I have had a lot of life happening over the past three months…
I published my first book
I quit my corporate job
I launched my own business as a therapist
I launched Wellness Boxes on this website
I started selling at local vendor fairs
I launched a Podcast
I joined TikTok
I’m sure there were more but that’s enough to think about right now! In all of the chaos, I don’t feel like I ever properly introduced my Wellness Boxes!
What is a Wellness Box?
A wellness box is a gift box of mental wellness items, targeted at a particular demographic. This could be a gift for yourself (my favorite reason you should purchase one!) or a loved one.
I have two wellness boxes established (and more planned…)
For those who are anxious. This box is sourced from USA women owned businesses and is luxury self care kit! If you like pampering yourself and need a reason to unwind, this box is for you. This box has 8 items within it, a retail value of $62, yours for $38.
For those who are burnt out on life and need a little bit of fun, a reminder to smile and a box full of levity, this box of 13 items, with a retail value of $44, is yours for $30!
I would love to launch my third wellness box; however, I’d like to see a little bit more interest in the concept first! I chose to go with my own Wellness Box idea instead of subscription boxes because I don’t want to be a part of anyone being roped into a monthly fee. I have also personally subscribed to a few subscription boxes to see what was out there and I was sadly disappointed – they didn’t seem to follow any sort of pattern or theme! I want you to know that I hate wasting my money and I do not want you to waste yours!
If you follow me, then you know I love posting a TikTok video here and there! It’s fun and offers encouragement to those who watch them. I hear friends talk about how comforted they are from the validation they feel from the content, they love how much the learn on the app and it’s always good for a laugh when they’re having a rough day! The main concern I have with the app is the surge of self-diagnosis and over-identification with said diagnoses that I’m starting to see.
According to Google trends, searches for mental health disorders that I also see trending on Tik Tok are on the rise and in the last 12 months:
Searches for neurodiversity are up 250%
Searches for ADHD are up 80%
Searches for Tics are up 150%
Searches for anxiety are up 250%
Now…some of this is FANTASTIC news! Mental health diagnoses deserve attention, they deserve to be destigmatized and talked about, and they deserve all of the awareness! I am so glad to see such positive and normalized messages on TikTok about the above mentioned diagnoses because it can help people feel accepted and for many it can help them seek help so they don’t’ need to suffer in silence any longer! I love that people might see a set of symptoms explained and realize that they aren’t crazy…they have a chemical imbalance that can be treated!
The concern I have is more around the appropriation (the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission) of mental illness by people who think it’s fun/funny/trendy or otherwise gets them more followers/attention. There can be serious medical risks to a person who gets prescribed medication that they don’t need. More commonly though, there are mental health concerns with overly identifying with a mental health condition and making that your primary identity (whether the condition is real or generated).
A healthy identity is comprised of so much more than symptoms. A healthy identity is comprised of your values, beliefs, spirituality, interests, education, history, physical appearance, racial identity, socioeconomic status, etc. To limit your identity to only one piece of you (i.e.: I’m an anxious mess) undersells the amazing person that you/they are! I hope that we can all use social media, including TikTok as a tool and not an identity. We can learn so much about the world by being as connected as we are within social media; just make sure not to pigeonhole yourself!
Everyone has questions about meditation. How to do it, why to do it, when to do it…
Formal Zen meditation is the specific type that I practice and encourage my friends, family, clients, etc. to practice also. Notice I said practice…yes, sitting upright and still requires PRACTICE! In fact, most people avoid meditation because they’re afraid they will do it wrong or they will be bad at it (just like any other hobby); practice is required with any new task before you can feel competent at it.
The basic components of Zen meditation are:
Sit upright and still on meditation cushions (zafu and zabuton) with three points of contact with the floor to stabilize you. I often sit in the position shown below “on a stool” but using cushions instead of a stool. My three points of contact are shin, shin and butt. Any position you choose needs to be a comfortable position and should not cause straining. For example, if you cannot get yourself into lotus position, don’t! It is encouraged that you find a position that you can hold for the duration of the meditation without discomfort or your legs falling asleep. Having your rear end elevated (by a cushion, stool or chair) is recommended to reduce any blood flow issues. Frequent shifting is discouraged, I recommend that you experiment with different positions in your first few weeks.
Clear your mind as best you can and focus on either nothing or your breathing. When you are anxious, your mind and body are detached from one another. Focusing on your in breath and outbreath can help realign them.
