Category Archives: Stress Management

5 Tips to Help with Focus in These Stressful Times (Plus New Releases!)

by Kassandra Lamb

help with focus in these stressful times

Celebrating Independence Day this year was bittersweet for me.

I’ve lived through the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, multiple assassinations of leaders, the Gulf War, 9/11, the War Against Terror and never have I seen our society so disrupted for so long. And the end is not yet in sight.

I believe that good will ultimately come out of much of this upheaval, that our society will have a better appreciation of what is most important in life, and a better appreciation for others’ lives and experiences.

But in the meantime, how do we do the tasks we need to get done?

Especially the tasks that require a lot of focus. And especially when a lot of us are working from home, where structure, peace, and quiet may be harder to come by.

(Note: I’m using authors’ problems with focus as an example, but these tips apply to any focus-intense tasks.)

Like many other authors I’ve talked to recently, I’m having trouble focusing. Not surprising. The job of writing requires a lot of focus. So this thing we writers love, this thing that is often the refuge from other stressors in our lives, is now harder to do.

(For a quick explanation of why it’s harder to focus, check out this article on Fiction University; it’s a bit oversimplified, but basically accurate.)

Here are some things I’ve found that help with focus in these stressful times. I hope they work for you as well.

#1 – Don’t blame yourself

Don’t beat up on yourself for not being able to be as productive as you usually are. It’s not your fault. These are extraordinary times.

And self-blame is not motivating. It is depressing. It makes us want to curl up and forget about everything, not buckle down and get things done.

I love this quote I saw recently in an article from BookBub (emphasis is mine):

“Your writing is not garbage. Even your draftiest of drafts … And those few words you managed today? Not trash. Moving away from that thinking is one of the kindest things I ever did for myself. I am in the business of words, so I know words can be weapons. Why would I weaponize them against myself? My words are a part of me and I am worthy of grace, first and foremost, from myself. You are, too.”
—Samira Ahmed, NYT bestselling author of Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know

from Inspiring Words from Authors to Authors During Difficult Times, by Diana Urban, June 26, 2020, BookBub Partners Blog.

So be gentle with yourself. The obstacles to productivity and focus during these stressful times are real. And the most productive use of our brain power, instead of mentally berating ourselves, is to look for ways around those obstacles.

#2 – Break the tough tasks into chunks

One of the things I’m struggling with most is editing, either my own work or that of other authors I’m supposed to be critiquing/proofreading. Editing takes a different level and kind of focus than writing a first draft, or even a blog post like this one.

One of the tasks I’ve had on my desk this month was copy-editing the last two installments of Kirsten Weiss’s trilogy of Doyle Witch novellas. They were only about 150 pages each, and I love this series of hers. Should’ve been a piece of cake.

help with focus in these stressful times
Where I normally do the first read-through, on my chaise outside. Not this time, I couldn’t let myself get too comfy or I’d lose focus.

Normally, I would breeze through the first read-through in a couple of days, during my reading-for-pleasure time. Then it would take me maybe another few hours to do a second skim-through to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Less than a week to get the entire task done, usually.

This time, it took me a week to get through the first read-through. And I had to schedule it during my work time, because if I was in read-for-pleasure mode, I couldn’t concentrate enough to catch the mistakes.

So I “chunked down” the second skim-through into 25-page chunks and set myself the task of doing two of them a day, if possible, but at the very least one a day. (Fortunately she didn’t need it back in a hurry.)

And it worked. I did a 25-page chunk the first morning and actually went on to do another 15 pages in the same sitting.

The psychology of this is that if we give ourselves goals that feel doable, we are more likely to attack them with gusto. And may even be able to exceed the goal, once we get rolling.

And if we’re dreading a task, we can tell ourselves that it’s just a little chunk—not that hard to just get it done and out of the way.

If it still feels overwhelming and de-motivating, chunk it down again into even smaller bite-sized pieces.

#3 – Rethink the timing of when you do the most focus-intense tasks

Usually when I sit down at my desk to start my workday, I go right for the toughest tasks that need to get done that day. To get them out of the way while I’m fresh.

help with focus in these stressful times

I’ve been rethinking that lately, when it is harder to focus in these stressful times. Now I will often do two or three little tasks first, to give myself a sense of accomplishment. Then I take a deep breath and knock out that tougher task.

Having had to change your work environment, say from an office to your home, may present other reasons for rethinking the timing of certain tasks. When’s the best time to create the privacy and quiet that a tougher task might require?

I’ve been doing a lot more writing lately after my husband goes to bed. 🙂

#4 – Stop and savor the little achievements

Have you ever stopped and noticed what a “sense of accomplishment” feels like in your body? For me it’s a full, proud feeling in my chest, sometimes accompanied by little bubbles of excitement. And I often feel warm and good all over.

Right now, close your eyes and recall a time when you accomplished something big. Let yourself sink into that experience again, recalling the details, and especially pay attention to how it feels in your body.

