I recently interviewed Chris McDonald, CEO of Path to Hope Counseling, about managing stress in today’s busy world. Watch the video below for some quick, easy tips to help reduce stress even if you only have a couple of minutes available.
I recently interviewed Chris McDonald, CEO of Path to Hope Counseling, about managing stress in today’s busy world. Watch the video below for some quick, easy tips to help reduce stress even if you only have a couple of minutes available.
You see them everywhere. Sold at the grocery store, health food store, pharmacy, online, home goods stores, in candles, lotions, and various other potions. Essential oils.
You’ve all heard of them. Most of you have probably purchased them. But what are they? How do we use them?
Think about the last time you ate an orange. When you pulled back the peel, you smelled that wonderful, distinctive ‘orange’ smell and probably saw a few drops of liquid spray out. Put simply, that liquid is the orange’s essential oil. Put more technically, essential oils are chemically complex mixes of various biochemical compounds that form the aromatic part of plants.
It’s the stuff that makes plants smell good.
Ok, back to the orange. That spray you saw when you peeled it? It probably wasn’t even a full drop. Now think about the little bottles of essential oil you can buy at the store. How many oranges do you think it took to fill one of those? Each drop of essential oil is the product of massive amounts of plant material. Just how massive depends on the plant type – some give off more than others – but in all cases it’s, well….it’s a LOT. Plant materials typically have around 1% essential oil, although some are as low as .015% and some are as high as 2% – so 1 oz of that delicious smelling orange essential oil is derived from around 100 pounds of oranges. That’s a lot of fruit.
All that to say…be careful. Essential oils are highly concentrated and very potent. They should never be taken internally (unless prescribed by a doctor specifically trained in their safe use) and they should never be applied to the skin undiluted. As they have become more popular, and more people are using and selling them, there has become a huge influx of misinformation, and injuries are occurring as a result.
If you want to use essential oils in your home – and I think you should! – then follow these simple guidelines:
I’ll share some of my personal favorite blends and ways to use them in a couple of weeks.
Do you use essential oils? How? Do you notice any differences since you switched? Tell me in the comments below!
I was browsing through Pinterest the other day, looking for things to add to my Healthy Living board. I put in the keywords healthy and lifestyle, then hit search…
I scroll through pin after pin of ‘Lose 20 lbs!’, ‘Get rid of armpit fat!’ (really? is that a thing?), ‘Waist slimming challenge!’, and “Bigger butt plan!’. Interspersed are ‘Grow new hair!’, ‘Fat burning superfoods!’, and clean eating plans that, well…don’t let you eat.
When did healthy living start to mean ‘you’re not good enough, do things that are bad for you so you can look like someone’s imaginary idea of the human body’?
I’ve got news for you. You are good enough. And the sheer variety of body shapes, body sizes, hair types, skin colors, and heights is absolutely amazing and beautiful. How about we marvel at the glorious diversity around us and our part in making it, and focus on real healthy living instead?
But what is real healthy living? Well, it’s a lifestyle (not a quick fix, 10 day plan, or miraculous insta-cure) that supports physical, mental, and emotional well being. In other words, it’s living your life so you are healthy and happy.
I know what you’re thinking. How do we do that? I mean, it all sounds good, but let’s be practical. We live in a busy world, and we are busy people. What you just said sounds…difficult. Time consuming. Yeah. The same thought occurred to me. So I sat down, wracked my brain, and came to this conclusion:
It doesn’t have to be hard.
In order to be happy and healthy we only need to do a few simple things. Being the kind, generous soul that I am I made a list.
(oh, wait…I just LOVE lists…ok, so maybe it had more to do with my desire to write things down in an easy to read, linear format that could be checked off as things were accomplished. So.Satisfying.)
Anyway. Without further ado, here is:
See? It’s actually very simple. Laughter and gratitude relieve stress and improve your outlook on daily life – they make you more resilient and able to bounce back from those inevitable set backs.
Playing – whether it’s tag with the kids, bowling, or a rousing game of Just Dance on the Wii – is just a form of exercise that is fun, rather than work.
Eating and sleeping as your body demands will give it the resources it needs to fight off illness and repair injuries, and the mental clarity to make good decisions.
Time with loved ones relaxes and centers you, and gives you a respite from the outside world and its demands.
