Tag Archives: mental health

4 Things Still True After 44 Valentine’s Days (and New Releases!)

by Kassandra Lamb

Hubs and I celebrated our 44th anniversary recently. In honor of that, I was trying to come up with something fresh to say about relationships, so I reviewed the posts I’d already done through the years on the topic of love.

I stumbled on this oldie but goodie from 4 years ago, written right after our 40th Valentine’s Day together. It seemed worthy of re-running. And since my new book, releasing today, is set around Valentine’s Day and contains a love story or two (as well as a mystery, of course), I figured this would be a good post for today.

So here are our 4 most important lessons learned.

Thing #1 still true after 44 Valentine’s Days: Cover your mate’s back.

I fell in love with my husband on our first Valentine’s Day together, a few months after we started dating.

He’d made a reservation for dinner at a fancy restaurant, for 8:00 p.m. But the restaurant had seriously overbooked. By 9:15, Tom had asked several times when we would be seated, each time told it would “just be a few more minutes.”

I’d eaten a light lunch and was now getting lightheaded. “Do you want to go somewhere else?” he asked. But where could we go on Valentine’s Day without reservations? McDonald’s?

My knees wobbled and I clung to his arm as we were finally shown to our table at 9:45! Suddenly my super easygoing boyfriend turned into the Incredible Hulk. He had words with first the waiter and then the maitre ’d, demanding that we be served food RIGHT NOW.

A salad immediately appeared in front of me, and I fell in love with this man who would stand up for me like that. (BTW, that restaurant went out of business shortly after that.)

Things Still True after 44 Valentine's Days -- swans scratching each other's backs
photo by Susanne Nilsson, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

We’ve had each other’s backs at other times through the years… whenever one of us was in the hospital, for example. We’ve both slept on those horrible foldout chairs and been awakened every few hours, along with our spouse, when someone came in to take vital signs or give medication. We were there to be the other’s advocate when they were too sick or too doped up to think straight.

It may not sound all that romantic, but hey, if you can’t count on your mate to have your back, who the heck can you count on?

Thing #2 still true after 44 Valentine’s Days: Accept each other as unique human beings.

There’s a myth out there that couples need to share a lot of interests. Not really. A few shared interests are good, so you have something to do together. But it’s okay for each of you to also do things the other one isn’t interested in. Tom’s into photography and computers. I use my phone camera occasionally and have a refurbished desktop for which I paid $700 (now 6 years old).

I love to shop and play cards, and of course, write. He’d rather stick pointed sticks in his eyes than go shopping, and card-playing is far from his favorite pastime. He’s a good writer but to him it’s more a task that is sometimes required for work.

Instead of resenting the time that the other spends on non-shared interests., honor that those things are important to your mate. I wait patiently when we’re on vacation while he takes a hundred shots of every sight we see (I’m only exaggerating a little). He never says a word about the nights I stay up until 3 a.m. because the muse has struck and I must get those precious words down before they slip away.

And we never try to make the other do what we’re interested in but they’re not. He resists the urge to make fun of my out-of-focus photos and my old computer, and I find other people to play cards with.

Thing #3 still true after 44 Valentine’s Days: Time is the most important gift.

Things Still True After 44 Valentine's Days -- bread and wine and thou
Bread, Wine and Thou (photo by Beatrice Murch, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Having said all of the above, make sure your interests don’t get in the way of spending time with your spouse. As is so often the case, it’s quality as much as quantity (if not more so) that counts. Dinner is check-in time for us. It may only be twenty minutes to a half hour, but we’re not reading or watching TV or playing with our cell phones. We’re telling each other everything important—and some things that are not all that important but are just interesting—that’s happened to us that day.

And on Fridays, we have date night. We started that when our son was about thirteen. We have a special dinner, just the two of us, and really linger at the table until we’re totally caught up on things. Then we relax and watch videos together for the rest of the evening.

Thing #4 still true after 44 Valentine’s Days: Be proud of each other.

Don’t just say it to each other. Tell others about your spouse’s accomplishments. No, you don’t have to be a bore about it. But let your spouse know you’re proud of them by telling the world.

Tom’s my best salesman. If a friend or coworker happens to mention that they like mysteries, or just that they like to read, that’s his opening! He hasn’t sold enough books to make a major difference in my writing income. But it definitely makes a difference in my confidence level to hear that he’s proud enough to brag about my writing to anyone who will stand still and listen.

What things have you found true after how many Valentine’s Days with your honey? Or if you’re not coupled at the moment, what makes you feel especially loved — by friends and/or family?

