Monthly Archives: July 2013

Why Trust Your Gut?

Why do we call it a gut feeling anyway? Probably because fear and anxiety are often felt in the stomach… knots, butterflies, nausea. And usually what we call a gut feeling is a sense that something is off or wrong about a situation, which causes at least some anxiety in one’s gut.

diagram of human torso/gut

We may feel it in our gut, but our ‘gut feelings’ don’t originate there.

But these gut feelings don’t originate in the gut. They originate in a tiny little section within a slightly larger section of the brain called the basal ganglia (I just threw that in there so you’d be impressed that I know the parts of the brain 😀 )

This little mechanism alerts us when something is out of kilter in our environment. For lack of a better term, I will call it the alert signal.

 

 

PET scan of a brain

A brain on high alert! This is where gut feelings really originate.

The most common example of the alert signal is that nagging feeling that we’ve forgotten something. This is, btw, one of the things that goes wrong in people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Their alert signal gets stuck in the ‘on’ position, so they almost always feel like something’s wrong. Then their mind goes looking for something wrong when there isn’t a real problem.

But unless you have OCD, when the alert signal kicks in, there is something wrong. It might be something as trivial as that item you thought about taking with you, and then the thought slipped out of your conscious awareness. But some part of your brain is remembering it and trying to say, “Hey, you meant to take that thingamajig with you!”

Or it may be something that your brain has picked up on unconsciously that indicates danger.

We like to think of our brains as this open container. Sure there’s information stored away in other compartments but what we’re actively thinking about is all front and center, right?

Wrong. There are parts of our brain that are constantly processing, interpreting, analyzing, emoting, etc. outside of our conscious awareness.

large boulder in road

rockfall on a mountainous road  (photo by Swen Dirk, Wien, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Suppose you are driving along a road in the mountains and you get a gut feeling that something’s wrong, but it’s a beautiful sunshiny day so you consciously decide your gut is nuts and ignore the signal. However, a part of your brain (most likely the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex) has registered a flicker of movement out of the corner of your eye and it has signaled another part of your brain (the amygdala, where fear and anger originate). That part is now screaming “Danger, danger!” at that little alert gizmo in the basal ganglia.

All this has happened way too fast for your conscious mind to process what is going on. By the time it does, you are already squashed like a bug under a rockfall.

Another example:  you are out on a first date. The guy (or gal) is quite charming and attentive and you’re consciously thinking, “Hmm, he (she) just might be a keeper.” But you’re getting this gut feeling that something is off. (Okay, I’m just gonna use the male pronoun from now on; too awkward otherwise, but don’t take it personally, guys.)

LISTEN UP! A part of your brain has noticed that he has a funny little twitch in his right eyebrow every time he says something nice, or that his tone is a little flat, even though his words are what you want to hear. That part of your brain triggers the alert signal. “Beware! This guy’s a lying creep!”

You start to feel like something is off, and you’re getting a little queasy. Don’t dismiss that as you ate some bad fish, or worse yet, mistake the butterflies in your stomach as excitement or love. (Ick!) Listen to your gut!

Now, I’m not suggesting you jump up, fling your drink in his face and stomp out of the restaurant, but be on guard. Get to know him a WHOLE LOT better before you let him into your house, much less into your heart. And don’t try to talk yourself into dismissing the gut feeling. You are having it for a reason. Until you identify that reason, be careful.

Think of that alert signal as your dog. My dog barks at anything that gets within twenty feet of my house. It may be the postman delivering a package to my front step, a cat that has had the audacity to invade our backyard or someone trying to break into the house. But it is always something. It’s her job to alert me that something is coming into our territory. It’s my job to determine what it is and whether or not it’s a big deal.

That niggling little gut feeling is your barking dog. Listen to it, figure out what it’s trying to tell you, just in case it’s someone trying to break into your house.

Have there been times when you’ve listen to your gut and it’s saved you from grief? Or other times you didn’t listen and wished you had?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Can Psychopaths Be Cured?

