Tag Archives: advice

A Beginner’s Guide to Tea

Nothing screams “I’ve got my life together” more than brewing yourself a good cup of tea, but often, tea is seen as the lesser cousin of the venerable coffee. This article is a local tea aficionado’s attempt at making the case for why tea is indubitably the superior beverage.

A Beginner’s Guide to Tea

By Morgan Scruggs

The Basics

The three main categories of tea are black tea, green tea, and oolong tea. Black tea has the highest caffeine content and is often the best option if someone makes the switch from coffee to tea and wants their cup of tea to pack a punch. Green tea,  most famously known for its matcha variant, can be quite strong but has less caffeine than black tea. Finally, oolong tea has the least amount of caffeine and often has light, floral notes that enchant the more refined palate.

Tea is a healthier option than coffee since it doesn’t leave you dehydrated and isn’t as potent if you like drinking multiple cups a day. Personally, I switched to tea because coffee made me extremely anxious, which wasn’t a great way to set the tone for the day.

Tips on how to enjoy 

Choose your player

If you are just starting on your tea journey, use your favorite beverage as a template for what types of tea you will most likely enjoy. If you are someone who loves energy drinks, don’t opt for oolong or more floral teas; instead, try green tea, especially green tea with fruit or mint flavors–Interested in swapping out coffee for tea? Try darjeeling or assam tea (both are types of black tea). If you love holiday drinks all year-‘round, black tea, milk and an array of spices from cinnamon to nutmeg are your best bet (also known as chai lattes).

Ice ice baby

Everyone knows the best coffee drinks at Starbucks are the iced ones, so why should tea be an exception? Use everything from giant ice cubes to fancy, tiny silicone ice cubes to amplify your tea. Just be sure to brew your tea hot and then add it to ice because brewing tea cold could subdue its flavor.

By Morgan Scruggs

Ditch that microwave

Not everyone has access to a stove, and it’s completely alright to heat the water for your tea in a kettle or a microwave. If you do have access to a stove, though, take the extra time to brew your tea at the stove. It heats your water more evenly and usually at higher temperatures than a microwave. This heat heightens the tea’s aroma and overall flavor.

Loose-leaf superiority

Loose leaf tea is better for the environment and honestly, makes better tea. You will need a strainer and it does take longer than using a tea bag but, I promise you, the results are worth it. Also, as an added bonus, the used tea leaves can be used as compost and are great for your plants!

Spice it up

Froth your milk for your tea lattes, add cinnamon honey, and play around with different types of milk alternatives like almond or oat. Whoever said tea was boring wasn’t creative enough. You can add flavors to highlight the espresso in coffee, so why should tea be different? Also, pro tip: chai lattes with almond milk are a divine pairing.

By Morgan Scruggs

Make your own

Ordering tea at a cafe is definitely an art in itself, and once you find an order that does not result in a burnt mess, it can be hard to pass up the convenience of buying your drink. However, making your own tea is a therapeutic act and makes the overall experience of consumption more enjoyable. When you are involved in making your own tea, not only do you appreciate it more, but you can customize every aspect of it.

So go ahead out into the world and enjoy your tea, for you are no longer a tea novice but a budding tea aficionado!

Podcasts for Women by Women

Podcasts can be a great way to get advice and educate yourself on important issues. I’ve recently switched from listening to the entire One Direction discography, to listening to podcast episodes during my treks across campus to class. Here is a compiled list of podcasts for the girly pops all produced by women to empower, inspire and educate you. 

Anything Goes with Emma Chamberlain

Emma Chamberlain is a prominent youtuber and influencer. I believe one of the reasons she remains in the public eye is because of how relatable she portrays herself to be; and this podcast is no exception. Emma’s podcast doesn’t feel like a podcast at all. It feels like you’re sitting down chatting with a friend. She turns on the microphone and talks for an hour about what is plaguing her mind, her struggles and triumphs. Her podcast gives words to the strange emotions you may be feeling and actual advice on how to deal with them. Her words feel like a hug from a friend and every new episode is a delight.

