13 Picks From Amazon’s New Home Collection, My Vision Board Come to Life

Lately, I’ve been on a self-help kick, and I’m all about “manifesting.” If you dream it (and work 80-hour weeks), it will come, right? What better way to set your intentions for the future and summon the universe than by creating a vision board. Mine consists of a few major categories—career, relationship, finances, health, travel, and home. I spend a lot of free time fantasizing about the last one, specifically about how I’d furnish my dream home. For me, that’s an airy two-bedroom apartment with an eat-in kitchen, laundry room, office space, gym, his and her bathrooms, and loads of natural light in New York (I said it was a dream, OK). I have a “fantasy file” on my laptop that grows in gigabytes every day, a motley collection of virtual paint swatches, wall art, and furniture.

Since my design aesthetic is like a mole sauce—a complex combo of many balanced ingredients—I tend to search lots of home goods websites to satisfy my eclectic tastes. Finding the perfect home décor can be a time-consuming endeavor, even for an imaginary dream house. Sometimes I wish there were a single home collection to encompass my diverse design ideas—a touch of modern, a dash of vintage, and a pinch of funky.

Earlier this month, the universe granted me my wish. While procrasti-shopping on Amazon, I discovered the mother lode: Amazon’s newly launched Ravenna Home Collection featuring simple, timeless essentials with a stylish twist. I had no idea Amazon had its own exclusive line of home furnishings (I know, why wouldn’t they?). In fact, Ravenna Home is the e-commerce giant’s third signature collection, following the popularity of its mid-century modern-themed Rivet and cozy, family-oriented Stone and Beam. Each collection is obsession worthy, but Ravenna Home takes the cake. From antique-inspired arm chairs to ultra-modern stackable counter stools, this affordable line has a little something for every taste and budget. Bonus: All items ship for free and offer free returns within 30 days of delivery.

Below, I’ve shared 13 items on my wish list. TBH, I’m tempted to move them straight from my fantasy file into my real-life current digs.

Survival Rate for Ovarian Cancer: Why Is It So Low?

Finding out that you or someone you love has any kind of cancer is disorienting, frightening, and generally a hellish experience. This is pretty typical no matter the type of cancer you’re dealing with.

But if you look at data on different kinds of cancer, you’ll start to see that some, like ovarian cancer, tend to be more lethal than others. In fact, ovarian cancer is the deadliest cancer of the reproductive system in people with ovaries in the United States. By the end of 2018, around 22,240 people will have received a new ovarian cancer diagnosis, and the disease will kill around 14,070 people, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

For comparison, although endometrial cancer (the most common reproductive cancer in people with ovaries) is diagnosed almost three times as often, it will kill almost 3,000 fewer people by the end of 2018, the ACS says. What’s going on here?

An ovarian cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence. But the prognosis typically depends on when the cancer is detected.

The five-year relative survival rate for all types and stages of ovarian cancer is 47 percent, according to the ACS. A relative survival rate compares people who have cancer with those in the general population, so this means that people with any type of ovarian cancer are about 47 percent as likely as people without it to live for at least five years after being diagnosed.

But in people diagnosed before the cancer spreads outside the ovary, that relative survival rate jumps to 92 percent—a significant and promising difference. The problem is that only 15 percent of all ovarian cancers are diagnosed this early, according to the ACS.

Unfortunately, the early symptoms of ovarian cancer often go unnoticed, if they even show up at all.

“Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed later in the disease progress, which leads to a lower rate of cure,” David Cohn, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist and chief medical officer at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, tells SELF. “This may be due to the fact that many of the signs and symptoms of early ovarian cancer may be hard for patients or their providers to recognize.”

Those symptoms generally include abdominal bloating or swelling, feeling full quickly when you eat, unexplained weight loss, discomfort in the pelvis, changes in bowel habits (like becoming constipated), and a frequent need to pee, the Mayo Clinic says.

Unfortunately, these are vague symptoms that can also be caused by so many other, more common conditions, Mitchel Hoffman, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells SELF. (Or even just life habits, like often eating things that make you feel bloated.)

Couple that with the fact that some people don’t experience any symptoms of this cancer at all, and it’s tough to diagnose ovarian cancer early. “By the time people realize something is wrong, the disease is usually advanced,” Dr. Hoffman says.

Another issue: There is no reliable or widely recommended screening method for ovarian cancer.

“There’s nothing like the Pap test for cervical cancer or mammogram for breast cancer to screen for ovarian cancer,” Stephen Rubin, M.D., chief of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center, tells SELF.

The two tests most often used to detect ovarian cancer are a transvaginal ultrasound (which looks at a person’s uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries via an ultrasound wand that goes into the vagina) and a CA-125 blood test. This measures the amount of a protein called CA-125 in the blood that can increase due to ovarian cancer, the ACS says.

However, both of these methods are flawed when it comes to screening people at normal risk of developing ovarian cancer. The transvaginal ultrasound can see masses but can’t tell if they’re benign or cancerous. In fact, most masses this form of screening discovers are not malignant, the ACS explains. A transvaginal ultrasound is also not going to detect tiny changes in the ovaries before cancer cells form into a mass (the way a Pap test can with cervical cells), Dr. Hoffman says.
As for the CA-125 blood test, this protein can become elevated due to other health conditions, like endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease. Also, while CA-125 is elevated in many people with ovarian cancer, it doesn’t increase in all of them, making it an unreliable test for ovarian cancer.

Even pelvic exams, which you should be getting regularly, aren’t great for catching ovarian cancer early because these masses can be difficult to feel, the ACS explains. They’re still an important part of staying on top of your reproductive health in general, though.

We know this all sounds scary. There are a few things you can do to protect yourself from ovarian cancer or, if you do develop it, to try to catch it early.

Taking oral contraceptives may help lower your risk of developing ovarian cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

This effect can last for years after you stop taking this birth control. “It’s really quite remarkable,” Dr. Rubin says. Researchers believe this may be due to the way oral contraceptives containing estrogen suppress ovulation, which reduces your exposure to naturally occurring hormones that can affect your ovarian cancer risk, the National Cancer Institute explains. (Of course, this shouldn’t be the only factor that plays into deciding which kind of birth control you use, especially since oral contraceptives may temporarily increase your risk of developing breast and cervical cancers. Talking to a doctor about your health history will help you determine which kind of contraception makes the most sense for you.)