And Check out our New Releases: Kirsten Weiss’s Oolong, Farewell and my own, My Funny Mayfair Valentine. (plus our September Self-Care Contest below)

Oolong, Farewell, A Tea and Tarot Mystery #3

When all the neighbors want you dead…

Abigail Beanblossom is finally getting into the groove of her new Tea and Tarot room. But in Abigail’s mind, when things are going right, that’s exactly when they’re about to go wrong. She never could have guessed, however, that the mother who abandoned her as a child would suddenly return, looking for tea and sympathy.

Now, all Abigail wants is to escape. So, when her grandfather’s friend, Archer, asks Abigail and her partner Hyperion to investigate the murder of his neighbor, the two amateur sleuths leap at the opportunity. Abigail suspects Archer’s fears of arrest are a tempest in a teapot. The victim’s been renting out his mansion for noisy events and bringing the entire neighborhood to a boil. And the old money and nouveau-riche suspects are as plentiful as they are quirky.

But when Archer becomes suspect #1, Abigail and Hyperion must steep themselves in the fraught world of upper-crust homeowners associations and Instagram stars. Because this cockeyed killer is just getting started…

(Tearoom recipes in the back of the book.)

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

My Funny Mayfair Valentine, A Marcia Banks and Buddy, #10

A newcomer to Mayfair charms the socks off of Susanna Mayfair, the sheltered niece of the town’s elderly matriarch. In a panic, the aunt turns to service dog trainer Marcia Banks to dig into the man’s past.

What Marcia finds is a disturbing trail of broken hearts and outstanding warrants. But when the man is arrested, he claims it’s a case of mistaken identity.

While Marcia’s police detective husband attempts to untangle the truth and Susanna struggles with her feelings, Marcia is worried about her friend’s mental health, unaware that Susanna may be in physical danger as well. Will she figure it out in time to protect Susanna…and herself?

Just 99 Cents for a Limited Time on: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

And only one week left to ENTER our September Self-Care Contest HERE!

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. 🙂 )

Handling Stress, Part IV: How We Interpret Stressors (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

As we’re launching our new misterio press Facebook readers group this month, I’m re-running my series on stress management. Definitely useful info right now!

Over the last three weeks, we’ve talked about the three components of stress: the stressors (stressful events) in our lives, our body’s response to those stressors and how we interpret stressors cognitively and emotionally.

And we’ve drilled down some on the subject of stressors and our body’s response, and last week, we explored some easy ways to add relaxation breaks to your daily schedule (and why that’s sooo important). If you haven’t read the three previous posts, they are full of helpful tips, so I hope you’ll check them out.

Today, I want to talk about that third factor: how we interpret stressors. What is our own take on the events in our lives? Because, for the most part, a stressor isn’t a stressor until we view it that way (a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a few exceptions, some sneaky stressors).

This is why something can be sooo stressful to one person and someone else thinks they’re nuts for worrying about it. How we interpret stressors is unique to each individual, influenced by personality and past experiences.

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

how we interpret stressors -- fear of flying
(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 drink in the airport bar to brace himself. But once we were on the plane, he wouldn’t drink.

Now, this was back in the days when alcohol on the plane was free (Yes, folks, once upon a time, airlines fed you for free, and they would get you liquored up as well. No extra charge!)

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 trip, I confronted him, 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 graduate 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. (Control is often a big factor in how we interpret stressors.)

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 of his life, who were incompetent. So having someone else in control of his safety made him very nervous.

how we interpret stressors
(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.” (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 relax and enjoy the ride.

Now, let’s talk about job stress.

My husband handles it fairly well. Why? Because he’s an easy-going guy (has to be, to put up with me!) who doesn’t mind having bosses, as long as they’re not an idiot. And if his boss is an idiot, he just figures out a work-around and moves on.

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

Yes, I am cussedly independent! So much so that by the time I completed graduate school, I’d decided that I really needed to be self-employed. I went into private practice as a mental health counselor.

how we interpret stressors
(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 15 years and I was burning out on listening to other people’s descriptions of their stressful lives. I had done a little teaching here and there and really loved the interaction with students. Applying to teach college part-time seemed a good solution. Then, I could cut my counseling hours back so it wouldn’t be so stressful.

I landed an adjunct position at Towson University. I  liked the department chair and the atmosphere in the psychology department, and was told 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, even though I loved everything else about teaching.