My recommended episode: rock bottom

Good Influence by Gemma Styles

I’m going to be honest, I only started this podcast because it is hosted by Harry Styles’ sister. Make no mistake though, Gemma is just as spectacular as her younger brother. Each episode of this informative podcast spotlights important societal issues and features experts who talk about them. Past topics have included managing emotions, sustainable fashion, toxic masculinity and body acceptance. Through these open and relaxed conversations listeners can learn more about the world and themselves. 

My recommended episode: Michelle Ellman on Boundaries

Something Was Wrong

This award-winning podcast explores real stories from women who have survived abusive relationships and traumatic life events. This podcast brings light to just how common physical, mental and emotional abuse can be in relationships. Pay attention to the warnings at the beginning of each episode as topics discussed can be triggering. 

My recommended episode: [Ava] Showing Up Places

The Orange Tree by Drag Audio Productions

If you haven’t listened to this podcast yet it’s a must. Produced by the Moody College audio productions, and hosted by two former Moody students, the Orange Tree explores the murder of Jennifer Cave at the Orange Tree Condominiums in 2005. The newest season of the podcast currently airing, titled “Darkness”, explores the Austin serial bomber from spring of 2018. What I love about this podcast is the way they treated Jennifer, the victim. They focused on her character and life as a whole, and didn’t reduce her to the last few moments of her life. Her decisions that may have led to her death didn’t have a place in this story and the podcast made it apparent they didn’t matter. 

My recommended episode: All of them!

Podcasts are a great resource for quick information and guidance. Next time you’re cleaning your room or need something to listen to in the car, pop on one of these shows!

21 instagram accounts to follow for self-care AND mental health advice

With everything going on right now, we could all use a little pick-me-up. Ever since the coronavirus outbreak, life has been especially stressful to say the least. Restaurants, bars, malls and schools have shut down nationwide. Getting together with close friends and family is a lost luxury and relic of the past. To make matters worse, we can barely even leave our homes anymore.

As troubling as these times are for us all, they’re even tougher for people who already suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues on a daily basis. If you’re one of these people, just know that you’re not alone, and there are tons of helpful resources freely available at your fingertips. When you follow the right people, social media can be surprisingly therapeutic! 

Illustration by Serena Rodriguez

In case you’ve been struggling with anxiety, low motivation, mood swings, self-doubt or just general existential woes, we’ve rounded up the best Instagram feeds to follow for mental health advice and self-care tips! Check out these 21 Instagram accounts for immediate inspiration and encouragement.  

  1. @thisismybrave
    Mental health is super important, especially during times like these. This universal truth lies at the very heart of This Is My Brave, a community-centered Instagram account with a goal to “end stigma, one story at a time”. Their content aims to raise awareness about the reality of mental health by featuring personal anecdotes from brave individuals living with mental illness. In light of the Coronavirus, This Is My Brave also provides useful tips and advice that their 16k followers can use while practicing social distancing. Be sure to follow their Instagram if you like inspirational quotes and interesting stories from relatable people across the globe!

  2. @selfcareisforeveryone
    “A space that honors the importance of choosing self-care over self-harm,” Self-Care Is For Everyone is an Instagram account and website that posts inspirational messages, helpful reminders and valuable information about mental, spiritual and emotional health. Not only do they encourage mindfulness by providing motivational quotes and content to their 852k followers, but they’ve recently devoted their efforts to addressing COVID-19 by enlightening the public about ways we can enhance our health and wellness during quarantine.

  3. @letstalkaboutmentalhealth
    Let’s Talk About Mental Health is an Instagram account run by Jessica Walsh as part of her self-help project, 12 Kinds of Kindness. Most of the content consists of motivational quotes and stories from real people struggling with mental illness. In these trying times, we should all be making mental health a top priority. By following Let’s Talk About Mental Health, Instagram users can draw inspiration from individuals who have battled mental illness, emerged victorious, and ultimately blossomed into their best selves.

  4. @recipesforselflove
    This Instagram account created by South African artist Alison Rachel combines elegant illustrations with words of inspiration to create aesthetically pleasing content that promotes self-love. Fans of feminist artwork will surely love this Instagram feed, which features illustrations of women in each and every post. Rachel’s helpful reminders like “your mental health is paramount” and “don’t lose hope that things can and will get better” provide her 580k followers with much-needed motivation during these turbulent times.

  5. @letsmend
    An “award-winning self care company that helps people in 195 countries through heartbreak, Let’s Mend offers encouragement and opportunities for self-reflection to their 12k Instagram followers. Each post provides little pearls of wisdom like “it’s ok if all you did today was survive” and “every day is a second chance,” reminding us all to live in each and every moment as the very best version of ourselves!

  6. @theblissfulmind
    Life coach and content creator Catherine Beard formed The Blissful Mind to “help overthinkers get out of their own heads so they can stress less and take action.” From skincare to spirituality, The Blissful Mind’s Instagram feed offers invaluable tips and insights on personal growth and productivity. Anyone who appreciates aesthetics and inspirational quotes should definitely hit that follow button!

  7. @blessingmanifesting
    Without a doubt, the most colorful Instagram feed on this list is none other than Blessing Manifesting! A mosaic of bright hues and rainbow letters, Blessing Manifesting’s content provides their 150k followers with countless self-care tips, to-do lists, ideas and opportunities for introspection. Their adorable cartoon illustrations are sure to win over kawaii lovers or just about anyone who enjoys a pop of color with their daily dose of inspiration!

  8. @journey_to_wellness_
    While we wait for this pandemic to reach its end, I think we can all agree that humanity is on a journey to wellness. Luckily, those looking for someone to steer them on the right path need only follow Journey to Wellness on Instagram! Pairing mental health advice with cute illustrations of cartoon characters practicing mindfulness, this account breaks down the complexities of self-care into manageable steps. Their 283k followers can look forward to daily reminders, positive affirmations, and detailed checklists geared towards enhancing emotional wellness!

  9. @iamwellandgood
    Well + Good is an Instagram account geared towards “decoding and demystifying what it means to live a well life, inside and out.” Not only to they provide healthy recipes and guided workouts to nearly a million followers, but they also post relatable memes and useful life hacks! Their informative content goes beyond just health and wellness, however, including information about relationships, skincare, and even astrology. Even in the face of the current Coronavirus crisis, Well + Good has been at the top of their Insta game with daily posts including medical advice, tips on working from home, and other relevant content!

  10. @howamifeelingg
    This account features artwork and stories related to mental health, most of which are created and submitted by followers! By encouraging individuals “to join in on the conversation surrounding mental health, growth, healing, emotions, art, and more,” How Am I Feeling has become a community-driven platform that shares inspiration and information on emotional wellness. Their Insta feed features some truly amazing art and photography, so definitely follow them if you’re into that kind of stuff! You can even get your own art or short stories featured on their Instagram by submitting your work to their website!

  11. @myselflovesupply
    If your self-love supply is running out, look no further! My Self-Love Supply has more than enough encouragement to go around. Their Instagram provides self-love tips, self-care routines, and healthy living inspiration to over 1.1 million followers. With everything going on right now, we could all use a little more positivity in our lives (and Insta feeds)! Their Insta feed has plenty to offer, including self-care advice during quarantine, steps for managing COVID-19 anxiety, and even an isolation wellbeing to-do list!

  12. @happsters
    Here’s a quick quarantine challenge for you: try and look at Happsters’ Insta feed without smiling… As far as I’m concerned, it’s just not possible. Scroll down their page and you’ll find tons of cute videos of dogs, babies, babies hugging dogs, and pretty much every other adorable thing you can think of. They also post lots of inspirational quotes, self-love tips, and mental health advice too!

