The winter holiday season is joyful for many reasons. You get to spend time with friends and family, decorations are all around, the crisp air and blankets of snow bring a stillness like no other season, uplifting music swirls through the air, and the power of giving is in full force- just to name a few.
This holiday season, I decided I wanted to hand make as many gifts as possible and spend less money. I found myself getting too caught up in the consumerism aspect of the holidays and didn’t like what I was feeling. I love giving and making people smile, but that doesn’t have to be the result of frivolously spending money.
Handmade gifts are cost efficient and add a special touch to the gift-giving season. They are thoughtful and fun to create. Many times the fun comes in learning a new skill or technique with a handmade gift. You can make something useful and unique. Consider this: do you ever have the problem of not being able to find exactly what you’re looking for? Make it! There’s an endless sea of resources available to assist you in even the most daunting do-it-yourself projects. Try Howard County Library System’s new Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center.
I’ve been wanting to make more of my own everyday products instead of buying them. I started an expansive essential oils collection and did a lot of research on the many ways they can be utilized. These oils can be used in everything from body care products to household cleaning products- truly a great investment.
I decided to make soap and hand scrub for gifts this season considering both of these necessities can be great for absolutely anyone. I was able to experiment with scents and other natural elements to make each product specially designed for each individual based on their needs and preferences. For example, using real lavender to soothe skin, bits of oatmeal for exfoliation, and ground coffee for a kick of caffeine.
The hand scrub is such an easy process that you can make it right in your kitchen with items you most likely already have. A little bit of brown sugar, coconut oil, and vitamin E oil makes for a delicious smelling and nourishing treat for your hands. Add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil for more benefits and yummy smells. Winter weather can dry out your skin and cause cracking which makes simple tasks more difficult. With a small tub of hand scrub, you can remedy the issue while on-the-go.
The soaps that I decided to make are lemon cupcake, basil clementine, lavender chamomile, and sandalwood sage. After a test batch of each, I tweaked the recipe and got exactly what I wanted. Using essential oils allows for you to make the smell as subtle or as strong as you’d like. Different soap bases add even more benefits. I used goat’s milk, honey, shea butter, oatmeal, cocoa butter, aloe vera, and hemp oil. All bases are a simple melt and pour recipe (full of moisturizing properties) that you can customize to your liking.
Another great aspect of handmade gifts is that I got to experience the process with a close friend. It was a fun way to deter from our normal hangout routine while being productive, learning a new skill, and spending quality time together. We got to test the product and do something we had been talking about for a long time. Even better, we made gifts for over 50 people at a great cost. Handmade gifts are something that I’ve always appreciated. The time and love that go into such creations just can’t be beat. This holiday season, consider making some, or all, of your gifts and learn a new skill in the process. Now get out there and start brainstorming!
This is an emotional time of year for many of us. We can feel happy, sad, and stressed at the same time. Right now, I am happy that my kids will soon be home from college, but I am stressed that I won’t be able to clear the clutter off the dining room table in time for Thanksgiving dinner. I am also sad that this is the first Thanksgiving that my oldest son will not be home, because he recently moved across country. There is so much to do in a finite amount of time- cleaning, decorating, cooking, baking, and let’s not forget shopping. Are you one of those people that are near the front of the line waiting for the stores to open after you have finished your Thanksgiving dinner? If you are, I’ll admit I am a bit envious. I am usually the one endlessly circling waiting for you to leave, so I can have your parking space.
Managing your stress level is important throughout the year, but even more so around holidays. The best thing to do, which can seem impossible at this time of the year, is to work on preventing stress before it happens in the first place. Stress can lead to (or exacerbate) existing health problems. You can read about the causes of stress, its effect on the body, and how to effectively manage stress here.
It’s also important to recognize your stress triggers. I am embarrassed to admit that I canceled Christmas in our house one year, because I let my stress get the best of me. Some of the things you can do to relieve stress over the holidays are to set realistic and achievable goals, plan ahead, delegate, stick to your routine, get plenty of sleep, and don’t overindulge in food or drink.