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. You are a contractual semester-to-semester 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 in my own mind. I reminded myself that there were roughly fifty colleges within commuting distance of my home (the Baltimore-Washington area at that time). So 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 a school or they didn’t hire me back, I would just take my expertise elsewhere.

It worked! I felt so much better and 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 one of my favorite jobs 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!

how we interpret stressors
(photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash)

Back to my husband and his fear of flying. 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, 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?

Oh, and don’t forget to check out our new Readers’ Group on Facebook and to enter our August Beach Reads contest there. You get two extra entries by joining the group.

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. 

Handling Stress, Part II: Managing the Stressors in our Lives (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

As the authors of misterio press deal with the “good” stressor of launching our new Readers’ Group, I’m re-running (and updating) my series of posts on stress management from a few years ago.

Last week, I talked about the three factors involved in how stressed we feel at any given time. These are (1) the stressors in our lives, (2) the body’s response to them, and (3) our cognitive/emotional interpretation of those stressors.

Last time, I drilled down some on the body’s response to stressors (the flight-or-fight response), and I talked about how stress is good, energizing even, up to a point—that point being the stress threshold that we all have and beyond which we have maxed out our coping ability.

If we want to avoid stress overload, we have to keep our stress level below our threshold, and in order to do that, we need to understand the stressors in our lives.

Happy Events Are Still Stressful.

the stressors in our lives -- even happy events are stressors
Heading into the church just before my wedding. Note the spaced-out look on my face. My mother’s hanging onto my arm because I think I was staggering a bit.

Can I see a show of hands, folks? How many of you were in a bit of a daze on your wedding day? I know I was.

And it wasn’t a blissful, I’m-so-happy daze either. It wasn’t even an I’m-worried-about-what-can-go-wrong daze. It was more an I’m-so-overwhelmed-because-it-took-so-much-to-get-here daze.

I actually remember very little of the ceremony itself, mainly the bloopers: my father tripping over my train, the fly buzzing around our heads, and my husband forgetting the vows we had written together and supposedly memorized. And no, I’m not remembering those things because I was upset about them. I actually found them to be moments of comic relief that brought me out of my daze a bit.

I have a fairly clear memory of the reception, however, because that’s when the stress level finally got down below my threshold!

So yes, happy events still add to our stress level, because they use our resources: time, energy and emotional coping ability.

And here’s another thing about stressors that most people don’t realize.

Stressors Are Cumulative.

the stressors in our lives are cumulative
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.com

You don’t have to have some major stressor going on in your life in order to end up too close to or even past your threshold. If we’ve got too much little stuff going on, it can push us over the edge.

And we Americans tend to carry around way too big a stack of little stuff, sometimes without even realizing we’re doing it. Then stress overload can sneak up on us.

So one of the things we can do—indeed, we should do—when we realize we are too close to our stress threshold or have passed it, is to reduce the number of stressors. More on this in a moment.

Some Stressors Can Be Sneaky

Some things in our environment are stressful without our realizing it, because we are “used to them.” And/or we may like those things and therefore assume that they are not stressing us.

These stressors include sensory stimulation, noise, environmental temperature, etc.

I’ll use noise as an example. Even if you love the hustle and bustle of the city (85 dB), its noise level is still stressing your body. You may love listening to loud rock music (90+ dB) in order to “relax,” but its noise level is still stressing your body. (For comparison’s sake, the average conversation is about 50 decibels.)

the stressors in our lives -- noise is a stressor
Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash.com

Regardless of how you feel about the source, any noise above about 70 decibels is triggering that flight-or-fight response.

Again, our nervous systems are designed for more primitive times, to protect us from roaring lions and marauding enemy tribes. So when it registers loud noises, it assumes something threatening is going on. (For more on how noise is stressful, check out this article.)

Reducing Stressors — Hafta vs. Wanna

I used to teach a community education class on stress management. The first session, I’d give my students a homework assignment—to list everything they normally did on an average weekday, including minor tasks like loading the dishwasher or making the bed. Then they were to divide that list into two columns, labeled “hafta” and “wanna.”

The next class, I would ask them how many things were on their hafta list vs. their wanna list. Often there were more haftas than wannas; sometimes they were about even.

I would then point out that if they had more than 3-4 things on their hafta list, it was too long. They’d all look at me like I’d lost my mind – until I started going down some poor volunteer’s list asking, “Do you have to make the bed? …go to work? …pack your children’s lunches?” (Yes, I’d even challenge the premise that they had to feed their kids!)