Maintaining a healthy weight for you may also help reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer, the ACS says, though there are some caveats here. This isn’t that surprising since there is some evidence that links having a higher body mass index with increased cancer risk, but keep in mind that it’s nowhere near as clear-cut as saying that being a certain weight or having a certain body type absolutely means you’re going to get cancer or ovarian cancer in particular. As SELF reported in detail in an investigation into the science on weight and health, being overweight or obese is one factor that may affect your overall cancer risk, so maintaining a healthy weight for you can help in that arena. Again, a doctor can help you navigate what your specific weight and lifestyle habits may mean for your overall health, including your cancer risk.

If you’re at a higher risk of ovarian cancer, you may want to consider undergoing genetic screening to better determine your odds of developing this disease.

Being high risk means you have a family history of ovarian cancer, have BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations (or other genetic conditions, like Lynch syndrome, that increase your risk of cancer), have had estrogen hormone replacement therapy, or are over the age of 50, the Mayo Clinic says.

If any of that applies to you, it may make more sense to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds or a CA-125 exam even though they’re not perfect, the ACS says. If there’s a strong history of breast and ovarian cancer in your family, or if you have a genetic syndrome that increases your cancer risk, your doctor may recommend genetic testing as well. Depending on the results, they might suggest that you consider surgical methods to lower your risk, like having both of your ovaries and fallopian tubes (where most ovarian cancer actually begins) removed after having any children you may want.

If you or a loved one does happen to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the earlier you seek treatment, the better. “You want to get treated where the doctors see these diseases all the time,” Dr. Rubin says, recommending that anyone in this position looks for oncologists or cancer centers that have a lot of practice dealing with ovarian cancer in particular. “That’s the best way to get optimal treatment.” Of course, every person’s cancer experience is different, so it’s entirely possible to see someone who isn’t a specialist and do well or vice versa—but it’s an important thing to keep in mind.


Excessive Burping: 7 Things That Might Be Causing This Symptom

Have you ever thought of burps as mouth farts? If not, you’re welcome. Not only do both of these actions help rid you of extra air trapped inside your body, they’re also totally normal but sometimes still embarrassing. Take comfort in the fact that burping is part of the human condition. Excessive burping, however, shouldn’t be.

You might wonder what’s up if you’re suddenly dealing with excessive burping or if it’s dawning on you that other people aren’t quite as prolific burpers as you. Here are potential reasons why you’re a burping machine.

1. You’re swallowing a lot of air.

Burping is your body’s way of getting rid of excess air from your upper digestive tract, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes the extra air comes from gases in your stomach, and sometimes it’s air you swallowed that never quite made it to your stomach at all, Ashkan Farhadi, M.D., gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center and director of MemorialCare Medical Group’s Digestive Disease Project in Fountain Valley, California, tells SELF. That second reason is the most common culprit behind burping, per the Mayo Clinic.

So, the thing is that everyone swallows some air during the day, especially while eating. “There is a normal amount of air that typically goes down with food,” Dr. Farhadi says. But you may be swallowing extra air if you eat or drink too quickly, talk while you eat, chew gum or suck on hard candies, drink carbonated beverages, or smoke, the Mayo Clinic says.

There’s also a condition called aerophagia, which happens when you swallow air as a nervous habit even when you’re not doing things like eating or drinking. Along with making you burp a lot, this can cause air to build up in your stomach and make you uncomfortably bloated.

2. You’re eating foods that make you super gassy.

Your standard gas-inducing foods like beans, peas, lentils, cabbage, and onions can cause your daily burp rate to increase. Bacteria in your stomach have to work harder to break down these kinds of foods, which can cause excess gas that escapes your body as a belch, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Depending on how your gastrointestinal tract functions, certain foods like dairy can also create excess gas as your body struggles to break them down. (This is the deal with lactose intolerance, which is when you don’t have enough of the enzyme necessary to properly break down dairy.)

Also, fatty foods slow digestion, giving what you eat more time to ferment and form gases that can come out as burps, the Mayo Clinic says.

3. You have acid reflux or gastrointestinal reflux disease.

Acid reflux happens due to a problem with the sphincter in your esophagus (the tube running from your mouth to your stomach). This sphincter is a strip of muscle that is supposed to keep your stomach contents from backing up into your esophagus, the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains. If this sphincter is too lax, stomach acid can get into your esophagus and aggravate that tissue.

This can cause heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of food, and a feeling like you have a lump in your chest, the Mayo Clinic says. It may also cause burping because your body is trying to clear your esophagus or because you’re swallowing more, Felice Schnoll-Sussman, M.D., director of the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, tells SELF. “Many times people who experience heartburn may swallow more often to neutralize the acid that is refluxing back up with more alkaline (non-acidic) saliva produced in the mouth,” she explains. “This excessive swallowing may lead to more gas in the stomach and subsequently more belching.”

FYI, if you experience these symptoms of acid reflux at least twice a week but only mildly, or you have moderate to severe acid reflux at least once a week, you may have gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), which basically means this reflux is a chronic issue for you.

4. You have celiac disease.

Celiac disease is a condition where someone is unable to properly digest gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, according to the Mayo Clinic.

When you have celiac disease and ingest gluten, a defensive immune response takes place in your small intestine. Over time, this response can damage your small intestine’s lining and make it hard for you properly absorb nutrients. This can lead to a host of symptoms, including anemia due to an iron deficiency, a skin rash, mouth ulcers, headaches and fatigue, the Mayo Clinic. It can also cause acid reflux or heartburn, which as we just covered, can lead to burping.

5. You have irritable bowel syndrome.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the large intestine that can cause diarrhea, constipation, and other GI issues. Experts are still working to determine exactly why IBS comes about, but it seems as though it’s rooted in a problem with how the brain and gut interact, according to the NIDDK. This can make the gut too sensitive and influence how your intestinal muscles contract, all of which can induce IBS symptoms.

People with IBS usually have cramping, stomach pain, bloating, and gas along with diarrhea or constipation, the Mayo Clinic says. While all of this can be horribly unpleasant, that buildup of gas in particular is what can lead to extra burping (or farting) in people with IBS, Dr. Farhadi says.

6. You have a peptic ulcer.

A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of your stomach or the first part of your small intestine (your duodenum), according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

If you’re wondering what causes this so that you can avoid it, that’s valid. Peptic ulcers usually happen due to a kind of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori bacteria that can spread from close contact like kissing and via food and water, the Mayo Clinic says. Although it often doesn’t cause symptoms, sometimes this bacteria can cause stomach inflammation that allows acid to eat away at your digestive tract, resulting in an ulcer. Frequent use of pain relievers such as aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also cause inflammation in the lining of your stomach and small intestine, the Mayo Clinic says, and in some people, this can lead to peptic ulcers. Other factors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, being under a lot of stress, and eating spicy food, can make it harder for these ulcers to heal (though these factors don’t cause them directly).

