I was going through the third of five rounds of supplements that were meant to kill the low-grade infection that was zapping all my energy and making me sleep at weird times of the day?

Unable to sustain things, I broke down. A few times. In the bathroom. While decorating the Christmas tree. Before work. During work. After work. When my husband moved the wash cloths from their designated place under the kitchen sink. I just couldn’t pull myself together (despite being very deliberate about taking down and alone time, more than even little old introverted me usually needs).

So, I decided I needed a little help to combat my tension, exhaustion, stress and anxiety. Here are the four things that helped me stop worrying, stop feeling overwhelmed and gave me the energy to make it through even that cat commercial from the Animal Humane Society without crying.

  1. Bach’s Rescue Pastilles: Now, there’s a chance that these are just a placebo, but every time I pop one of these black-currant-flavored jellies into my mouth, I feel an almost immediate relief of stress. Its main ingredient, Helianthemum nummularium (or rockrose), is known for giving courage and helping to bring you back to the present. Impatiens glandulifera, another key ingredient, helps when you lose patience with problems (or people), and the inclusion of cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) balances your mind when you feel out of control. I needed all those things.
  2. Alexis Smart Flower Remedies, LifeSaver: We talk a lot about naturopathic medicine and aromatherapy here on NMDL, but we haven’t ventured much into the remedy realm. As a disciple of natural and homeopathic treatments, I’ve tried a few homeopathic remedies in my day (cactus and cancer—yes, cancer—to name a couple), but haven’t had any miraculous, fixed-all-my-problems-from-childhood experiences like you’re sorta supposed to. My money ran out before I could achieve such actualization and though I see a naturopath regularly, I haven’t ventured back into the remedy realm. Then I heard about Alexis Smart, an LA-based practitioner who mixes flower remedies by consult or sells her most popular blends online. I was intrigued because LifeSaver, one of her “Calm” blends, seemed to suite my current stresses perfectly—and unlike homeopathic remedies, floral blends don’t cause a relapse into old symptoms or habits before they start working. After only two weeks of use, I could feel a huge difference in my perspective. I was calmer; I could juggle all my work projects, even when they overlapped. I didn’t snap when my husband used the wrong spatula on our new frying pans. I didn’t lose sleep over our budget. I could take care of myself and not worry when that took all of my energy. The amazing side effects have lasted and continue to improve—and I no longer have a heavy weight on my chest when I examine my to-do list.
  3. La Bella Figura Travel Therapy Mood Booster: I’ve already sung the praises of this little roller-ball, but I seriously am addicted. While I haven’t tested its power on airplane travel, I did use it on the 10+ hour Christmas Eve car ride, and let me tell you, it kept me sane. I think it even made the trip seem faster, if that’s possible. It’s a powerful mood booster, as its name suggests, and it smells divine. I haven’t been this obsessed with a fragrance since my pot of Malibu Barbie solid perfume. And that was when I was 8.
  4. Yoga Studio App for iPad: As any serious yogi will tell you, yoga relaxes. It forces you to become present, to forget about your worries and to breathe. I’ve had this app for a while now and I use it at least four times a week. It has beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of relaxation, strength, combination and flexibility classes, with the option of creating your own flow. Taking a break during my work day for a 30-minute yoga class in my living room changes how I interact with my to-do list. It gives me back control and calm and allows me to de-stress without the cost of a yoga-studio membership.

Your turn: When you’re at your most stressed, what do you turn to to calm down and refocus? What helps you feel less overwhelmed and more prepared to face life?

Yesterday, Alexandra and I did an interview with a lovely journalist. When her article is done, we’ll share it, but in the meantime, I’ll share this: She remarked on Alexandra’s very brave and inspiring new year’s resolution post, which you should read and comment on if you have not already. Then she asked me what mine was. I actually shared some on Prevention.com, along with 19 other healthy-living types, just the other day. I’m sticking to those, but…

Over a glass of prosecco, I came up with some others.

I’ve just gotten back from a much-needed jaunt to Miami with our buddy Anna. On our first night, we wrote out our intentions for 2013 on a scrap of paper provided for us by the bartender. Our lists were long! Less filled with resolutions than intentions, I’d say. Mine were all over the map, but if I had to peg them all to a theme, I’d go with this: “Go big or go home.” Which is what tumbled out of my mouth when this woman asked me about my plans for 2013.

I was instantly embarrassed. Who, other than frat boys and rappers, uses that line unironically? And yet I stand by it. That’s because last year, while full of important lessons and countless blessings, kind of kicked my ass. After being sick for many years, my older brother passed away. It’s a loss I still don’t have words for, even as I take comfort in (and often laugh out loud about) his wily, clever spirit, his pranks, and how caring he was as a father and a husband and a friend. So even if the words don’t quite come, I can tell you this: When you lose a person you love deeply and you’re still standing, it emboldens you a little. You grow up. You change on the inside.