The conversation would go something like this:

  • “Why do you have to do that?” I’d ask.
  • Usually the answer would boil down to some version of because they were responsible adults.
  • “Do you have to be a responsible adult? What happens if you’re not a responsible adult?”
  • They’d list a bunch of dire consequences, such as losing their house if they didn’t earn a living, or people looking down on them if their kids went to school in dirty clothes.
  • “And you don’t like those things, right?”
  • “Right.”
  • “So you choose to do this other thing (pointing to the item on their hafta list) to avoid those consequences?”
  • “Well, yeah.”
  • “So it’s a wanna. You want to do this to avoid that, because you don’t like that.”
  • “Well, yeah.”

I highly recommend this little exercise. Make your two lists without thinking about it too much. Then go down the hafta list and ask yourself what the consequences would be if you didn’t do that thing, or if you did it differently, in a less stressful way.

One objective here is to take back your sense of power over your life. You are doing these things out of choice, not because you have to do them. Feeling in control of the stressors in your life has been scientifically proven to reduce the amount of stress experienced.

And you may identify some things that you really don’t hafta do, nor do you wanna do them. (Making my own spaghetti sauce from scratch got dumped the first time I did this exercise; why should I go through all that when store-bought sauce actually tastes better than mine.)

Through the years, I’ve gotten into the habit of asking myself if a task is a hafta or a wanna, and then I ask do I truly wanna be doing it. This habit has served me well. It’s kept me from tipping over into stress overload on more than a few occasions.

Dump, Delegate, Postpone and Pamper

When we find ourselves on the brink of, or actually in stress overload (i.e., we have exceeded our threshold and we aren’t coping with anything anymore), the first thing we need to do is reduce the number of stressors in our life.

The formula for this, that I developed years ago, is Dump, Delegate, Postpone and Pamper.  “Just remember, DDPP,” I would tell my therapy clients.

One client jokingly said, “That sounds like a pesticide.” And thus DDPP was dubbed “Kass’s stressicide formula.”

reducing the stressors in our lies -- dump, delegate, postpone and pamper
Photo by Ildar Sagdejev CC-BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons

DUMP: Is a particular task really necessary or can you simply stop doing it, temporarily at least?

When I’m stressed out, the first thing that goes is making the bed. I like a neat house and a bedroom with a made bed. But it’s not essential. I can let it go when other things are demanding my coping resources.

DELEGATE: Is there someone else who also legitimately shares responsibility for the task you are stressed about? Or is there someone you can trade off with to deal with some of the current stressors, and you’ll pay them back in kind later?

In the mid 1990’s I was getting burned out as a therapist, so I started teaching part-time and cutting back on my psychotherapy practice. My husband and I negotiated a little deal. During the last three crunchy weeks of the semester, when I had a gazillion papers to grade, final exams to write, etc., he would do pretty much all the household chores. Then during my winter and summer breaks, I would do pretty much all of them so he could have a break.

POSTPONE: I’m not advocating procrastination here. But if it’s something that can legitimately be put off without causing harm or making things more stressful, then do it!

After my husband retired from his long-term career, he began teaching part-time. He quickly came to appreciate just how bad that end of semester crunch can get. And in the fall semester, it came just as we were getting ready for the holidays.

One of his tasks was writing the Christmas cards. That year, he decided to adopt the European tradition of sending New Year’s cards instead—in January when he was on winter break. 🙂

PAMPER: Unfortunately when we’re stressed out, the first thing that goes is taking care of ourselves. But that’s when our bodies and minds need pampering the most.

reducing the stressors in our lives -- pampering
Photo by Perfecto Capucine on unsplash.com

We need to pay more attention, not less, to getting enough sleep and trying to eat a healthy diet. Because when we’re in stress overload we are past that health threshold I talked about last week. We are putting more wear and tear on our bodies than they can really handle.

A few minutes of relaxation, a few times a day, can do wonders. Stop, sit, put your feet up, close your eyes, take a deep breath. Read, take a bubble bath, or both, or just sit and daydream.

The time spent relaxing will be well invested, and not just from a health standpoint. You’ll find that you are more focused and productive when you go back to doing the tasks you need to get done.

More on relaxation next week!

How about you? What’s on your hafta list that’s probably really a wanna? And do you still wanna be doing it? What can you dump, delegate or postpone when you’re in or near stress overload?

Oh, and don’t forget to check out our new Readers’ Group on Facebook and to enter our August Beach Reads contest there. You get two extra entries by joining the group.

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. 

