Tag Archives: stress management

5 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

by Kassandra Lamb

ornaments on a tree

photo by Kris de Curtis CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

This is a joyous time of year, but it is also the most stressful time of year for many of us. Especially for those who are trying to make Christmas happen for their families.

Here are a few helpful hints on how to keep the stress manageable and the joy optimal.

1.  Write It Down.

Santa isn’t the only one who should be making a list and checking twice.

This is actually 3 tips in one. First, making a list of everything that needs to be done will keep you from forgetting something that might then become a last-minute crisis/super stressor.

Second, you get the list out of your head and onto paper so you don’t have to stress yourself with trying to remember everything.

And third, it is very satisfying to physically scratch things off a list. Sometimes I put things on there that I’ve already done, so I can immediately scratch them off again. 😀

2. Keep It Simple.

Are there things you do for Christmas that nobody really cares about, maybe not even you?

A few years ago, during a stressful time for my family, we opted for a cold buffet instead of a big Christmas dinner. I was amazed at how little I missed the fancy meal (and all the prep, not at all).

We made the cold buffet a new tradition. We still have special things to eat (my DIL makes awesome cranberry chicken salad), but it can all be prepared a day or two in advance. Christmas Day, we open presents and enjoy each others’ company and spend very little time in the kitchen.

3. Pace Yourself.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. If you try to do too much in one day you will wear yourself out, and be tired and grouchy the next day.

If you want to be super-organized, you could mark the day you plan to do certain things on your list. Then on any given day, you are only stressing about that day’s chores.

hand and book

Take a break. Read a book! 🙂 (photo by David, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia)

Also this time of year, getting too fatigued can lead to illness, with all the nasty flu and cold viruses floating around.

Getting sick is definitely not going to help! Which brings us to…

4. Take Care of Yourself.

Schedule proper rest, eating and some exercise into your days.

My mother used to wear herself down to the nub by Christmas Eve. My brother and I would hide in our rooms as much as possible. She was so exhausted and cranky, if we landed on her radar, who knew what would happen?

By the next day, she was much better and we always had a great Christmas, but much of what she had done to prepare for it wasn’t really what made it special for us.

The specialness of Christmas came from having a whole day of relaxation and freedom to play and undivided attention from the adults in the family. Everybody was in a great mood and we had a blast.

child with toys

You can’t see my face but I’m grinning.

Oh, and there were new toys, of course.

5. There Is No Report Card!

Christmas should not be a contest or a performance for which we receive a grade. If you have someone in your life who tends to be that judgmental, you have my permission to uninvite them for Christmas.

If that’s not an option, then practice some lines you can fire back if they comment or even just glare at you judgmentally.

Something like “My house may not be perfect but my kids are happy.”

Or maybe “What would Jesus do?” to remind them that judging is definitely not in the spirit of the season.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Our blog will be on hiatus until January 3rd, at which point we have a BIG surprise for you. Stay tuned for an awesome 2017 giveaway!!

Merry Christmas

image by Ac1983fan CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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 lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

6 Tips for Coping When Change Is In the Air

by Kassandra Lamb

In addition to the crispness of fall and the hint of wood smoke on cooler evenings, change is in the air at misterio press. We have a lot of new releases coming up, and new series being started by some of our authors.

Change can be both good and bad. And even good changes are stressful.

Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, authors of the very first psychological stress test, knew that. “Marriage” is #7 on their inventory with 50 adjustment points attached to it (“death of a spouse” is first with 100 pts). “Retirement” is #12 and “outstanding personal achievement” is #25 with 28 points.

Holmes and Rahe contended that anything that requires adjustment adds to our stress level, even going on vacation (#41, 13 points) which is mostly about de-stressing.

moving truck outside house

(photo by William Grimes, English Wikimedia, public domain)

The biggest adjustments of course are the life-transition ones—getting married, changing careers, moving, etc. Here are some tips for reducing the stress of such transitions:

1.  Remember that even positive events can still have their down moments. If one approaches life transitions with a black and white attitude, the first thing that goes even a little bit wrong can be devastating, and can then influence your emotional view of later developments.

It’s a natural tendency when we are excited about something to be thrown for a loop if there’s a glitch. The more intense the positive emotion of anticipation, the more intense the disappointment can be if something doesn’t go just right. At such moments, we need to step back and look at the big picture. More on this in a moment.

2.  Research what to expect, good and bad, and see yourself dealing with it. If it’s a big move or a new job/career, find out as much as you can about that locale or vocation. If it’s a new level of relationship commitment, do a lot of talking with your partner about how this change will affect both of you.

Why is it important to be so well informed? Because stressors that take us by surprise are a lot more stressful than those we see coming.

Then visualize yourself in the new situation; this is a form of emotional practice.

basketball game

Practice makes us better, at sports and at life. (2004 Army-Navy game~public domain)

Like the athlete who practices jump shots or the back stroke, if we practice dealing with a situation in our mind’s eye, we will be better prepared for it when it becomes reality.

Imagining the challenges, payoffs and problems of the new situation will also allow us to develop some strategies ahead of time for dealing with them. One time, I took a new job that was an hour from home. It was a good opportunity, better pay, but as I contemplated the downside of that long commute, I felt my excitement eroding. I imagined myself listening to the radio. That helped some.

Then a better answer hit me. Audio books! The commute ended up being the best part of my day.

3.  Realize there may still be unforeseen developments. Don’t let all this researching and imagining and advance problem-solving lull you into believing that you are ready for anything. There may still be some things you don’t foresee, good and bad, but if you are prepared for most aspects of the transition, you can focus more of your coping skills and emotional energy on the things you didn’t anticipate.

4.  Be prepared to grieve, at least a little, for how things used to be. Very little is gained in this life without having to give something up. Realize that missing the freedom of single life doesn’t mean you don’t want to be married, or occasionally remembering a simpler time with nostalgia doesn’t mean you don’t want this new, more challenging job.

Life, and emotions, are more complicated than that. There are trade-offs and nothing is all good or all bad.