Then take a few moments, or at least a few seconds, to stop and notice that feeling after each task you complete. Even little things like doing a load of laundry or scrubbing the kitchen sink. Give yourself permission to stop and savor. It’s a huge motivator, and mood elevator too.

#5 – Give yourself little rewards for getting the tougher tasks done

Pick some self-care things that give you pleasure—a bubble bath, reading a magazine with your feet up, taking a walk—then take a break and indulge in one of those things after finishing a tough task.

help with focus in these stressful times

I know I shouldn’t be promoting the idea of food as a self reward, but the truth is, I’m a chocaholic. I allow myself one dose of chocolate per day. It may be a bowl of ice cream or a couple of cookies or candies (love me some Dove dark chocolate!) And I usually have it whenever the mood strikes.

But lately, I’ve been using that chocolate break as a reward for getting the toughest task of the day done.

As a matter of fact, I’m going to tackle another chunk of Kirsten’s last novella right now, and when I’m done I’m going to tackle some Famous Amos cookies!

Do any of these tips strike a chord for you? Have you found new ways to help with focus in these stressful times? Share with us, please.

And speaking of Kirsten’s stories, here are the first two of them. I really loved them!

OAK, A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery (#7)

Doyle Witch Lenore has one job…

Destroy a magical book that threatens to devastate the world.

But try to tell that to her small-town sheriff.

When a decade’s old corpse turns up in the hollow of a haunted oak, Sheriff McCourt drafts Lenore into service. Since the coroner can’t identify the body, why not ask a shamanic witch who can see the dead?

Little does the sheriff know how dangerous the spirits of Middle World can be. And once they have Lenore in their sights, she can only keep moving forward – into a cold case at a local winery that threatens her sanity, and her life…

This novella is a witch cozy mystery featuring true-to-life spells in the back of the book, a trio of witchy sisters, and a dash of romance. Oak can be read as a standalone.

AVAILABLE NOW AT: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

AND STONE RELEASES TODAY!!

STONE, A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery (#8)

A murder. A haunted house. A possessed spell book…

What could go wrong?

Since childhood, Doyle Witch Jayce figured the old stone house was haunted. Turns out, she may have been right.

A string of odd deaths in the house has culminated in murder, and newlywed Jayce is on the case. She is a witch after all. So what if it’s Samhain season, when the veil between the worlds is thin?

Right?

But when Jayce finds creepy connections between the old house and the spell book she’s sworn to destroy, she’s plunged into a conspiracy darker than anything mysterious Doyle has thrown at her before. Are supernatural forces at work? Or is Jayce facing a mortal foe?

If you’re a fan of Charlaine Harris, Heather Blake, or Amanda M. Lee, don’t miss this Halloween novella.

RELEASES TODAY ON: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

AND you can PREORDER STREAM (#9) ~ Releases 7/23/20

Will murder cancel this Doyle Witch’s Christmas?

Certain holiday spirits are keeping Karin’s hands full. And the challenges of motherhood and a cursed spell book have already put a dent in her usual good cheer.

But when she discovers the body of a man in a mountain stream, she’s swept into a mystery that will take all her magic and mental powers to solve. Because the dead man’s mysterious colleagues have taken an interest in Karin’s children…

This Christmas holiday novella is a complete cozy mystery and wraps up the story of the cursed spell book once and for all.

PREORDER AT: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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 about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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6 Tips to Shine as an Introvert or Extrovert When Working from Home

When employees were sent home to work remotely at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, most assumed they’d be back in the office within a few weeks. As the predicament drags its heels, predictions are being made that for many employees, working from home will become the new normal. Companies, large and small, are taking a hard look at their bottom line, as well as their work culture, and may stick with a remote workforce.

working from home

Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

I must admit, my life hasn’t changed all that much during the quarantine. Since I’ve been working from home for 8 years, I’ve grown accustomed to not going out much. True, I now see a trip to the grocery store as an exciting outing where before I saw it as a chore, but that’s about it.

And I’m okay with that. As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert (94% introverted, 6% extroverted), I’d be perfectly happy to visit with family and friends via Zoom most of the time rather than meeting in person. The Voxer app has become my new favorite, as I chat with clients, colleagues, and friends on-demand for free.

But not all introverts are the same. Personality types aren’t cut and dried—they exist on a continuum. Some of my introverted friends are experiencing just as many unique challenges working from home as my extroverted friends.

Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, if you’ve been forced to work from home for the foreseeable future, you are likely struggling to get your bearings. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to stay that way for the duration.

Introverts and Extroverts Defined

At the beginning of the last century, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung coined the terms ‘introversion’ and ‘extroversion’ to talk about two distinct groups of people. Introverts tend to be quiet, thoughtful, and inwardly focused. They recharge by being alone with their thoughts and prefer a night in over a night on the town.