Handling Stress, Part I: Stress Isn’t Always Bad (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Misterio press has started a new Readers’ Group and we’re finding it a bit time-consuming getting it off the ground (Check it and our August Beach Read Contest out HERE), so I figured this was a good time to re-run some posts on handling stress.

Here’s the first one, on why stress isn’t always a bad thing?

I was more than a little shocked, years ago, when my graduate school professor informed my class that stress is a good thing, up to a point. You might—as I did at the time—find this hard to believe.

But hang on! Here’s the definition of stress: The activation of our physical and emotional resources to cope with the challenges of life. Now when that challenge is a traffic jam or a deadline at work, that’s no fun.

handling stress -- it isn't always bad

But if we didn’t like getting activated now and again, why would we do things like ride roller coasters?

Or play sports, or read a mystery novel for that matter. If feels good to get the heart thumping a bit and the juices flowing.

But even when we’re not doing something quite as drastic as hanging upside down from a roller coaster, stress is a good thing, up to a point, in everyday life.

Let me go back and explain a few things first, so this makes more sense.

Why Stress has a Bad Reputation

Our bodies were designed to handle far more primitive challenges than we face today. Most of the challenges our cave-person ancestors encountered were physical, such as hunting for food or fending off wild animals and hostile tribes.

So our bodies have this thing called the stress response that prepares us for physical action to deal with those physical challenges. Heart rate and blood pressure go up, adrenaline’s released, muscles tense, you start sweating, and your digestive system temporarily shuts down (because it’s more important to deal with the sabertooth tiger trying to eat you than it is to digest what you just ate).

handling stress -- pacing tiger

Today, however, 90% of our challenges are psychological and emotional–coping with changes in our lives, relationships, deadlines, etc.

So you’re sitting at your computer all stressed out about the report/paper you’re trying to finish for your boss/teacher, while your body is preparing you to fight off tigers.

All those physical changes take a toll on your body, especially when you don’t actually do anything physical in response to the stressor.

There’s a part of our nervous systems, called the autonomic nervous system (ANS), that deals with all this. The ANS has two branches, the sympathetic branch (SNS) that causes all those changes listed above, plus several more (the flight-or-fight response), and the parasympathetic branch (PNS), that brings our bodies back to a calm state once the challenge or threat is over.

So after our ancestors fought the sabertooth tiger, their bodies would go “ah, time to relax.” (Assuming they won, that is.) Their PNS would kick in. Heart rate and BP came back down, muscles relaxed, digestion came back online, and life was good again. 🙂

In modern society, we tend to be stressed for longer periods of time, with no physical outlet. This is what does such a number on our bodies! You’ve probably heard the old expression, “All dressed up and no place to go.” Well, this is all revved up and no place to go!

Why Do We Feel Stressed?

We tend to assume that our stress level is dictated by how much we have on our to-do lists. But stressors are not the only factors involved when handling stress.

That grad school prof I mentioned above taught us a three-factor model to understand stress. His explanations regarding how stress works and what to do about it made so much sense, they have stuck with me for 30 years! And I’ve passed them on to hundreds of my students.

I’ll go into more detail regarding these factors in future posts. For now, a brief summary.

The first factor is the stressors. Some events–getting married, losing a job, etc.–are biggies in the stressor category, but a lot of little stuff can add up as well. And even good events contribute to our stress load, because they still require resources to deal with them.

photo credit: Lynn Kelley Author (from WANA Commons)

Take vacations, for example. We go on them to relieve stress, right? But they also cause stress! We’ve gotta plan them, pack for them, make sure stuff at work is organized to get along without us, deal with traveling hassles, worry about lost luggage… you get the picture.

The second factor in how stressed we feel is our body’s response to stress. There are several issues here. Do our bodies have any predisposed vulnerabilities to stress-induced illnesses? What is our innate tolerance for stress (called our stress threshold)? More on this in a moment. And last but not least, how often do we relax our bodies? This makes a huge difference in our stress level.

Third is our cognitive and emotional interpretation of the stressors. There are exceptions, but most stressors are not stressors until we interpret them as such. Quick example: I love to drive. I find it relaxing. For my husband, it is one of the most stressful aspects of life. How we perceive stressors is going to be affected by our personalities and our past experiences.

In later posts I’ll dissect these factors a bit more, plus talk about what we need to do to handle stress better. Today, I want to focus on the stress threshold aspect of the body’s response.

So Get to the Point; Why Is Stress Good, Up to a Point?

Okay, okay. Here it is.