Brillant red leaves

We don’t get these vibrant colors in Florida; the deciduous trees turn a sickly yellow or just go straight to brown.  (photo by Mckelvcm CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia)

When we moved from my home state of Maryland to Florida, I found I missed the strangest things, not always the things I’d liked all that much when we lived up north. I missed the crispness of the air in the fall (humid Florida air is never crisp!) But I’d hated autumn when we lived in Maryland because the dreaded winter was right behind it.

After a couple of years of adjustment, autumn is now my second favorite season.

5.  If your life transition involves another person (or persons), maintain a “we’re in this together” mentality. It’s easy to get snippy with each other if things aren’t going perfectly (again, emotions are running high). But a strategy of “we’re over here together and this thing we’re dealing with is over there” will help keep the stress of adjustment from coming between you. And it will strengthen everyone’s ability to cope.

6.  Nurture your sense of adventure. If you can view life transitions as an exciting new opportunity, you’ll be in a more upbeat place to handle the transition. Being anxious tends to make us view change with suspicion and negativity.

If you can balance a realistic, “This may not go completely as planned,” with “This is gonna be great,” this new phase of your life will indeed be more great than not!

At my wedding rehearsal, Murphy’s Law was in full swing. Everything went wrong, and I ended up having a meltdown.

h5a3-my-wedding-going-in

Mom and I intent on keeping me cool on my wedding day!

I was still crabby at the rehearsal dinner, until my mother took me aside. “You’re about to embark on the biggest adventure of your life,” she said. “Do you really want to start it in such a foul mood? Just remember no matter what might go wrong tomorrow, at the end of the day you will be married, and that’s what counts.”

Her pep talk worked as she got me to step back and look at the big picture. Several things did go wrong the next day, starting with my father tripping over my train and letting out a loud “Oops.” But instead of being embarrassed, I laughed along with everybody else!

Two of our authors have new releases that fit this theme of life transitions. And since they are murder mysteries, of course the unexpected happens early on.

Here they are, now available for preorder. I think you’ll love them; I do!

book cover

BELOVED AND UNSEEMLY, Book 5 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries, by K.B. Owen

A stolen blueprint, a dead body, and wedding bells….

Change is in the air at Hartford Women’s College in the fall of 1898. Renowned inventor Peter Sanbourne—working on Project Blue Arrow for the Navy—heads the school’s new engineering program, and literature professor Concordia Wells prepares to leave to marry David Bradley.

The new routine soon goes awry when a bludgeoned body—clutching a torn scrap of the only blueprint for Blue Arrow—is discovered on the property Concordia and David were planning to call home.

To unravel the mystery that stands between them and their new life together, Concordia must navigate deadly pranks, dark secrets, and long-simmering grudges that threaten to tear apart her beloved school and leave behind an unseemly trail of bodies.

Available for preorder on  AMAZON    APPLE    NOOK    KOBO

Or get it NOW in paperback on Amazon!

FOR PETE’S SAKE, A Pet Psychic Mystery (#4), by Shannon Esposito

A picture perfect wedding in paradise…what could possibly go wrong?

Pet boutique owner and reluctant pet psychic, Darwin Winters, is looking forward to watching her best friend and business partner, Sylvia, say “I do” to the man of her dreams. But when their wedding photographer turns up dead on the big day—and Sylvia’s superstitious mother believes his heart attack is a sign their marriage will be cursed—Sylvia’s dream wedding quickly becomes a nightmare.

Darwin only has a week to help her detective boyfriend prove the photographer’s death was not from natural causes before Sylvia’s family jets back home to Portugal, and the wedding is off for good.

As more than a few suspects come into focus—including Peter’s model clients, a rival photographer and the director of an animal shelter being investigated for fraud—time is running out. With just one clue from the photographer’s orphaned Yorkie pup to go on, can Darwin help save Sylvia’s wedding and capture a killer? Or will both justice and Sylvia’s wedding cake go unserved?