  13. @howdoyouadult
    Meme-lovers and mental health advocates alike should definitely follow this account on Insta, especially if you like your memes with a heavy dose of reality. How Do You Adult’s Insta feed features tons of amusing cartoons, jokes, and pictures that are sure to take the edge off of any Coronavirus anxiety you might be feeling lately! All of their content is super relatable and entertaining, especially for us soon-to-be-graduating Longhorns that are feeling super unprepared for life after college!

  14. @positivelypresent
    Positively Present has almost a million Instagram followers, one of whom is none other than Paris Hilton! If that doesn’t convince you to hit the follow button, then surely their colorful inspirational content will! All artwork featured on their feed is created by the founder of the account herself, Dani DiPirro. If you thought inspirational quotes couldn’t get any better, just check out Positively Present’s recent posts and you’ll see how the cute kawaii influences and rainbow colors bring positivity to a whole new level!

  15. @talkspace
    TalkSpace provides “confidential and affordable online therapy with professional, licensed therapists, wherever & whenever you need it.” Their Instagram profile even has a highlight for COVID-19 support, which includes links to resources, articles on their website, and even a free therapist-led Facebook support group. Followers are also encouraged to send in their questions and concerns via direct message, which are then answered by therapists on TalkSpace’s Instagram story. Aside from Coronavirus-related advice, they also post daily inspiration, mental health information, and self-care tips. Whether you’ve personally benefited from therapy in the past or have never even spoken to a therapist before, you’re sure to find something of value from TalkSpace on Insta!

  16. @theblurtfoundation
    According to their Insta bio, The Blurt Foundation is “dedicated to helping those affected by depression.” Most of their feed consists of inspirational illustrations, however they also post relatable memes and informative content as well. Check them out if you need some friendly self-care reminders every once in a while!

  17. @milennial.therapist
    Created by a licensed psychotherapist, Millennial.Therapist aims to raise mental health awareness by “writing about what it means to be human.” Their Instagram feed is formatted beautifully with a consistent color scheme, and almost every post consists of plain text rather than photographs or illustrations. In that sense, Millennial.Therapist’s content is definitely more on the informative side, although their frequent “gentle reminders” offer plenty of inspiration to over 370k followers. Be sure to give them a follow if you want to balance out all of the pictures on Insta with some helpful text-based content!

  18. @anxietyhealer
    Anxiety Healer strives to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention within the Instagram community and beyond. A lot of their content comes from Twitter, and pretty much all of the tweets they post are related to mental health and wellness. Fortunately, Anxiety Healer isn’t the kind of account that crops out other people’s social media handles, and they always give credit where it’s due! Not to mention, they also post insightful infographics on a variety of health topics like self-care ideas, how to support someone with mental illness, and things to do while social distancing!

  19. @thepsychologymum
    Clinical psychologist Dr. Emma Hepburn created The Psychology Mum on Instagram, where she posts her own psychology-related illustrations along with evidence-based mental health advice. A lot of The Psychology Mum’s content aims to debunk common myths surrounding mental illness, but she also offers helpful resources, detailed do’s and don’ts, and artsy infographics related to self-care and wellness!

  20. @careercontessa
    This one’s for all of the girl bosses out there! Career Contessa offers professional advice, resources, and encouragement to over 133k followers on Instagram. Not only does their Insta feed feature lots of funny content and relatable memes, but they even manage to make their Coronavirus-related posts entertaining with one-liners like “now I know why dogs get so excited to go for walks” and “a large group of people is called a ‘no thanks.’” Their page is loaded with helpful tips, tricks, and quotes ranging from inspirational to downright hilarious. Scroll through their Insta feed long enough and you might just find yourself updating your resume!