I’ve written a couple guest posts for my friend and colleague, Stacy Green, over at Get Twisted on the topic of psychopaths. In those posts, I talked about how they develop and how they are different from narcissists.

Another question people often ask is how treatable psychopaths are. Can they be cured?

The short answer is ‘No.’  But have you all ever known me to settle for a short answer. 🙂

The official diagnosis given to a psychopath is antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).

Personality disorders in general are hard to treat for two reasons. One, they are so ingrained in the person’s make-up. The person has grown up in an environment (and in the case of ASPD, with a genetic predisposition) that has shaped their personality in a warped way. So when treating personality disorders, one is truly trying to change the leopard’s spots!

leopard

Go ahead, try to change my spots. I dare you!

Two, with many personality disorders the person with the disorder thinks they are okay and the rest of the world is crazy or stupid. To their thinking, being extremely rigid or paranoid or emotionally reactive or egocentric (these are the hallmark symptoms of four different personality disorders) is normal. Or they view their personalities as an acceptable alternative to normal; they just march to a different drummer.  They don’t get it that their behaviors and ways of thinking are maladaptive.

With the other personality disorders, there is some hope, however. If you can show the person how their behavior is causing problems in their lives and/or hurting the people they care about, you may be able to get them motivated to try to change. It will still be an uphill battle because the symptoms are so ingrained, but it’s worth a try.

For ASPD, the hallmark symptoms are egocentrism, thrill-seeking, lack of remorse, lack of empathy for others and lack of fear of consequences for their behavior.

The three “lack of’s” are a major problem when trying to get a psychopath to change. They have no motivation to do so. If you feel no guilt for your behavior, don’t really care how you’re hurting others, and don’t care what negative consequences you may suffer for your behavior, well, why would you want to change?

bungee jumper

photo by Ellywa from nl (CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported Wikimedia Commons)

Fighting the thrill-seeking is equivalent to fighting a hard-core addiction. They are addicted to the adrenaline rush. And again, they have no motivation to give it up since they experience little or no fear of consequences (see The Making of a Psychopath for an explanation of why they are thrill-seeking and feel so little fear).

Usually the only way to make any inroads toward change in psychopaths is to play on their ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude. The therapeutic approach with them is tough love, minus the love. You get in their faces and show them what a dumbf**k they are for doing what they’re doing.

Don’t try this at home! This approach is used mainly when they are in jail, i.e. when they are locked up in a cage and cannot follow you home and kill you for dissing them.

IF you can show them that it is in their own self-interest to change, then they MIGHT be motivated to do so. But you’re still up against that deeply ingrained issue.

Two caveats here. First, ASPD, like all psychological disorders, exists on a continuum. People with milder cases are easier to reach than those in the middle or toward the more hard-core end of that continuum.

Second, kids with Oppositional Deviant Disorder and/or Conduct Disorder (the childhood precursors to ASPD) can possibly be reached if the intervention is early enough and the right kind of approach (see The Making of A Psychopath for an example of this).

But once an adult is showing blatant signs of full-blown ASPD, don’t hold your breath that they are ever likely to change all that much.

Have you ever known anyone that you suspect may be a psychopath? Did you see any motivation in them to change? In the case of criminals with this disorder, do you think this diagnosis should play into sentencing and parole decisions?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press on Tuesdays, sometimes about serious topics, and sometimes just for fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Ouija Boards Debunked (Maybe)

This is a combination psychology and paranormal post, written by Kassandra Lamb and Kirsten Weiss.

Kirsten here to start things off.

A few weeks ago I posted on the origins of Ouija boards. The post got some interesting reactions. Apparently there are quite a few people out there who have had very spooky experiences with them.

Ouija BoardIndeed, many psychics believe that this simple piece of wood with letters and numbers on it is a portal to the underworld. I’ll have more on that in a minute. First Kass Lamb (who’s a retired psychotherapist) is going to explain what makes the planchette move.