Available for preorder on  AMAZON    APPLE

~~~~~~~~

How about you? How well do you cope with life transitions, and change in general?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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 lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

When Does a Stressor Become a Stressor? (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

I am in editing hell the process of polishing a manuscript, so I thought I’d re-run a post that was a hit a few years ago.

It seemed appropriate to go with a post on stress!  From May, 2013:

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the main factors in how stressed we feel is our own interpretation of the events in our lives. With a few exceptions, a stressor isn’t a stressor until we view it that way.

This is why something can be soooo stressful to one person and someone else thinks they’re nuts for worrying about it. The interpretation of a stressor is unique to each individual, influenced by personality and past experiences.

This used to be one of my husband’s biggest stressors:

airplane flying overhead

(photo by Dylan Ashe, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

When we were first married, he was a basketcase whenever we had to fly somewhere. We had to get to the airport extra early, so he could have a couple drinks in the airport bar to brace himself. But once we were on the plane, he wouldn’t drink. This was back in the days when alcohol on the plane was free (Yes, folks, once upon a time, airlines not only fed you for free, they would get you liquored up as well. No extra charge!)

So not only did I think the man was crazy, I was pissed that he was buying overpriced drinks in the airport and then not drinking the free stuff on the plane. One day, I confronted him about this and he explained that he couldn’t drink on the plane because he had to be able to concentrate.

“Concentrate on what?” I asked.

“On willing the plane to stay in the air,” he answered.

At that point, I truly thought I’d married a madman.

I later found out, as a psychology grad student, that this wasn’t an unusual fantasy on the part of folks afraid of flying. It’s their way of taking control of a situation where they feel out of control. (As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, control is often a big factor in stress.)

Fortunately, my husband finally figured out what was going on with his fear of flying. I won’t go into details since it’s not my story to tell. Suffice it to say that he’d had some bad experiences with people being in charge who were quite incompetent. So having someone else in control of his safety made him very nervous.

view from airplane window seat

(photo by Peretz Partensky, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

I, on the other hand, am one of those people who will run you over to get to a window seat. Then I squeal, “Look at the cute little cars and houses down there. It looks like a Christmas garden” as the plane is taking off. (My husband wears earplugs on planes; I can’t imagine why.)

My attitude is that since I can’t control whether or not the plane stays in the air, I might as well not worry about it and just relax and enjoy the ride.

Now, let’s talk about job stress. My husband handles it very well. Why? Because he doesn’t mind having bosses. He’s an easy-going guy (has to be to put up with me!) and he’s okay with someone telling him what to do as long as they’re not an idiot. And if his boss is an idiot (he’s had a few of them through the years), he just figures out how to work around the idiocy and moves on.

I, however, have no patience whatsoever for idiot bosses, and it seems like I have had way more than my share of them. Of course, the fact that my definition of an idiot boss is any boss who doesn’t leave me completely alone to do my job without any interference could be part of the problem.

Yes, I am cussedly independent! So much so that by the time I was 30, I’d decided that the only way I could function in the world of work was to be self-employed. I went into private practice as a mental health counselor.

coffee mug with "The Boss"

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

It was the best decision I ever made. For the first time in my life, I totally loved my job! There were plenty of other stressors involved in being self-employed, but they all paled by comparison to how I had felt when I was being micro-managed by others. So I was a happy camper!

Fast forward 13 years and I was starting to burn out on listening to other people’s descriptions of their stressful lives. I had done a little bit of teaching here and there and had really loved the interaction with students. So I decided to apply for part-time teaching positions at the colleges in my area. My goal was to teach half-time and cut my practice back to half-time so it wouldn’t be so stressful.

After papering the Baltimore-Washington area with my resume, I finally got a call from the psychology department at Towson University. I  liked the department chair and the whole atmosphere in the department, and I was reassured that there would be an ongoing need for my services as long as I did a good job.

Imagine my shock when halfway into the first semester I started having anxiety attacks any time I crossed paths with my department chair. Did I mention I liked him? I really did, so why was I so nervous around him? By the end of the semester, I was actually considering quitting teaching, even though I loved everything else about it.

To cut to the chase, I finally figured out that having a boss again, even one I liked, was pushing my control buttons. I wasn’t completely in charge of my own destiny anymore, as I had been for years. Indeed, when you teach college part-time your employment is completely at the whim of your department chair. He or she can choose not to hire you back the following semester and there is absolutely no recourse, because you are a contractual employee. This was the source of my anxiety, and no amount of lecturing myself about how everybody at Towson liked me and said I was doing a good job seemed to help.

After much thought, I hit on a solution, a way to reframe the situation to myself. I reminded myself that there were roughly fifty colleges within commuting distance of my home, and I should think of myself as a self-employed contractor, who was offering my expertise to these schools on a contractual basis. If I didn’t like the set-up at one school or they didn’t hire me back, I would just take my expertise elsewhere.

It worked! I felt so much better. I was able to relax and really enjoy teaching. I taught at Towson for 9 years, until my husband and I both retired and we moved to Florida. It turned out to be my favorite job ever!

Now if you’re thinking, “How silly. All you changed is how you thought about the situation,” you are exactly right. Except about the ‘silly’ part.

That’s the whole point. How we think and feel about a stressor very much affects how much it stresses us!

Back to my husband and his fear of flying for a moment. His fears dissipated dramatically when we started using a certain airline that had two things going for it. One, the crews are trained to be super friendly; the pilot stands at the door and greets the passengers as they board. Two, a friend of ours is a pilot for this particular airline and we know he’s a competent guy.

When my husband felt that those in charge of keeping the plane in the air were real people, friendly and competent like his friend, he was able to relax. Over time, his fear of flying completely disappeared. Today, he prefers flying over driving, whenever possible.

How about you? Any stressors come to mind that might not be so stressful if you were able to shift your interpretation of them?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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 lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

5 Empowering Questions to Ask Yourself Daily for a Groovier, More Impactful Life

(Re-blogged from August McLaughlin’s blog, Savor the Storm. Excellent ideas for making the coming year a great one. Enjoy! Kass)

by August McLaughlin

Happy New Year, beauties! I hope you all had wonderful, soul-nourishing holidays. I had a blast visiting family, chilling out and looking back and forward—as we tend to do around New Year’s.

To start the year, I thought I’d share a handful of practices I’m committed to leading my life by. Rather than keep a to-do list, I check in with myself routinely, posing the below questions.

Sure, there are days I skimp on one and max out on another—but the goal isn’t “perfection.” By aiming to live well and fiercely, we can all be and do more without going bonkers. We’ll even have a blast doing it.

Read more…

10 Ways to Make Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Since I’m traveling today, on my way to visit my son and family, I thought I’d re-run one of my more popular posts. (The mp blog will be on hiatus until January 12th)

Merry Christmas, Everyone!!

~~~~~~~~~

This time of year is supposed to be joyful – full of good food, time spent with family, tinsel and bright lights and lots of packages under the tree.

We tend to have high expectations for the season, and also to feel that we have to meet others’ expectations so that everyone has a fabulous holiday! The reality sometimes falls short, and all too often in our attempts to make the holidays perfect, we end up short – as in short-tempered, and major stressed out!

Maybe we need to loosen up on some of those expectations… and prioritize what’s most important for ourselves and our families. First, let’s break things down a bit. We have gifts, decorations, food and family (I refer to Christmas below, but the same ideas apply to other holidays of the season.)

(This is actually a shopping mall in Canada; photo by Benson Kua, from Wikimedia Commons)

A shopping mall in Toronto, Canada (photo by Benson Kua, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

GIFTS: Some people (like me) love to shop; other’s loathe the process. If you fall into the latter category the first thing you can do is…

1. CULL THE GIFT LIST. Do you have people on your list for whom you have no idea what they want or like? Then you probably don’t know or like them well enough to be spending money on them. Are there relatives on the list with whom you exchange token gifts, neither party really caring whether the other likes what they get?

See if you can get them off the list without offending them. Suggest that you not exchange gifts, just enjoy each others’ company. (They may very well agree with great relief.) Or buy them something inexpensive and consumable, and repeat next year. You don’t have to be creative when nobody cares. (My mother-in-law got scented hand lotion from me every year. She was fine with that.) Suggest your extended family draw names and each person gets, and gives, just one gift.