So this year, I’m feeling brave. For me, going big means that at 34, I will finally learn how to drive a car (I seriously don’t understand how you people do this, but I’m determined to find out). It also means I’ll work and love and live with more ferocity than ever. Ultimately, it probably also means I’ll change my life in ways that are uncomfortable for a moment—but uncomfortable in the way a hamstring stretch is uncomfortable. Which is to say very—for like five seconds. And then you’re more nimble and pliable and relaxed than you were before. Fact is, no matter what part of you is changing, the letting go can hurt a little at first. But if you think about it, and if you’ll allow me to be incredibly corny for a second, I think we can all agree that letting go is actually the bravest thing you can do in almost every situation.

So… That’s me. Say what you want about resolutions, but I think it helps to think of them, as I said, as intentions rather than rules. So what spirit and focus do you want to bring to your life this year? We’d love to know. Really.

Inspiring and pretty photo via

6

Get Happier: What Are You Grateful For?

Oh man! Let’s get corny.

Alexandra and I are big fans of gratitude exercises, so let’s take this opportunity to have one together, shall we?

I spend a decent amount of time thinking about what I’m grateful for; I do it almost every day. There are countless documented benefits of such practices, from reducing depression and anxiety to lowering blood pressure and improving your social bonds, according to brand new research. Also, it just feels good.

For this go-round, instead of thinking big-picture, I’m going to share 5 things I’m grateful for right this moment.

Please, when you’re done at the dinner table with your family or friends, share yours, too!

1. The “good morning” email I woke up to. It didn’t say much else, but it made me smile in my half-sleep. That’s a lovely way to wake up, and I’m grateful for that.

2. The guy who kept landing on my mat at yoga. You know those days when every stranger seems to have been placed in your path with the express purpose of irritating you? And yet you know (or at least I hope you know) that it’s really all about you, and that with a slight shift in perspective, these annoyances will dissolve? Anyway, that happened to me today at yoga. The class was jammed, and the guy next to me kept downward-dogging his gigantic left foot onto my mat. The first time it kind of bothered me. For some reason, though, I decided it was funny—and then the next dozen or so times he landed on my mat, it actually made me laugh to myself, bringing levity and humor to an otherwise challenging class. So I’m grateful to wayward-foot dude, and everyone else in the room, for an amusing two hours. Strangers are our teachers!*

3. The peanut butter cookie I just ate instead of lunch. Vegan, gluten-free and utterly, insanely delicious. I’ll share the recipe in an upcoming Meatless Monday Inspiration post, promise.

4. My meditation practice. I’m back on the wagon, y’all. Are you? If you still don’t have a daily practice, no big deal. We have 11 easy ways to meditate over here—they’re worth your time and effort, especially around the holidays, when most of us get a little emotional about something or other: That story your sister decided to tell (again) about the time you did something really dumb when you were 13; the fact that you’re missing people who aren’t around, at least in a physical form, anymore; the offhand comment about your love life that throws you for a loop. Put simply, meditation helps you react less. This is a very useful tool to have at your disposal when you need it.

5. My body. Sometimes, you feel like your feet have been cemented to cinderblocks. Other times, you feel like a cute little frog hopping around weightlessly. The former makes the latter all the more special, right? Today, I’m thankful I feel froggy.

All right! What about you? What are you grateful for?

* That might take the cake for “corniest thing Siobhan has ever said.” I mean it, though.

27

6 Aromatherapy Blends I Can’t Live Without

“Does anyone actually use aromatherapy every day?!”

I was asked this very reasonable question the other day at work. My answer: “Have you ever been in my office?”

I get it, though. Even for those of us who embrace integrative medicine, use organic beauty products and regularly get stuck with tiny needles, aromatherapy can seem a little frou-frou: an indulgence, a touch cosmetic. For a long time, that’s how I felt. Sure, I always had some cheap lavender by the bed. An old friend called it my “sleep juice” because I’d developed a habit of dabbing a little on the skin under my nose before retiring, but that’s as far as I went. I suspected aromatherapy might be a very useful tool, if only I could remember to use the stuff.

Since then I’ve developed a more sophisticated relationship with essential oils. If you haven’t done the same, I’d like to encourage you to.

That’s because aromatherapy can, I believe, kill a cold in its tracks, transform your stressful day into a productive one, help you unwind after work, gear you up for important meetings, and, much more simply, make you feel happy. It also has the added benefit of helping those around you, too, without them even realizing it.

I’m getting pretty deep into researching how aromatherapy really works and when I’m done, I’ll share that. For now, I’ll share the six products, from three lines, that I use every single day:

1. Tata Harper Irritability Treatment

We’ve discussed this one before. As much as it is, in fact, an irritability zapper, this is also my daily perfume. There’s no getting around it: People freak out when they smell it. It’s impossible to describe, but it’s complex and gorgeous and unlike anything I’ve ever smelled. A lady on the train stopped me the other week—it’s the only way I can handle commuting on the jam-packed 4 train at 8 am—and asked me what I was wearing. I dug into my giant bag and produced the little vial to show her. Her eyes went wild while she smelled it, so I invited her to put some on. She did, and then pulled out a notebook to write down its name. “You made everyone on the train happy just by coming on this car!” I melted…and I kind of think she was right.