Symptoms of a peptic ulcer usually include burning stomach pain, feeling sick to your stomach, bloating, having a hard time processing fatty foods, and burping, according to the Mayo Clinic. The burping is usually linked to that excess acid in the stomach, Dr. Farhadi says, which can cause heartburn and a resulting symphony of burps. The fatty food processing issue can simply compound this.

7. You have diabetes or another health condition that can slow food’s movement through your digestive system.

A complication of type 1 or type 2 diabetes called gastroparesis can lead to more burping than usual.

Gastroparesis is a condition that affects the natural movement of the muscles in your stomach, the Mayo Clinic says. Under normal circumstances, strong muscular contractions propel food through your digestive tract. But gastroparesis interrupts this motility, so your stomach doesn’t empty like it should. “Food lying in the stomach can cause heartburn, which belching is sometimes associated with,” Dr. Schnoll-Sussman says.

This issue can happen with diabetes because, over time, the high blood sugar characteristic of this condition may harm nerves in the stomach that commandeer your GI muscles, the NIDDK explains.

Additional potential causes of gastroparesis include other conditions that impact nerve function, like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, which causes a slow metabolism that influences many physical systems like digestion, and viral stomach infections, according to the NIDDK.

You don’t necessarily need to see a doctor if you notice that you’re burping more than usual for a week or two.

It is, however, a good idea to seek help if your burping becomes chronic (meaning, it doesn’t calm down after a week or two), it’s bothering you, or if it interferes with your daily life, Dr. Farhadi says. Your doctor will take things from there and try to figure out the underlying cause.


Alzheimer’s Caregiver: 8 Things No One Tells You About This Role

Providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease immediately inducts you into an unfortunate club of people whose relatives have this condition. No one wants to be a member, but given that around 5.5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s, many, many people are.

Although there’s no roadmap for dealing with life when someone you love has Alzheimer’s, if you’re in this position, it can help to hear from other people in the same unbelievably tough spot. Here, we spoke with some Alzheimer’s caregivers to find out a few things they wish they’d known at the start of their journeys.

1. “You have to learn how to grieve losing someone while they’re still alive.”

Amy L. became one of her father, Art’s, caregivers after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2012. Amy says she was ill-prepared for how much grief she experienced before her father passed away in 2015.

“You have to learn how to grieve losing someone while they’re still alive,” she tells SELF. “You always think about grief as something that happens once someone passes away, but this illness really changes who they are.”

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder, meaning someone has more (and more intense) symptoms as time passes. These symptoms include cognitive issues like confusion, difficulty doing normally minor tasks such as getting dressed, and memory loss that eventually becomes so severe your loved one may not recognize you, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA). It would be crushing if these changes happened all at once, but the progression of Alzheimer’s stages is its own kind of awful.

“Each little change was devastating,” Amy says, describing difficult times like realizing that Art could no longer go to the bathroom alone, or his moments of clarity that something was wrong with his health. “You have to learn to cope with the new reality, and then another change comes,” Amy says. “When he passed, it was a whole different onslaught of grief.”

Amy wishes she had seen a grief counselor or therapist while she was going through this. “It would have been so helpful,” she says.

2. “I wish I had known from the beginning to just listen to and trust myself, because I am the only one who knows what it feels like to be in my own circumstance.”

Emmy G.’s mom, Linda, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease five years ago and is now in a later stage of the disease. Emmy tells SELF that helping to care for her mother is “difficult and emotionally depleting.”

It’s not only that Emmy has had to adjust to her mom’s condition—it’s also changed how Emmy relates to other people besides her mom. “Being in my early 20s, it is hard to explain what I am feeling to those my own age, and for a while I felt distant from friends,” Emmy says. “In addition, older friends/family who have gone through similar experiences feel the need to judge or criticize how I treat my mom and offer up ‘suggestions’ for [how] I should act.”

However, as Emmy gets more confident in her ability to care for her mom, people have commented less, and it affects her less when they do say something. “I wish I had known from the beginning to just listen to and trust myself, because I am the only one who knows what it feels like to be in my own circumstance,” she says.

3. “Alzheimer’s affects everyone differently.”

There’s a long list of potential symptoms people may exhibit as their Alzheimer’s evolves, but not everyone will experience each symptom. For instance, some people with Alzheimer’s disease undergo personality changes, but Cecelia N. tells SELF that her grandmother didn’t experience this before passing away in 2012. “However, some families aren’t that lucky,” she says. “Alzheimer’s affects everyone differently.”

4. “The most comforting feeling I found was talking to someone who could relate.”

Having a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be incredibly isolating, Amy says. After her father was diagnosed, she read everything she could online about the disease and tried to find others to talk to who had been through the same thing. “The most comforting feeling I found was talking to someone who could relate,” she says. “It made me feel not so alone.”

Amy says she even got in touch with two famous people who had been through a similar experience. “I reached out not because they were famous but because they had been where I was,” she says. “They both wrote me back, and it meant so much.”

Emmy also emphasizes the importance of this kind of support. She found help and resources through the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, which has a national hotline staffed by licensed social workers from 9 A.M. to 9 P.M. Eastern Monday through Friday. You can reach the hotline at 866-232-8484.

The extent of resources out there for those dealing with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones might surprise you. Peggy M.’s husband, Tom, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2012 at the age of 57. (Early-onset Alzheimer’s means a person shows symptoms before they’re 65.)

“Our local Alzheimer’s Association offers some wonderful programs,” Peggy tells SELF. “We attend support groups and a memory café weekly.” (A memory café is a supportive gathering for those with memory loss and their loved ones to socialize and connect with each other.) Tom even sings in something known as the Forgetful Friends Chorus which is a choir based in Manassas, Virginia, made up of people living with early-stage Alzheimer’s. “We have made lifelong friends through these activities,” Peggy says. “Connecting with others who know what [we’re] going through and who can offer support and suggestions for dealing with the disease’s various challenges has been very helpful.”

5. “I should have said, ‘Can you come over on a Wednesday without me having to ask so I can go to the gym for an hour or get my nails done?’”

Amy says people regularly told her she should keep living her life while Art was sick, but she couldn’t bear to take much time for herself due to guilt. This contributed to her becoming completely overwhelmed, she says. Looking back, she wishes she would have told those who offered to help that she basically needed to be forced into self-care.