2. SHOP EARLY. Whether you love or hate shopping, this is good advice. Yes, there are great bargains closer to Christmas but there’s also a lot more pressure. And these days, retailers often have sales going off and on throughout the fall.

Christmas shopping tends to bring out the procrastinator in many of us. It feels like such an overwhelming task. But the longer we put it off, the worse it will be. On the flip side, the sooner you start, the less pressured and the more fun it can be.

My brother and I begin in October with an all-day shopping trip. I love to shop; he’s not that keen on it. But we make it a fun outing. And because it’s only October, we know we have lots of time to find those items that don’t jump into our cart that day.

Get started early and get done early. You will be the envy of all your friends, and so, so much more relaxed as the holidays draw nearer.

3. DO YOU HATE TO WRAP? Or do you love it? If you love it (as I do) starting early on your shopping means you have plenty of time to enjoy the wrapping process. I make it part of my evening routine as I watch TV. Wrapping three or four packages a night, I’ve got it done in no time. And it gets me in the holiday spirit!

tow of red gift bags

Photo by Melinda & Cristiano, CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr/Wikimedia

But if you hate it, I have two words for you…

Gift Bags!!! For a buck or two apiece, your wrapping is done!

DECORATIONS:

4. DECORATE FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY, NOT THE WORLD. Unless you totally get off on decorating (I know a couple people who do), keep it simple. Ask yourself what is most important for you and yours?

For years I struggled with those #%@&* outside lights, stringing them over trees and bushes and freezing my tuckus off in the process. Today, the inside of my house is a Christmas wonderland, because I enjoy putting up those decorations. But outside, there’s a wreath on the front door and a pre-lit table tree in the dining room window. That’s all my neighbors are getting from me.

And you know what? None of them have complained.

5. MAKE IT A FAMILY AFFAIR. When I was a kid, my father was in charge of decorating the tree. He was meticulous. All the ornaments had to be balanced, the tree totally symmetrical. (He was an engineer.) He would carefully put one strand of tinsel on each branch.

449px-Christmas_Tree_(1) pub domain wiki

A slightly off-kilter tree, but still gorgeous! (public domain–Wikimedia)

He made my mother nuts!! And my brother and I fled to our rooms until the tree was done.

The blinkin’ tree doesn’t have to be perfect. Get the whole gang involved and it will be done in no time. And if you must have symmetry, you can move a few ornaments after everyone else is in bed.

FOOD: If you love to cook, go for it. If it’s not so much your thing (like me), look for ways to keep it simple.

6. PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME. I learned this from my grandma. Every year, she came over to our house on Christmas Eve. She made the dressing that night, and prepped the turkey. The next morning, Mr. Turkey just needed to be transferred from the fridge to the oven.

7. IS THAT BIG MEAL REALLY WHAT YOU WANT? Again, ask yourself what really matters. You just had a big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Is it crucial that you have another one a month later?

A few years ago, my family was facing some stressors around the holidays that made us want to simplify things as much as possible. We decided we would have a cold buffet for Christmas dinner, for just that year. I baked two turkey rolls the day before and my daughter-in-law and I made or bought various salads. I was sure it would be a letdown not to have the traditional big Christmas dinner.

Guess what? We didn’t miss the traditional dinner one bit! The meal was just as tasty, and so much less stressful. Instead of spending inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen prepping and then cleaning up from a big meal, we spent that time balancing plates on our laps and laughing and talking as we enjoyed each other’s company. We’ve been doing Christmas dinner that way ever since!

FAMILY: This is, after all, the heart of Christmas, being with family. But how do we define our families?

8. SPEND CHRISTMAS DAY WITH THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER THE MOST. One of the mistakes I sometimes see people making on Christmas is that they spread themselves too thin. Christmases were special for me as a kid because they were relaxed. We opened our stockings, then had a leisurely breakfast. We opened our presents, then had a leisurely dinner.

Christmas with the extended family.

Christmas with the extended family, on 12/26. We’re having a ball, can’t ya tell? 😉

We went to visit the extended family the day after Christmas, or the following weekend. We saw everybody eventually, but NOT on Christmas Day!

The first year I was married, my husband and I tried to keep everybody happy. We got up extra early to exchange our own presents, then went to my parents’ house for brunch. Then we jumped in the car and drove for two hours to have Christmas dinner with his family.

Never again!

9. WHAT IS YOUR FAMILY OF CHOICE? If you don’t like your biological family, do NOT spend the most precious day of the year with them. Politely tell them that you want to spend Christmas with just your spouse and your children. If you’re not married, it’s okay to make your close friends your family of choice. If it feels too hurtful to say no to your biological family on December 25th, then designate another day–perhaps Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas–as your “family of choice” Christmas.

Last but definitely not least…

10. BE JOYFUL. The bottom line here is that this is a joyful holiday! So do your best to set it up so it is fun and relaxing for you and those who are most important to you!

Any other ideas for simplifying Christmas preparations and minimizing holiday stress? (Note: since I am traveling, it may b e a couple of days before I respond to comments.)

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 lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

5 Ways to Combat Procrastination

by Kassandra Lamb

Last week I talked about the motivations behind procrastination (Getting a Round Tuit). Today, I want to address how one can overcome it.

RoundTuit pub domain

I have lots of these! (by Heron 2 –public domain)

I tend to swing too far the other way. I’m a precrastinator. I am so adverse to the stress of a looming deadline that I have to have everything done way in advance. Sometimes I end up stressing myself out even more this way. If I don’t have it done at least a week in advance, I start to panic.

But there is a middle ground. Getting a task done a little bit before it’s actually due not only relieves some of the stress of the deadline, but it allows room for last minute glitches (as I’ve learned the hard way).

So whether you’re an intermittent  or chronic procrastinator, here are some things to do to become a recovering procrastinator:

#1: Keep a calendar–either on paper or on your computer . But I already do that, you might be thinking.