Curiosity? Well, it may have killed the cat, but it’s great for us. It leads us to try new things, learn about new interests, and go new places. It keeps us from stagnating.
And most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously. Life is too short, and there are too many amazing things to discover.
What do you think? Are there things missing? What would you add? Let me know in the comments below.
If I were Shakespeare, I would continue on with “…That is the question.”
But I am not Shakespeare, and it’s really not a question.
Preservatives have gotten a bad reputation. And let’s be honest, many of them deserve it. From formaldehyde donors, to endocrine disruptors, to compounds that react either with what they are preserving or your own body to create cancer causing chemicals, many common preservatives are not so great for you.
This is why there is such a rise in the claims of ‘preservative free’ or ‘naturally preserved’ products. But are they really preservative free? Are they safe? I mean, bacteria, mold, and fungi aren’t exactly something you want to be spreading around on your skin.
Some things really don’t need a preservative. Those nasty critters mentioned above need water to grow. So if you have a product made entirely from oils, with no chance of water getting into it, then it doesn’t need to be preserved. Our body butters, deodorants, and lip balms are good examples of this. Made with oils, not used in the shower, and applied with dry hands. Those are legitimately preservative free, and absolutely safe.
I know, I know…you’re saying “But, don’t oils go bad? Doesn’t it still need a preservative?”
Nope. When an oil goes bad (rancid) it’s due to a process called oxidation. This is a natural chemical process in which molecules lose electrons. In order to slow this process, we add – you guessed it – an antioxidant, which works to prevent oxidation by donating electrons to the molecules that lose them. It has nothing to do with preventing the growth of unwanted critters in your shower gel.
On the other hand, even if something is oil based, if it is likely to get water in it, it needs a preservative. For example, our body polish. It’s made with oils, but is used with wet hands in the shower or by the sink. It needs to be preserved – unless you enjoy rubbing bacteria and mold all over your skin. That goes double for products such as lotions, facial cleansers, and gels that contain water.
So how come some companies make water based products and claim they are preservative free? Well, there are three main things I can think of.
Of these three, the first is the most legitimate scenario. A single use packaged in sterile conditions and sterile packaging should be safe. Unfortunately, the second scenario is the most common. After all, preservative free is a big selling point. So large companies pay copious amounts of cash to have new compounds formulated that both smell good and have preservative properties. These compounds are classified as ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’…because they are. However, they also kill bacteria, mold, and fungi…because that’s what they were formulated to do. Companies can now use these compounds in place of their traditional preservatives and legitimately claim to be ‘preservative free’. I will leave it to your judgement as to whether something that kills bacteria and also smells good is a fragrance or a preservative.
The third scenario, thankfully, is almost non-existent. There are occasionally misinformed or uneducated local makers, but on the whole no one is deliberately selling products they know will go bad.
“But what about ‘naturally preserved'”, you ask. “What does that even mean?”
Naturally preserved is slightly misleading terminology, but true enough. An oil based or dry powdered product that, due to its nature, doesn’t need a preservative because there’s no water for critters to grow in could use this claim. The product is ‘naturally preserved’ because the nature of its ingredients prevent bacteria, mold, and fungus from growing. Basically, it’s a marketing term.
So we’ve learned that some products don’t actually need preservatives, and some do.
“But…But…preservatives are BAD!”, the internet yells. “Cancer, disease, horrible, unnamed side effects!”
Not really. Older preservatives can be quite horrible, no question. In fact, many have been banned in recent years. But there are several newer ‘natural’ preservatives that (so far) seem to be safe. Many indie makers, myself included, use these. They can be tricky to work with and they are more expensive (which makes the final product more expensive), but they are effective and safe. So no, internet, not all preservatives are bad. And when it comes to water based products, they are non-negotiable.
Do you have things you try to avoid in your skincare? Why? Tell me in the comments below!
No, seriously. Science has found out it’s good for you.
If you follow my facebook page or instagram, you’ll notice I post a lot of pictures of, well….trees. Most of these pictures are taken while on walks with my family. We love to hike, and it turns out there’s a reason for that.
Hundreds of studies show that spending time in nature:
And I could go on. Time in nature – not just time outside, but in nature, surrounded by grass and trees rather than concrete and cars – is vital to our well being.
But what if you live in the city? Does going for a walk through town have the same effect?