Introverts:

  • Enjoy solitude
  • Experience boredom rarely
  • Want outings to be meaningful
  • Appreciate deep conversations about topics of interest

The extrovert is quite the opposite. Their focus is outward, and they draw energy from being around people. Being in a busy, boisterous office is where they work best.

Extroverts:

  • Prefer to work with others
  • Experience boredom frequently
  • Think best out loud
  • Enjoy networking and small talk

Tips for Introverts

While the world tells us that we’re lucky, we might not be feeling it. Working from home can be stressful for the introvert. Back-to-back video conferencing can prove exhausting and having family members who aren’t in tune with the introvert’s parameters constantly around can feel invasive.

Get Some You Time

It’s too easy for an introvert to get so caught up in work they forget to stop at the end of the day. I learned early on that working from home could quickly turn into working all the time. Now I keep a standard 9-5ish schedule, using an egg timer to remind me to take breaks. Once I leave the office for the evening, I don’t check emails or respond to questions from my staff via our project management system. If this feels impossible, try deleting those pesky notification-type apps from your phone. Ignorance really is bliss sometimes.

Set Firm Boundaries

working from home

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Constant distractions from housemates, children, and spouses can make us crabby. Even though it’s challenging, setting firm boundaries for what you need to be productive is better than the alternative—losing your cool and regretting it later. Even if you don’t have an office door you can shut, put boundaries in place for when you can be interrupted, and when you can’t. Be loving yet firm when explaining why it’s mission critical.

Design a False Sense of Aloneness

Since introverts need quiet, uninterrupted time to work and think, it’s essential to carve out a dedicated workspace. If you don’t have a spare room, you can still create a make-shift space by putting a barrier between you and the rest of the household. In a pinch, you can use a walk-in closet or hang a blanket to give yourself some privacy.

If you need to drown out the sounds from others in the house, try listening to soothing music (without lyrics) using earbuds or headphones. It’s incredible how in the zone I get when I do this. I feel like I’m totally alone with my thoughts even though my home office is in the loft of our home.

Tips for Extroverts

Being forced into social distancing is difficult enough for the extrovert, but when they can’t even interact with coworkers, it can feel like a prison. While they look forward to Zoom calls, what they really need is a good old-fashioned team meeting full of brainstorming and lively energy.

Create a Work Schedule

Working alone and without their usual structure, extroverts can feel they’ve been cast adrift.

working from home

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

You will need to create a schedule and structure and keep to it so that you stay productive. If your job allows, design an unconventional work schedule that fits your preferences and needs. Or replicate as closely as possible the structure of your day when you went to the office.

Keep Moving

Extroverts can become anxious if they have too much time to think and too little to do. One essential way to keep your mind engaged in your work is movement. Try using a standing desk so you can move about while you work. Bounce on a mini-trampoline or yoga ball during breaks. Take a walk around the block when you start feeling confined and unfocused.

One fantastic strategy for extroverts working solo is to pace while speaking their ideas into a recording app on their phone. True, no one is there to bounce ideas around, but talking your thoughts out loud will at least partially reconstruct the way you work best.

Manufacturer Work Sounds

Extroverts prefer to work in a hustle and bustle environment. They are the ones who work best in a busy coffee shop with movement and chatter all around them. You don’t have to work in a busy office to experience an energetic vibe—you can create your own. Try listening to background soundtracks like this one on Spotify.

Take Breaks with a Friend

If you feel isolated while working from home, set up virtual coffee and lunch breaks with friends and coworkers. Most likely, your friends are stuck in their make-shift home office as well, so it will be good for them too. Heck, you can do this every day of the week with different people if you want.

So Where Do You Go from Here?

No matter what you find yourself struggling with as a remote worker, this unpredicted situation is an opportunity to learn about yourself. Learning to accommodate other personality types we are stuck at home with also gives you a chance to learn how to live more harmoniously with those in your household.

Since you can’t change the situation, you’ll be happier if you decide to learn from the experience. In this way, you’ll open the door to new growth and opportunity, no matter what comes next. This holds true for introvert and extrovert alike.

What challenges have you experienced since being forced to work from home? Share in the comments.

 

Gilian BakerGilian Baker is a former English professor turned mystery author and writing coach. She uses personality theory and brain science to help intuitive writers embrace their unique writing process so they can overcome their creative blocks and write books readers crave. If you are an introverted writer who is struggling to get their book finished, go here to schedule a free Story Strategy SessionTogether, we’ll dig into how you can crush your creative blocks!

Grab her first book, Blogging is Murder, for free on her website.

 

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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’ email addresses. 🙂 )

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Need a New Career or Side-Gig? Announcing the Freelance Writer Bootcamp!

Hi, all! Gilian Baker here.

When I asked myself how I could best serve the global community during this national emergency, teaching others a skill they could use to provide security for their families was at the top of the list. While talking with a friend and fellow entrepreneur, I came up with the idea to create a 30 Day Freelance Writer Bootcamp to help those who love to write and have lost jobs or need a side gig to help support their families.