Take it away, Kass.  

When I was a teenager, a Ouija board was standard fare at sleep-overs and Halloween parties. We thought it could predict the future, so we’d ask it who we were going to marry. The third time it told me that the boy I was currently infatuated with would be my future husband (a different boy each time) I became a bit disenchanted with Ouija boards. But I still couldn’t explain how that little wooden planchette seemed to move on its own, spelling out the name of my current flame.

Forty some years and a couple of degrees in psychology later, I can explain it with a phenomenon called ideomotor response. This term refers to an idea (ideo) being able to cause minuscule muscular responses that can actually cause (motor) movement without the person consciously telling their muscles to move.

No, it is not magic, and no, I’m not making this up! This phenomenon was first described by William Benjamin Carpenter, M.D., F.R.S. (I’ve no idea what F.R.S. stands for). He presented his findings to the Royal Institution of Great Britain on March 12, 1852.

At the time no one had a clue how this worked, but today we know enough about the brain to attempt to explain it.

Freud speculated in the late 1800’s that only a small part of what’s going on in our minds at any given time is actually in our conscious awareness. He used the analogy of an iceberg, the tip of which is the conscious mind and the bulk is underneath the surface.

Freud's Id, Ego and Superego diagram on an iceberg

Freud’s iceberg, depicting the conscious vs. unconscious mind  (public domain)

Freud’s theories weren’t always right but with this one, he was spot on. There is a lot going on in our brains at any given time, most of which is not conscious. Part of our brains (the cerebellum) is moving our bodies around–walking, chewing gum, typing, etc.–without our having to pay attention to each little movement. Other parts of our brains (in the limbic system and parts of the cerebral cortex) are processing emotions, making connections between current events and past experiences, etc. while we are consciously thinking about other things (in another part of our cerebral cortex).

And it is indeed possible for a part of our brains, that we are not currently consciously controlling, to tell our muscles to move a certain way. You think the thought and the movement happens, without any specific signals to the muscles that you are aware of.

Let me demonstrate with a simple makeshift pendulum–a metal clip and two rubber bands.

Holding the top of the rubber bands between my index finger and thumb (relaxed but intentionally holding my hand as still as possible), I think the word “swing” while imagining the pendulum swinging back and forth. Lo and behold, it starts to swing. When I think “circle” (I say it out loud in the video so you know when I started thinking it), it changes directions, and when I think “stop” it comes slowly to a halt.

Click the video below and watch the pendulum do its thing, then watch a second time and keep your eye on my hand. (Note: my husband took this video with his digital camera. Every time I watch this I’m amazed myself that this works!)

Note: some of the related videos that come up at the end mention hypnosis; that is because ideomotor signals are sometimes used by hypnotherapists but it is NOT a hypnotic phenomenon. It is a purely physiological response. No hypnosis required, although the power of suggestion may be involved as we are about to see.

So back to the Ouija board. I’m fifteen and madly in love with a boy named Bobby. I’m at a sleep-over. The hostess whips out a Ouija board and we start fooling with it. My fingertips are on the planchette along with those of one or two other girls. I ask out loud who I’m going to marry. The other girls’ fingertips have no vested interest in the outcome but my fingertips are listening to my brain chanting, “Bobby, please let it be Bobby.”

I am NOT telling my fingertips to move, but they get that signal anyway and the planchette starts to slowly stutter across the board toward the B. Yay!!! Then I hold my breath as I think, “Make it an O, please make it an O.” But I’m being very careful not to intentionally move the planchette because I want the TRUTH. Sure enough, we slowly slide over to the O. Somewhere around the second B the planchette really picks up speed and whizzes over to the Y, and then maybe flies right off the board as my excited nervous system goes into overload.

This is the explanation for what makes the Ouija board planchette move. Our own ideomotor response is doing this. Now the next question is, who is controlling the messages in our brains that are being sent to our fingertips, bypassing our conscious minds along the way?