Yeah, but we’re going to add some things to that calendar. Not only do you put the task’s deadline on it, but also the date you should be starting the project, the date it should be at least half done and the date you will finish it (several days before the deadline). So the calendar would look like this:

● June 2: Start Task A
● June 10: Task A half done
● June 17: Finish Task A
● June 20: Task A due

#2: Treat those interim deadlines as seriously as you would the final one!  If you use an online calendar, set it up to have reminders pop up in your face. If you do it on paper, place your calendar in a prominent spot where it can’t be ignored.

#3: Take a look at your self-talk. We’ve talked about this before; what we say to ourselves in our heads can be a powerful obstacle, or powerful encouragement.

When facing an unpleasant task, if you catch yourself thinking, I can do that later, replace that with, If I get this out of the way now, I can forget about it. Or, What a relief it will be to get this out of the way now.

If confidence issues are involved, that can be tougher to deal with. It can help to keep a journal for a few days in which you record your thoughts about the tasks you are supposed to be doing. Figure out what the most frequent confidence-sapping, procrastination-promoting internal comments are.

Then write down the words that are the exact opposite of those thoughts. Carry that piece of paper around with you and pull it out whenever you are tempted to put something off.

For example, I’m no good at this can become I’ve done this before and did just fine.

#4: Find other ways to stimulate yourself! Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. That’s not what I’m talking about here. 😉

I’m talking about those of you who found yourselves relating to the closet adrenaline junkie discussion in my previous post. You have yet another challenge–how to get the extra stimulation you need so you stop creating artificial crises in order to feel alive.

One way is to find totally different outlets for that need. Stop and exercise briefly several times a day, or play a few minutes of a stimulating video game periodically. You might even consider a treadmill desk.

treadmill work station

(photo by JoeHoover CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I will confess to being a little bit of an adrenaline junkie myself. But what I figured out a long while back is that focusing on the excitement of getting the task done is the best way to feed that need for stimulation.

What excitement? you might ask if you’re a chronic procrastinator. You may have rarely felt this excitement, because you were so stressed out by the time you got the task done that all you could feel was relief.

But it’s there for you if you can get the task done before you’ve reached that state of exhaustion, AND if you give yourself permission to feel it.

We’re back to the self-confidence thing. If you believe that you are not a very competent person than you may be blocking that excitement and again just focusing on the relief. You may not be giving yourself credit for the accomplishment of getting things done. So…

#5: Take a moment to stop and smell the success!!  Again, this is something that you will have to make a conscious goal for a while, to force yourself to stop and relish the sense of achievement.

And now I will model that for you. I’m actually writing this blog post a week in advance because I’ve got a very busy time coming up soon (a book launch). So now that it is done, I can celebrate.

Wahoo!! It’s done. Damn I’m good!! Gimme a high five!

woman and dog high-fiving

(photo: Sybel By Marlies Kloet CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I hope these ideas are helpful for you. Do you have any other suggestions for the chronic procrastinators amongst us?

Here’s something you shouldn’t procrastinate about if you’re a Kate Huntington fan. The next book in that series is now available for preorder. Two quick clicks and it’s done. The book will pop up on your ereader when it’s released on October 27th.

It’s on sale for a reduced price during the preorder period. Just $1.99 (goes up to $3.99 after the release).

SuicidalSuspicions FINALSUICIDAL SUSPICIONS, A Kate Huntington Mystery, Book 8

Psychotherapist Kate Huntington is rocked to the core when one of her clients commits suicide. How can this be? The woman, who suffered from bipolar disorder, had been swinging toward a manic state. The client’s family blames Kate and they’re threatening to sue for malpractice. She can’t fault them since she blames herself. How could she have missed the signs?

Searching for answers for herself and the grieving parents, Kate discovers some details that don’t quite fit. Is it possible the client didn’t take her own life, or is that just wishful thinking? Questioning her professional judgement, and at times her own sanity, she feels compelled to investigate. What she finds stirs up her old ambivalence about the Catholic Church. Is her client’s death somehow related to her childhood parish?

When she senses that someone is following her, she wonders if she is truly losing it. Or is she getting dangerously close to someone’s secrets?

PREORDER NOW on  Amazon US   Amazon UK   Amazon Canada   Amazon Australia

(Nook, Kobo and Apple fans, it’s coming soon to those e-retailers!)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and has started a new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries (coming soon).

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 lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Getting A Round Tuit

by Kassandra Lamb

I postponed a deadline this week (one of the perks of being the co-owner of the press).

coffee mug with "The Boss"

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

I think it was a good stress-management decision. But it’s hard to tell sometimes when we’re “managing” our schedule and when we’re just plain procrastinating.

We all procrastinate occasionally. I have a very tall stack of papers on my desk (about two years worth of receipts) that can attest to that.

The most common reason for the average person’s procrastination is that they just plain don’t like doing that particular task. That’s how I feel about filing paperwork. On my list of top ten least-liked tasks, it’s about five, right after having a root canal and right before having a mammogram. That’s right. I’m better at making sure to have my boobs squished yearly than I am about filing away those receipts that the IRS might someday demand to see.

But for chronic procrastinators, the motivations are usually more complex. They put off everything. Often they’ll tell you that they work best under pressure. Or even that they produce their best work under pressure (a subtly different statement). Most of the time, neither statement is true.

RoundTuit pub domain

drawn by Heron2 (public domain)

Usually, there are two factors at work here. One is psychological, the other is habit. The psychological factor has to do with self-confidence. On some level, they don’t believe they can do any task well. This makes every task unpleasant to a certain degree. So every task gets put off.

And because it gets put off and is done with inadequate time to do it well, the belief is reinforced that the person can’t do it well. It gets done “good enough” but not really well.

But what about the belief that they do their best work under pressure. Hmm, there may be a little truth to that. Some people do indeed perform better, are more motivated and energized, when they have a deadline. But waiting until that deadline is looming is not a recipe for high-level performance. More on this in a moment.

The habit part… when we get into a pattern of doing things a certain way, it’s hard to break out of that. So if our mind set is that anything that isn’t due in the next day or so doesn’t need our attention, we’re going to keep procrastinating and doing things at the last minute.