Freelance Bootcamp

While other industries are slowing down or have stopped completely, there’s never been a bigger need for digital content! Companies, both large and small, are struggling to move their marketing budget from offline to online. This means a HUGE opportunity for those who have the skills they need to produce quality content.

As Part of the 30 Day Freelance Bootcamp, You Will:

Understand the freelance writing market  

Know where to find legit writing jobs     

Acquire a toolbox of free resources

Improve your writing skills

Build a portfolio to show potential clients

Gain experience as a freelance writer

Create at least one profile on a top freelance website

 *And have the chance to become part of my writing team!*

I have no doubt that those who take the chance to start a freelance writing business now will never again have to worry about earning a living! 

I’m honored to offer you this opportunity to transform your life during these unprecedented times!  Click the link to learn more and apply: https://mailchi.mp/6f0a91fd329c/30-day-freelance-writer-bootcamp

Gilian Baker is a former English professor turned mystery author, freelance writer, and writing coach. She’s the author of the Digital Detective Mystery Series. Grab her first book, Blogging is Murder, for free on her website.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

7 Tips for Handling Stress During Uncertain Times

by Gilian Baker

Our fast-paced modern life can keep our nervous system running on full-tilt. So, what happens when a global crisis like the Coronavirus comes at us from nowhere, changing our daily lives into something we can’t recognize?

Photo by Josh Riemer on Unsplash

Our nervous system ramps up even more, threatening to burn out or implode. Fear, uncertainty, and panic can leave us constantly living in a fight-or-flight state.

Not only is this dangerous for our overall health, but it interferes with our ability to think rationally and make powerful decisions that we won’t regret later. When we are in the fight-or-flight response, we can’t access our creativity, intuition, or clarity.

This happens when the endocrine system and limbic nervous system, beginning in the hypothalamus, is activated. You may have heard this called “the lizard brain response” in popular media. This part of the brain isn’t bad. It keeps us safe and is essential during an emergency. However, it was much more important when we were part of a tribe that was trying to survive saber-tooth tiger attacks.

In the modern world, it activates when we attempt to do things that are outside our comfort zone, for example. When we are stressed and rushing. When we feel overwhelmed by responsibilities. We can become so accustomed to living in fight-or-flight mode we get addicted to it.

During this time of widespread panic, our lizard brain response is having a heyday. We can easily get trapped in the psycho-cybernetic loop that it’s hard to think clearly.

There is good news, though! It’s called the relaxation response.

Each of us has the capability to stop this negative or worry loop going on in our heads. Yes, it may be more challenging during scary times like this, but it is doable. Better yet, we don’t have to do it without tools. Science has shown us that there are ways to tap into the relaxation response, even when we so easily default to “catastrophizing.”

To give you some help with this, here’s a list of tools I use with my coaching clients to move them back into “rest-and-digest” mode when everything in their life seems to be going haywire.

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

Music

Listening to uplifting music, whatever that means to you, can help you move out of fear and into a hopeful place. There’s no wrong music to choose. The important thing is that it makes you feel good when you hear it. You might want to create a playlist on a free app like Spotify that you can listen to throughout the day. You don’t have to listen only when you are already feeling worried. Use it as a way to maintain a positive outlook! Here’s one of my favorite Spotify lists you can try.

Meditation

You don’t need to have your own personal yogi, sit cross-legged, or burn smelly incense to get the many benefits from meditation. One of the easiest meditations is the best. Simply get comfortable, either sitting or lying down (if you don’t think you’ll fall asleep), close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Notice it going in and going out. Pay attention to that short gap in the middle when you are neither inhaling nor exhaling. When your mind starts thinking (it will, because that’s what brains do), gently bring your mind back to your breath without judgment.

You can also play relaxing music or use guided meditations too. These are especially helpful if your mind just won’t seem to settle. My favorite meditation app is Insight Timer. It offers thousands of free guided meditations and music tracks.

Breathe 

Some of the breathing techniques that are the most effective in stimulating the relaxation response are also very simple. Even when you find yourself in full panic mode, you can remember these simple instructions:

Technique #1

Inhale deeply in through the nose for four counts.

Hold the breath for eight counts.

Slowly exhale through pursed lips for eight counts.

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

It’s recommended you do a round of ten breaths and then gauge how you feel. If you are still upset, you can do another series of ten.

Technique #2

This technique comes from the Heart-Math Institute and is ideal for moving into a space of deep gratitude.

Sit or lay comfortably and close your eyes. Put your attention on your heart and imagine breathing in and out of that area. Let your breath come naturally—there’s no need to force it to slow down. After practicing this for a few minutes, you’ll notice a deep sense of calm and gratitude come over you. While continuing to breathe from your heart, allow the blessings in your life to come up in your mind. Take a few moments to appreciate all you have to be grateful for.

