6 Easy Ways to Cope with Holiday Stress

The holidays are suppose to be a time filled with joy, love, and cheer! Unfortunately that is not always the case. The holiday season (arguably the day after Halloween to the day after New Year’s) has become one of the most stressful times of year for individuals, couples, and families alike. That’s why it is so important to identify your coping skills (and exit strategies) before participating in all the holiday “cheer”.

holiday stress

Take a Deep Breath

Before you walk into those bustling malls, step into the front door of those relatives hosting dinner, or before any moment of stress…take a deep breath. Slowly breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds, then release slowly through your mouth for 5 seconds. This slows down your heart rate and allows you to step into these spaces feeling calm and prepared for the moment.

Go for a Pre- or Post-Meal Walk

Those big meals can be delicious, but between the extravagant preparation, heated discussions at the table, and the amount of carbs consumed… a walk can be a good way to de-stress. Find your favorite relative and convince them to take a stroll. It’s a great way to quietly catch up with your family and take a break from the kitchen chaos.

Sit at the Kids Table

This may be more stressful for parents, but if your the fun aunt or uncle (or slightly older cousin) it can be a great way to avoid all the “so when are you going to [fill in the blank]?” questions from the adults. When you are anticipating painful conversations, why not save yourself the stress and catch up with the little ones, and learn about the new dances sweeping the nation.

Have Your Comeback Ready

You know all your family’s buttons. You know who is likely to ask those annoying questions or make those slick comments. Do your homework ahead of time and make mental note of all the reasons they shouldn’t be talking. If you aren’t one for comebacks, try some “I statements” at the table. For example: I feel [frustrated, attacked, annoyed, etc.] when I’m asked about [my love life, school, work, etc.] because [it is a private matter, I don’t want to discuss stressful topics, I want to enjoy my dinner, etc.], so please refrain from prying anymore.

Choose to Not Participate

Just because you are invited to events does not mean you have to attend every one. Between festive outings, holiday parties, and family dinners, the holidays can be overwhelming. Choose to attend the events where you will feel most at home, whether that is a friends-giving or a crazy sweater party with your favorite cousins. Choosing to travel on your own or stay close to home are all options that can help replenish your soul for the new year. Figure out what works for you!

Start Your Own Traditions

Last, but not least…create new traditions that are aligned with your own personal values and beliefs. The holidays are about resetting and realigning with those things that drive you everyday. Take some time out for yourself to identify your values and what new traditions you would like to establish to put those on display.

close up of two flute glasses filled with sparkling wine wuth ribbons and christmas decor

All this to say, I hope your holiday season is one filled with peace, love, and happiness in whatever form that finds you. May you find support from those around you and calm in your moments alone. If you are in crisis please reach out to the Access & Crisis Line at 1-888-724-7240 or text “HOME” to 741741.

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8 Books that Could Change Your Life: Lee’s List of Literature

I was asked not to long ago about books I would recommend to those looking for inspiration or a way to incorporate something therapeutic into their lives. So I thought about books I have read that were influential to me, as well as a few I want to read because they were influential to people I know. I tagged amazon links to purchase all these books (I am in no way being compensated for recommending or sharing these links), but I highly recommend checking out your local library to get these reads for free-ninety-nine instead. So here it is…Lee’s List of Literature.

8 books

Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly

Brene Brown is the queen of empathy and gratitude (in my eyes) and that is what makes this book so important. The discussion about vulnerability is an important one to have if you are pushing to “find the new you” or simply want to be more in touch with yourself. Brown’s research has been instrumental in understanding people, and you will find this book to be instrumental in understanding yourself.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming

It took me longer than most to grab a copy of this book, but it was well worth the wait. Few autobiographies grab my attention, but former First Lady Michelle Obama’s story is one that is as inspiring as it is entertaining. I suggest reading this book as a way to reflect on your own life and dream of the possibilities that your life has to offer.

Shonda Rhime’s Year of Yes

Though I have not read it personally, I have heard great things about Rhime’s story telling abilities in this “self-help-esque ” book. Another story that evokes reflection on how you may be overlooking great opportunities for all the wrong reasons.

Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey

This book of poems is unique in all the right ways. I enjoyed reading this book with my husband and discussing our varied perceptions of the stories told. Though it can be hard to read due to some graphic descriptions, I highly recommend this quick and daring book of poetry.

Charlemagne Tha God’s Shook One

A lot of these books are lady-centered, but I wanted to throw in one with a little more male perspective. Charlemagne may not be for everyone, but I appreciate his honesty and work in reducing the stigma around mental health and therapy. This honest look at how anxiety affected his life is a great read for those hoping to feel less alone on their mental health journey.

Debrena Gandy’s Sacred Pampering Principles

This is an oldie, but a goodie. Gandy’s take on self care for African-American women was as important in ’98 as it is in 2019. She takes a holistic approach on self care that will make you want to #TreatYoSelf. If you are looking for a reminder on why and how to take care of yourself, this will become your go to read.

Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

My mother gave this book to me in college and it was such a powerful story. Reading about the trials and tribulations that Dr. Angelou went through to become the magnificent woman she was is incredible. For a look into the real life of a legend pick up this read.

Jen Sincero’s You are a Badass

The title alone makes this one of my favorites. I am all about empowering yourself and if this book can’t inspire you to believe that you are all that and a bag of chips, I don’t know what will.

Reading an inspiring story along with your therapeutic journey can be quite enlightening. I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I and those around me have!

Are You Eating Your Feelings?: Foods Impact on Your Mood

I am a big proponent of holistic wellness, basically meaning I believe it is important to take care of your mind, body, and spirit. I believe in this idea because it is relatively impossible to take care of just one of these things at a time.

Nearly anything you do to take care of one of these aspects is going to also influence another. For example, if you are going to therapy to better your mind, there is a good chance you will leave also more in tune with your spirit. Or if you start eating better to take care of your body, there is a good chance it will also boost your mood. Now this is the interconnection I want to focus on.

green round fruit on clear glass mug with water

Feeding your body also feeds your mind. I am no nutritionist by the way, but I highly recommend seeing one [remember I am not a medical professional so this information is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional medical advice]. Different foods impact your body & mind in different ways. General rule of thumb is though, if it is good for your body, it is also good for your mind. As a reminder, chips, candy, and soda are not good for your body…so they are also not good for your mind.

Food is a part of all our daily lives whether we are vegan or the T-Rex version of a human being. So we should stay aware of the fuel we are putting into our bodies because not all fuel is equal. Many foods have affects on our brain that we don’t recognize or connect. The neurotransmitter, Serotonin (aka the thing in our brain that controls our level of happiness and well-being) is affected by certain foods. Particularly, it is fueled by traditionally healthy foods. Think fruits, veggies, and natural, unprocessed foods. The more of these traditional healthy foods we consume, the easier it is for us to feel well and happy.

On the other hand, when we eat highly processed (what I call “fake”) food, it does not fuel our brain and body in the same way that unprocessed, natural foods do. Think of it this way…your body is a fine tuned machine, like a BMW. You don’t just fuel up a beamer with regular, old, unleaded gas. You put the highest quality premium gasoline in that baby to keep it running in tip, top shape. That is the mindset you should use to fuel your body! Only the best and healthiest foods should be consumed.

adult cutting daylight facial expression

Now just like food can influence your mood. Your mood can influence the food you choose to eat. Studies have shown that when people feel sad, depressed, anxious, nervous, or other negative emotions, we often eat more sugary, processed foods. With this back and forth relationship between food and your mood, it can cause you to get in an unhealthy cycle of feeding your body things that will keep you in a negative mood. When you are feeling down or low energy it is important to recognize this, so you can fuel yourself in a way that will jump-start your energy. Identifying the healthy snacks that you actually enjoy and keeping those on hand can mean the difference between a jump-start and  break down.

Ultimately, your mind is a unique component of your body, which means anything that is good for your body is most likely going to benefit your mind. Talk to your doctor about how your diet may be impacting your mood, and consult your therapist if you feel your diet may be impacting your mental health. Collaboration between professionals is an important part of holistic health, and you are the one holding these all together!

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“Out of Office”: Why Vacations are Important for Your Mental Health

Summer isn’t quite over yet, thankfully. But have you taken your vacation yet? As a kid many of us experienced yearly 1-3 month vacations from school, stress, and generally any responsibilities. Then we became adults and all those glorious breaks disappeared. Tragic.

Have you ever wished you took better advantage of those breaks? And if you had those breaks now, what would you do with them??

If you can think of even one thing to answer that question with, you probably could use a vacation. Vacations are a luxury, yes. But vacations can also be a necessity. A break used intentionally can make all the difference in your ability to work and interact with others.

coconut trees

Why take a vacation and what are you suppose to spend your time doing? The short answers, 1. Self care and 2. What you want to do, not need to do. Taking a break is all about taking a step back from all the duties and to do lists and really giving yourself some intentional lovin’. Vacations allow for intentional self care. The busy work weeks often leave minimal time to check in with yourself and how your mind and body are feeling. Vacation is free time to really dive deep into this self care and make yourself feel good again. Doing what you want with no time constraints or restrictions makes whatever it is you are doing more enjoyable. Cherish this time.

Giving your mind and body a break from the daily hustle allows you time to reflect on your goals, your values, and your desires. These vacations can be mini or extravagant. Whether you take a day off just to sleep in and head to the beach, or take 2 weeks off for massages and world travel. This time is about fulfilling those aspects of life that get put on the back burner throughout the rest of the year. You should feel refreshed, relaxed, and energized after a break.

You may be asking yourself, “How can I even afford to take a vacation?” Here is the key. Vacation is not about stunting on the “gram” or out doing your coworkers. Vacation is about you and how you feel during and after that time off. If you spend all your time focused on taking the perfect picture you are going to come back feeling just as stressed and depleted as when you left. If you really want to be intentional and relaxed plan ahead, and live within your means. Maybe you can’t afford a week off, but maybe you can afford a day or two tacked onto an upcoming holiday weekend. Put in that request now, and not only will you have something to look forward to over the next few weeks, but you will have all your coworkers jealous when you come back to work the day after them.

 

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Do you need to be a world traveler or can you just be a local tourist? My husband and I love using our vacation time to pretend to be tourists in our own city. We try out restaurants during the day that we don’t usually have time in the evening to go to, or we take off time mid-week when normal attractions are empty to feel like we have the whole place to ourselves. We use our time to connect with each other and have those in depth conversations that we don’t always get to have because the little one is needing attention. Parent hack: if you have a little one in daycare or school…leave them their! Take those 8 undisturbed hours to enjoy your partner! It’s cheaper, easier, and trust me they won’t even know you were having fun all day when you go to pick them up from school. 😉

Make vacation your own! Use the time to connect with yourself and your loved ones. Do the things that make your body and mind feel good. Get that dopamine flowing, and have some fun!

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Physical Health tied to Mental Wellness: 5 Ways to Reduce Stress in Your Day-to-Day Life

I recently experienced what so many of my clients come into session concerned about…physical aches and pains.

I woke up one morning with an aching pain in my jaw. It was like having a migraine in my mouth all day long. I tried to think back over the last few days…what had I been doing differently that could have caused this? After some self reflection and figuring out what the pain exactly was, I realized stress was the culprit. I had gotten to a place of extreme stress from working two jobs, being a mom, and managing all the calendars my household had to keep track of. I had begun clenching my teeth while I slept, which caused me to wake up in pain.

The solution to this pain? Physical therapy, mouth guards at night, and pain medication. Um…I don’t know about you, but none of that sounded like a solution or appealing in any way. They sounded more like management, than a cure.

So many of my clients come into session expressing symptoms of depression or anxiety or general stress, then will make a passing comment about chronic back pain, or chest tightness, or other physical ailments that they have been getting evaluated at a physician. They never tie the experience of physical health to their mental health however.

Disclaimer: I am not a physician, and you should always seek out medical professionals to have any physical health symptoms evaluated. This is in no way a replacement for medical assistance/ advice.

Minority women especially, are more likely to experience mental health concerns as physical symptoms in the body. These aches and pains are almost always directly related to your level of stress. In my personal experience, consciously working on reducing my stress enabled me to reduce my jaw pain to zero.

Now this does not mean medical intervention isn’t helpful, but it can work hand in hand with mental health interventions. Utilizing various coping strategies to reduce stress can assist in a speedy recovery.

Here are my top 5 coping strategies for managing stress:

  • 1. Mindfulness Breathing

  • Mindfulness breathing is a tool that can be utilized at any moment in your day and requires nothing more than the ability to breathe. Pausing in a moment of stress to take a deep inhale and slow exhale allows for your body to experience a sense of calm. It slows down your heart rate and reduces the idea that your body needs to go into “fight or flight” mode. If you want some assistance in practicing this technique try searching for “Guided Mindfulness Breathing” on YouTube, or download the “Calm” app on your mobile device.
  • 2. Journaling

    Journaling can be a great way to get thoughts out of your head and practice letting go of stress. Writing about your emotions whether it be grief, anger, joy, or a plethora of other emotions allows you to release these thoughts and reflect on how they are affecting you. An important aspect of journaling however is practicing to write about gratitude. Expressing gratitude for various aspects of your life provides balance to the challenges and emotions that occur on a daily basis. Nobody wants a book of sorrow, so incorporate both the good and bad.

    3. Skincare Routine

    This may seem frivalous, but hear me out. A regular skincare routine not only benefits your skin, but it gives you time to yourself. Depending on the type of skincare routine you implement (it could be as simple as rubbing some lotion on or as complex as a multi-step regimen) you can give yourself 2-30 minutes of “me time”. Being intentional about this time each day guarantees that you take a break and attend to your own needs even if only for a few minutes.

    4. Low-Impact Exercises

    Depending on your physical symptoms and with approval from your physician, try low- impact exercises such as walking or yoga. Walking is such an underrated exercise regimen. Taking time on your lunch break or before/after work to take a walk outside allows for more time in the sun, increased blood flow, and an overall mood boost. This physical activity kills two birds with one stone as it benefits your physical and mental health at the same time.

    5. Sleep Hygiene

    Last, but certainly not least, ensure you are getting enough sleep. How you feel when you wake up determines how well you’ll manage your stress throughout your day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Take a look at your daily schedule. Where is time wasted? And what could be moved around to create room for a decent bedtime? Also, take a look into what you are sleeping on. Maybe that futon from college isn’t cutting it anymore, or your mattress could use a new topper for support. Nobody has ever applauded themselves for having a late night and waking up groggy in the morning. Elevate this basic need to ensure a brighter day ahead.

    All these coping strategies can be used on a day-to-day basis to reduce the stress that is likely contributing to those physical ailments. Incorporating and practicing these stress-reducing skills will allow you to live a happier and healthier life. And if these things aren’t enough, try attending therapy!