Tag Archives: relaxation

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Remember those dreaded first-day-back-to-school essays? 🙂

We just spent the better part of July in a vacation rental in Maryland, and I’ve gotta say that it’s kinda weird being on vacation when you’re retired. (Or semi-retired as my husband and I are; he still teaches part-time and I try not to let my writing totally consume my life).

picture of our summer rental

Our summer rental this year. It was so nice to not have to worry about maintenance.

This wasn’t an extremely exciting vacation–not one where you go someplace you’ve never been and do a lot of sightseeing. (We’re planning one of those for next year–to Europe. Yay!!)

We went back to the small town near where our former summer cottage is. So no new sights. Just the same familiar small harbor, tiny beach, homemade ice cream parlor, seafood restaurants, etc.

I did some writing, when I felt like it–finished a manuscript in fact. But I put the rest of my writing-related tasks on hold as much as I could. Tom spent most of his hours, as he would at home, glued to his laptop screen. (The rest of the time, he was out taking pictures.)

the local beach

The local beach–small but as you can see, definitely not crowded.

But somehow it still felt like a vacation. We gave ourselves permission to relax, to do what we felt like in the moment. Not that we don’t do that a good bit in our ‘retired’ status anyway, but there’s something about being away from home, away from your normal routines… And something about announcing to yourself and the world that you are “on vacation.”

We took long walks, read, visited friends and family, went sailing a couple times, gained some weight on restaurant meals. Oh and we went to a wine tasting. That was fun!

picture of Kass and her husband

A selfie after the wine-tasting. We were very mellow. 🙂

And we watched a lot of gorgeous sunsets.

The sun is beginning to set.

 

 

 

 

 

 

sinking lower

 

 

Then we came home when we felt refreshed and, as Tom put it, “vacationed out.”

It was low key, but definitely a vacation from our ‘retired’ life. It was good.

How about you? What elements of vacations make you feel like you’ve truly been “on vacation”? Is seeing new sights a requirement?

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.

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.

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.)

Relaxation Made Easy

We all know that the best antidote to stress is relaxation. But what do you think of when you hear that word relaxation? A long soak in a hot tub, a massage, a vacation to the beach…

photo by Nick Webb (Flickr Massage) CC license 2.0 — Wikimedia Commons

Those are excellent ways to relax but they require some time and effort. So if you’re like me, you may very well put off doing those things. “I’ll schedule a vacation/book a massage, etc. when I get past this deadline,” I tend to say to myself.

There are however, many simple ways to relax throughout every day. AND it is important to relax throughout the day every day. Those big relaxers are great, but they don’t last. I get a massage and the tension is back in my shoulders by the next day–sometimes sooner.

Why is it important to relax throughout the day? Remember that part of the nervous system that controls arousal vs. relaxation that we talked about awhile back? Quick refresher: the autonomic nervous system controls our body’s response to challenges and threats in our environment. When something is threatening/challenging us, the sympathetic branch of the ANS arouses our body to meet that challenge. Our heart rate, blood pressure, etc. go up, muscles tense, respiration increases, etc. When the challenge is over, the parasympathetic branch calms us down again so everything can go back to normal.

These two branches counterbalance each other, like the old-fashioned teeter-toters on children’s playgrounds when I was a kid. When one kid pushed off and went up, the kid on the other side went down.

So every time we activate the parasympathetic branch (relaxation) we are deactivating the sympathetic branch (arousal). And then it take a little while for the body to get all stressed out and tense again.

In terms of our minds, when we take relaxation breaks throughout the day, we recharge our coping batteries so that we go back to the tasks at hand with a clearer focus. Thus the time spent on these little relaxation breaks will enhance our productivity, making them well worth it.

So here are some quick and simple ways to relax periodically throughout the day. All of these can be done in 5-10 minutes, some of them even less than that. Btw, with all of these (except #4) it’s a good idea to be seated or lying down with every part of your body comfortably supported.

1.  Progressive relaxation: Closing your eyes, you take a deep breath, then focus on each muscle group, telling your brain to send the signal for those muscles to relax completely. You can start either with your scalp or your feet. I’m a scalp person myself. I imagine the tension just flowing down and out of my body.

Try it! Close your eyes, deep breath, focus on your scalp and let it relax, then your face muscles (sometimes the jaw needs separate attention), then your neck, shoulders, etc.

2.  Guided imagery: No need to book a flight and pack your bags. Just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine your favorite relaxing vacation spot. Build the imagery by engaging all the senses. Lay on the beach and feel the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze on your skin, hear the seagulls and the lapping waves, smell the salt in the air, etc.

3.  Self-hypnosis: Can’t think of a relaxing place to go, or not the best at imagining things. Then try a little self-hypnosis. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and visualize a set of steps in your mind’s eye (or a hill gently sloping downward in front of you). Imagine yourself slowly going down those steps/that hill and tell yourself (repeat several times) that with each step you will become more and more relaxed. Once at the bottom, you can tell yourself that you will relax completely for ____ minutes and then you will ‘wake up’ refreshed and energized (again repeat several times).

4.  I’ve saved the easiest and fastest for last. Have you noticed a trend above? Each time you start with a deep breath. That’s because deep breathing automatically engages the parasympathetic (relaxation) branch of the ANS and gets the ball rolling. So if you don’t have time to stop even for 5 minutes, you can just do the deep breathing. Three slow, deep breaths in a row can do wonders!

I also saved this one for last because I have a fun story to share. A friend of mine was once going through a very busy time. I kept reminding her to take time to relax and take care of herself, and she kept saying she couldn’t do that. She would relax once XYZ was off her plate. I suggested all of the above and her response was that she didn’t even have 5 minutes a day to spare, and she knew she would never remember to take the deep breaths.

I suggested that I hypnotize her and give her post-hypnotic suggestions that whenever she started to get tense she would automatically take a deep breath. She gave me a skeptical look but she did sit still long enough for me to do this.

The next time I saw her was about two weeks later. I asked her how the deep breathing was going.

“It´s wonderful!” she said. “I don´t have to think about it. I just automatically take a breath whenever I need to relax some. There was just one problem. Jim (her husband) kept looking at me funny. I finally asked him why and he said he was worried about me because I was so depressed.”

“‘I’m not depressed,’ I told him. ‘What gave you that idea?’”

“‘Well, you’re constantly walking around the house sighing,’ he said.” 🙂

What do you think? Which of these techniques appeals the most to you? Or do you have other ideas?

I suggest trying all of these and then focusing on the one(s) that work best for you. I mainly use #1 and #3 myself.

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 a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

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