Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because I’m now married, and two people’s schedules make life more complicated. Maybe it’s because I consider my friends part of my family and I want to celebrate with them. Maybe it’s that I live in Minnesota and the cold plus the limited hours of daylight are weighing on me.
Whatever it is, December already seems like an effort. With a different holiday event (or two) every week from now until New Year’s, I’m feeling the stress and tiredness of the season even though we’re just a few days into the last month of the year.
Regardless of the reason, the truth is that I’m not sure how I’m going to make it through all the expectations, the busyness and the sweets that accompany this month. And because of that realization, I’m going to fight back. I’m too young to dread waking up every day and I’m too fortunate not to be celebratory this time of year (or any time of year, for that matter). I’m taking matters into my own hands with four seemingly obvious routines (but it’s always good to have a reminder, right?):
- Sleep. I’ve been drained for the last few months. Like, more tired than I’ve ever been in my life and it’s been hard to pinpoint why. I’ve probably been working and worrying a little too much, but I’ve also been getting up earlier—and not adjusting my bedtime appropriately. My husband sent me this article yesterday and it kind of hit me upside the head. Getting up earlier is only successful when we adjust our whole awake-asleep routines to fill the gap. And because we know sleep is super important (stress management, digestion, weight, headaches, our ability to make sound choices—they’re all impacted by sleep, or lack thereof), I’m making it a priority this month. Even if that means my evenings consist of dinner and a mere half hour of reading before I hit the hay.
- Essential oils. I think we here at NMDL tout the benefits of EOs pretty frequently, but it’s only been in the last nine months that I’ve really experienced their potency. EOs have the best chance of doing their jobs when you inhale them, and I used to find that kind of annoying. Like I’m supposed to carry them around with me and awkwardly sniff them while working at a coffee shop? Yes, yes I am. And it works. Thanks to Susannah’s recommendation, I’ve been carrying a little bottle of my own EO blend (lavender + eucalyptus have been my favorite recently—uplifting, focusing and stress-relieving) with me wherever I go. I feel a little like a crack addict, trying to covertly inhale my concoction in public, and much like when I wear my hair in a topknot, my husband knows I’m stressed when my little bottle comes out, but who cares?
- Avoid sugar. Because of some complications with celiac disease, I’m currently on a no-sugar-including-fruit-and-alcohol diet. And it’s reeeeaaaalllllly hard this time of year. Or when I’m feeling overwhelmed. So then I sneak a piece of dark chocolate… and wake up with a headache and small-eye syndrome (does anyone else get this? It’s not puffy eyes, it’s just the intense feeling that my eyes have shrunk and I’m convinced that the whole world can tell I suddenly have beady, rat eyes. No? Just me and my sister?). So, even though this feels like the season to indulge, I’m doing my best to restrain, replacing those sugar cravings with lemon water and peppermint essential oil. I know I’ll feel more awake, more balanced and more able to tackle the world of holiday parties when I do.
- Indulge in self-care. Another thing I think we do well here at NMDL is self-care. Well, we do a good job of talking about self-care and its necessity. Usually, when stress levels are high and schedules are busy, the first thing to go from my life is taking care of myself. This month, instead of cutting those precious moments of relaxation out of day, I’m deliberately putting more time into my self-care routine, even if that’s just taking an extra 10 minutes to do a face mask in the morning before work. But usually it’s doing a face mask while taking a bath (after doing a long round of dry brushing and self-massage) and watching Gilmore Girls.
That’s it. Those are the four things I’m declaring to do to keep myself sane this year. What do you do to cope with holiday stressors?
Aromatherapy can help curb nicotine cravings.
This is pretty cool. We are huge proponents of aromatherapy in these parts, and more and more research has been popping up to show that the practice can be scientifically sound. Anyone who has ever smoked with regularity—sad to say, you can file me in that category—knows that part of the pleasure of that nasty ritual is the calming and rhythmic inhaling and exhaling. It’s not dissimilar from yogic breathing, except for the part where you’re actually choking yourself (and ruining your looks!). Alas, it totally makes sense to me that aromatherapy would help kick the habit.
In this small study, 20 nicotine addicts inhaled black pepper OR angelica for about two minutes—which is roughly the time it takes to smoke a cigarette.
The two oils were effective at curbing cravings, though each in slightly different ways. If you’re attempting to quit, you may just want to try both. (Also, this book really works.)
Laser hair removal might be dangerous.
This article has been prominently featured on the Elle site for some time but I only finally read it last week. It turns out the fumes emitted from laser hair removal could be dangerous. In a soon-to-be published study that Elle says could change the industry…
Researchers found “300 different chemical compounds in the plume, 13 of which have been shown to be harmful to humans and animals, like benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and diethyl phthalate.”
Yikes, that sounds awful—especially for those administering the treatments several times a day. Laser hair removal is incredibly popular. I did it many many years ago, but only have a vague memory of the fumes. Have you tried laser hair removal? Do you remember the fumes? (Unrelated, my hair ghosted for about 5 years before coming back in full force—you?)