When teenagers ask it stupid questions about who they’re going to marry someday, it’s their own wishful thinking controlling the planchette. But when we ask the Ouija board to allow us to contact spirits from beyond, what happens then?

Is it still our unconscious minds–our own wishful thinking or our own greatest fears–controlling the planchette? Or is it something else?

Back to Kirsten and what psychics say on the subject.

I don’t claim this to be a representative poll, but the psychics I’ve spoken with believe that yes, you can contact the “other side” with Ouija boards. But you don’t know who (or what) you’re inviting into your home.

Most psychics and magical practitioners will erect magical wards and protections before attempting any sort of contact with spirits (not just through a Ouija board). These are to keep out anything with negative intentions.

They warn against the use of Ouija boards by the layperson who doesn’t know how to protect him/herself.

Kass here again.

Personally I don’t quite know what to believe about the spirit world but if Ouija boards can open a portal to the other side, I think it is very wise to avoid them. (Google “psychics and Ouija boards” if you don’t believe us.)

If a spirit can indeed enter your mind (when you’ve invited it in via the board), that spirit would then be able to use the board to communicate. The spirit could influences your thoughts (you would not necessarily be consciously aware of that influence nor even the thoughts themselves). Those thoughts then would move the planchette via ideomotor response.

I’m very grateful that my friends and I never asked to contact the spirit world with our Ouija boards.

Do any of you have cautionary tales you are willing to share about Ouija boards? Any thoughts or questions about ideomotor response?

Posted by Kirsten Weiss, author of paranormal mystery novels and the Riga Hayworth Metaphysical Detective series and Kassandra Lamb, retired psychotherapist and author of the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press on Tuesdays, sometimes about serious topics, and sometimes just for fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

The Pool From Which We All Drink

It was always our hope here at misterio press to make this blog more a group effort. We are pleased that this idea is now coming to fruition. Kass Lamb will still be doing her Mental Health posts a few times a month but we will now have other authors from our group contributing on other topics, mainly of a paranormal and/or true crime bent.

Today, Catie Rhodes brings us one of her favorite topics as the first installment in Transcendental Tuesdays. Take it away, Catie!

The Pool From Which We All Drink

CatieRhodes-200x300

Catie Rhodes

Some time ago, I read Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. As always, when I finished the book, I read his author’s notes. The first sentence of the first paragraph reads:

There really is a pool where we—and in this case by we I mean the vast company of readers and writers—go down to drink and cast our nets.” – Stephen King

Folklore interests me for this very reason. Seeing bits and pieces of the same tales from all over the world fascinates me. The universality of our existence makes us have similar fears and similar hopes. All we do is put little touches and little splashes of color over the same themes and ideas. The thought of it is humbling.

For an example, let’s look at “The Phantom Coach of East Texas” and talk about how it connects to the rest of the world.

The following is a summary of the story. If you’d like to read the original, check my sources at the end of this post.

The Phantom Coach of East Texas

The legend of the phantom coach in East Texas was collected from a former slave named Ben Smiley. It takes place in pre-civil war East Texas on the Ayish Bayou.

In this era, people came from miles around to gather in one another’s homes for socials.

a social of the 1800's

These gatherings provided a chance for young people to court. At one such gathering, the daughter of a local planter fell in love with a young man from one of the visiting families. Soon afterward, on the night of the harvest moon, the girl’s father held a social at their home to announce her engagement to the boy.

The young couple slipped away from the social to take a moonlight ride in one of the coaches. As was customary during the era, the slaves whose job it was to drive their owners to the social stood around the fire outside swapping tales. Ben Smiley, from whom this story was collected, was among these men.

The sound of hoofbeats and the rattle of a carriage moving interrupted the men’s swapping of tales. One of them ran to stop the carriage. He spoke to the newly engaged couple who told him they would be back soon. He let them go, and the couple was never seen again.