Practice non-attachment and non-judgment when you notice your mind drifting (as it will) by gently bringing your attention back to your breathing. The reality is that your mind will wander and it will wander more when you are new to meditation and/or when your stress is higher. We can acknowledge this without judging ourselves or the practice. It is simple, not easy! Many people complain that they feel MORE anxious when they try to quiet their mind…which may be true because they have removed all of the distractions that they normally put between their feelings and their consciousness. Ride that wave, calmness will follow. It reminds me of snorkeling in choppy water…the water is only choppy until you put your head under the water to see the reef below! Meditation is more about strengthening your “coming back” muscle than your “staying present” muscle!
Length of meditation varies, the magic isn’t in the number of minutes; rather it is in the willingness to practice steps 1-3 over and over and over. Meditation is a muscle that most of us forget we have, thus it is out of shape and needs to be worked consistently over time. I encourage you to start with ten minutes and stay with that time frame until you get comfortable, then challenge yourself to 20!
The benefits of sitting practice are innumerable. Science finds that:
You can really meditate whenever your want, where-ever you want, with whoever you want. I recommend group meditation in the beginning (look up group meditations in your city and/or on Zoom). Think about how much you cognitively know about exercising and eating healthy vs what you actually do in your day-to-day life, I find that group meditation holds you accountable and achieves better results just as group exercise does!
While we are on the topic of legal, over-the-counter drugs that people consume on a daily basis without any thought to how it will impact their mental health, let’s take a look at caffeine!
I am human…I like coffee as much as the next person! Especially some cold brew iced coffee! I am not innocent; I treat myself to coffee every once in a while. I am very aware of the effects; which is why I limit myself AND take efforts to avoid any excess consumption of caffeine.
Caffeine is a stimulant. It has been studied and found that caffeine is linked to increased anxiety, sleep disturbance, and can lead to symptoms of mania. Caffeine can lead to restlessness, agitation, excitement, rambling thought and speech, and insomnia. For those with psychiatric diagnoses, it exacerbates agitation, psychosis and the above mentioned symptoms. We grab a mug when we want a mood boost (instant gratification) while ignoring the problematic crash and anxiety that is generally sure to follow!
While caffeine isn’t all bad, low doses can improve cognitive functioning and mood, it is common for dependence and abuse to occur. Caffeine withdrawal leads to fatigue, headaches, irritability and depressive symptoms.
If you are already an anxious person or are seeking treatment for an anxiety, sleep, impulse control, or bipolar disorder, I would absolutely recommend that you avoid caffeine. Why fuel the fire?! I personally and professionally do not agree with minors (those under the age of 18) drinking coffee or energy drinks. This means that parents need to say no and have contingencies in place if the rule is breached. I believe there are more holistic methods to improve alertness in all people (Think healthy sleep and exercise)! Teaching kids, teens and young adults to reach for a quick fix has horrific implications later in life (think drugs, promiscuity, risk taking).
STOP WITH ALL THE SUGAR! My office use to share a parking lot with a certain popular coffee chain. I am not going to lie, I really enjoy this coffee shop. No one will argue with you about the burst of energy, pain reduction, and general feeling of bliss that is experienced when sugar is consumed in rapid quantities, in it’s purest form! What really hurts my heart though, is when my I see people, especially teens, with blended (coffee) SUGAR drinks. I know why they get the drinks; however, I also know the crash they will experience. I know the addiction they will face. I know the mood swings and irritability they (and their loved ones) will endure. If you want to argue that you don’t get those sorts of drinks/treats, I still urge you to look at your weekly intake and average out how much sugar you’re having in a day.
Here’s the deal: A variety of reputable health organizations warn against sugar intake. This is mostly for health concerns; however, as mentioned above, it also impacts mental health. The World Health Organization currently recommends that sugar make up no more than 5% of your total energy intake. The American Heart Association finds the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added (not natural) sugar per day…that’s 350 calories from added sugar alone. Their recommendation is between 6 -9 teaspoons/day (25-37 grams). There are no bonus points for consistently getting to 25 grams…it is the red line to STAY AWAY FROM. Major problem is that most people surpass that number on a daily basis. The biggest culprits are beverages, cereal and prepackaged snacks.