Sometimes we’re tempted to dismiss ‘habit’ as a simple thing to overcome. It’s not. These patterns become ingrained in our thinking and are automatic. We find ourselves doing it that same old way before we even realize what’s up. It takes a fair amount of conscious effort over a lengthy period of time to break these patterns of thinking and behaving.

Which brings us back around to the belief that one does their best work under pressure. Often this is rationalization for the habit of procrastinating. But that justification can also be an indicator that you’re a closet adrenaline junkie.

Maybe you’re not bungee jumping or hunting wild game, but you may be feeding your need for stimulation by setting yourself up to be stressed by looming deadlines.

We all have something that psychologists and physiologists call ‘thresholds’–pain thresholds, stress thresholds, sensory thresholds, and stimulation thresholds. All of these thresholds vary somewhat from one individual to another. Some of us tolerate pain better than others, for example.

The same is true for stimulation thresholds. Some of us need more stimulation in order to feel fully activated, energized and alive.

cartoon: person buried under papers on deskAnd some of the folks who have high stimulation thresholds get into the habit of stimulating themselves by procrastinating, so that they then have looming deadlines creating an atmosphere of stress/stimulation.

Is this healthy? Psychologically speaking, on the one hand, they are meeting their needs for stimulation, but on the other hand they are setting themselves up for unnecessary anxiety and less than optimal performance.

Physically, they are stressing their bodies with that unnecessary anxiety. And such chronic stressors take a high toll over time.

Me, I tend to be a precrastinator rather than a procrastinator. But more on that next time when I talk about how to overcome the tendency to procrastinate (including how folks with high stimulation thresholds can find healthier ways to get that stimulation).

How about you? How much do you procrastinate?

Here’s something you don’t have to procrastinate about if you’re a Kate Huntington fan. My latest novel in that series is available for preorder. With two quick clicks now, it’s ordered and it will pop up on your ereader when it’s released on October 27th.

It’s on sale for a reduced price during the preorder period. Just $1.99 (goes up to $3.99 after the release).

SuicidalSuspicions FINALSUICIDAL SUSPICIONS, A Kate Huntington Mystery, Book 8

Psychotherapist Kate Huntington is rocked to the core when one of her clients commits suicide. How can this be? The woman, who suffered from bipolar disorder, had been swinging toward a manic state. The client’s family blames Kate and they’re threatening to sue for malpractice. She can’t fault them since she blames herself. How could she have missed the signs?

Searching for answers for herself and the grieving parents, Kate discovers some details that don’t quite fit. Is it possible the client didn’t take her own life, or is that just wishful thinking? Questioning her professional judgement, and at times her own sanity, she feels compelled to investigate. What she finds stirs up her old ambivalence about the Catholic Church. Is her client’s death somehow related to her childhood parish?

When she senses that someone is following her, she wonders if she is truly losing it. Or is she getting dangerously close to someone’s secrets?

PREORDER NOW on  Amazon US   Amazon UK   Amazon Canada   Amazon Australia

(Nook, Kobo and Apple fans, it’s coming soon to those e-retailers!)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and has started a new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries (coming soon).

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 lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Do You “Should” On Yourself?

by Kassandra Lamb

We didn’t get to one of my favorite places this year on our summer sojourn to Maryland. There’s a street of shops in Annapolis that I love to poke around in. Several of them have some pretty unique stuff.

One shop is devoted mostly to handmade pottery jars with cork stoppers and all kinds of interesting things written on the labels. Years ago, I bought a couple of those jars. Here’s one of them:

DSC01377

I used to use it in my therapy sessions, when clients were “shoulding” on themselves, i.e. telling me all the reasons they should do something that wasn’t in their best interest, because that’s what they had been taught to do.

Now before I go on, let me put this caveat out there. I’m not advocating that we should all engage in purely self-serving behavior and ignore the morals we were raised to abide by. We have to have moral codes in order to live in families and communities.

The problem comes in during the teaching of those moral codes to young children. Kids by nature are all-or-nothing thinkers. So the rules about what we “should” or “ought” to do tend to be absorbed as absolute truths rather than guidelines for behavior.

Then as adults we often feel we should do something a certain way even though it may not be the best approach in the current circumstances.

As adults, we have more of these.

As adults, we have more of these.

A friend of mine once got into a major financial bind herself because she kept bailing out her grown son when said son got in over his head with credit card bills and such.

I finally couldn’t stand by and stay silent any longer so I gently confronted my friend. “Why are you doing this? You’re draining your own savings, and all you’re doing is enabling your son to continue to be irresponsible with money.”

She huffed and rationalized for a few minutes and then said, “Parents should be selfless where their kids are concerned. They should always put their kids’ needs before their own.”

I suggested that she stop and examine that belief. It was one she had learned as a child and teen modeling her own mother, who put up with a bad marriage until all the kids were grown in order to keep food on the table because “at least he’s a good provider.” (I heard that phrase a lot from unhappily married women of my mother’s generation.)

Finally she got it that she wasn’t really helping her son by bailing him out. It was time for some tough love.

Then I went downstairs to my office (it was in my house at the time) and got my shoulds and oughts jar. I had her write down that “should” on a slip of paper, as I often had clients do. Laughing, she put the slip in the jar and smacked the cork firmly back into the top.

And the son… After he had his car repossessed, he got it that he needed to straighten out his thinking about finances. My friend paid for him to go to a financial counselor for several sessions to learn how to handle his money. Now he’s a responsible young man who is raising a couple of kids of his own.

As adults, we need to bring those all-or-nothing rules out into the light of day and ask ourselves if we truly “should” keep following them in such an absolute way. Now we have the ability to weigh the circumstances and the various options available. Often we can find an option that allows us to do the right thing but without harming ourselves in the process.

A funny addendum… One time, a colleague and good friend (who had a warped sense of humor) visited me in my office. As a joke, he grabbed my shoulds and oughts jar off the bookshelf, opened it and dumped all the little slips of paper out on the desk in front of me. I literally jumped back as if they were snakes. 🙂

How about you? Do you have some shoulds and oughts that sometimes trip you up as an adult?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and has started a new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy series (coming soon).