No one could explain why the couple would have eloped. Both sets of parents were happy about the engagement. The community was excited for the couple. The slaves speculated the couple was spirited away by demons.

Years passed and the incident was forgotten by everybody except the missing couples’ parents. The father of the young woman who had disappeared had a social on the night of the harvest moon. Once again, the slaves stood around the fire outside swapping stories.

The coachman who had tried to stop the couple years before was in the middle of telling a story, but he stopped to stare down the dark, pine tree-lined drive in front of the house. His face grew slack with alarm. The other slaves turned to see what had upset him.

All of the slaves saw a gold, shapeless glow emerge from the pine trees and move noiselessly toward them. In the glow, they saw the shape of a carriage—which was being drawn by a force other than horses. The figure of a woman sat inside coach. The coach passed the horrified slaves slowly and without sound and faded into the fall night.

Ben Smiley, the teller of this tale, was convinced the ghost of the girl who had disappeared so many years before sat in the coach. As the legend goes, the phantom coach and its ghostly passenger came up her parents’ drive each harvest moon until they died.

Great story, right?

Versions of this story are known in Italy, Spain, England and Ireland.

In England

In England, the most famous occupant of a phantom coach is none other than Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VII. After her failure to produce a male heir, Anne’s relationship with the king deteriorated. He had her charged with treason and sentenced her to death.

Anne Boleyn’s ghost has been been seen in the grounds of Blickling Hall, which was the Boleyn family home. She is dressed in white and sits in a ghostly carriage. Anne, the carriage’s horses, and the coachman are all headless. Anne holds her severed head in her lap.

Blickling Hall and grounds

Home of Ann Boleyn’s family; her headless ghost is said to ride in a phantom carriage through the grounds (photo by Evelyn Simak CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia)

Sir Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, stated his belief of Anne’s guilt at her trial. Sir Thomas, too, roams the night roads in a phantom coach crossing each of the twelve bridges that lie between Wroxham and Blickling. Traveling this route is said to be Sir Thomas Boleyn’s punishment for betraying his daughter.

Irish Mythology

Both the Anne Boelyn tale and The East Texas Phantom Coach can be connected to the Dullahan of Irish mythology.

The Dullahan is a headless rider on a black carriage pulled by six headless horses or he is a solo headless rider on a black horse. Like the East Texas phantom coach, the Dullahan’s approach is silent. Like Anne Boleyn, The Dullahan carries his head with him.

The Irish Dullahan is an omen of death. He stops before the door of one who is about to die and shouts the person’s name. His call draws forth the soul of the soon-to-be-deceased. Unlike the Banshee (or Bean Sidhe), the Dullahan’s call is not a warning. He actually draws the soul out of the person whose time it is to die.

We All Add Our Own Twist

The Legend of the East Texas Phantom Coach was told by a slave named Ben Smiley. His telling added certain elements that drew from what he knew.

The gold of the East Texas phantom coach could be attributed to imagery used in African American folk music, including spirituals. According to the source material by John Q. Anderson, this gold imagery in spirituals came from the Bible story of Elijah and the descriptions in the Book of Revelation.

The silent, golden coach is also similar to “will-o’-the-wisp” folklore. This phenomenon is also known as ghost-lights and swamp gas.

oil painting of a will-of-the-wisp

Will-of-the-Wisp ~ oil painting by Arnold Böcklin, 1882

According to European folklore, the mysterious lights are faeries intent on leading travelers astray. The American version of this folklore explains the lights as spirits of railroad workers killed on the job.

The way all these stories intersect fascinates me. Connecting all the dots is like a game. It makes the world around me feel very, very large.

Floor is open. What stories can you share from the pool from which we all drink?

Sources:

“The Legend of the Phantom Coach in East Texas” by John Q. Anderson. Western Folklore, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Oct., 1963), pp. 259-262.

The Ghost of Anne Boleyn

Mystical Myth: Irish Dullahan

Will O’ The Wisp

Posted by Catie Rhodes. Catie’s debut novel, Forever Road, is Book 1 in the Peri Jean Mace paranormal mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once or twice a week, sometimes about serious topics, and sometimes just for fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Happy Independence Day!!!

 1000px-United_States_flag_waving_icon pub domain.svg

 

Independence Day has a whole new meaning for me now that I am part of an indie press! I am more grateful than ever to be a citizen of a country where initiative, inventiveness and entrepreneurship are valued and encouraged.

Have a great 4th of July, everyone, and God bless America!

Kass Lamb and the misterio press authors

A Check-Up From the Neck Up (and Book Giveaway Announcement)

This is the last installment of my Tour of Fives, celebrating the release of the 5th book in my mystery series. I felt I should bring things back home with my Five Top Tips for Maintaining Mental Health. (This is a revised version of a post I wrote as a guest of Ginger Calem last year.)

When I was a psychotherapist, I realized that doing my job well meant that I worked myself out of a job. Eventually my clients didn’t need me anymore to boost their self-esteem and figure out how to stay on track mental-health-wise in their lives. A few would pop back now and then, when they needed a sounding board for some major life decision. But for the most part, I never heard from them again after they graduated from therapy.

One of my clients, however, had a different take on this. She came in about once a year or so for what she dubbed her “check up from the neck up.” Sometimes she had specific things to discuss but sometimes she just wanted to catch me up on her life and get my feedback.

(photo by safedom, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

(photo by safedom, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia)

I realized this was a very healthy thing she was doing–checking things out with a professional before they became a big deal.

I can’t help but wonder why we don’t have mental health check-ups, like we do for our physical health. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we nipped our psychological problems in the bud, instead of waiting until they fester and make us miserable?

And more emphasis on preventive mental health practices would be an excellent idea as well. So here are:

My Five Top Tips for Maintaining Mental Health.

#1: Check in with yourself several times a day and notice how you’re feeling. Make it a habit that you link to something else in your routine, like mealtimes or driving to and from work. Just stop and take a few seconds to assess where you are emotionally.

I do this when I’m in the car by myself. Then if I realize I’m not completely content, I have some alone time to explore why not, and what I want to do about it.

There are three basic things we can do about something we don’t like. We can (1) change it; (2) get away from it; or (3) change our attitude toward it. This list may sound a bit oversimplified, but it gives us a good place to start to make proactive decisions about a situation that is keeping us from feeling content with our lives.

This ties in with…

#2: Avoid doing things you don’t like to do. Now I’m not advocating being irresponsible (nor procrastination, which tends to just spread out the stress). But when we don’t like something, instead of just forcing ourselves to do it, we can look for ways to make it more palatable.

I don’t like to exercise, but I know it’s a necessary evil. So I looked long and hard for a way to exercise that I didn’t mind, and I found it.

Zumba class! Yay!

Zumba class! Yay!

I love Zumba dancing! Now I’m not saying I jump up with joy when it’s time for Zumba class. I still face some inertia, but that’s a lot better than dread and loathing.

I dislike cleaning even more than exercise, but I discovered that if I do one or two chores every day or so–clean a toilet here, dust a room there–I always have a relatively clean house without spending a huge chunk of time on it.

Delegating or trading off tasks with others is another option. When my husband and I were dating, we would often end up at K-Mart during the course of the evening, so he could buy yet another package of underwear and put off doing laundry a bit longer.

boxer shorts laid out on floor

You own enough of these, you never have to do laundry again!

Now you might be wondering why I kept dating this guy. Actually I am too because it sounds kind of creepy in the retelling, but we’ve been married almost 37 years, and that’s the weirdest thing he’s ever done. He just really, really disliked doing laundry. But he likes to cook, which I’m not fond of. So he took over the kitchen and I rule in the laundry room and we’re both a lot happier.