  21. @brenebrown
    It only feels right to save the best (and only Longhorn on this list) for last! As a Texas Ex herself, Brené Brown is definitely someone you should be following on Instagram if you aren’t already. Needless to say, her helpful advice and inspirational quotes are particularly relevant right now. In response to the current pandemic, Brené has been using Instagram to promote public awareness, health and safety, reminding us all to wash our hands, practice social distancing, and unite as a community while we fight COVID-19 together! Join her 2.4 million followers for meaningful advice, motivational content, and many UT references!

Things to Do While Social Distancing

The past few weeks have been a difficult and often scary time. Between UT’s shift to online classes and the continuously changing state of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel anxious or hopeless. One thing that we all can do to help slow the spread, or “flatten the curve,” is to take part in social distancing.

 Social distancing can look a bit different for everyone, but basically it boils down to limiting interactions with people and keeping a distance between you of at least six feet when you can’t go without that interaction entirely. It can be tempting to want to go out and socialize or still take part in spring break plans, but this issue is beyond us as individuals. For the sake of public health, we need to do our part and stay home. Obviously, this can get boring pretty quickly. Here are things to do to fight boredom while practicing social distancing.

Start Your Spring Cleaning

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I’d like to think everyone else has a drawer that is always a junk drawer. Whether you have old clothes sitting in your closet or a dresser that needs dusting, though, cleaning is both a time consuming and productive thing to do. If you have a big area to cover, try breaking it up into pieces to conquer throughout the week. Even if you aren’t one of those people who find it relaxing (I certainly don’t), there’s likely to be a sense of accomplishment when it’s all said and done. 

Make a Vision Board

Photo by Courtney Smith

A vision board is a great way to set intentions and put your desires onto something tangible. The great thing about this activity is that it can be as elaborate or simple as you want it to be. I already have a large vision board made of a cork board, scrapbook paper, and magazine images, but I decided to make a smaller one to add to it. As individuals we are always changing, so this is an activity that can be done multiple times whether you’ve made it with long term goals and dreams or short term ideas. All you need is a surface such as a piece of paper/poster board/cork board, magazines or internet images to cut out, and glue/thumb tacks to secure the images. If you’re artsy you could even add paint or drawings to your vision board. This is also a great way to take your mind off of the craziness of the day and think about things you’d like to do for yourself. 

Host a FaceTime Party

Photo courtesy of Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Even if you’re social distancing with your roommates or family members, it can still feel lonely and dull. For those having to leave the dorms or other living arrangements near campus, it can feel like you’re being ripped away from your friends, support system, and overall routine. Luckily we have technology at our fingertips that can help us reconnect. Text your friends/family and set up a FaceTime date. Grab some snacks, get comfortable, make sure your device is charged, and keep each other company! You could also try playing a game or watching a movie “together” if catching up feels repetitive.

Get Outdoors

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Avoid getting stir crazy by making it a point to go outside everyday. According to this Time article, going outside can lower stress, decrease blood pressure, and improve your overall mood. Walking your dog, going for a morning/evening walk, visiting a spacious park, drinking your coffee outside, opening up a window, having a picnic in your backyard, outdoor yoga, going for a run, or riding a bike are just a small sample of things you can do to get outside.

Workout for Free (and at home) with YouTube


Instead of going to the gym, try something new from the comfort of your home. YouTube is a great way to get fit for free and there are literally hundreds of channels to choose from. If you’re looking for a quick, high energy workout, I recommend the Body Coach TV. Joe Wicks is the “Body Coach” and is probably the only person who can make me smile while doing a plank. His specialty is HIIT workouts and he has a huge variety of videos to try. For pilates or yoga, checkout Boho Beautiful or Yoga With Adriene. The Boho Beautiful videos are always in a unique destination that can either give you some future travel inspiration or help you pretend like you’re in Bali. Adriene from Yoga With Adriene is Austin based, so you can support a local yogi by watching her videos.