“I should have said, ‘Can you come over on a Wednesday without me having to ask so I can go to the gym for an hour or get my nails done?’ If someone came over and just said, ‘Go!’ I would have,” she says.

On a related note, Cecelia says her family had “no idea of the community resources that were available,” including respite care, which provides short-term and time-limited breaks for families and unpaid caregivers. “These programs help out families so much,” she says. “It would have been great to know of those.”

6. “Alzheimer’s hits you hard financially.”

“Financially, we had no idea,” Cecelia says. “My grandmother passed away in 2012, and just last year we paid the nursing home off. It takes a financial toll on the whole family.”

Kim B., whose husband, Jeff, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2016 at the age of 51, agrees. “Alzheimer’s hits you hard financially,” she tells SELF. “Jeff was the main breadwinner in our family. He qualified for social security disability, but it pays only a small fraction of what he was earning.” The couple currently has three kids in college, and Jeff’s parents live with them. “I am currently working two full-time jobs in addition to being a caregiver, wife, and mom,” Kim says. “My days start at 6:30 A.M. and do not end until 10 P.M. It gets pretty exhausting.”

7. “There will be good days and bad.”

“Initially, it scared me when Jeff was having an ‘off’ day—short-tempered and reserved—but I have learned those days come and go,” Kim says. “I, too, have good days and bad days, and that is OK! On my bad days, I acknowledge it and tell myself tomorrow will be better,” Kim says. “There will be good days and bad. I always tell my kids, it is OK to have a bad day, but then you have to get up and keep going.”

Kim has also learned what contributes to Jeff’s bad days, like traveling, which can be helpful when it comes to reducing the challenges Alzheimer’s can cause.

8. “Appreciate your loved one every single day. Be grateful for how much they can do in that day, in that moment.”

Emmy recommends trying to find joy in your current relationship with your loved one, as impossible as that may feel sometimes. “[I] wasted an entire year crying about the future rather than appreciating what my mom was still capable of,” Emmy says.

Now Emmy tries to savor the experiences she and her mom can still share. She does this by taking Linda out to a meal for just the two of them, traveling to nearby towns where Linda used to spend a lot of time, and dancing together to music that Linda’s loved for years. “Appreciate your loved one every single day,” Emmy says. “Be grateful for how much they can do in that day, in that moment.”


7 Ways I Saved Enough to Travel Around the World for a Year

“Wait for me.”

These three simple words set into motion a year-long international adventure I never expected—or even imagined—I would ever have. I was on my first date with my now-husband David, and halfway through dinner, he shared his plan to quit his job to travel. Without thinking, I blurted out “wait for me,” an exclamation that shocked us both. But as our intentions for one another became clearer over the next several weeks, so did our plans to travel together. We evolved David’s idea of a three-month motorcycle trip into an 11-and-a-half month round-the-world journey taking us east to west through 22 countries.

While it was easy to wrap our heads around the romance of travel, it was harder to determine how much we would spend. A lot of resources existed for how to backpack on $15 a day (or $30 a day for a couple) and how to happily vacation, but there was little to give us guidance on the in-between path we wanted to take. Being at a point in our lives where we had grown accustomed to a basic level of comfort, we decided to find an average and land on a decidedly middle ground budget of $37,000 for both me and David, all in, an average of roughly $96 per day (more or less depending on where in the world we were). To put in perspective, the average two-week European vacation for two people costs $6,200.

Once we settled on a number, we gave ourselves a rather aggressive four-month timeline to form a plan. David had already been saving for his motorcycle adventure, so I needed to catch up. I was lucky to not have the shadow of student loans looming over me, but I also didn’t want to frivolously burn through any savings I had spent a decade building. I needed to not only find and set aside my half of our overall budget—$18,500—but also make it stretch for nearly a year. Seven steps were instrumental in making this happen.

1. I cashed in on my car.

I had no idea when I bought my 2011 Honda Fit that it would become a wildly desirable car two years later. Within several hours of posting a Craigslist ad, I had more responses than I could handle and sold my car two days later for $12,000. I decided to cross the bridge of future car ownership when I got to it later.

2. I took a chance on a higher-paying job strategy—and it paid off.

I had been working in advertising for many years, and while I had heard whispers of freelance success from former colleagues who had taken the leap away from full time, I had always been too risk averse to try it myself. Yet once the decision to travel had been made, I decided there was no time like the present to take a leap. I was able to land a contract for the three months before we took off, so I quit my job, and during that time I earned nearly twice as much as I had been making full time (even after taxes).

3. I seriously worked the credit cards points programs.

I had been earning rewards points from my credit cards for years, but David and I decided to really take advantage of these programs during our travels. I signed up for a Chase Sapphire card when we first left, then David signed up for a Capital One Venture card three months later and I signed up for a Barclay Arrival card three months after that. Because most points programs are travel related, we were able to hit the bonuses much faster. The points we accrued throughout our trip ended up saving us nearly $5,000 on airline costs and $2,000 on other travel-related expenses. We closed all but one of these cards when we got home to avoid being hit with the annual fees, and our credit scores were not affected.

David Brown, A Year Off, Chronicle Books

4. I price shopped like a boss.

I had always been a serious price shopper when it came to airlines and rental car companies, but I went deep during our trip, tapping into lesser known fare comparison websites like Cleartrip, where you pay in rupees, and Europcar for regional car rentals. While I generally prefered to book airline tickets directly through the carrier’s site, there were moments when it saved big to go with a third party site, provided I didn’t need any flexibility. (Note: We opted not to do round-the-world tickets for more options and because there were no real cost savings.)

5. I embraced the mindset that “everything is negotiable.”

Throughout our trip, I wasn’t afraid to ask for help or bargain. We would share our story with each potential Airbnb host and graciously ask for discounts. Nine times out of 10 we were given one, especially if we promised to write a great review and clean the space ourselves.

6. I lived like a local.

Being in “vacation mode” is more expensive simply because the idea is to see, eat, and experience as much as possible in a compressed period of time. People often bop around a lot more on vacation too, which quickly adds up and is part of why vacations can be so pricey. While traveling long term, we lived like locals, cooking at home, slowing down our pace, and spending more time getting to know the vibe than seeing all the sights. We also found eating what’s native to the region is far less expensive than eating non-local cuisine.