If you truly hate something, you definitely should not force yourself to do it. If you do, it will make you mentally and emotionally sick. Kinda like forcing yourself to eat spoiled food. Ick!

Instead, try to figure out why that situation is pushing your psychological buttons. Once you know this, you may be able to pull the wires loose from it. But even if you can’t disconnect the button, at least you will know why you need to avoid that thing that you really hate. You’ll go from feeling a little crazy to knowing you are taking good care of your mental health.

Now let me make an important distinction here, between the things you hate and the things you fear.

#3: Face the things you fear IF they are obstacles to getting where you want to be. If you’re afraid of snakes and you live in the city and never go hiking, don’t worry about it. We do not have to face every one of our fears. Only the ones that are stopping us from achieving our goals. But facing your fear doesn’t mean you just forge ahead, making yourself do something. That may make matters worse.

Again, identifying the psychological button may help you disconnect it, or at least work around it. But sometimes we are just afraid of the unknown or the unfamiliar.

I was that way regarding promoting my books. I had no idea what I was doing. I’m not very techno-savvy and I knew I’d have to learn about Twitter and Facebook and blogging, and… and… *grabbing my paper bag*   So I reminded myself of my own advice to clients.

When we’re feeling overwhelmed it can really help to “chunk it down.” I gave myself permission to take it slow, to just learn one thing at a time until I was comfortable with it. So I got on Twitter. A month or so later, I was tweeting away with ease; then I tackled Facebook. Now I’m feeling comfortable with both and I’m contemplating whether I should try Pinterest or Google+ next (it’s more a matter of available time now).

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help! We Americans come from independent stock. We feel we should do things for ourselves. That’s great, but there’s no shame is asking for help. Don´t you feel good when you know you´ve helped a friend? Give others the opportunity to experience that good feeling.

female friends offering a comforting hand

(photo by Mathias Klang from Göteborg Sweden CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Knowing I had my friend, Shannon, to coach me made it a lot easier to tackle my fear of social media. Friends can reassure, offer suggestions, or just hold your hand.

But ultimately you also have to…

 #4: Trust your gut!

If you’ve got a gut feeling about something, know that there is a reason for that feeling. What we call our gut instinct is really some part of our brain, that we are not currently in direct communication with, that has noticed something is off, or has made some connection between two or more pieces of information that puts a different spin on something.

Your gut instincts are never wrong! Let me repeat, your gut is never wrong. It has picked up on something relevant! The problem is that we get these instinctive hits as vague feelings, not in words. So we have to figure out what our gut is trying to tell us. And sometimes we misinterpret the message.

One of the tricky things here is trying to tease apart what are true gut feelings and what are irrational fears, either of the unknown or residuals from past experiences. Here’s where friends (or a therapist) can again come in handy. Running the whole situation past someone whose judgement you trust–and whom you know will not be judgmental of you!–can help you put it in perspective.

But while you’re trying to sort it out, you need to continue to respect that gut feeling. (I’m thinking I need to do an entire post on this soon.)

And last but never least…

#5: Relax at least three times a day. This is basic stress management. And no whining that you’re too busy and can’t do this. I’m talking about a 5 to 10-minute break (although 15 to 20 minutes is better). I have talked about this at length before. If you take the time to relax and lower your stress level for a few minutes, you will be more focused and more productive when you go back to what needs to get done.

And you are much more likely to be happier and healthier at the end of the day!

 

Reading is one of my favorite ways to relax. And our own Kirsten Weiss is one of my favorite authors. She has a new teaser video out to get us psyched up about her next book (her Book #5!)

And she has Book 4, The Infernal Detective, FREE on Amazon this Thursday and Friday, July 4th and 5th!

Make a note on your calendar to snag yourself a copy for some great summer reading! Then talk to me in the comments.

What helps you relax and/or keeps you on the right track mental-health-wise? Have these tips helped you rethink how you approach certain things?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

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