When I use it: Before I get on the subway in the morning, before hot dates, before important meetings.
How it makes me feel: Like…myself? In a good way.

2. Essence of Vali Sleep Bedtime Ritual

We wrote in the book that we’d wear this as perfume, too, if it weren’t for its completely unsubtle narcotic properties. This stuff knocks me out, inducing sleep as deep as a baby’s. I like to shake a few drops onto my hands, cup them over my nose, then take 10 very deep breaths. I try not to do this every night, lest it stop working at some point. I gave this stuff to a colleague when she was going through a terrible breakup and she swore up and down it worked. I’ve subjected boyfriends to it, too. I’ve yet to find someone upon whom it does not cast a sleepy spell.

When I use it: Only the second I’m ready to sleep. It works usually within 10 minutes.
How it makes me feel: Couldn’t tell you. I’m asleep, remember?

3. Hope Gillerman Travel Remedy. Hope Gillerman is, I’m convinced, the standard-bearer for high-quality, potent EOs that work almost medicinally—and I’m not just saying that because she’s my next-door neighbor. She’s a natural healer, and I first met her a couple of years ago when she gave me a complimentary Alexander Technique treatment. That was so cool! Even cooler, for me at the time, was the aromatherapy 101 class she gave me before the session. I left her office with the Stress Remedy, which I adore. But lately, my go-to is her Travel Remedy. I wrote about it recently, when I started using it to fend off a seasonal cold. I’ve also used her Muscle Relief on my achey bones (and the achey bones of skeptics): always works. And on my desk at work, I have her Tension Remedy. It’s invigorating and a little zesty, perking me up when I’m computer-tired or anxious about a big meeting. Works every time.

When I use it: All day. Travel Remedy when I feel rundown; Stress when I’m feeling unshiny and haggard from a tough day; Muscle after a killer yoga glass or boot camp; Tension on the go, during the work day.
How it makes me feel: I’ve already explained this, but let me add: The Stress and Tension remedies make me feel much more present, much more in the moment.

Your turn. What’s been your experience with aromatherapy? Anything you love or—gasp—can’t live without?

17

What Kind of Company Do You Keep?

Let’s go off topic for a second.

There will always be more products to review, and we will continue to do just that; I have like 10 sitting in front of the pretty blue mirror near my bed, and at some point soon, I will review every single one of them—promise. But we’re a whole-life kind of site, with a whole-person approach to beauty, and lately all I can think about is…

The importance of the company you keep.

Why is this on my mind? Few reasons. I turn 34 tomorrow! Since a birthday is a personal new year, I’m feeling big-picture reflective. My life looks nothing like it did last year: I’ve said good bye to people I wasn’t ready to say good bye to (we never are), I’ve been challenged and rewarded, I’ve become my own best friend, kind of.

I’ve also been lucky to learn a lot. I’ve read lots of books, written hundreds of articles and edited even more of them. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people, in my personal life and at work, who inspire me to be the best version of myself, and who reflect that version back at me on the good days (which is most of them). I also get to laugh with these people as much as I like to laugh, which is a lot. I have funny friends. This makes me feel very, very blessed.

It’s my belief—and maybe I just make all this s#%t up to make myself feel better—that you feel this way when you’re getting some kind of payoff for following your heart. We all know what it feels like to look around and see something that feels just off. Maybe it’s an unfulfilling job, a bad skin day decade, someone in your midsts who makes you feel a little less than shiny. All of these things, I think, are signs on the outside that something on the inside needs your love and attention. But when it’s all aligned: How you feel, what you want, and what you see when you look around? Whoa. I’m not all the way there yet, but that’s what I’m working on.

Everyone who comes here knows that at No More Dirty Looks, we believe that what you put in your body and on your skin, what media you consume and the kinds of things you read, and the type of people you spend your on- and off-hours with are important pieces of the personal-health puzzle. As I’ve made clear, my attention has been drawn to the latter.

The kind of company I keep, personally and professionally, is a big part of what I’m focusing on this birthday year. Everyone is weird and awesome in their own way. Here are the things they all have in common.

We’d like to know what you look for in people—let’s go with 5 things, total—in the comments.

Here are mine:

1. They can laugh. A lot. Laughter, at themselves, at me, at the world.

2. They are giving. Million different ways to give. Some people give their time to Sandy victims who live in Redhook, some people make T shirts for you for your birthday, some people give you compliments that make you melt, some people never say no to the guy on the street who’s in need. But a generosity of spirit is a big one for me.

3. They’re right there. Being present. End of story.

4. They make you better. What’s better than that! Give me one thing. Seriously?

5. They have lots of love in them.

Your turn!