Sadly, no. But never fear! Cities have parks, and that’s all you need to reap the benefits of nature. Even if you can only manage it once a week, hop on the bus and spend a couple of hours in the park. A study on Japanese forest bathing suggests that the benefits of a walk in nature can last a full week.
Now, taking one walk in the woods isn’t going to miraculously heal you of all your ailments. As Lucy McRobert, nature matters campaigns manager for The Wildlife Trusts says in this BBC article:
“Nature isn’t a miracle cure for diseases,” says McRobert, “But by interacting with it, spending time in it, experiencing it and appreciating it we can reap the benefits of feeling happier and healthier as a result.”
And don’t you want to feel happier and healthier?
I know you’re busy, and life seems like a never-ending merry-go-round of things to take care of, but do me a favor. Skip that load of laundry, or order a pizza for dinner, and spend that time somewhere surrounded by grass and trees. Bonus points for flowers and water. Then come back here and let me know if you noticed any difference.
Wow. Who knew I could talk about myself for this long? If you’ve made it this far, Congratulations! You are patient, determined, and most likely have a bottomless beverage and well trained bladder.
We’re on the home stretch now. You’ve read about how even as a kid I messed around with trying to improve products, about the Bathtub Epiphany, and about the dangers of browsing the internet while bored. Now it’s time for the really important question.
What up with tea?
I’m so glad you asked. Obviously, I have deep love for tea – it’s in my products, it’s in my business and blog names, and I may have an entire kitchen cupboard overflowing with more varieties than a dedicated shop would carry.
Now, I can hear your doubt. “But Shawna,” you say, “You always joke about needing ALL THE COFFEE. I never hear you say anything about needing ALL THE TEA.”
True. Coffee is for productivity. Remember, I make products for the ‘busy, stressed out woman’. Why? Because I am one, and I know many others. Coffee allows me to function when I get much less sleep than desired, and gives me something to fill my mouth with so I don’t scream when I open the dishwasher and realize the kids loaded 4 pans in upside down and ran it without soap. Again.
Tea, however. Tea is for my soul. Tea is for my mind. Tea is for my health.
The process of making tea – and I’m not talking about the ‘nuke a cup of water and plunk a bag in’ process – is soothing. It forces you to take your time and slow down – even though it’s only for a few minutes. You have to wait for the kettle to boil and the pot to warm. You have to choose the right blend – do you want something floral and calming? Or maybe something energizing? Fruity? You have to wait for it to steep. It’s an intentional process.
And once you have your pot brewed? That first mug you pour is a little bit of heaven. Rich, fragrant steam. The sound of trickling water. Beautiful color. Warmth seeping into your hands as you wrap them around the cup. And the first sip. Complex, rich, and stress relieving. It engages all of your senses and resets your body and mind.
And those are just the mental and emotional benefits. Study after study has shown that tea is good for your physical well being too, both when taken internally and when applied topically. High in antioxidants and full of trace minerals, tea is a complex compound that scientists are still studying.
So, that’s what’s up with tea. And that’s how I ended up here, making bath and body products. It was a long, winding path, but I’ve been headed here since I was a kid and am loving every minute of it.
If you’ve never indulged in a ‘proper’ cup of tea, I urge you to give it a try. Focus on the sensory experience. Then come back here and let me know what you thought.
The story continues with a cautionary tale about boredom and browsing the internet.
No…not THAT kind of internet browsing! Sheesh.
It’s been several years since the great Bathtub Epiphany. Life has gone on, kids have grown, and I now somehow find myself a homeschooling mother to kids ranging from upper elementary to high school. The super intensive, kid on the hip, no privacy ever years have turned into the ‘is your schoolwork done?’, multiple activity, taxi driver years. I am simultaneously busier than ever and bored. Yup, bored. Turns out you do a LOT of waiting around at this stage of life. Waiting for the homework to be done. Waiting for _insert activity here_ to end. Waiting for them to get done with work. Lots and lots of waiting.
So what does a mom with an internet connection and large quantities of waiting time on her hands do? Well, she starts out by researching cool school activities, and ends up never washing her hair again. (or maybe that’s just me…)
I was on the ‘hang out and be social’ area of the homeschooling forum I belonged to, and a conversation caught my eye. People were saying they didn’t wash their hair. At least not in the traditional sense. They were talking about this thing called ‘no poo’ and how their hair was healthier and better looking than it had ever been. My first reaction was “Gross!” But boredom will cause you to do strange things, and I kept on reading. Then I typed ‘no poo’ into the search bar, and read some more. And it started to sound interesting.