Movement

You don’t need to be a long-distance jogger to experience a “runner’s high.” You also don’t need a bunch of expensive equipment. Take a brisk walk in the park, bounce on a personal-sized trampoline or exercise ball, give yoga, or tai chi a go. If you’ve always wanted to try yoga, for example, there are tons of free YouTube videos you can use as your guide. My personal favorite is Yoga with Adriene. If you are so inclined, pick out an app and track your progress. That’s just one more way to focus on the positive right now instead of dwelling on “what if’s.”

Nutrition

It might be tempting to sit and eat chips while binge-watching Netflix right now, but it’s the worst time to be doing that. Besides lowering our immune system, a diet high in processed foods and sugar doesn’t give our brains the fuel it needs to function at its peak.

It’s vital right now that each citizen is thinking clearly for the long-term. We all need to be making wise decisions and to do that, we need to be able to calm our fight-or-flight responses so our frontal cortex can run the show. We need to take positive action, not just for ourselves, but for the global community. Only offering our brains toxin-filled fuel won’t get us there. Focus on stocking up on more fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and other tasty, highly nutritious foods and leave the Ding Dongs and Cheetos on the shelves. They have so many preservatives in them that they’ll be fine there for years.

This week’s veg from Imperfect Foods

We have our organic produce, and other items delivered to our door by Imperfect Foods. They are a company on a mission to stop food waste, which as a farmer’s daughter, I wholeheartedly applaud! It’s a fabulous feel-good way to get fresh, organic foods at a much better price while not having to put on real pants. 😊 You can get $10 off your first order by going here.

Nature
Now is the perfect time in many parts of the country to be outside. Get your garden ready for summer, mulch your flowerbeds, take a walk. Much of the last week has been gray and gloomy here in Ohio, but today, the sun is out. I enjoyed lunch on the porch while listening to the birds and enjoying the daffodils that are already in full bloom in my yard. I felt like a new woman when I came back inside. I personally believe we can absorb a great deal of life wisdom by looking at nature. The birds and squirrels don’t panic when a big storm is looming. Trees don’t worry that they will lose their leaves too soon in the fall. Animals live most of their lives in a state of rest and relaxation. They only take action when it’s absolutely necessary for survival. Oh, to be a robin!

Help Others

Right now, you may think there is little you can do to help others. But there are more opportunities than you might think. And helping someone who is in a worse situation than you is an excellent way to step out of thinking about your own ills and problems.

Some simple ideas include checking on your neighbors to make sure they are okay or picking up groceries for an elderly family member while you are out. Think about all the volunteers who are now stuck at home. Depending on where you live and your health, you may be able to help out places, like animal shelters, that rely on volunteers to meet the needs of your community. We recently heard that the National Guard might be activated in our area to fill boxes at local food banks. During a time of crisis, food banks will need all the help they can get. Think about ways you could help others to distract yourself while getting a hit of dopamine.

If you’d like to help but can’t think of a way, feel free to send me some of your hoarded toilet paper. 😊I still can’t find any anywhere!

What are some of the ways you keep worry and fear from overwhelming you?

Gilian Baker is a former English professor turned mystery author and writing coach. She uses personality theory and brain science to help writers overcome their creative blocks so they can write un-put-down-able books. If you are a writer who is struggling to get their book finished, go here to schedule a free Story Strategy Session.

Grab her first book, Blogging is Murder, for free on her website.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

10 Tips for Making Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Here’s an oldie-but-goodie post. I’m posting it partly because I’m busy with my own holiday preparations, but the message bears repeating — how to make your imperfect holiday a happy one!

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. It’s okay to have an imperfect holiday, as long as it is a happy holiday.

First, let’s break things down a bit, to look at what makes an imperfect holiday a happy one. We have gifts, decorations, food and family (I refer to Christmas below, but the same ideas apply to other holidays of the season.)

Tips for making your imperfect holiday a happy one -- cull your gift list and shop early.
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.

I begin in October, usually with an all-day shopping trip. It’s a fun, low-stress day, because it’s only October and I have lots of time to find those items that didn’t jump into my cart that day.

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!

Tips for Making Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One -- 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 of 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.

Tips for Making Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One -- let the family decorate the tree, even if it does end up lopsided
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 it 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: Being with family is the heart of Christmas and perhaps the most important component in making an imperfect holiday a happy one. 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.

Tips for Making Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One -- celebrate Christmas with the extended family on a different day.
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 supposedf to be a joyful time of year. So do your best to set it up so it is fun and relaxing for you and those who are most important to you. A less stressful, imperfect holiday makes for a happy holiday!

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

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

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

Overachiever Angst! (And a New Release)

by Kassandra Lamb

One of the joys of being an indie author is that you set your own deadlines; one of the pitfalls is that you set your own deadlines. Or at least, it’s a pitfall for recovering overachievers like myself, who are struggling to ward off “overachiever angst” and maintain some semblance of balance in our lives.