One of the most effective ways I have found to reduce my stress is to take time for myself. The year I canceled Christmas I think what I really needed was a time out. So now I schedule time, just for me, around the holidays to do something I enjoy. What do you enjoy doing? Plan time in your week to do it. It can be as simple as taking a walk in your neighborhood or sticking to your fitness or yoga routine, meditating, listening to music, reading a book or watching a movie, or doing something more indulgent like getting a massage or a new haircut. It’s also the perfect time of year to support Howard County General Hospital and walk, drive or jog through the Symphony of Lights. Symphony of Lights is also a great place to send your family, relatives or guests if you need a few minutes alone (hint,hint)! Think about what you enjoy doing and do it! Everything will still get done and you will be happier. You can find more tips for enjoying the holidays here.
I hope everyone finds a little more peace and joy this holiday season. Happy holidays!
I have often heard in both videos and in person that the hardest part of yoga is showing up to your mat. I have to say from experience that this is most certainly true. Yoga is just as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one and once you make it to your mat, the journey begins.
Yoga is a relatively new practice for me. I started in April 2015 and have been drawn to it’s benefits ever since. I love yoga for many reasons. The fact that it’s the only exercise I’ve genuinely enjoyed is a noteworthy part of it but there’s so much more to it than the physical aspect. I also use my yoga practice as a time and place for reflection. I have discovered an immense amount about myself by showing up to my mat every day and letting my thoughts arise naturally. I work through problems and questions when I am doing yoga whether it’s a huge personality trait that I’m trying to understand, a pattern in my thinking/behavior, or just something that bothered me earlier in the day. I get to have the time and space to really “sit” with my thoughts and explore what they mean. This allows me to trace back to the root of “why?”
I’m a rather busy person and can find it difficult to balance work and relationships while also finding quality time for myself. Yoga is the one thing I am sure to do for myself every single day whether it’s for five minutes or an hour. The time itself is such a powerful force because it’s for me and only me. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!
The discipline is another very appealing part of the experience. Learning the proper posture/foundation of each pose and flow is extremely rewarding- especially when you have those little “aha!” moments where something so little finally clicks for the first time. It’s empowering.
Yoga challenges my body, mind, and spirit all at the same time. This might sound overwhelming but it’s a surprisingly welcome experience that I am truly thankful for. Yoga has shown me how important it is to take care of myself and has become an incredible outlet to relieve stress, lower anxiety, improve depression, and build strength (just to name a few.) Yoga is a very individual experience. Even when I am in class surrounded by other contorting bodies, I am very much alone in my experience and what it means for me as cleansing energy fills the room.
I recently experienced a random wrist injury and my first thought went immediately to my practice and how it would change my abilities. I felt broken, upset, and annoyed. How could I possibly continue to make improvements with a hand that I can’t apply any pressure to? Of course, this happened right as I was about to master a pose that I had been working on for a year. I thought that this setback would diminish everything that I had worked so hard to achieve.
Instead, I was forced to ask for advice from my yoga instructor and learned several modifications (some of which were more difficult physically than the original). I did more standing yoga and decided to use this time as an opportunity to work on my balancing poses. I didn’t want to stop my practice. While I have no idea when my hand/wrist will get better- I can still experience yoga in a meaningful way. Not to mention, I was able to work through why this setback upset me so much. Yoga truly is more than just a physical exercise. Whether you’re a beginner, expert, senior, pregnant, curvy, or injured– there is a type of yoga for your body and skill level. With that part figured out, all you have to do is show up to your mat and explore your mind. Namaste.
Do we need Girl Power today when girls have caught up and often outperform boys in school STEM-related subjects? When they are earning more college diplomas than boys, and are increasingly represented in STEM-related careers? So then, why Girl Power?
At the Central Branch of Howard County Library System, girls have an outlet for building self-confidence, developing friendships, and doing STEAM-related activities. If you ask these tween customers why they feel Girl Power is important, this is what you’ll hear:
“So we can encourage girls to do anything in the world.”- Anne (Age 10)
“Friendship!”- Marianne (Age 11)
“I believe that every single girl has power inside of them.”- Alexis (Age 9)
“It teaches girls to be brave & strong.”- Abby (11)
“It helps bring my inner voice come out.”- Trisha (Age 11)
“Because we want to fight back from being bullied.”- Brooke (age 9)
Research shows that as girls approach puberty and their bodies start to change, their self-esteem may decrease. An astounding number of tween and teen girls are unhappy with their bodies, and research shows that girls being worried about the way they look can influence their participation in activities. Thanks to national, state, and community initiatives in recent years, girls’ participation and success in STEM-related subjects has significantly improved. However, girls with lower self-esteem who believe in gender stereotypes such as “boys are better at math” suffer academically and consequently are less likely to pursue STEM-related careers.