More understanding of sleep loss and weight gain.
Sleep deprivation and weight gain have been correlated in a number of studies, but it’s been unclear exactly why. While some scientists have speculated that we are just compensating for the extra calories spent staying awake, new research shows that even after offsetting for that energy expenditure, people are more likely to ingest more. Brain scans of sleep-deprived subjects in a recent study revealed two ways in which lack of sleep changed brain behavior. 1) It triggered intense activity in the amygdala, a small part of the brain that helps regulate things like emotions and food cravings. 2) It seemed to cause reduced activity in the cortical areas of the frontal lobe of the brain that regulate decision-making. In total layman’s terms: Not sleeping causes strong cravings and poor decision making. Sounds about right to me!
P.S. It’s wild salmon season! Which is great news for your skin and for dinner. Mark Bitman has mouth-watering recipes to celebrate the season here.
It’s hot. It’s Friday. It’s a long weekend in Canada, and next week it’s an extra long one here! What could be better? This! We have a Friday Deal from reader-favorite Essence of Vali. If you’re newer to the site you may not know about this amazing aromatherapy brand. We first discovered it when researching the book, and we’ve been using it religiously ever since—not least of all to help us sleep. But these days, you guys seem to talk about it as much as us. It’s been mentioned in more Morning Routines than we can count.
But enough about that, and onto the deal! As always with our Essence of Vali offers, you get 20% off anything you order. Site-wide. No minimums. Easy does it. Just use the promo code nmdl2013 and you’re in business.
So what will you order? If you’ve tried Vali, tell your fellow clean girls what you’ve used—what you’ve loved (or didn’t). You know we only roll with the truth here.
If you’re not sure what you want, here’s founder Valerie’s recommendations for the summer.
1. Relief balm and Relief massage oil for sports injuries.
2. Refresh mist for cooling down.
3. Detox mist for jet lag. (Hello! Right on time.)
4. And of course, SLEEP for a good night’s rest.
She also suggests putting any of the mists in the fridge during the hot summer months to add a cooling effect to the experience. Good call, and happy misting. X
Whoa that headline is a mouthful (and a headful). I should clarify though, if I’m going to keep writing this list, that “cool” here just means interesting. Because one of these articles is quite the opposite. It’s crazy, awful, not-cool.
Let’s start with the bad news, shall we?
—Chicago’s air is contaminated with high levels of chemicals that come from, you guessed it, personal care products. Rebecca B shared this article from Scientific American a few days ago, and it’s quite the doozy. The article opens:
“On the brink of federal regulatory review, chemicals in deodorants, lotions and conditioners are showing up in Chicago’s air at levels that scientists call alarming.”
It goes on to explain that a compound called D5—a likely neurotoxin commonly used in soaps, lotions, shampoos and conditioners—was recorded at extremely high levels in Chicago air. And before you breathe a sigh of relief because you don’t live in Chicago, don’t. It’s just the first major city to have been studied for these chemicals.
Now, I’m almost embarrassed to admit this but, while I’m well aware that many of the chemicals used in products are damaging the environment (especially our water), I’d never given a ton of thought to what is floating around in the outdoor air. Had you? Of course, levels indoors are only worse.
—Six hours of sleep a night just doesn’t cut it. We’ve talked about sleep a lot here, and my buddy Siobhan and I are both what you’d call gluttons when it comes to getting our Zs. Fact: Under 8 hours and I get a bit cranky. But so many people settle for so much less and the evidence is mounting that it can be really damaging to health. Everything from cancer to weight gain to diabetes and hormonal disruption have been linked to lack of sleep. From young folks to old folks, and everyone in between. As one NIH sleep specialist puts it: “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies.”
Read more about the latest research on the New York Times Well Blog.
—Turns out bras may cause boobs to sag more. Leave it to the French to figure this one out. A 15 year study conducted by Jean-Denis Rouillon, a sports medicine specialist from the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Besancon, France, concluded that bras actually discourage the growth of “supporting breast tissue,” ultimately causing skin to sag more. Not less, as we’ve been lead to believe. He calls bras a “false necessity,” claiming:
“Medically, physiologically, anatomically — breasts gain no benefit from being denied gravity. On the contrary, they get saggier with a bra.”
Jeez Louise. We are no strangers to false necessities here at NMDL, but this still came as a huge shock to me. Personally I’m a bit relieved because I’ve never been a big fan of bras, I find them terribly uncomfortable and intentionally wear baggy men’s shirts at times in order to avoid them without looking sloppy. When I do wear them, the ones I’m most comfortable in offer little-to-no support. I realize this admission is probably not helping my reputation as a dirty-haired hippie—but there you have it.
That said, unless you’re 22 and hate wearing bras already, you probably shouldn’t burn yours just yet. Rouillon points out that ditching your bra later in life could be a bad idea. And of course, beautiful bras are beautiful and make boobs look great in clothes and out of them. Many women love wearing them. Where do you fall on this topic?
PS. I’d usually do this post on a Friday, but for the next few we have some super deals lined up. :o
“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?