Remember how, as a kid, I would try to mix up various bath products to produce one that would do it all?
Well, no poo appealed to that kid. And it appealed to the young mom who had a deep love for baths. And it gave the currently bored woman something to play with. So, I got out the baking soda and apple cider vinegar and gave it a try. After all, I had nothing to lose. If it worked I had just found the cheapest way ever to clean my hair, and if it didn’t I would just go back to shampoo.
Much to my surprise, it did work. Very well in fact. I loved the way my hair looked and felt, and I loved that I only had to wash it once a week. I have a lot of hair. Washing it takes a long time!
So I kept it up. And I discovered another benefit. Not only did my hair look amazing, but my migraines disappeared. Just gone. Now, I had had these since my teen years. I got them a couple times a month, and they were killer – vomiting, slurring my words, dark room, no noise or jostling, please just cut my head off migraines. So imagine the bone deep joy when I realized that I hadn’t had one – not one! – since I started my hair washing experiment.
I don’t know about you, but those kind of results made me wonder what would happen if I replace the rest of my bath products with natural versions. So, a run to the local health food store, a revamp of the shower shelf, and I was ready to be wowed.
I tried different brands. I read reviews. I detoxed. I just wasn’t thrilled with any of the results.
So it was back to – you guessed it – browsing the internet. I tried several DIY recipes, and they were ok, but I wanted something more. I wanted to know how to make my own, specific to my skin’s needs. Something luxurious, pampering, natural, and not $300 a pop. More internet time later, and I’m signed up for the first of many natural skincare courses.
See what happens when you’re bored and have internet access?
Otherwise known as “The Bathtub Epiphany”.
Yup. It deserves capitals.
Let’s set the scene. I’m now a sleep deprived mom of young kids who hasn’t used the toilet or taken a shower alone in years. My decorating style is early fisher price, and my clothing is chosen based on what will best withstand the various bodily fluids deposited on it by runny noses and leaky diapers. In other words, I’m a tired, sloppy, often cranky, hot mess.
One night, after Justin and I have gotten the kids down for bed, rather than collapse on the couch and stare at a screen until I muster up the energy to make my way to bed, I decide I’m going to do something radical. Something I haven’t done in … well … a really, really long time. I’m going to soak in the tub.
I shut myself in the bathroom, almost giddy with the thought of a gloriously long, blissfully solo soak in some steaming hot water, and turn to the tub.
Oh, right…we have 25,496,385 bath toys…
Five minutes later, I have found the tub, covered the sink and counter with various animals, letters, and containers, and have the water running. I throw some baby bedtime bath bubbles in there – hey, you use what you’ve got – and settle into nirvana.
In the busyness of raising young kids, I had forgotten how much I loved soaking in the tub. The enveloping warmth, the weightlessness, the softness of the water, and the scented steam all combine to create utter physical relaxation and allow my mind to wander free. It feels something like this:
I lay there for probably an hour, slowly relaxing and thoughts drifting from chores that needed to be done to mentally writing sarcastic articles about motherhood to pure appreciation for the time alone to just be. When I got out of that tub, I was relaxed, peaceful, and happy. I had both the physical and mental energy to have a fun, relaxing evening with my husband for the first time in months, and I was calmer and more patient with the kids the next day.
And that’s when it hit me. The Bathtub Epiphany (are you ready for it?).
Here it is:
I’m a better mom, better wife, better person if I take some time for me.
It seems pretty obvious with today’s awareness of self care, but back then it was a revelation. I loved spending time with my kids. I loved teaching them, playing with them, snuggling them, giving them new experiences…but I had lost me in the process. I made the decision then and there to try to carve out one hour a week to soak…to indulge in a sensory experience that relaxed and refreshed me, and restored my reserves of energy and patience for the week.
And she did, and her husband and children sing odes to her, and the woodland creatures flock to her calm, joyful presence, and she has changed the world for the better.
…wait, this isn’t a made for tv movie….
Ok, real life happens. I didn’t get my soak every every week. But I did make time for it more often. It didn’t make me a perfect wife and mother, or suddenly grant me the ability to be superwoman and save the world while maintaining a perfect home. But it did restore my energy and equilibrium, and better equip me to manage the day to day life in the trenches with young children and still be able to enjoy time with my husband.