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I fell into the pit this year. In early January, it seemed perfectly reasonable to me that I could finish the Kate Huntington novel I was drafting, write another service-dog novel and then a novella I had planned for that series, and get all of those stories edited and published in order for the novella to be released around July 4th, since that story involves Independence Day.

Just reading back over that sentence is exhausting, much less actually doing all that. But I was determined to try.

So the deadlines were set…

The Kate book would come out some time in May, The Sound and The Furry would be released in mid-June, and A Star-Spangled Mayfair would come out on or before July 4th.

I made the first deadline; Police Protection came out on May 24th. The other two deadlines…not so much.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Overachievers have trouble adjusting goals. Even goals that are self-inflicted (yes, I have chosen that word intentionally).

It was a downright painful decision to slide those other two deadlines. But it finally dawned on me that once the Independence Day novella is out, people will be reading it at all different times of the year in the future. It is an integral part of the series and the character’s ongoing stories. So its relevance is not limited to the time period around July 4th.

And as long as it came out during the summer “beach-reading” season, even this year’s readers probably wouldn’t mind that they are reading about July 4th on, say, July 24th.

Why did I do that to myself?

Why did I set myself up for overachiever angst by taking on more than I could possibly get done?

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I used to do this kind of thing more often. I would almost always over-estimate how much work I could get done in a given amount of time and/or under-estimate how much work a project would require. I’ve gotten somewhat better and don’t make these miscalculations quite so often anymore, so I’m looking at this as a moderate setback in my recovery as an overachiever.

I think I also set these kinds of goals sometimes to create a challenge for myself. Let’s see if I can do this? That challenge can be stimulating, but it can also be a set-up for disappointment, when I can’t meet the nearly impossible goal.

I’ve gotten better at forgiving myself though, when I have to adjust a goal.

What Drives Us Overachievers?

meme created on imgflip.com

In my younger years, I was trying to prove something to myself and the world. I had to be the “best” at everything I did. I got past that when it dawned on me that it was okay to not be the best at things I didn’t care all that much about.

It’s okay for me to be a mediocre cook and a less than stellar housekeeper, for example, since those are not high priorities for me. But I still tend to put a fair amount of pressure on myself to be the best I can be when something is important to me.

And that’s what convinced me to slide my self-imposed deadlines. My writing is very important to me. I did NOT want to produce inferior stories, just to get them out by a certain date. So I decided to push through my overachiever angst and make some adjustments.

The Sound and The Furry is releasing today. Yay!! And A Star-Spangled Mayfair is tentatively scheduled to come out on July 23rd. I hope to have it available for preorder soon. (Covers and blurbs below.)

How about you? Do you tend to be an overachiever, an underachiever, or (the sanest position) somewhere in between? What do you think is driving those tendencies for you?

The Sound and The Furry, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #7

The Sound and The Furry book cover

A tropical paradise turns deadly.

Service dog trainer Marcia Banks had thought it was the perfect arrangement—stay on her client’s private Gulf-coast island and get the human phase of the training done more quickly, while enjoying a much-needed break from the chaos of house renovations back home.

This certainly wasn’t the tranquil getaway she’d envisioned, however. Two resident ghosts, a sour-puss housekeeper and bearing witness to her client’s shaky marriage are bad enough. But within days, she’s discovered even deeper and darker layers of dysfunction.

Via emails and static-filled phone calls, fiancé Will Haines convinces her to get herself and her dog Buddy out of there, but before Marcia can accomplish this, a late-season hurricane abruptly changes course and strands them on the island… with a murderer.

AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ KOBO ~ NOOK ~ GOOGLE PLAY

And coming very soon… A Star-Spangled Mayfair, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Novella (#8)

Star-Sapngled Mayfair book cover

A flamboyant fiancé, a “Mob Killer” Roman candle, a yappy rescue dog, and a bison bull named Tarzan.

A recipe for chaos and calamity for Marcia’s introverted friend, Jess Randall.

When not serving up her to-die-for eggs and biscuits at the Mayfair Diner, Jess just wants to live quietly on their farm. But her fiancé Dan has impulsively offered to host the Mayfair Independence Day Extravaganza.

The day of the big bash, Marcia and her dog Buddy witness a public fight between the couple, and just hours later, Dan is found with a Roman candle through his chest.

Was it an accident, or was it murder? And is Jess a killer, as the sheriff’s department believes?

Between dog-training sessions, Marcia feels compelled to investigate, especially when there are signs that the real killer may not be finished… Could Jess be the next target?

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

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

When Anxiety Is a Good Thing

by Kassandra Lamb

Say what? Anxiety is a good thing?!? It can be, up to a point.

This past weekend, I did my first public reading from one of my books. (Yes, I’ve been at this writing/publishing gig for 7+ years, but until recently my marketing has mainly been online.)

In the days leading up to the reading, I was terrified.

I’ve done plenty of presenting in my time, at professional conferences when I was a psychotherapist and in front of a college classroom for 17 years. I enjoy presenting/teaching, and normally I’m only mildly to moderately anxious beforehand.

