We could all use the gift of good mental health this holiday season.
This year has been uncommonly rough, tossing us from to a to to an . It’s the runaway freight train of disaster that just won’t stop, providing little respite from the chest-crushing anxiety that now permeates our every waking moment.
Unfortunately we can’t buy our friends and family completely new, pre-2020 brains for the holidays. However, we can try to relax their current ones. “In 2020 in particular, it can be really helpful to engage in soothing rituals and activities at home,” Dr. Megan Spokas, associate professor of psychology at La Salle University, told us via email.
There’s never any substitute for seeing a licensed healthcare professional, but anything that might supplement such care is definitely worth a go, per Dr. Spokas’ advice. Here are some gift ideas to comfort those of us struggling with enhanced 2020 anxiety.
1. A weighted blanket
If you’ve followed any of the online discourse about anxiety, you’ve probably heard the legends of weighted blankets by now. It may seem like a strange premise, particularly as thick winter blankets are already fairly heavy, but weighted blankets make a lot of sense if you think of them as never-ending, on-demand hugs.
“Weighted blankets use ‘pressure therapy’ to help with anxiety,” Dr. Katherine Pannel, osteopathic psychiatrist and medical director for Right Track Medical Group in Oxford, Mississippi, told us. “They simulate being hugged or held similar to how babies get comfort from swaddling.”
“They simulate being hugged or held similar to how babies get comfort from swaddling.”
that lying under a weighted blanket can comfort people with anxiety, as well as help soothe those with . The secure weight calms the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is responsible for symptoms of anxiety such as an elevated heart rate. Helping put the ANS into “rest” mode can alleviate these symptoms and facilitate better, peaceful sleep.
There are some caveats to this gift. Dr. Hilary Kratz, assistant professor of psychology at La Salle University, stressed that it’s important to follow such blankets’ weight guidelines for safety reasons, especially when giving them to children. A weighted blanket may also be unsuitable for people with issues like asthma or sleep apnea. However, if it’s right, a weighted blanket could help stop a loved one from lying awake obsessing over their last social interaction or the general state of the world.
2. Soothing tea
A warm cup of tea is soothing even if you don’t have anxiety and a beautifully wrapped selection of teas also makes a cozy gift that will last throughout the winter.
While any cup of tea is generally a good cup, there are certain brews that are better for helping people with anxiety than others. Specifically, Pannel recommends chamomile, green, rose, peppermint, and lavender teas, all of which have . Dr Deborah Serani, a professor of psychology at Adelphi University, also gave valerian root a nod.
“Chamomile tea binds to the GABA receptors [in your brain], which are responsible for causing relaxation in the body,” Pannel told Mashable. “Green Tea contains L-theanine which directly affects the brain by causing relaxation without sedation. It is a good daytime option for a tea to reduce anxiety. Rose tea acts on the same receptors to induce relaxation as [minor tranquilisers] such as Xanax and Klonopin, which are medications used for anxiety.”
3. An oil diffuser and essential oils
Fresh air and sunshine can help calm troubled emotions, but of course they aren’t always accessible. Aromatherapy can help relax your loved one in such cases, and a pretty oil diffuser with some essential oils can brighten up those days () stuck indoors.
“Smell is the most nostalgic of all our senses because fragrance takes a direct route to the limbic brain, where emotional memories are processed,” Serani told Mashable.
She suggests that scents such as cinnamon, lavender, lemon and vanilla are helpful for people dealing with anxiety. If you don’t think your gift recipient will use an oil diffuser, these scents can also be distributed via scented stuffed animals, candles, and linen sprays.
Keep in mind that essential oils and infants, so an oil diffuser may not be the best idea for friends with furry roommates. But if the only other animals they live with are older humans, then feel free to oil them up.
4. A cute potted plant
If you noticed a boom in indoor plant collections this year, it’s probably no coincidence. Gardening has been shown to help while increasing quality of life and mental well-being, all of which are pertinent to 2020.
Not only will gifting a plant to someone with anxiety brighten up a living space, it also provides something to care for and nurture. Having this gentle responsibility can help ground us, keep us busy, and give us a sense of purpose.
You can further maximise the comforting potential of your gift by choosing a plant with soothing properties. It’s important to be mindful when picking it out, as a high-maintenance plant could just cause your recipient more stress when it promptly dies.
The type of plant you choose of course depends on the environment and level of care your giftee can provide, but some plants that could make extra good gifts for people with anxiety include , mint, and lavender.
“A lavender plant is a great multifunctional gift,” said Pannel. “It is beautiful with its purple flowers which makes for a great decorative piece but also the scent will help with anxiety. You can also use the plant in various recipes such as teas and oils … It acts on the same receptors involved in inducing relaxation, GABA receptors.”
5. Scented bath salts
A deliciously long soak in a warm bath is great for unwinding at the end of the day, helping relax our muscles and encouraging . It’s a wonderfully soothing activity for anyone, but can be even further improved with calming bath salts, which can . Think of them as optimising your giftee’s bath time.
“Warm baths are known to promote relaxation in the muscles of our bodies but if you add certain bath salts with various additives, you can promote even more relaxation,” said Pannel. “For example, epsom salts contain magnesium sulfate, which has been shown to calm anxiety and lower blood pressure in addition to soothing sore muscles. The sulphate in the salts is known to flush out toxins in the body.”