7. I tapped into an international network.

When people ask me what was the most surprising thing about our trip, my answer is the unparalleled generosity of people. There is something magic about traveling, in that it opens people up to one another and cultivates a giving economy. While David and I were initially hesitant to reach out to people we hadn’t spoken to in years, we quickly learned that, more often than not, these folks are not only thrilled to hear from you but are also delighted to host. Friends of my parents in New Zealand who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in 23 years not only gave us their beach house for three nights but also loaned us their car and stocked the fridge with groceries. A friend of a friend in Paris offered us his apartment for a week. New friends we made during our travels in Thailand invited us to stay with them once we got to Europe. We were continuously humbled by how enthusiastic people were to host us, and this generosity saved us roughly $7,000 in housing costs.

We lived a surprisingly good life on our budget. We ate well, stayed in clean and comfortable places, experienced all different types of transportation, and enjoyed several bigger ticket adventures. We didn’t see or do nearly as much as we could have in many ways, but we went deep in the places we visited. While we had a handful of moments where we felt restricted by our budget, those were far and few between. We came to see our budget as an opportunity maker; it helped us be more intentional with our decisions, time, and money, and to deeply appreciate the wonderful experiences we were lucky enough to have.

Alexandra Brown is author of A Year Off: A Story About Traveling the World—and How to Make It Happen for You.

33 Luxe Products for Beauty Lovers Who Won’t Splurge on Themselves

We all have friends or significant others who would rather see other people be happy than splurge on themselves. It’s an admirable trait for sure, but caring for others is done best while also practicing self-care—and sometimes that involves spoiling oneself a bit with a fancy candle, a rich shaving cream, or bright new lipstick.

This holiday season, consider gifting your loved ones the beauty and skin-care treats they want, but won’t buy for themselves. Fortunately, there are plenty of luxe beauty gifts at various price points that fit every holiday shopping budget. Here’s our list of of indulgent gift ideas that are as decadent as they are useful.

Fraxel 411: What It’s Actually Like to Get Fraxel Laser Treatment

My dad owned a tanning salon when I was a kid. I was his first employee and got a quarter for cleaning each bed after use. When his business when bankrupt, we lugged one of the old tanning beds to our garage and I got free reign to bake myself as I pleased. This kind of recreational activity gave me the desired orangey-bronze skin tone I sought for homecoming photos, but caused serious repercussions.

At the age of 39, I have sun damage and am mercilessly backpedaling with obsessive SPF application and an increasingly complicated skin-care product regimen. But when I am occasionally being carded for wine, I give most of the credit to Fraxel laser treatment.

Fraxel is an FDA-approved laser device dermatologists use treat the signs of aging in the skin, such as fine lines, wrinkles, scarring, and sun damage (or age) spots. Doctors laud its results and the minimal downtime required for healing. It doesn’t come cheap; treatment often costs about $1,000 a pop. (Solta Medical, the company that makes Fraxel lasers, says patients will have noticeable improvements immediately but recommends three to five as “an effective treatment regimen.”)

During my first treatment, ten years ago, I wasn’t at all concerned about fine lines or wrinkles. I had melasma on my upper lip—what I referred to as my Burt Reynolds mustache—and significant hyperpigmentation along my forehead. I also had scarring from adult cystic acne that I acquired in my late 20s. I was insecure about both and a co-worker suggested her dermatologist, who performed Fraxel laser on her with fantastic results.

At the age of 29, I had the first of three treatments, spaced one year apart, and I had incredible results, too. After the first treatment, my melasma, acne scarring, and a large age spot had faded drastically; after three treatments, my skin was clear and as smooth as that of a newborn baby.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Or at least need touching up.

Seven years after my first Fraxel treatment, I went back for another.

This time, having begun to see the effects of 10 years of aging on my skin, I went in hoping to reap those benefits that didn’t interest me as a 29-year-old—and with the goal of avoiding fillers and Botox, the go-to treatments so popular with my peers. It’s not that I’m anti-needle. But if I can laser myself every few years or so instead of submitting to a quarterly Botox injection, then I’m knocking out signs of aging and dark spots in one yearly treatment.

It should go without saying, but finding a reputable doctor is key. I chose Mary Lupo, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine, who is one of the country’s leading experts in the field of non-surgical skin rejuvenation. Dr. Lupo tells me that Fraxel is an ideal way to combat aging for those who choose not to use Botox or filler since it’s actually building collagen. Fractional lasers make micro-injuries in the skin and the resultant healing process stimulates new collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid, she explains, which makes skin tighter, plumper, and more elastic. It also brings new skin to the surface, effectively replacing damaged, discolored skin. (Fraxel is a brand name; Dr. Lupo contends it can me more precisely tuned than other lasers of its kind, and gives the most uniform and even results. “All fractional devices are not the same,” she avers.)

During my consultation, Dr. Lupo informs me that I’m an ideal candidate for Fraxel laser, being that I’m a former sun worshiper, a 15-year outdoor runner, and now very careful about the sun. She tells me that, in fact, just about all skin types can be safely treated, but one must refuse to stay out of the sun pre- and post-treatment.

Courtesy of author

Fraxel take two: My second experience with Fraxel gave me great results, once again.

Here’s how the whole Fraxel process went down.

I arrived at Dr. Lupo’s office an hour early so that a topical lidocaine numbing cream could be applied, and spent a glorious hour to myself reading a book and scrolling through before and after Fraxel photos on Instagram.

Dr. Lupo treated me with a Fraxel Dual laser, which is used for fine lines, wrinkles, and sun damage. “Dual refers to the dual wavelengths,” Dr. Lupo explains, “1550 for texture (the dermal layer) and 1927 for surface pigment.” A physician can control variables, such as the laser strength and how deep into the skin it penetrates, to tune the device precisely to their patients’ needs. My treatment (a 1927 laser at an energy of 10, a level of 4 and 8 passes—considered a moderate treatment) began and—real truth—it hurt. I can only describe it feeling as if 100 bees were stinging my face at once. The pain was intense but short lived. Fortunately, I was expecting it—it felt exactly the way it had 10 years ago.

Post-treatment, I felt sting-y and hot for about an hour—so much that it seemed my ice packs were melting the moment they touched my flaming face. I was prescribed Prednisone for two days to combat swelling, and slept on elevated pillows that evening with zero pain.

It took a week to heal completely from the procedure.

Everyone recovers differently from this procedure, but I have sensitive skin and fell victim to the side effects of redness and puffiness (other common reactions include itching, dryness, and temporary and permanent changes in skin color). I worked from home for a few days to avoid exposure to the sun—and to other humans.