And that is when anxiety is a good thing. On a practical level, it motivates me to be well prepared, to put in the work to make sure I’m ready. Because I know from experience that confidence is key to keeping the anxiety under control.

And emotionally, at the time of the presentation mild to moderate anxiety makes my brain sharper, and it stimulates me, animates my personality. When that happens, I am an enthusiastic speaker and the audience responds well. I can even get up the nerve to try to be funny, and sometimes I’m actually successful. 😀

Quite a bit of research has been done on the “optimal level of arousal” that will enhance one’s ability to accomplish tasks. I have mastered that optimal level when it comes to presenting.

But somehow “performing” my own creative work… it falls into a different category.

Anxiety is defined as distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune; a state of apprehension and psychic tension. If that “apprehension” is too intense, it can keep us awake at night, make us stutter, blush, freeze up or otherwise embarrass ourselves in certain situations.

For me, “performing” is such a situation. And anticipating performing tends to move me from helpful arousal to unhelpful distress to disabling ruminating and worry pretty darn fast.

Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.*

(*This quote has been attributed to Erma Bombeck and at least a dozen other people. But whoever said it first, they nailed it!)

The first time I “performed,” it was in a second-grade play. I was George Washington’s wife. I don’t remember much past walking through the classroom door in my Martha Washington costume. But I do remember laughter.

It wasn’t supposed to be a funny skit.

In high school, I tried out for several plays with the drama department. I never got a part. The stumbling and blushing might have had something to do with that.

Ever since, I’ve frozen up whenever I was required to “perform.” And yet I can “present.” The latter is more about sharing my expertise. I have much more confidence in that expertise than I do in my performing ability.

So here I was last week, facing this reading.

While I was being introduced… I only look mildly terrified!

I’ve been to some where the author just “read.” And that’s okay. I’d originally intended to do that. But as I went through my first practice round, my words sounded so flat. I decided I didn’t want to just read. I wanted to show emotions through inflection, produce the required deeper timbre for male voices, use accents when called for, etc.

In other words, perform. Aaack!!

The day before the reading, I was way past my optimal level of arousal. I needed to do a little emergency therapy on myself.

I asked myself what helped me control the anxiety when I was presenting, and realized there were four things I now automatically do before a presentation:

1. Acknowledge the anxiety.

I don’t try to stuff it down or ignore it. That doesn’t make it go away. If anything, it gives it more energy. For “presenting” nerves, a short pep talk is usually sufficient, along the lines of—Of course you’re nervous. That’s a good thing. It will keep you on your toes.

For “performing” nerves, I needed to go a little farther. I told a few people close to me how scared I was. It wasn’t to get their reassurance (although they were, of course, reassuring); it was to acknowledge the anxiety and bleed off some of its charge.

2. Draw confidence from past successes.

To Kill A Labrador cover
The book I read from.

I remind myself that I have done many presentations before, and I have always done a decent to downright great job.

Also, I remind myself that the anxiety always goes down once I get started. That’s a biggie!

This time, I had to add to this pep talk that presenting was not as different from performing as I have made it out to be. And the book I was reading from has lots of good reviews. The words were proven to be good, and my ability to “present” them has been proven to be good. So I would be fine. (In psychology lingo, that’s called a reframe. 🙂 )

3. Practice but not over practice.

I’ve learned that two to three complete run-throughs, out loud, is about right for a presentation. Enough practice to smooth out the rough spots and give me confidence. Not so much that the presentation becomes stale.

The second time through my reading practice, the inflections were mostly in the wrong places, my male voice sounded like I had a bad cold, and my Southern accent…well, let’s just say I don’t do accents well.

By the third time, I had the inflections in the right places, my male voice was pretty good, and my accents didn’t totally suck. I did one more run-through, for good measure, and felt a good bit more confident when all of the above still happened.

4. Remind myself that I do not have to be perfect.

And in this case, remind the audience as well. I added these words to my introductory remarks: Now before I start, I’d like to put this caveat out there—I don’t do accents well.

Ahhh, the pressure was off. Now if my accents were sucky, well, I’d said up front that I wasn’t perfect.

And the reality is that most people in an audience aren’t expecting perfection. Indeed, they may find it endearing when we make the occasional mistake. It’s makes us more human and relatable. In this case, my audience knew that I’m a writer, not an actor. They weren’t expecting perfection and I shouldn’t either.

So the moment arrives…

Definitely when anxiety is a good thing...when it lets up! Me, after the reading.
I look happy here because I’m almost to the end of the reading. Yay!

I’ve been introduced, and I give my little opening spiel (no problem, this is presenting after all). I’m borderline, maybe just past my optimal level of anxiety. Okay, definitely past optimal, but still manageable.

I start to read. And thank you Lord, my anxiety level goes down. (Did I mention praying? That always helps too.)

It was still higher than usual, but definitely quite manageable.