There is good news! Positive female role models help combat negative female stereotypes. Likewise, getting hands-on experience in STEM-related subjects and activities can help give girls the confidence to pursue more STEM-related activities and/or careers. Another way to hone into that inner Girl Power is to check out the list of girl-empowering reads at the end of this post!
It’s also important to remember that not every girl will aspire to be a scientist or a mathematician, and that is perfectly okay! Girl Power is all about girls having the confidence to reach their individual potential and feel an inner happiness. Allison, an HCLS Girl Power attendee, sums up best why girls still need opportunities to explore and embrace their inner power: “To empower girls not to be afraid to do anything we put our minds to.” Check out hclibrary.org to register for the next Girl Power class.
TEEN GIRL FICTION
TEEN GIRL NONFICTION
A wonderful resource for children, caregivers, teachers, and practitioners, The Kids’ Guide to Staying Awesome and In Control: Simple Stuff to Help Children Regulate their Emotions and Senses is remarkable and even life-changing. Author Lauren Brukner knows how to keep things real and simple and sincere and children and emotions are two topics that go together and need to be talked about more, especially in the frank and charming way that Brukner does. Though it is specifically designed for children (and it is children who need it the most), I think there is something here for adults too. There’s something we ALL can learn from as we daily navigate the sometimes rocky road of emotions.
When Lauren Brukner was a child she had difficulty paying attention in class. She couldn’t express what was bothering her, and calming down after she she got sad, mad, or frustrated was nearly impossible. She would often struggle with feeling she had little control over her life. These experiences inspired her desire to help children identify not only “what” or “how” they were feeling, but ways for them to control or change (or at least improve) those feelings. She introduces us to “anywhere body breaks.” These are small body exercises to bring calm and focus.
“Anywhere body breaks” is based on proprioceptive input which is letting your body know where you are in space and which, in turn, can help stabilize you emotionally and keep you more centered and focused. To first understand what is going on, it is important to label that feeling as physical (in your body) or emotional (in your mind or heart) . Then, within those two categories, whether those feelings are: slow and tired, fast and emotional, or fast and wiggly. Brukner uses simple language and pleasing, welcoming visuals in a manner that never talks down to the reader. Truly, this could only have been written by someone who has been there herself.
Robin F. models the “arm pretzel.”
One of the simplest “body breaks” (that has worked, even for me) is called the “arm-pretzel.” In doing this exercise a child should cross her arms with her palm touching as she interlaces her fingers. Then she should twist her arms, bringing them in close to the chest. This is designed for when children feel slow and tired or fast and wiggly.
Full of insightful and easy-to-grasp examples so that children can learn to self-regulate their emotions and senses, Brukner’s guide helps them face difficult feelings head on and feel calm, cool and collected. The Kids’ Guide to Staying Awesome and In Control gives children self-control, direction, and ownership of their emotions and ways to feel and function better anywhere and at any time.
It also helps children understand and truly recognize what they are feeling, whether those feelings are slow and tired, fast and emotional or fast and wiggly, and empowers them with coping techniques they can use to feel just right. In a world where even the most basic of emotions can be trying on both adults and children, a book like this is invaluable and not soon to be forgotten.
Sitting Still Like a Frog
Another terrific book for children and their parents is Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindful Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents). This book takes on feelings by developing attention and awareness of our surroundings and ourselves, in what is better known as mindfulness. Author Eline Snel also advocates for what she calls “heartfulness,” which includes being kind toward oneself and others. In one instance, she has readers imagine channeling a frog because it is capable of enormous leaps yet it can also remain very still and not react right away, even though it is aware of everything going on around it. The frog sits still and breathes, preserving its energy instead of getting carried away by all the ideas that keep popping into its head. By painting this very vivid picture, Eline Snel gives the reader a model on which to try and best attain their emotional state. With 189 reviews (70% of which are 5 star) on Amazon, Sitting Still Like A Frog is extremely well-received and the perfect companion for The Kids’ Guide to Staying Awesome and In Control.