You can also combine this activity with aromatherapy by choosing bath salts scented with essential oils. A lavender, chamomile, or peppermint-scented bath will create a lovely little oasis of calm in the bathroom, leaving your giftee feeling soothed and refreshed.
6. A yoga mat, classes, or app subscription
If your intended recipient prefers more active relaxation, yoga could be a good option. A yoga mat, gift certificate for classes, or a subscription to an app could help them stretch their stress out.
“For those with anxiety, passive leisure activities often aren’t as helpful as active ones that keep their minds and bodies engaged,” Kratz told Mashable. The combination of gentle exercise with a focus on positive thoughts can help ground your loved one and calm their nerves.
There are a variety of options, but she recommends a subscription to the app , which provides customised yoga sessions depending upon your preferences. Pannel also suggests virtual yoga classes, which can simultaneously mitigate pandemic-induced social isolation.
“Yoga uses self soothing techniques like [meditation], breathing exercises, visualization and relaxation to improve anxiety,” said Pannel. “Anxiety not only affects us mentally but it does physically as well. It can cause tension in muscles and cause muscle pain. Yoga uses stretching and lengthening to help these tense muscles.”
7. A spa experience and massage
Considered a luxury by most, this one is a perfect gift for practically anyone in our fast-paced, stressed out world. Time in a spa plus a massage can be especially beneficial for people with anxiety, as the calming, quiet environment helps puts the ANS in rest mode. Everything in a spa is specifically designed for comfort and relaxation, from the lighting, to the sounds, to the decor.
“A massage will lessen the tension in muscles caused by anxiety,” said Pannel. “When oils such as lavender oil are used in the massage, it only enhances the relaxation because it triggers the brain to send signals of relaxation. And just in general, spas are all about self care. Self care is a vital part of being mentally healthy. We have to take the time to engage in self care for a healthy body and mind.”
Kratz noted that going to a spa may not be practical right now, particularly for people who live in areas where the coronavirus pandemic remains out of control. Instead, you could look into in-home spa tools such as a foot spa, a handheld massage tool, or face masks (the skincare kind, not the pandemic kind).
8. A self-help book
There are myriad books aimed at helping people with anxiety. The trick is finding one that will work for your friend, and that he might be receptive to. If you’re unsure where to start, a good option to consider is The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living by Russ Harris.
“This is a wonderful book that uses principles from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to become more present-focused and decrease the suffering that goes along with trying to avoid uncomfortable emotions or situations,” Katie Torres, licensed clinical social worker and clinical director for AMITA Health Center for Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, told Mashable.
As its name suggests, ACT focuses on helping people accept reality and commit to taking action toward purposeful change.
“It is grounded in mindfulness techniques, and incorporates other skills such as defusing from our thoughts to increase psychological flexibility,” said Torres. “Increased psychological flexibility means that we are better able to accept our emotional experiences without engaging in avoidance strategies.”
Of course, not everyone finds self-help books engaging. If your giftee typically recoils from such resources, they might prefer Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck for a similar message delivered in a blunter style.
“The book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is a gift that I give to several of my stressed out girlfriends,” said Pannel. “It is particularly helpful with those who struggle with poor self esteem or social anxiety.”
9. A journal
“It can also let you look back and figure out what are the triggers involved in your anxiety or panic attacks,” said Pannel. “Writing down positive words of self affirmation can also be helpful.”
You could opt for a blank journal, allowing your loved one to fill it with whatever their heart desires. However, if you want to provide a little nudge in a positive direction, Torres suggests giving them a gratitude journal.
“[I recommend] a gratitude journal that prompts the individual to identify three things at the end of each day that they were grateful for, and three things they are looking forward to or hopeful about in the next day,” Torres told Mashable. “Overtly expressing gratitude and taking time to intentionally focus on what is going well (even in the midst of struggle) can be extremely beneficial for anxiety/stress management.”
10. A meditation app subscription
is useful in helping people manage anxiety, as it encourages them to be present in the moment rather than getting caught up in past or future worries. A subscription to a meditation app can help guide your giftee in how to incorporate mindfulness into their daily life.
There are many that teach users how to practice it, though Torres recommends the ever popular . A Headspace subscription will provide your loved one with guided meditations, sounds to encourage restful sleep, and mindfulness exercises designed for specific activities such as cooking or eating.
“Practicing mindfulness through meditation and other exercises is an important part of anxiety management,” Torres told Mashable. “Much of our anxiety can be attributed to replaying events from the past, or worrying about things in the future. When we are connected to the present, we get to experience the joy of living in the moment — being able to observe and recognise what is right in front of us. This also allows us to focus on gratitude for our blessings, instead of our mind staying focused on our perceived deficits, shortcomings, etc.”
Of course, gifts don’t need to be specifically aimed at alleviating anxiety in order to help. Spokas recommended gifts that encourage outdoor physical activity, the endorphins from which assist in regulating stress. Kratz also suggested gifts which recreate the experiences our friends miss the most, such as surround sound speakers for a theatre lover or exercise equipment for a gym rat.
“Individuals with high anxiety often think they need to feel less anxious in order to do things they enjoy,” said Spokas. “But of course it’s completely possible to engage in enjoyable activities while also feeling anxious, even during a pandemic … Many times, being engaged in something you enjoy or find rewarding can be the perfect remedy for stress and anxiety.”
In the end, your main consideration should be whether your loved one will enjoy and get good use out of your gift. And whatever you choose, they’ll no doubt appreciate the thought and effort.