What we know about consumption of added sugar in a diet (we aren’t talking about fruit here…) is that it leads to your blood sugar spiking and then crashing. The effect of this on the human body is extreme. I will spare you the details other than it leads to a (short) burst of energy followed by a significant dip in mood: increased depression, anxiety, and irritability. Challenge me on that…really…and just use your imagination on what this looks like for someone who repeats the cycle several times per day. A 2014 study by Emory recently found that teens with high fructose diets tend to have increase rates of depressive behaviors (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141118141852.htm).
A 2012 study from UCLA (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/jphysiol.2012.230078/full) found that high fructose corn syrup LITERALLY slows brain function, impairs memory and inhibits new learning. So when clients walk into my office high on sugar, I already know they are primed to NOT retain what we are working on. This is a problem when teens and college students are hitting up coffee chains and vending machines on their way to school!
Here are some common sugar contents (things I see in my office often):
Starbucks Grande Vanilla Bean Frappachino 57 grams of sugar Dunkin Donuts Medium Caramel Iced Coffee 37 grams of sugar 20 oz Coca Cola 65 grams of sugar 20 oz Mountain Dew 77 grams of sugar Arizona Iced Tea 72 grams of sugar One package of Skittles 47 grams of sugar 2 Pop Tarts 34 grams of sugar
This is not a soap box that I stand on. This is not be being a health nut. This is a national crisis in which I see people being more willing to take prescription medications (which carry very real risks of side effects) rather than even TRY to reduce their sugar intake to under 25 grams per day. Parents have an obligation to be mindful of what they are buying and providing for their children. Teens are old enough to learn about the effects of sugar and yet lack the impulse control to moderate their behavior 100% of the time without support. Adults can learn to manage their urges and make healthier choices which will lead to improved mental and physical health, reduced healthcare costs, and improved finances! Please take an honest look at your sugar consumption and it’s possible effect(s) on your moods. The results might, quite literally, be sobering.
In reflecting on the upcoming holiday of Valentine’s Day (whether or not you believe it’s a valid holiday), I think it’s important to dig a bit deeper and see what we can do to make the entire year as loving as February 14th tends to be? Valentine’s Day has become quite commercialized in America, I doubt anyone would argue that. Under all the glitter and greeting cards there is actually thread of kindness and love rarely seen as prevalently as on that day. I see this between spouses, in dating relationships, between parents and children…even in the workplace. It’s almost as if people use the holiday as a reminder that they can and SHOULD be nice to one another periodically and I am grateful that retailers make it so much easier for people to express it.
Gary Chapman is the author of The Five Love Languages and is a relationship counselor. The Five Love Languages is a guidebook for how to rekindle that appreciation and love you have for those in your life and express it to them in a way that will be picked up on their radar. He has concluded that there are five “languages” that people like to receive love: words, acts, gifts, time, and touch. The problem he seeks to address is that in our relationships, we often express love in the manner we would like to receive it…without realizing that this may not be the language of the receiver. If you are a parent, child, spouse, significant other, boss, and/or employee, I would strongly urge you to read this book or it’s appropriate adaptation and challenge yourself to speak the love language of the receiver!
I encourage you (and your loved ones) to take the Five Love Languages quiz and find out how you best receive love and share your answers. This will allow you both to maximize the communication and receiving of love from others. You can take the quiz here. Give it a try…see what changes take place in your life!
I’m getting SO MUCH DONE! or We’ve done NOTHING…just laying round binge-watching Netflix all day. I am hearing two extremes from people since the COVID19 shelter-in-place order was enacted, and I assume it will continue over the next few weeks. Which side are you on?
Do you try to “keep up with the Jones’s, Pinterest Moms, Type-A friends in your social media feed? Are you stressing out about accomplishing everything that’s been on your to-do list? Are you trying to take advantage of all the Facebook Live free classes that people keep discussing? Be careful…you WILL hit a wall (and it’s a brick wall).
Do you find that being quarantined is an excuse to stay in your pajamas, eat all the snacks and watch endless hours of streamed TV? Have you been skipping showers and avoiding anything that resembles a routine? Be careful….you will fall into the pit (and it’s a muddy, mucky pit).
One day, if I am famous for saying anything…it will be for saying “there is no right answer; there is a more effective answer for you to reach your goals”. This is a situation in which I’d give the same advice…there isn’t a RIGHT way to quarantine…I’ve had doses of both scenarios described…I think the trick is to ask yourself every few hours (or perhaps each morning or evening), what it is that you’d like to accomplish? What would you like to be able to say you did for the previous 8 hours or the next 8 hours. If you have been working hard, it’s PERFECTLY acceptable to say “I took the day off and did nothing”! If you’ve just come to the surface after binge-watching 3 seasons of something, it’s PERFECTLY acceptable to say that you organized your sock drawer and alphabetized your DVD collection! A problem seems to occur after several days in one mode or the other without any sign of coming back to baseline.
It’s crucial that you’re kind to yourself and develop the ability to self-validate and self-encourage. Some examples of that include saying to yourself:
I am tired from _________ and that makes sense, today I’ll take it easy
I have enjoyed a few days of relaxation and now I am ready to tackle one thing off of my list
I am worthy of a break
My ideas are worth working toward
Take some time right now, close your eyes, and evaluate which side of the spectrum you’ve been on the last few days…and what is a step you can take toward the other side? I propose an ultimate goal of learning to live in the balance (not balanced…as that doesn’t exist…but living in the middle range of the teeter totter, more so than at the extremes.)
If you’ve experienced depression I am sure you’ve heard (once or twice) that you should exercise to improve your mood. That advice isn’t wrong; and yet, it isn’t easy. I am here to let you know that there is another very powerful antidote for depression and it takes the form of the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skill of BUILDing MASTERY.
Build Mastery is a very small skill in the DBT manual (which makes me sad) but it packs a powerful punch. To build mastery is to spend time developing a skill/talent/hobby/activity. It is important that you understand the following table:
No effect, could backfire and make you feel infantilized
Likely leads to you feeling incompetent
The task that you choose to work on (let’s take running a 5k as an example) needs to fall in the middle row: challenging. If you decide, with no prior training to run a full marathon (too hard), you will injure yourself, fail and probably feel worse about yourself. If you choose to walk to 10 paces forward (too easy), you won’t feel any sense of accomplishment because that’s too easy! You won’t continue to work toward your goal of running and therefore will feel like the exercise was pointless. The sweet spot involves breaking your goal of running a 5k into reasonable and tangible steps (such as researching and purchasing running shoes, finding local trails/parks, downloading Couch 2 5k or joining a running club, sharing your plan with others, beginning to work up to short jogs and slowly lengthening the distance.
Lets say, you hate running and now you’re angry that I suggested that. Fair enough…you can build mastery in almost any area!
Learning a language
Reading (longer books, more complex books)
I think build mastery is an attainable skill over this quarantine! I have been brushing up on my watercolor skills as a way to reduce stress and practice a challenging activity. Take some time to think about what you could work on!
I have created this “worksheet” of sorts to to help people identify where they might have room for growth in therapy. We all have areas for growth, we all have areas of strength. Consider these questions to guide you in your journey (with a therapist or without)!
In what areas are making emotionally based choices?
Consider the following areas. Do you tend to give into short term impulses in any specific areas?
So, I did a hard thing recently: I left my kids for a week and backpacked over 25 miles in 4 days around the Pacific Northwest in Olympic National Park. None of that was easy. There were seemingly a million things in the way of me leaving:
The kids got shigella (parasite, sick, ew) and I missed two weeks of work, three weeks before the trip which took a toll on my work, my finances, my sanity, etc
I have a connective tissue disorder (just think really wobbly joints) and I’m not “supposed” to do that kind of strenuous exercise
There were two mass shootings in the 12 hours prior to our flight, I did not want to get on that plane
I have food allergies that make it really difficult to eat when traveling….much less when backpacking!
Due to the kids’ illness, I hadn’t been conditioning like I should have been…
I’ll just pause there, on top of all the normal stress of traveling, there were a lot of things that made it seem “too hard” to follow through on this trip. And yet, I went. There were times that I was SO tired (oddly, sleeping by a rushing river kept me awake!) and SO sore (I mean…so many miles with 30lbs on my back), and yet I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
The visual rewards were my favorite, it was impossible NOT to stay present with all that my eyes were taking in. I found that the solitude from social media and texting were a refreshing reset on my priorities. I’d encourage you to fast periodically from electronics to get clarity on what you really want to focus on, not on what your notifications tell you to focus on! Time away from your kids (or family) is also difficult (to be honest, this was my biggest struggle!) but I reminded myself that I want them to be strong independent women, and for that to happen, I need to model being a strong independent woman to them!
Please enjoy some of the peaceful moments I captured!