Photo courtesy of Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Baking is another way to pass time that is productive, entertaining, and (hopefully) delicious. Whether you fancy yourself a future Food Network star or barely know what a whisk is, now is a great time to get cooking. Try and use what you have to avoid going out in crowds. If you don’t have a favorite recipe to whip up, these cookie recipes by Tasty can be made using cake mix and are both easy and delicious. Wanting to make something from scratch? This chocolate cake recipe or these pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are two of my absolute favorite recipes. 

Start a New Show/Book

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Although the adrenaline rush of binge watching a series when you have an exam coming up may not be there, it’s still a great time to start a new series or begin reading a book. It doesn’t have to be actually “new,” either. Never understood the hype of The Office because you’ve never seen it? Now’s your chance. Wanted to read Michelle Obama’s book but didn’t have the time? Well, now you do. 


Photo courtesy of Plush Design Studio from Pexels

Journaling can be both a creative outlet as well as a therapeutic release during times of stress or uncertainty. It can sometimes be difficult to keep up with a traditional journal or know what to write so if that isn’t your thing, try using a bullet journal or a prompting/list journal. I love this reflections and intentions journal because it has fill in the blank prompts for things like gratitudes, reflections, and mood while being flexible enough so if you miss a day it is no big deal. Plus, it’s designed to be used in the morning and again at night, making it more of an activity that you can add into your new routine. A bullet journal can be bought online for relatively cheap and is a great option for those looking to tailor the journaling experience with a bit more creativity and freedom to doodle. There is a ton of inspiration for bullet journals on Instagram and Pinterest, too!

Social distancing is an important part of slowing the spread of the Coronavirus, but it can be difficult emotionally. It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone and, while it may not always seem like it, staying home is one of the biggest ways you can contribute right now. It’s also important to recognize that while getting things done while at home can feel like a valuable way to pass time, it’s okay if you aren’t “productive.” Taking care of your mental health is just as important and that can look different for everyone.

 If you’re struggling with finding things to do while staying in, try the tips above or come up with some ideas of your own and don’t forget to let us know on social media how you’re social distancing! 

Featured image courtesy of Alessio Cesario from Pexels

Navigating the Holidays and Mental Health

The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, family, friends, and giving. Although everyone has their own unique traditions, one common theme in most all celebrations involves food. Food is essential to nourishing our bodies- something we all know- but it is easier said than done to pick and enjoy foods for those who struggle with body image, eating disorders, exercise compulsions, anxiety, depression, and other mental health diagnoses. The following guide is designed to help those who personally struggle with the things listed above or for their loved ones seeking to support them.

First, Debunking the Myths

There is an abundance of myths that are associated with food and/or mental illness. These misunderstandings are often highlighted by our culture. Winter break barely begins before gyms are advertising their New Year’s resolution discounted plans and new diets are springing up on social media. Myths surrounding food, exercise, body image, and mental health are not always commonly known and can be detrimental to your or your loved one’s health when navigating the holidays. The following are a few common myths and the truth behind them.

#1: Carbohydrates are Bad

Each macronutrient does something important for our bodies. This includes carbs! Carbohydrates are converted to glucose in our bodies. Glucose is the main fuel! Without carbs, you aren’t fueling your brain. Carbs are often depicted as the enemy, whether it’s a Keto diet ad on Pinterest or a weight loss video on Youtube. Low-carb diets are even changing our restaurants, with most now being able to swap out buns for either low-carb or carb-free options. As an individual ages and/or with certain medical conditions, the body may need more/less carbs for optimal function. That being said, for the average young adult carbs are not the bad guy and are no different on Christmas or Hanukkah than any other day of the year.

#2: Exercising Should be Everyone’s New Year’s Resolution

This myth comes in many forms. Whether you personally jump on the diet train every year only to “fail” or “give up” a few weeks in, notice the constant gym advertisements during the holidays, or believe that everyone would be better off if they started working out- it’s important for you to hear this. Exercising when done in a balanced way isn’t an issue, but not everyone needs to be picking up a membership come January. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 90-95% of college students that are diagnosed with an eating disorder have a gym facility they belong to. Additionally, there is a major link between exercise compulsion and various forms of eating disorders. The fact is, exercising is not helpful for all people to do at all points in their life. Even if you are someone who does not have an eating disorder, if the gym is not mentally helpful for you, seek help and pair down the workout sessions. No weight goal is worth being mentally unfit. 

#3: The Holidays are Joyous to All

While I hope everyone who reads this loves the holidays and has an amazing time celebrating, the fact is that the holidays simply aren’t amazing for everyone. Individuals who have anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and other mental health diagnoses can struggle during this time. Also, the holidays can bring up memories and loss for those who have lost loved ones. It’s important to spread kindness and empathy during this time. If someone seems more bummed out, stressed, or just not themselves- reach out or lend an ear without judgement. It can go a long way to be understanding. 

#4: People Should Always be Able to Help Themselves

In an ideal world, we would all be perfectly healthy and happy. This isn’t an ideal world! Helping others is a part of being human and, although you may not know everything about what someone is going through, trying to be empathetic and helpful goes a long way. If you are struggling and feel guilty for not being able to do it on your own, here is your sign that you don’t have to. Therapists, friends, family, doctors, and even online resources all are here to help you. Feelings of sadness, guilt, pain, and anxiety shouldn’t be dealt with alone just as joy is rarely celebrated solo. We don’t get to choose every experience or emotion that comes our way. People cannot always “sleep it off” or “just go get help” because our minds and feelings are much more complex. Knowing that you deserve help and/or people can’t always fly solo will help you help others and yourself.

Coping Skills & Advice

Set Boundaries Ahead of Time

No matter what or who you’re worried about, setting boundaries ahead of time can help you speak up without feeling awkward or guilty in the moment. Know that you have the right to be treated with respect and the right to not feel guilty for asking for it. If you need to set a boundary with someone you’re close to, ask to talk in person and make sure to have an idea of what to say beforehand so you can keep the communication open and not one sided. If the person on the receiving end feels attacked or off guard, they may not be as receptive. Here’s an example of what you can do if you were setting a boundary about body comments with a family member:

“Hey (insert name), I wanted to talk to you about something. I’m excited to be off of school and home with you for the holidays and wanted to let you know that I’d rather not hear any comments regarding by body the next few weeks. They just aren’t helpful to me and, even when they’re well intended, I get anxious because of them. I just want to enjoy the break and spend quality time with everyone without worrying about my appearance or what others are thinking. Thank you for being understanding.”

The example above is a simple example that can be altered and/or used as a guide for setting a boundary with someone close to you. Keeping it focused on “I” statements allows the other person to not feel as though you’re attacking them but also clearly expresses how you feel. Mentioning the good things you’re excited for, happy about, and okay with are all ways to bring positivity into the conversation. Maybe a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or grandparent has a history of saying and bringing up things that aren’t helpful to your mental health. Whether it is about a past event, food, appearance, or even a huge exam right around the corner- it is okay to set a boundary ahead of time. If it is someone you do not know as well, even creating some distance (i.e. not sitting next to them at holiday dinner) is a less involved way to set a boundary, Chances are you’ll feel better for doing it. 

Have a Plan

Depending on the severity of the trigger or thing that is bothering you, it is a good idea to have a plan written down before you anticipate exposure to the unpleasant experience. While a handwritten plan is helpful because it gives you something tangible in that moment, it is also okay to use your phone notes. Include things that are specific to you such as what emotions and events usually lead to your needing of a plan (warning signs), list of five things that make you happy or are enjoyable that you can either do or think about, a place you can go to (if applicable, ex: Lucky Lab) that makes you relaxed, two to three people you can talk to, and one thing that is worth living for or your greatest value. Having a plan in advance to look back on during a troubling time can be helpful in pulling yourself out of it. It can also be a good tool to share with family/support system if you are comfortable. If you have a therapist, dietitian, psychiatrist, or other professional you can ring, write their number down as well.

