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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
“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:
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.
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?
Happy cold and flu season!
Here’s something I think about every day: When it comes to my health, I’m really pretty lucky. I almost never get sick. I’ve never broken a bone. For years I was convinced that as a little girl, I’d dislocated my shoulder playing Ring Around the Rosie, but that one didn’t make it through fact checking (my mom). Turns out I just did the fall-down part too early and my shoulder got yanked. It hurt, and we went to the hospital, but I was fine.* Fine.
I know how rare this is. I work at a major health magazine, Prevention, where we think about the diseases that affect our readers—and Americans in general—every single day. (Come to our website! I’m biased but it’s awesome.) We run this healthy-living and beauty site in our spare time. And I’ve seen so much illness in my own family that I don’t know where to begin, nor do I want to. Point is, I’m blessed and I’m grateful.
That’s why it’s sort of lame that I become a big fat whiny baby every time I feel a slight burn behind my eyes or a tickle in my throat. No one especially likes getting sick the same way no one especially likes raw eggplant, or condoms, or conference calls. But I know plenty of people who tolerate the common cold better than I do. Me, I panic, then I pull out all the stops. I’d invent my own snake oil and buy it from myself at a premium if I thought it would work.
I don’t have to, though, because I’ve come to rely on a few strategies that I’m convinced make a huge difference. Being proactive about health and focusing on prevention whenever possible is my MO. But am I actually onto something or is this just another episode of Siobhan Plays Placebo and Hopes For the Best?
I decided to, like my mom, do a little fact checking. Here, the 6 tricks I use to fight off colds—plus, a little research to confirm how on (or off) the mark these natural tricks are. Here’s what I found.
1. Ginger everything Health nuts love to put the stuff in their tea and smoothies when they’re getting sick so I was shocked to find that science doesn’t appear to support it. There’s some decent data that says it’s helpful for nausea, morning sickness, upset stomach etc. There’s also great new research about its possible ability to blast cancerous cells. But it’s not, from what I can tell, the everyday “immune booster” we like to think it is. That being said, I go crazy on the stuff whenever I feel a little something coming on. The other night, I made carrot-ginger soup and ate it at every meal for three days. Today, I asked the juice lady to put extra ginger in my smoothie. Before bed tonight, I’ll probably grate some into a mug of piping-hot water. I don’t know if it works, but I think it does. Tasty, too.
2. Hope Gillerman’s Travel Remedy We have told you before how much we love Hope’s essential oil blends. I keep a few handy, and as soon as the season started changing here in New York, I was super drawn to her Travel Remedy. I’d heard it could help with seasonal shifts, but I thought that was mostly in promoting wakefulness when it’s dark out and deeper sleep at night. I’ve used it for jet lag in the past (it works), but a few weeks ago, I started massaging some of this oil to my chest and shoulders before I shower in the morning. It smells unreal, and it’s a lovely way to start the day, but I wanted to know if I was onto something or just flying by the seat of my pants for no reason. Here’s what Hope said:
“You are not just placebo-ing. You are using a perfect oil to support the immune system and ward off cold and flu this time of year!”
Oh reeeeeally. Here’s what else she said: “Litsea, the lemony oil you smell, is an important oil when you get sick during seasonal change or when weather becomes damp and cold. Plus this blend is antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral for super immune support.” Well I’ll be damned. I’m 1 for 2.
3. Sleep Right. So when I feel like I’m getting sick, I tend to cancel plans a lot, drink less wine, and sleep more. I believe this works, and science supports me on that. You know this already, and I do too.
4. Massage, yoga, sex I lump these together because they have proven immune-boosting benefits, can help balance your hormones, and feel really, really good. As long as you have enough energy to make it to class or the spa, or have a buddy around who isn’t a germophobe, I say it’s worth a shot. No hard science on cold-prevention, though.
5. Honey You already know that honey is antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. So at the very first sign of any throat discomfort, I recommend sucking on a spoonful of raw honey (with the propolis and enzymes, naturally). The science here is equivocal, but it’s been a folk remedy for millennia, and I think history might beat peer-reviewed double blinds in this case. And if you’re already sick, a cool new study showed it to be an effective cough suppressant, too.
6. Turning your head when other people cough or sneeze. I dug up an interesting bit of research that supports my very strong urge to move to another car on the train when some guy sneezes not into his shirt sleeve. We’re coded to react this way in order to protect ourselves from catching whatever contagious sick people have. Another bit I heard recently—from an expert, though I don’t have the supporting research—is that turning away your face when someone coughs or sneezes can mean the difference between feeling fine and wasting a weekend in cold-and-flu hell. That’s because your eyes, nose and mouth are how most bad airborne germs make their way into your body. Shield these three entry points and you have a better chance of staying healthy.
So I’m 4 for 6. Your turn! What do you swear by to fight off colds—or cure them once they’ve started? Everyone does something. DIY? OTC? Herbs? Magical spells? We want to know what YOU do.
* Yes, I knocked wood like 10 times while writing this paragraph.
Crop of one of my favorite Richard Prince paintings, Nurse In Love, via his site
The other night over dinner with friends, I invented a new game.
As we tore into our appetizers of fennel salad, roasted cauliflower and Cabernet (yes, wine counts), we played a round of something I’ll call Wish for Five Nice Things.
Our friends are good sports, and they know me well enough to just roll with this kind of cheesy forced-participation dinnertime activity when inspiration strikes. The three of us have played Say Five Nice Things together several times over shared meals. On another occasion, we decided that everyone at the table should say something nice to the person to our right, then we switched and did the person to our left. So corny, I know.