Courtesy of Author

By the second day, my face resembled a balloon made of sandpaper, which was terrifying to face in the mirror, but, I was assured, completely normal. By day three, the swelling and redness had dissipated but my face itched terribly as the top layer peeled away. I diligently applied thick layers of CeraVe Healing Ointment, which contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides (and can be purchased for less than $10 on Amazon. I noticed that some of the dry, sandpaper spots were starting to flake off and reveal new skin. This was reassuring and exciting because even though I was still part monster, I could leave the house for a brief errand (slathered with sunscreen, naturally).

On day four, the sandpaper was three-fourths gone and my face felt as if it were a human snake, shedding its skin to slowly reveal a new, pink, bouncy baby skin underneath. By the fifth day, the face snake had completely shed and I was pink and sensitive. On the one-week mark, my skin was completely healed, and my melasma and sun damage was mostly gone; my face showed a noticeable—shall I say—glow.

It wasn’t easy (or cheap) but it was worth it.

My skin is clear and appears younger-looking, but what I love most is the confidence that I’ve regained. I’ve felt completely comfortable sans foundation—or even tinted moisturizer—and have worn nothing but sunscreen on several occasions, which is something I never do, in the month since the treatment.

I see why Fraxel laser may not be for everyone—it’s uncomfortable and expensive and there’s more downtime than other (non-laser) methods to reverse signs of aging, but Dr. Lupo says that with a disciplined skin routine, the results from my treatment can last for years. That’s enough to put off the needle for now—and spend more time practicing my #nomakeup #nofilter selfies.

Believing Women Means Believing the Plus-Size Ones, Too

In the year since The New York Times first reported Harvey Weinstein’s alleged decades-long pattern of sexual harassment and sexual assault, the long-stifled public conversation around such abuses of power has grown steadily louder. Reports of misconduct from the music industry and comedy to Silicon Valley to the U.S. Supreme Court have inspired many survivors of sexual violence to make public their own #MeToo tales, while more still have grappled privately with resurfacing memories and emotions—both about our assaults and/or harassment, and about how we were treated when we reported them. Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the particular hurdles faced by plus-size women in regards to predatory entitlement, and to being believed.

And it’s not just Trumpian calls of, “Take a look at her; I don’t think so,” either. Take, for instance, Judge Jean Paul Braun’s comments about a 17-year-old assault victim’s looks last year in Quebec, Canada. “It can be said that she is a little overweight, but she has a pretty face,” Braun is reported to have said in an actual court of law, in regards to a case on which he was actually deliberating. He also noted that the victim’s “voluptuous” figure was memorable, and suggested that she was or should have been flattered by the attention of her 49-year-old assailant.

While Braun’s larger sentiments convey a pretty boilerplate misunderstanding (willful or otherwise) of “compliments” and consent, his observations about the victim’s body go one step further, reflecting the unique mix of lust and contempt predators and their apologists reserve for women of size (among other groups of marginalized people).

Street harassment, massage-happy bosses, date rape—plus-size women are subjected to the same myriad hideous behaviors that are regularly wielded against thin women, only we’re expected to be especially thankful. As though male desire is a precious, coveted commodity, and we’re clearly running low (I mean, look at us). This belief doesn’t come out of nowhere. Plus-size TV and movie characters fall almost exclusively into one of two (thoroughly cishetero) archetypes: the sad fat girl, a la Dietland’s eventual heroine Plum Kettle or the infamously problematic “fat Monica” from Friends; or the not-sad fat girl whose appetite—for sex, or attention, or men, if not for food, per se—cannot be sated, a la Insecure’s hilarious Kelli. One plays better for drama, one for comedy; both revolve around male approval and touch.

And then there’s a second set of abuses tailored specifically for our unforgivable bodies. There’s fatcalling, which differs from catcalling in its intent to insult, and fatphobic rape threats, like the kind filmmaker Lindsey Averill received for having the nerve to be plus-size on the internet. Some of these behaviors betray perpetrators’ feelings of (entitled) attraction, while others expose more clearly the long-simmering resentment that our society (male and otherwise) holds towards plus-size people. All are part of the colorful tapestry that is violence against women.

Add to all this that fat people are widely viewed as untrustworthy and incapable of making responsible decisions for ourselves, and we’re not only assumed by predators to be easy targets—we’re also disregarded as unreliable witnesses by courts of law and public opinion. Feigning or otherwise expressing revulsion towards fat women in order to wriggle out of sexual harassment or assault allegations isn’t a particularly novel trick, but in a world still run by men who either actually hate our bodies or are too insecure to own their attraction to them, an effective one. I can’t imagine how many assault and harassment accusations throughout history have been waved away with some version of “She was a four, bro—I would never!” and a hearty, co-signing round of laughter from men who understand not so much that their coworker/cousin/drinking buddy wouldn’t rape, but that he wouldn’t rape that.

Catcalling, fatcalling, and other corresponding behaviors occupy two sides of the same entitled coin; we ought to be thankful for men’s advances, the idea goes, but it ultimately doesn’t matter how we feel—our bodies and mental health, which in the larger scheme of generally discounted and disbelieved experiences of women hold especially scant currency, are theirs for the taking. Whether motivated by desire, hatred, or a mix of the two, sexual violence is never flattering. By definition, what separates it from consensual, “flattering” interactions is that one party involved doesn’t want it—a fact that doesn’t change because a victim’s body, in one way or another, strays from our personal or societal ideals.

Women and femme people live along a spectrum of dehumanization based on our size, color, ability status, sexuality, income level, and often a mix of those qualities and/or others. Making violence against fat, trans, and other marginalized women a thing of the past starts with each of us—and from our entertainment to our workplaces to our health care system, we’re failing.

Valuing all bodies means looking beyond our attraction (or lack thereof) and respecting them, and their owners, either way. If we are attracted to someone, and have bothered getting to know them with their consent, it falls on us to state our intentions clearly and truly listen to their answer, whatever it may be. If we’re not attracted to them, there’s no rational need to be malicious in word or deed. It’s certainly not the end of the discussion, but it’s a pretty simple start.

One bright spot in this past year of constantly relived trauma is the recognition of how little women have to gain by reporting harassment or assault; recognition that, in fact, they often have far more to lose. Let’s not forget how crucial it is to believe them, whatever their color, abilities, assigned sex at birth, or dress size.

Family Estrangement: 10 Tips for Dealing With It During the Holidays

For many, the holidays are the best time of year. The warm twinkle of fairy lights around town, the vacation days, and, of course, the extra family time make some people feel all of the joy.

But for others, the holidays can be traumatizing. In a time of year that prioritizes family, it can feel incredibly isolating when visiting relatives is just not an option for you—or, if it is, when it doesn’t feel like a safe or welcoming environment.