My kids are older now, and daily life is significantly different than it was back then. But I still need that weekly time. And I still have to be intentional about carving it out. So do you. There is always something to do – young kids, teen kids, elderly parents, sick spouses, work projects, volunteer opportunities – the list of really important things that can fill our calendar is endless. But do yourself a favor, and put an hour a week on that calendar for yourself.
Do you take the time to recharge? What restores you? Let me know in the comments below! (oh – and you can find the first post in the series here.)
Ever ask yourself that? I have. Oh, not because I’m unhappy with where I am. Quite to the contrary, I’m loving every minute of it. (ok…not every minute. Bathing the dogs after they roll in something disgusting isn’t high on my list of great moments. Neither is dusting.) But I have had to wonder just how I wound up here, because it’s the first question the people who don’t slowly back away in fear of the crazy lady ask after they find out what I do.
So. How did I wind up here? My usual smart ass answer is boredom. And it’s true. But it’s also more than that. It’s a combination of different moments throughout my life. The earliest being when I was just a kid and trying to combine shampoo and conditioner into one product (yeah…mom…sorry. That’s probably why we were always running out of hair products and bathroom cups) in order to make hair washing quicker and more efficient. I had soaking to do and stories to read, and hair washing got in the way. I continued to mess about with combining products through my teens. Mixing moisturizer and foundation, trying to combine lotion and soap, or mix different facial cleansers to make the perfect one step morning face wash. After all, at this point in my life I had some serious sleeping in and loafing around to do – but I needed to look good doing it. They say necessity is the mother of invention. In my case, laziness was.
Of course, most of these things were unmitigated disasters – although the moisturizer and foundation combo was pretty nice. And obviously, all these products exist now. So why do I make my own? Where does ‘for the busy, stressed out woman’ come in? What does boredom have to do with it? And what up with tea?
It’s a longish story, and chances are high your coffee would be cold (or wine glass empty, depending on time of day) before I was done telling it. Not to mention those pesky people that you’re hiding from so you can just have five minutes of peace and quiet and a good piece of chocolate would find you. So in the interests of hot coffee, full wine glasses, peace, quiet, and chocolate we’ll break this up into parts. In the next post, I’ll tell you about my bathtub epiphany. (it’s not as dirty as it sounds)
I often joke with my husband that I’m solar powered. The first warm spring day, you’ll find me on my deck swing, face tipped up and arms outstretched, soaking up the sun. All summer, I wear sleeveless tops and shorts or above the knee skirts so I can revel in the feel of the sunlight on as much of my skin as possible. And mid winter calls for a trip to Florida to see relatives…and get a dose of sunshine and warmth to hold me through the rest of the dark, cold weather.
Turns out, I really am solar powered. At least partially. There is a fascinating article (link here) published in 2016 that looks at the risks and benefits of sun exposure. The conclusion? The current sun avoidance/sunscreen advice is creating a major public health problem. Yup. That’s right. We need unprotected exposure to the sun for optimal health.
“Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking” Lindqvist et al. 2016
It turns out that non burning sun exposure is linked to a reduced risk of just about every major health problem you can think of. Melanoma, breast cancer, and bladder cancer? Reduced. Hypertension, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimers, and dementia? Reduced. Liver disease, macular degeneration, myopia, and obesity? Also reduced. In addition, sunlight affects your brain’s serotonin and endorphin levels. It makes you feel good.
How does sunlight do this? Well, we don’t know exactly. Your skin takes UV radiation and converts it into Vitamin D, a hormone that almost all the cells and organs in your body have receptors for. But tests have shown that Vitamin D alone isn’t the answer – dietary supplementation does not produce the same results. So they say there are (and I quote) “…health outcomes related to sun exposure independent of vitamin D, health outcomes dependent on serum 25(OH)D levels but not vitamin D supplementation, and health outcomes dependent on mediators other than vitamin D…” Basically, the sun does stuff we don’t understand yet, but it’s really, really good for you.
Now, does that mean we should just go willy-nilly unto the beach and turn ourselves lobster red? Of course not. Remember – non burning sun exposure is good. Sunburn is bad. Very bad. Besides being painful, it is linked to an increased risk of melanoma, squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas. So, if your plans involve activities that you know will likely make you burn, slather on the suncreen. But for everyday life? Give it a pass. Your health will thank you.