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 lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Are You a Compulsive Finisher or a Chronic NonFinisher?

by Kassandra Lamb

Are you an 80 percenter, otherwise known as a chronic nonfinisher? Do you have trouble finishing what you start? Do you get about 80% of the way to your goals and then stall out?

Or are you like me, someone who has a strong compulsion to finish things–to the point of being borderline neurotic? It drives me crazy to have something started but not finished (although I’m better than I used to be).

I’ve had this topic on my mind lately, ever since my brother and I finally finished the task of painting the outside of my house. He and I are both compulsive finishers, which was a very good thing in this case. The house painting project turned out to be way bigger than we thought it would be. It took several months of working on it two to three days a week until it was all done.

My brother in front of the house the day we finished!

My brother in front of the house the day we finished!

Most people would have compromised a little when they realized how big the task really was. Maybe they wouldn’t have painted all the trim, only that which was in the worst shape.

Not us! We’d paint something, decide the area next to it (that was deemed just fine a few minutes before) now looked funky next to the fresh paint, so we’d paint that too. (Did I mention that we tend to be a tad perfectionistic too?)

A nonfinisher would still have two unpainted walls a couple of years later. 🙂

So what makes people one or the other?

Bluma Zeigarnik (photo from http://www.feministvoices.com/bluma-zeigarnik/)

Dr. Bluma Zeigarnik (photo from http://www.feministvoices.com/bluma-zeigarnik/)

A Lithuanian cognitive psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik, discovered that while a task remains incomplete, it stays on our minds, the memory of what is done and undone taking up a certain amount of space in our awareness. Once a task is complete, the details slip out of our memories, no longer cluttering our brains.

Later psychologists researched this Zeigarnik Effect and found it to be valid. One study discovered that it seems to be tied to our level of achievement motivation. How important is it to you to achieve things? How strong is your sense of accomplishment when you get a task done?

I get a pretty strong sense of accomplishment when I complete even the most mundane of tasks. Even cleaning the house (which I hate) gives me a warm glow when it’s done.

But which came first, the chicken or the egg? Do I have a strong achievement motivation, which drives me to complete things so I can feel that sense of accomplishment? Or do I have a compulsion to complete things, which drives my achievement motivation?

Hubs grilled steaks for us to celebrate finishing. Behind us is the last section we painted.

My bro and I enjoying the afterglow! Hubs grilled steaks for us to celebrate finishing. Behind us is the last section we painted.

I do know that I sometimes procrastinate about starting tasks, because I know I won’t be able to rest until they’re done. (Bookkeeping and filing paperwork come to mind. 😀 )

Do nonfinishers lack achievement motivation? That seems a little harsh. Or do they just get distracted easily and don’t have the compulsion to get it done?

Are nonfinishers more likely to be random thinkers? I know my brother and I are both hardcore sequential thinkers. Does this fuel our desire to get the next step done, and the next and the next? (See my post of a couple weeks ago for more on random vs. sequential thinking.)

But my husband is very random, and he’s not a a nonfinisher. He’s not compulsive about finishing things like I am, but he gets the job done.

One theory that has been proposed to explain chronic nonfinishers is that they are using this as a defense mechanism to avoid dealing with other aspects of their lives.

By keeping their minds cluttered with all those unfinished tasks, there’s no room to think about what they should be doing next (which requires making decisions–something some people dread). Or they might be distracting themselves from their fears that they won’t be able to fulfill their dreams or avoiding some other unpleasant reality in their current lives (like a bad marriage).

I’m not sure this theory explains all nonfinishers, but it does resonate in my mind to explain a couple of the nonfinishers whom I know personally. As uncomfortable as it is to have their minds constantly cluttered with so much unfinished stuff, they’d be even more anxious if they had to decide what to do next with their lives.

But these same nonfinishers I’m thinking of are not very happy people. Juggling all those tasks is stressful; it takes up a lot of emotional and mental energy. And it keeps them from moving forward toward their goals in life (which again may be the point; they’re afraid to tackle those goals head-on.)

I think for other nonfinishers, this is more a habit. It’s a variation of procrastination perhaps. But like procrastination, it increases the stress of getting things done.

Psychologist, Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. offers this advice for nonfinishers:

 Notice what is incomplete, unfinished or unresolved in your life, and write it down to make it more concrete and real for you. You might even assign an emotional or energy weight to each item in terms of pounds. It is amazing how many hundreds of extra emotional pounds we are carrying around all the time! How wonderfully liberating it is to consciously choose to lose this excess baggage, and travel lighter.

I love this idea!!

On my extreme end of the continuum, I’ve worked on letting go a bit of the need to finish everything. This compulsion of mine was just as debilitating as nonfinishing in terms of enjoying life. I was always striving to get everything on my to-do list done, and then, I told myself, I would be able to relax and actually live my life.

Ha, that list never gets completely done!

So I’ve learned to do a mental to-do list for today only. These are the things I want to accomplish today. And when they are done, I’m done for the day! I’ve also gotten a lot better at giving myself permission to slide something from today’s list to tomorrow’s if it looks like I’m not going to finish.

How about you? Are you a compulsive finisher or a chronic nonfinisher, or somewhere in between?

And now I’m off to finish a couple of tasks I started yesterday and ran out of steam before they were done. 😀

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 lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

10 Ways to Make Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One

by Kassandra Lamb

(Note: If you read my teaser last week and you were expecting more about psychopaths today, I’ve postponed that post to January. I decided it was getting too close to Christmas to be talking about such a grim subject, so instead here’s a post on how to keep the holidays from stressing you out!)

This time of year is supposed to be joyful–full of good food, time spent with family, tinsel and bright lights and lots of packages under the tree.

We tend to have high expectations for the season, and also to feel that we have to meet others’ expectations so that everyone has a fabulous holiday! The reality sometimes falls short, and all too often in our attempts to make the holidays perfect, we end up short–as in short-tempered, and major stressed out!