Additional resources regarding children and the self regulation of their emotions:
Self Regulation, Promoting Self Regulation, Learning Self Regulation
Several weeks ago I was hospitalized for severe depression. I’d been dealing with a stressful project at work, my father’s terminal illness, and just getting over a painful breakup. For weeks it felt like I was drowning in my own head. I constantly felt exhausted. Simple tasks, like showering and getting something to eat, felt like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro without oxygen. Crying for no reason became the new norm. I went through my normal routine, numb and almost robot-like and could not find it within me to feel any pleasure in what I did. My range of emotion was limited to sad, hopeless, and angry. I’d suffered from depression and anxiety most of my adult life, but I realized how bad it was getting when I started to have recurring suicidal ideations.
These ideations were what scared me the most. I had no control over my mind. It didn’t matter what I was doing, thoughts of ending my life became persistent. In a sick way, the thought of dying provided comfort in finally putting an end to my misery.
One morning, I had an extremely difficult time getting out of bed. I slowly showered, dressed for work, drove to the office, and told my boss that I was afraid I was going hurt myself. He knew about my struggle with depression and I explained my life was so unbearable that I wanted to end it. I cannot remember much, but I do know I was brought to the psych unit of the ER. I cried hysterically several times, begging the hospital staff not to admit me to the psych ward.
I was admitted to another hospital for short-term hospitalization where I was stabilized with medication and group therapy. I am currently in outpatient therapy to learn coping skills, stress management, and recognize behaviors that I need to work on.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a chronic brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
I am Bipolar II which means I have patterns of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes, which involve elevated, high-energy moods. When I am hypomanic, I feel extremely energetic, talkative, and overly confident. For example, I’ll take on dozens of tasks at work and insist I do them on my own. Most of the time, I’m unable to complete the unrealistic goal I’d set for myself.
My psychiatrist said I am a high functioning bipolar. I’d been misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder all these years. Everyone that knows me thinks I’m a workaholic overachiever with a sweet, bubbly, outgoing personality. They think I have this tank of never-ending energy when I am up until 3:00 a.m. baking batches upon batches of cookies for no reason. Or when I can take care of a sick family member at the hospital all day and then answer work emails until 4:00 a.m. night after night for a week and not feel exhausted. I learned that this was also my hypomania.
No one ever saw the depression because I have mastered the art of hiding it from everyone, including most of my family and exes (even the last guy, who also had bipolar). When I am agitated or what I now know is an unstable mood, I always make a deliberate effort to be kind to those I interact with because I’m a firm believer that you never know what kind of day they’re having. It was only when I was alone that I allowed the dark depression to devour me and keeping up this act of normalcy took its toll.
MANAGING MY DISORDER IS MY RESPONSIBILITY.
The key to leading a happy, functional life is managing my disorder to the best of my abilities. Thanks to my ex boyfriend (also bipolar), I have a huge head start in educating myself about the disorder. I am fortunate to have a strong support system to help me cope and finally adjust to my new reality.
I am doggedly determined to maintain my stability and health not just for myself, but the people in my life. I am working out a plan with my doctor and therapist to make sure I stay on track. I am learning to manage my stress and look out for triggers. And most of all, I am holding myself accountable for how I manage my disorder moving forward.
I’ve seen so many negative things in the media about people struggling with bipolar. Not one bipolar person is the same -and to negatively label all of us is ignorant and requires more education about the disorder. We, with bipolar, also ask for empathy and understanding. I know good people who struggle with this disorder; who work incredibly hard every day to maintain their stability for themselves and their families.
I did not choose to be bipolar. No one with this disorder did.
[Editor’s Note: This post is a personal account of one of our contributors who asked their name be kept private. If you or someone you know is suffering with depression and feels unsafe, please go to your nearest emergency room or call 9-1-1.]