Whether you’re estranged from your family completely or have strained relations that make the holidays difficult, here are 10 tips on how to make it through this emotionally trying time of year.

1. Actually say to yourself, “It’s OK to feel angry and hurt about this.”

It’s true what they say: The only way out is through. That applies to sucky emotions when it comes to family relationships, too.

“Humans are meant to be pack animals; we’re wired to be connected,” Gene Beresin, M.D, executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells SELF.

When you lose primary relationships with people who are supposed to be your caregivers or form some of your closest bonds, it doesn’t just hurt like hell. The stress you feel about it, especially when compounded by the holidays, can spark your fight-or flight-response, which is essentially when your body releases a surge of hormones that can result in physical symptoms of anxiety like a pounding heart and shortness of breath. Trying to ignore these feelings or castigate yourself for having them can simply make these emotions stronger, Dr. Beresin says, which can result in a vicious cycle.

If you’re the one who pulled back from one or more family members, remember that your instinct to protect yourself is valid. If they’re the ones who have created the distance, acknowledge how terrible that lack of control can feel. Either way, try to accept your feelings instead of fighting them. “The more we’re aware of our state of mind and emotions, the more we’re able to find coping mechanisms,” Dr. Beresin says. That brings us to our next point.

2. Identify at least one reliable coping mechanism you can use when negative emotions bubble up.

Only you know what’s going to help when you feel overcome with sadness or anger about your family situation. Perhaps it’s writing (but not sending) a letter to your estranged loved one, getting out some aggression with a quick boxing workout, or engaging in some mindful meditation, Dr. Beresin says.

The point is to figure out what will help before you need it. That way, when triggers like holiday photos from years past unleash a rush of negative emotions, you don’t have to devote valuable brainpower to finding a healthy coping mechanism. Instead, you can channel that energy directly into doing whatever you need to feel better.

3. Figure out how you’re going to spend the days that are most important to you.

It can feel paralyzing to think about how you want to spend, say, Christmas Day or Hanukkah evenings when you know you won’t be around family. But according to Jessy Warner-Cohen, Ph.D., health psychologist at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, it’s important that you do have some kind of outline for the big days during the holiday season.

“Any sort of change from your normal routine can be hard, so figure out what your game plan is going to be,” Warner-Cohen tells SELF. “Maybe you’re going to schedule some time at the gym, maybe you’ll do a volunteering project, but it’s important to stay active and engaged with things that make [you] feel fulfilled instead of just sitting by yourself.”

4. Delete any social media apps you think will cause stress during the holidays.

It can be helpful to go off the tech grid a bit and temporarily delete apps that foster negative emotions, Dr. Beresin says. “Be aware of what your triggers are,” he says. Will reading negative news on Twitter make you feel like the entire world is awful? Will seeing a ton of people posting family-filled Instagrams prompt a crying jag? If your relatives are getting together without you, where are those photos most likely to show up? Think about all of this in advance so technology doesn’t only add to your emotional burden.

5. Make a physical list of all of your positive attributes.

Warner-Cohen suggests making a list to remind yourself of everything great about you, especially if you fall into a habit of blaming yourself for your family estrangement or difficult relationships. This can be particularly helpful if cutting off family isn’t an option or may not be quite necessary, but you’re still dreading family time. (Many of the following tips can help in this situation, too.)

When spending time with your family feels like entering a lion’s den, it’s important to remember why you’re worthy of love and respect. “Just having that list there regardless of what anyone says is helpful,” Warner-Cohen says. Don’t only keep the list in your head, since you might blank on it when you get upset. Write it down or put it on your phone so you can call it up as needed.

6. Come up with a scripted response to steer the conversation away from touchy areas.

Whether it’s off-color political topics, jabs about you being LGBTQ+, snide remarks about you having a partner of a different race, or just incessant criticism about your life choices, you probably know exactly what your family might say to upset you. The only good thing about this is that, if you are going to see them, it can help you prepare.

Figure out the conversations that you absolutely will not engage in and a few responses that will help you set your boundaries kindly but firmly. For instance, if a family member body shames you just as you knew they would, you can say something like, “I appreciate your concern, but my weight is my business.” Then change the subject.

If you know you’ll have at least one ally in these situations, tell them beforehand which conversations you’re avoiding so they can help you guide the discussion elsewhere when it comes time, Warner-Cohen suggests.

7. Have an excuse ready when you need to escape, and consider bringing younger family members with you.

“[When you need alone time], offer to go to the grocery store or even just go take out the trash,” Warner-Cohen says. “I personally will get up and offer to help with dessert when I don’t feel like engaging in a particular conversation.”

Depending on the specifics, it may help to bring younger family members away with you, Dr. Beresin says.

“You don’t want them to see family as being a war zone,” he explains. “When it comes to the people you care about, you have to make those decisions of, ‘Am I going to make conflict, or will I show them a new way of doing things?’ So, you can take your younger family members and say, ‘Let’s go watch a movie, let’s go play Scrabble.’” It gets you away from drama and may even help end familial cycles of conflict.

8. Don’t isolate yourself due to stigma about family estrangement.

When you’re already feeling alone, it can feel easier to draw back from people instead of pushing yourself to be vulnerable. However, it’s important that you don’t isolate yourself even more. “You need to engage with others, with people who do provide you with a sense of security and connectedness,” Dr. Beresin says. “Expressing yourself and getting feedback during this time is really important.”

Even if you feel like the only person in the world who’s spending time away from their family during the holidays—or spending time with family but loathing every minute of it—you are absolutely not alone. Sharing a bit about your family situation with people you trust might even help you realize they’re dealing with similar issues.

9. Check in with a therapist before or after the holidays.

Maybe you already have a therapist who’s clued into exactly how you feel about the impending holiday season, in which case, great. Be sure to go over your emotions and game plan with them before, and fill them in on how it went after.

If you don’t have a therapist but are really struggling with how you’re going to handle this holiday season, it might be a sign that seeing a mental health professional can be a good idea. Dr. Beresin says his patient caseload for therapy always ticks up this time of year.

It may be hard to get in to see someone, especially right now, in which case it might help to read up on classic mental health tips therapists recommend to their patients. Then, when you are able to see a therapist, you can debrief on how the holidays went and, hopefully, have ample time to prepare before the next round.

10. Remind yourself that the holidays won’t last forever.

“We emphasize holiday culture, but just remember that it’s only a few [weeks] out of the year,” Warner-Cohen says. “Remembering that can help put things into perspective.”

Granted, dealing with family estrangement or tough family relationships is hard at any time. But the added holiday stress of feeling like you should be on extra happy and extra close to those in your family? That, at least, is temporary.


Dealing With Grief During the Holidays: 5 Important Lessons I’ve Learned

The end-of-year holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, were always the most beautiful, loving, and hopeful time of the year. Unfortunately, it’s not so much the case this year, and I’m working on enjoying the jingle bells ringing, the good times and singing, and the feeling of life all aglow.

Last year, my family spent the Thanksgiving holidays at my house, and we had a great time together like we always do. The following Tuesday, my husband took my father home. On Thursday, I sat down for dinner with my girlfriend from out of town. As I put the fork in my mouth to enjoy my first bite of food, the phone rang. It was my mother. I’ll never forget the panicked voice on the other end that cried out, “Dixie! I think something is wrong with your dad. I just came home and met him in the chair, and he’s cold.”

A feeling of nausea washed over me, and I sprang into action telling my mom to dial 911. I immediately started calling friends and family who were close by to go be with her, all while summoning up the courage not to crack into a million pieces. I somehow managed to make it through the many hazy hours following that phone call, only to realize several hours later I still had food shoved in the back of my left cheek.

Exactly seven days after Thanksgiving day, my father passed away.

The days that followed were tumultuous, painful, numbing, and sad. For the first time there was no Dad around for Christmas and New Year’s. The shocking reality set in that he would also not be there for Valentine’s Day, my birthday, the kids’ birthdays, his birthday, Father’s Day, and all the other holidays, including the last holiday we spent together, Thanksgiving.

It’s been almost a year now, and as September rolled in and the anniversary of his death began to draw near, a feeling of trepidation began to mount in my body. How was I going to deal with this unbearable pain again? And then the unthinkable happened. I received a call one evening that one of my dearest friends was in a coma, and the prognosis was grim. Less than 24 hours later, I received the text that she was dead. To make matters worse, coincidentally, my dear girlfriend’s body was housed in the same funeral home as my dad, and she was eulogized and viewed in the same room as he was.

Nathalie’s death brought my grief back in full focus. Square one. Like with Dad, I was shocked. I felt depressed and wanted to crawl into my bed and not get out for a long time. Nonetheless, I got up. I had to remind myself that I’m alive. I’m living, and living includes happiness, pain, and sorrow. The goal now was to take care of myself and implement self-care practices that would ease the pain and sorrow and bring happiness back into my reach.

Grief is a process, and it always helps to have a toolkit. I turned to mine, which included resources I’ve acquired over the years from phenomenal teachers, healers, coaches, and gurus.

Here are five things I’ve learned to do to cope with my grief as the holiday season approaches.

1. I take time for myself.

Taking time for myself has empowered me on this grief journey. I am very intentional about making time for my well-being by doing something to nourish my mind, body, and spirit every single day. For example, in my moments of grief I do not feel hungry. However, the self-care connoisseur in me knows I need to nourish my body with wholesome, healthy foods in order to stay healthy.

When you lose a loved one, sadness is inevitable. It comes in waves, and I felt like I was trapped in a big wave, being tossed up and down and all around. It can also come with lethargy and feelings of depression. To counteract those feelings, I turn to exercise (Zumba) and restorative movements like yoga and qigong. Although I’m still working on solidifying my meditation practice, I’m able to use it to center and focus as I turn inward to help with my morning ritual of prayer.

These were all routines I practiced on a regular basis prior to my dad’s death. However, I’ve had to amplify and deepen every aspect of my movement, my nutrition, and my spiritual practice. It’s made accepting reality so much easier. It’s helped me diminish my fears and bolster my hopefulness for the future.

I also reached out to a therapist. It always helps to have someone to turn to who has an objective viewpoint and one who is knowledgeable about the grief process.

2. I feel my feelings without guilt.

For some, being close to family and basking in the holiday traditions that their deceased loved ones appreciated is comforting. However, for others that may not be the case. Being around family and holiday traditions can trigger unwanted and painful memories. As a result, some would rather be alone. I wanted to be alone with my family last Christmas, and I want to be alone with them this Thanksgiving and holiday season too. We’ve talked about it as a family and agreed we would understand if one person wants to pull out and be alone. And guess what? One sister pulled out, and she’s OK, and we’re OK. She’s feeling her feelings. We’re feeling ours. No judgement. Only healing.

Honor your individual feelings. It’s OK if you’re not ready for what others might be ready to do. Proceed at your own pace and be sure to allow yourself to process your feelings.

3. I talk about my loved one whenever I feel like it.

We talked about Dad all the time for about a month or so after he passed. However, as the time went by, I noticed no one, including me, was bringing up his name, especially if my mother was present. I could feel the tension in our immediate family gatherings. I didn’t want to bring him up all the time because I was afraid it would trigger unpleasant emotions in other family members. What I didn’t realize is that they were thinking the very same thing I was. I’ve since learned that it’s OK to talk about your deceased loved one whenever you feel the need. I now freely share memories and stories. It’s a part of the healing process. I don’t hold back. We don’t hold back.

4. I am patient with the process.

Like most people, my holidays were filled with rituals of celebration. Life after loss requires lots of adjustments, especially during the holidays and celebratory days like birthdays. That adjustment takes time, which in turn requires a certain degree of patience. I’m different from my mother, my sisters, and my brother, and each of our adjustment period differs. I’ve learned not to beat myself up if they are seemingly doing well and moving faster than I am. What’s important is that I’m practicing healthy habits so I can move forward in a positive way.

5. I am crystal clear about what I want to do for the holidays.

This one is a biggie. Our family had to deal with Christmas three weeks after Dad was buried. Needless to say, I was extremely concerned about family expectations for the holiday. The fact is, I wasn’t ready to fulfill any expectations and follow any rituals and routines. I, along with my immediate family members, was not in the frame of mind to dive back into the festivities with food, trees, lights, people, and presents.

So, we honored our feelings and gave ourselves permission to switch and pivot. Instead of the usual excessive cooking, tree lights, and presents, we gathered, watched movies, took long walks, ordered our meals, and reminisced about the good times. To date I’ve not created any new rituals, but I know if and when I decide to, it will be totally my prerogative and OK.

This year, since it’s the first Thanksgiving without Dad, I’ve made it very clear that I’m not doing the big cooking and celebration. It’s going to be a toned down and reflective time. Now, is that to say next year and the following years will be the same? Of course not. It’s simply what I truly want this year, and I’ve made it crystal clear.