Maybe we need to loosen up on some of those expectations… and prioritize what’s most important for ourselves and our families. First, let’s break things down a bit. We have gifts, decorations, food and family (I refer to Christmas below, but the same ideas apply to other holidays of the season.)

(This is actually a shopping mall in Canada; photo by Benson Kua, from Wikimedia Commons)

A shopping mall in Toronto, Canada (photo by Benson Kua, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

GIFTS: Some people (like me) love to shop; other’s loathe the process. If you fall into the latter category the first thing you can do is…

1. CULL THE GIFT LIST. Do you have people on your list for whom you have no idea what they want or like? Then you probably don’t know or like them well enough to be spending money on them. Are there relatives on the list with whom you exchange token gifts, neither party really caring whether the other likes what they get?

See if you can get them off the list without offending them. Suggest that you not exchange gifts, just enjoy each others’ company. (They may very well agree with great relief.) Or buy them something inexpensive and consumable, and repeat next year. You don’t have to be creative when nobody cares. (My mother-in-law got scented hand lotion from me every year. She was fine with that.) Suggest your extended family draw names and each person gets, and gives, just one gift.

2.  SHOP EARLY. Whether you love or hate shopping, this is good advice. Yes, there are great bargains closer to Christmas but there’s also a lot more pressure. And these days, retailers often have sales going off and on throughout the fall.

Christmas shopping tends to bring out the procrastinator in many of us. It feels like such an overwhelming task. But the longer we put it off, the worse it will be. On the flip side, the sooner you start, the less pressured and the more fun it can be.

My brother and I begin in October with an all-day shopping trip. I love to shop; he’s not that keen on it. But we make it a fun outing. And because it’s only October, we know we have lots of time to find those items that don’t jump into our cart that day.

Get started early and get done early. You will be the envy of all your friends, and so, so much more relaxed as the holidays draw nearer.

3.  DO YOU HATE TO WRAP? Or do you love it? If you love it (as I do) starting early on your shopping means you have plenty of time to enjoy the wrapping process. I make it part of my evening routine as I watch TV. Wrapping three or four packages a night, I’ve got it done in no time. And it gets me in the holiday spirit!

tow of red gift bags

Photo by Melinda & Cristiano, CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr/Wikimedia

But if you hate it, I have two words for you…

Gift Bags!!! For a buck or two apiece, your wrapping is done!

 DECORATIONS:

4.   DECORATE FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY, NOT THE WORLD. Unless you totally get off on decorating (I know a couple people who do), keep it simple. Ask yourself what is most important for you and yours?

For years I struggled with those #%@&* outside lights, stringing them over trees and bushes and freezing my tuckus off in the process. Today, the inside of my house is a Christmas wonderland, because I enjoy putting up those decorations. But outside, there’s a wreath on the front door and a pre-lit table tree in the dining room window. That’s all my neighbors are getting from me.

And you know what? None of them have complained.

5.  MAKE IT A FAMILY AFFAIR. When I was a kid, my father was in charge of decorating the tree. He was meticulous. All the ornaments had to be balanced, the tree totally symmetrical. (He was an engineer.) He would carefully put one strand of tinsel on each branch.

449px-Christmas_Tree_(1) pub domain wiki

A slightly off-kilter tree, but still gorgeous! (public domain–Wikimedia)

He made my mother nuts!! And my brother and I fled to our rooms until the tree was done.

The blinkin’ tree doesn’t have to be perfect. Get the whole gang involved and it will be done in no time. And if you must have symmetry, you can move a few ornaments after everyone else is in bed.

FOOD:  If you love to cook, go for it. If it’s not so much your thing (like me), look for ways to keep it simple.

6. PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME. I learned this from my grandma. Every year, she came over to our house on Christmas Eve. She made the dressing that night, and prepped the turkey. The next morning, Mr. Turkey just needed to be transferred from the fridge to the oven.

7.  IS THAT BIG MEAL REALLY WHAT YOU WANT? Again, ask yourself what really matters. You just had a big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Is it crucial that you have another one a month later?

A few years ago, my family was facing some stressors around the holidays that made us want to simplify things as much as possible. We decided we would have a cold buffet for Christmas dinner, for just that year. I baked two turkey rolls the day before and my daughter-in-law and I made or bought various salads. I was sure it would be a letdown not to have the traditional big Christmas dinner.

Guess what? We didn’t miss the traditional dinner one bit! The meal was just as tasty, and so much less stressful. Instead of spending inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen prepping and then cleaning up from a big meal, we spent that time balancing plates on our laps and laughing and talking as we enjoyed each other’s company. We’ve been doing Christmas dinner that way ever since!

FAMILY: This is, after all, the heart of Christmas, being with family. But how do we define our families?

8.  SPEND CHRISTMAS DAY WITH THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER THE MOST. One of the mistakes I sometimes see people making on Christmas is that they spread themselves too thin. Christmases were special for me as a kid because they were relaxed. We opened our stockings, then had a leisurely breakfast. We opened our presents, then had a leisurely dinner.

Christmas with the extended family.

Christmas with the extended family, on 12/26. We’re having a ball, can’t ya tell? 😉

We went to visit the extended family the day after Christmas, or the following weekend. We saw everybody eventually, but NOT on Christmas Day!

The first year I was married, my husband and I tried to keep everybody happy. We got up extra early to exchange our own presents, then went to my parents’ house for brunch. Then we jumped in the car and drove for two hours to have Christmas dinner with his family.

Never again!

9.  WHAT IS YOUR FAMILY OF CHOICE? If you don’t like your biological family, do NOT spend the most precious day of the year with them. Politely tell them that you want to spend Christmas with just your spouse and your children. If you’re not married, it’s okay to make your close friends your family of choice. If it feels too hurtful to say no to your biological family on December 25th, then designate another day–perhaps Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas–as your “family of choice” Christmas.

Last but definitely not least…

10.  BE JOYFUL. The bottom line here is that this is a joyful holiday! So do your best to set it up so it is fun and relaxing for you and those who are most important to you!

Any other ideas for simplifying Christmas preparations and minimizing holiday stress?

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 lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )