I love the holidays. The way everything seems cheerier and people (while arguably more stressed) seem happier and more hopeful. We collectively sing of joy and peace on Earth and tend to be more caring and do more philanthropical work. The holidays remind us to stop and slow down, to cherish what we have, and be grateful. I love the holidays because when you strip away the unnecessary focus on material things, we are reminded of the important things in life - family, friends, selflessness, and all the kinds of love that exist.
There was a time when I hated the holidays though. And I'm sure you can guess when that was. Essentially, when you suffer from anxiety and depression, all the great things about the holidays fade away. Instead of feeling warmth and cheer, I was constantly reminded of how broken I felt. All the commercials and holiday movies promoting love and family made me more aware of how alone I was - a loneliness and isolation I thrust upon myself. I hated coming home to relatives who continually asked about my ever-failing love life, stressful workload, and job opportunities on the horizon. And then there was the food. Food is such a huge part of family gatherings and I was constantly on edge, a calorie calculator, constantly formulating what was okay and not okay to eat. I was continually exhausted from trying to convince every one I was happy and okay. Simple interactions drained me and it was becoming more and more clear how uninvested I was becoming in my own life...
But this post isn't about that side of the holiday's for me. No. I actually want to take this one in a less depressing direction and spin it into something hopeful. Something that has always remained constant through all of my issues with my mental illnesses, has been my love of giving. I LOVE giving (my therapist would interpret this as my need for making others happy, but I don't care!). I love finding or creating things I think the people I care about will enjoy. I get so excited about it, that most of the time I ruin the surprise. For example, I bought Greg a vintage Pitt jacket during Pitt's Homecoming, and because I'm impatient and couldn't wait for him to have it (because I knew he'd love it), I gave it to him a few weeks later for the last Pitt Tailgate of the year (and I was right, he freaking loved it).
I've been observing that most bloggers create gift theme'd content at this time of the year, so I thought I would follow suit and create a list of gifts that are great for those with mental illness/self care. I can attest that I use all of these things to help cope, maybe they can help you or someone you care about this holiday season too!
Okay so first off, there's this company called MONQ that sells personal aroma therapy diffusers. While they look like e-ciggarettes, I promise you 198237498% they are not and do not have a single trace of tobacco in them. They come in a variety of blends ranging from "healthy" and "happy" to "active" and "zen". They even recently came out with a nature set - "forest", "ocean", and "mountain". I love these because each diffuser is created from only three essential oils. For example, "healthy", which is one of my favorites, is made from cinnamon leaf, marjoram, and turmeric! I personally have been using them for almost a year now, and I can say I love them. They're great because when I get stressed, I use them to help aid with therapeutic breathing. They're also great because I am friends with a few smokers. It's nice because I can take my MONQ diffuser while they take a smoke break. Weird, I know, but, some of the conversions I've had during "smoke breaks" have been some of the most interesting I've had in a while! I'm a firm believer in using food/plants/oils in a holistic healing kind of way and I do notice a difference when using the diffusers rather than just breathing on it's own!
2. Other Aromatherapy Gifts
Like I said, I do think aromatherapy works, which is why I have a few different aromatherapy products. It's amazing the amount of creative ways people can practice aromatherapy. If inhaling from a personal diffuser is too intense, I highly suggest getting a more standard diffuser. Amazon sells a number of them (click here for their number one best seller) - which includes mini USB versions (I have one for my work desk so it only infuses my work station and not the entire office!). Lastly, for the trendier customer, there are even companies that have created aromatherapy jewelry! Drops of Joy Jewelry is one of my favorites because not only are they environmentally friendly, but $2 of every sold items is donated to St. Jude's!
3. Adult Coloring Books
I've said it time and time again, but adult coloring pages are one of my favorite mindfulness activities. Oddly enough, the Christmas before my breakdown, my mom had actually bought me a plethora of adult coloring books and brand new colored pencils, so I was beyond set when I needed to log self-care tools for therapy. Here is a list of 21 different mindfulness coloring books, and my personal favorite, Harry Potter Adult Coloring book. Pair it with some new crayons, colored pencils, or felt tip markers and you have yourself a gift that can help someone find peace for the next few months.
4. Self Care/Calming Items
Self care has been my mantra since therapy. We have to take care of ourselves in order to be well enough to take care of others. Health isn't just physical, but mental and spiritual as well. Any kind of gift to help a person be more inclined to focus on themselves and refocus is a great gift in my book. In the past, I used to fill stockings with cute trinkets, but this year I think I want to create self care kit stockings with items such as face masks, bath bombs, mini coloring books and crayons, bullet journals, candles, mini massagers, tea, inspirational quotes, etc.
5. Weighted Blanket
I've only used a weighted blanket once (we got to test one in therapy). I remember really liking it, but I have yet to pull the trigger on buying one for myself. The science behind weighted blankets is Deep Touch Pressure or DTP. DTP is about gently applying pressure to the body to increase the release of serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in the body that promotes relaxation. What is interesting is that those with depression, anxiety, aggression, ODC, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and autism also tend to be low in serotonin. These blankets (and other weighted products like vests and lap pads) aid in that serotonin production and can actually help those with anxiety fall asleep and stay asleep. These are definitely on the more expensive end of this list (hence my own hesitation of investing) but if you have the funds, I know multiple people who claim to have been saved by weighted blankets.
6. Positive Hobbies
To go along with self care, finding positive hobbies is such a great tool in battling mental illness. Helping a friend or family member find a hobby can be life changing. These hobbies can be anything - from reading and cooking to knitting and gardening. There are numbers of subscription boxes out there now that you can find one for almost anything. CrateJoy is one of the leading subscription box sites because they have such a wide selection to choose from. You can choose from subscriptions such as the "Goddess Provisions" (for the BAMF female in your life) which includes vegan beauty products, crystals, aromatherapy, and superfood snacks. There's the "Therabox", which includes items curated by actual therapists to help revitalize the mind and spirit. There are also the "Geek Fuel", "Singles Swag", "BookCase", "Nomadic", "Red Velvet NYC", and "Sketch" boxes among others. Seriously, you could find a subscription box for everyone on your list here. And since it's a subscription, you get to surprise your giftee with multiple gifts throughout the year!
7. Experiences with You
Remember early when I noted how alone I used to feel during the holidays? Yes that isolation was my own doing, but as I've said before, mental illnesses are isolating. They convince you that you suck and have no use in this life. The demons in your head constantly remind you that you are a burden and that no one actually cares about or likes you. That it would be better for everyone if you just disappeared. So during the time when these feelings soar highest, I personally think the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. And honestly this could be anything - a walk in the park accompanied by a picnic, going to a fitness or yoga class (or something they've always wanted to try like a pole dancing class or silks!). You could go to museums, art exhibits, or the movies. You could go restaurant hopping (where you go and share appetizers in multiple dining facilities) at the places they've been wanting to try but never make time for. Or if they have social anxiety, create a self care at home day where you do facials, paint your nails, or other spa like things. Or if they're a foodie, go to your Pinterest board and actually create some of the recipes you've pinned!
Just taking the extra five minutes to show someone you truly care means more than you can imagine. Normally, it's the negative effects of others that we remember - the bullies, the rude lady at the mall, the aggressive creep at the bar, etc. This holiday season, I challenge you to bring joy and positivity to those you care about. It's those selfless actions of just knowing someone loves you that reminds those of us struggling there's something more to fight for.