This one’s a little different. Instead of pointing out things that you like, focus on what you’d like to have. In your life. Now or later.
Examples: Maybe you’d like that weird-in-a-bad-way recurring dream to stop happening. Maybe you find yourself stuck in a pattern you’d like to break, or you wish you could actually try crow pose instead of running to the bathroom every time it comes up at yoga. Or maybe you’ve got your eye on a new job, or a cute guy or girl or…a killer pair of pumps? This game, like Say Five Nice Things, doesn’t have to be heavy.
So why bother? First, remember, this isn’t about finding a thing outside of yourself that will fix all your problems. Instead, it’s about setting an intention, saying it out loud so you kind of own the thing, and then risking wishing for what you secretly know you want but for which you are maybe a little scared to ask from universe/yourself/your partner/your body etc. So maybe “wish” is the wrong word, but we’ll work with that for now.
Still need convincing? Here are four reasons to play Wish For Five Nice Things:
1. We’re a goal-oriented species. My acupuncturist is good at reminding me that life goes by in a snap if you don’t actively participate in it. Actually, it goes by in a snap no matter how you live, so it’s a nice idea to try to be present, see what’s in front of you, and create the life you want. I find setting intentions—out loud, or out loud in my head—to be useful day-to-day, and in a big-picture kind of way.
2. It helps you identify what it is you really want. This is not easy! I will go on the record and say that this year has totally kicked my ass. But it’s also taught me a great deal about the preciousness of life and how much it matters where you put your energy. A lot of folks are take-what-comes kind of people in some area of their life. There is nothing wrong with living that way. In fact, it’s the goal of many spiritual practices. But there’s a difference between rolling with the punches, because the punches will always roll, and not actually thinking about—and risking going after—what it is you really want. Even if that thing happens to be shoes.
3. It puts you in the driver’s seat. Again, this is why “wish” isn’t quite right, but life has taught me that when you vocalize what you want, as opposed to just taking whatever it throws at you, you are primed to risk getting it—by actually doing something. At the very least, it can help you set in action a course you could follow to get that thing. Or so goes my logic.
4. It’s nice to wish for things for other people. So we played this game at dinner, and then at the bar across the street with different friends after, and guess what happened? Everyone just totally came alive, excited by their own wishes, but especially about everyone else’s. It gives you something to wish for on behalf of your loved ones (or, if you’re stuck, you can always just steal their good ones). But it’s nice to wish for things for other people, especially when it’s not the thing you think they need, or the thing you think they should want, but what they picked themselves.
So! We’d love you to list five nice things YOU want for yourself in the comments. If you’re feeling shy, grab a piece of paper and write it down. We’d also encourage you to try it with your friends or your lover. And if you’re up for a bonus round (I always am), play Say Five Nice Things, too.
For many years I used arnica gel for muscle soreness, and it worked fine but I wasn’t completely satisfied. The one I used was pretty clean, I think, but I thought essential oils might be a better (and cleaner) solution. Plus, the gel is so cold going on and that first moment of application made me cringe. I’ve been working on this EO recipe for a while, and now have a blend I’m pleased with in both performance and scent. It’s a multi-tasker too, which I certainly value.
Vetiver, 20 drops – immediate relief, chronic conditions
Sandalwood, 20 drops – immediate relief
Lavender, 10 drops – strains/spasms
Litsea, 5 drops – immediate relief
Grapefruit, 15 drops – continued recovery
Fennel, 10 drops – chronic conditions
Peppermint, 10 drops – immediate relief, chronic conditions
Clary Sage, 5 drops – strains/spasms
Helichrysum, 5 drops – continued recovery
Drop the EOs in a 2oz amber glass dropper bottle, then fill it up with grapeseed oil.
Tip the bottle back and forth or roll it to blend. Easy, and it really works!
It rubs into the skin easily, but you could dampen the skin with water or spray with a hydrosol for even easier application.
I have chronic shoulder/neck issues that are definitely improved with use of this mix. I’ve also used it successfully on low backaches, and various strains and soreness from activity.
I’m very happy with this combination of oils and will keep making it, possibly working with proportion a bit for each new batch. You could use fewer oils to simplify the recipe, just pay attention to the purpose of each oil you are adding. Sandalwood and Helichrysum are on the more expensive side, so if that’s an issue you could leave those out and add more of the other oils that serve a similar purpose. The overall smell of my blend is pretty earthy, as the vetiver and sandalwood would suggest. But the lighter notes are definitely there, with peppermint standing out a bit. I like the smell (my son tells me I smell good after using it), and if you mix it and decide it’s too strong, you can always dilute it more. Watch out for the litsea if you decide to add extra— it can get very Lemon Pledge-y if you add too much (but it is big on performance so if you enjoy that scent go for it). The carrier oil could be anything you like. I chose grapeseed because it has a pretty neutral scent and my skin likes it. Arnica oil might be a good choice too, but the one I have has an olive oil base, and my skin doesn’t seem to care for olive oil.
This particular blend is also good for detox, as well as for supporting sleep, and I’ve been using it on my hands and feet before bed. I’m sleeping soundly and I feel like it’s supporting my cleanse efforts. I am thinking to add this blend to some bath salts, but I haven’t tried that yet. Most of my EOs came from Mountain Rose Herbs, as did my bottle. The Hope Gillerman Essential Oils Deck was very helpful in creating the recipe, and I highly recommend the deck for anyone beginning to work with EOs.
Will you try this recipe? Do you have a go-to for muscle aches?