Self-Care Before, During, and After

Self-care should be a part of your daily life, even if it is in small ways! Especially if the holidays are a challenging time for you, try and incorporate self-care before, during, and after a hard days or events. Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be extravagant- listening to your favorite song, petting your dog, calling a long-distance friend, taking a bath, and even taking a nap are all examples of self-care. Find things that work for you and do them regularly. If you need something a little more or want to break your self-care cycle, invite your mom to get mani-pedis or go see a movie by yourself or with your closest friend. Write down a few of your go-to ideas so they can be easily remembered if you’re having a rough day.

For Support Systems: Being Understanding

Support systems for those with mental illness or going through a particularly hard time are extremely important, but it isn’t always easy to know what to do or say. Slipping up can be embarrassing and do more harm than good, but saying nothing at all can also be hurtful. As a supporter you may also feel some of their pain, too. Here is some advice.

Not Sure? Ask.

You can’t help if you don’t know how to help. Asking your loved one ahead of time what best supports them, what they need from you, or what does not help are all topics to get you started. Talking about it ahead of time is the easiest way and chances are anxiety/tension will not be as high, but asking in the moment is also okay. Don’t expect yourself to know everything or do everything perfectly, but also be sure to ask. Here’s an example:

“Hey (insert name), I wanted to ask you what I can do to help your anxiety this week. Let me know if there are things I can do or say ahead of time or in the moment to support you.”

Depending on your relationship, you might be doing better or know more than you think you do.

Get Educated

If your loved one has a mental illness, get educated about it! If your only exposure and education has been by them or pop culture, chances are you still have a ways to go. Movies, fictional books, and television often sensationalize issues and miss out on key details and if you only know about things through your loved one, chances are you’re still missing out on valuable information. Look up trustworthy websites, articles, books, and podcasts. Learning about someone’s mental illness not only shows that you care but it can also help you just by learning more about it. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Eating Disorders: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org, Life Without Ed and/or Goodbye Ed, Hello Me by Jenni Schaeffer, and @laurathomasphd on Instagram.

Anxiety: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtmlAnxiety Happens by John P. Forsyth, PhD and Georg H. Eifert, PhD, and @anxiety_wellbeing on Instagram.

Depression: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtmlhttps://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/helping-someone-with-depression.htm

PTSD: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtmlhttps://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/helping-someone-with-ptsd.htm

Listen Without Judgement

Although it can be hard to not have your own opinions and judgements, it is a critical part of being in someone’s support system. You may want to practically shake someone who is insistent that their body isn’t beautiful or who doesn’t want to get out of bed, but they are having their own experiences in their own life/body. Listening without judgement does not mean you cannot offer them help or advice- and you should always intervene when you think they may harm themselves- but being empathetic is an important skill to being a good listener. Instead of “Just get out of bed! You can’t be that miserable,” try something like, “Is there anything I can do or anything you would like to talk about? If you would like to be alone, maybe you could help me make cookies/run an errand/etc. later. I’d love to have you.” If they aren’t in the mood to talk you can always sit next to them and read a book or bring them their favorite beverage and exit the room. Showing you care is usually not forcing your opinions and judgements onto someone else- even when it is difficult. When talking to them about how they are feeling, ask questions and show support. Ask for clarification, what they need from you, and if your responses are helpful to them. Don’t be offended if they aren’t! It is a learning process and some days are different than others. Being a good listener is a key to being a good supporter, but even this skill may take time. 

Final Thoughts

The holidays can be the best of times and the worst of times. Understanding and having plans, boundaries, and empathy for yourself is vital to ensuring that your time off goes as smooth as possible. For loved ones, non-judgmental communication and education are essential to making sure you are the best supporter you can be. Still, no matter who you are in the relationship at any given time, self-care should be a part of your life so you can keep taking care of yourself. These tips are by no means a comprehensive list but should be a step in the right direction. Here’s to taking care of ourselves and those we love this holiday season.

Featured Image Art Courtesy of Courtney Smith.