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, 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


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.


Get Happier: Wish for Five Nice Things

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.

Here’s a question: What makes you feel amazing in your own skin?

Ideally your answer is something like…. “My partner who thinks I’m awesome no matter how ridiculous I am at times.” Or maybe it’s “My sense of my own natural beauty, radiating from within.” (But seriously, if you’re going with number 2 and that’s your default feeling, maybe you can explain us your secret over wine and macarons some time?)

For me, it depends on the day. One of the cool and completely frustrating things about being a woman is that these things can vary depending on your mood, on the weather, on the state of your skin, on where you are in your cycle, on how things are going at work and at home, on how nice you’re being to yourself.

Because these things can fluctuate quite a bit, I’ve always thought it important to have certain emergency procedures in place for the days when you want to bring your A game but you woke up feeling like a giant bag of trash.

When that happens, you have to, in the words of Rachael Ray, take a little help from the store. The help I’ve been taking lately is my fancy Vered body oil.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the ayurvedic ritual called abhyanga, a form of daily self massage that involves oils, starting at your feet and ending at your crown. When you consider all the crazy stuff I’ve done over the years—shall we revisit the time I had soup spoons scraped over my back to release blocked energy? Or the astrologers I’ve paid many hundreds of dollars to help me with various peccadilloes?—it seems amazing that I’ve never done tried this simple, soothing technique. Inspired by Alexandra, who has raved about it, and Dr. Claudia Welch, who swears by it, I tried it last night before bed. And I used this incredible body oil by Vered.

Here’s what makes the oil special. The one I have is for achey bodies. As such, it contains the homeopathic standby arnica, as well as calendula, oregano, lavender, eucalyptus, and chamomile in an organic jojoba and sweet almond oil base. As you can imagine, it smells unreal. And like no other oil I’ve used—including pure coconut oil, which I still adore—this stuff absorbs readily into the skin, moisturizes so thoroughly, and leaves behind a kind of touch-my-skin-no-really-touch-it softness that looks and feels amazing.

This is not an ordinary body oil. And at $74 a bottle, it also costs a small fortune, so there’s that. Will I buy more when I run out? Probably not, but that’s why I’m not recommending you buy it for yourself: This is, I’ve decided, the absolute perfect gift. I received mine as a gift—from the lovely Spirit Demerson, no less—and it was the perfect thing because it’s not something I would ever buy myself. But having it around makes me happy, it feels super-luxurious, and after I’ve applied it—either through elaborate self-massage or just with a quick and dirty rub onto my legs before work in the morning—I feel completely amazing in my own skin.

Oh, and yes: As the name suggests, it works wonders on sore muscles.

So we want to know: Have you ever done abhyanga? And what makes you feel amazing in your own skin? Have at it, folks.