So I make it to the question-and-answer period and I’m downright exhilarated. It’s over! I can do Q&A standing on my head (which would make it more interesting, for sure).

And now that I have a successful reading under my belt, I can look back on that the next time and use it to bolster my confidence, to get my nervousness down to the level where anxiety is a good thing!

How about you? Have you discovered your “optimal level of arousal” for most things? What situations tend to push your anxiety over the top?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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 about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.


An Attitude of Gratitude

by Kassandra Lamb

Thanksgiving is always a reminder that one should be grateful for one’s blessings.

paper turkey and gourds

I found this harder to do this year.

The last six months have been a rough time in my household. We seem to have been slammed with one stressor after another—some of them neutral, some of them bad, none of them all that good.

With all that has been going on, I’ve been way too near the edge of stress overload, and when I’m in that spot, I get depressed. Which doesn’t help one bit.

Well-meaning folks sometimes say, “Well, look at what others are dealing with? They have it much worse.” Sure one can usually find those whose life challenges are far worse than one’s own. But comparing one’s own pain to others is not mentally healthy, believe it or not.

For one thing, if you care about those people (such as the dear friend who was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness), that’s just more depressing stuff to think about.

Also, that makes you ashamed of feeling stressed and depressed. Then you try to bury those feelings. As I’ve mentioned before, buried feelings don’t go away. They just fester under the surface and can erupt somewhere else in a less than pleasant way.

Of course, applying strategies to lessen one’s stress in other areas is always a good idea. But in my case recently, even when the stress let up, I was still depressed.

I have two strategies that I find helpful when I get stuck in a negative mental state like this. One is to stop and count my blessings. Yes, this is a cliché, and it can also lead to shame and stifling the bad feelings if not done carefully.

When I do this, I don’t just focus on the blessings (which are all too easily taken for granted). I do a kind of counterbalance in my mind.

  • Yes, I have friends who are struggling with their health, and that brings home that I will be facing such major challenges in another decade or two. This means I should appreciate my own reasonably good health more and make sure I am living to the fullest during the remaining healthy years I have left.
  • Yes, money is tight right now due to unexpected expenses, but we have a good income and we’ll recover in a few months. I need to appreciate that good income more.
  • Yes, I lost my dog suddenly to cancer. But I now have a new four-legged buddy. He doesn’t replace the dog I lost in my heart, but he’s creating his own spot there. And again, I am grateful that I have the resources to give a shelter animal a new home.

You get the idea.

This process doesn’t eradicate the negative feelings, but it helps to put them in perspective. I don’t suddenly feel great because I have so many things to be thankful for, but I feel less depressed. And focusing on the resources I’ve been blessed with makes me more hopeful that this too shall pass. I will deal with the stressors and move on to better times.

Which brings me to my second strategy. When I am dealing with a major stressor, I ask myself at what point in the future will I have most likely already dealt with it and put it behind me. A month, six months, a year?

Then I keep telling myself this reminder: In a month (six months, a year), this will all just be a bad memory.

If need be, I remind myself of times in the past when I used this strategy, and indeed those stressors are now nothing but memories. If I can remember them at all.

When I first started teaching, I was a basketcase. I’d done public speaking before and wasn’t all that nervous, but facing students was a different matter. They don’t always give much away. They sit there and stare at you (if you’re lucky; sometimes they fall asleep). You don’t know if they are finding your words of wisdom fascinating or boring as all get out.

I gave myself two years that time. “In two years, I’ll be comfortable in front of the classroom and this will all be a bad memory.”

It didn’t take that long. By my third semester I was comfortable, and now years later, I can’t even really remember the anxiety I felt at the time. I just remember thinking, that first semester, that surely I would have an embarrassing accident in front of the classroom (involving bodily fluids) before the semester ended.

And having written this blog post, I now feel better. Not great, but better.

How about you? What strategies do you use to get unstuck from a negative mindset?

One thing I am definitely grateful for is the gift of my talent.

My Christmas novella is now available for preorder … Just $0.99

A Mayfair Christmas Carol book cover

A Mayfair Christmas Carol, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery Novella

A Christmas extravaganza in Mayfair, Florida, complete with an ice skating rink. What could go wrong?

When excavation for the skating rink uncovers a decades-old skeleton, its secrets threaten more than the town’s Christmas plans. Worried about her friends in her adopted town and feeling responsible since the let’s-attract-more-tourists idea was hers initially, dog trainer Marcia Banks is determined to help her police detective boyfriend solve the mystery—whether he wants her help or not. Perhaps href=”https://misteriopress.com/books/to-kill-a-labrador-a-marcia-banks-and-buddy-she can wheedle more out of the townspeople than he can.

But will she and her Black Lab, Buddy, be able to keep the ghost of Christmas past from destroying what is left of Mayfair’s founding family, or will her meddling make matters worse?

AMAZON    NOOK    APPLE    KOBO

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist/college professor turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and 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 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

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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.

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