We all have a stress threshold, the point at which our coping ability is exhausted. Below that threshold, stress is a good thing. It motivates and energizes us. Have you ever had a day (hopefully you’ve had many like this) when you’re feeling good, chugging along at a nice pace, getting a whole bunch of stuff accomplished?

I love days like that! The challenges are manageable and I’m being activated to meet them. That activation makes me feel alive and gives me a sense of achievement.

The problem arises when the stress level hits our threshold, and sometimes–no, make that often–we don’t see this coming. We may feel our best, the most energized and alive, when we’re hovering dangerously close to this threshold. And then one more little stressor comes along, and whammo, we’re over the edge.

This threshold is an on-off switch. When our coping ability is gone, it’s gone. One minute we’re handling everything, the next, we’re not handling anything.

So it behooves us to stop and think before we pile yet another stressor on an already full plate.

handling stress

Here’s another sneaky problem with this dang threshold thing. There are actually two of them. The one I just described is our psychological one.

The other is our health threshold. We’ve reached that one when our tissues and organs are suffering more wear and tear per day from stress than can be repaired that night while we sleep. When we’re past that threshold, we’re putting ourselves at risk for a whole slew of stress-related ailments, including heart disease and cancer.

And here’s the total kicker. The health threshold is lower than the psychological one. So we may still be handling stress well emotionally, may even feel great about all we’re getting done, when we are already doing our bodies damage from that level of stress!

Optimizing the Good Stress, Minimizing the Bad

So the moral of the story, folks: If we want to live long and prosper, we need to stay in the good stress level zone, comfortably below our threshold. That way, we’re not putting excessive wear and tear on our bodies, and we’re leaving some leeway for unforeseen stressors.

To accomplish this, one has to do two things. First, pay attention to your stress level for a while and get a sense of just how much stuff you can handle (i.e., where your threshold is). And while you’re doing that, pay attention to your early warning signs that you are not handling stress well, that you are getting too close to your threshold.

For me, it’s getting grumpy and short-tempered (my husband would say, getting grumpier and more short-tempered). The big flag is if I start losing it on the road when other drivers cut me off or are dragging their feet. Normally, I just mumble something sarcastic like, “Uh, ya see that pedal, the long skinny one on the right?” And then I let it go.

Beware of Cliff Edge sign -- handling stress
Sign at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

But if I find myself yelling at them (inside my car; I’m not crazy enough to actually get in their face) and I’m still fuming about it when I get to my destination…

As Jeff Foxworthy would say, “Here’s your sign.”

I am way too close to the edge of that cliff. It is time to pare down the stressors in order to get comfortably back in the good-stress-level range again. (More on how to do this next week and other tips for handling stress.)

I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to stand too close to that edge; the ground might just crumble away beneath me.

What about you, what are your early warning signs that you’re getting too close to the stress-overload cliff?

More on handling stress next week. Oh, and don’t forget to check out our new Readers’ Group on Facebook and to enter our August Beach Reads contest there. You get two extra entries by joining the group.

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. 

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.

Stay Calm and Wash Your Hands

by Kassandra Lamb

We interrupt our regular blogging schedule… This is not what I had planned to write about this week, but it’s an important reminder to stay calm. Not only for our mental health, but for our physical health as well.

Why is it important to stay calm? Because stress reduces the effectiveness of our immune systems. So stressing about getting sick can increase the chances of getting sick.

We humans have a variety of mental defense mechanisms that our psyches employ to cope with stressful and scary stuff. Some of these defenses are helpful and some, not so much.

The Unhelpful Ones: Denial, Minimizing

Pretending the coronavirus is not a big deal, not in your area yet, etc. (it probably is; just no reported cases yet) is denial and minimizing. Buying into the idea that it’s no worse than seasonal flu is denial and minimizing. The facts say otherwise.

The World Health Organization has declared it a pandemic. The goal of that declaration was not to have everyone either panic or go into denial. It was to get us to take measures to stop the spread of the disease before it gets out of hand in this country and others.

The Potentially Helpful Defenses: Rationalization, Repression, Sublimation

First, do the things you’re hearing that you should do in order to prevent and/or prepare for the worst-case scenario. Wash your hands. Be aware of what you touch and try NOT to touch your face. Wash your hands.

Stay calm and wash your hands.
Meme created on imgflip.com

Stockpile, within reason, food and medicines, etc. in case you end up quarantined. (Just got home from the grocery store myself.) Then wash your hands.

Practice social distancing by leaving space around you and subbing a wave or a slight bow for a handshake or hug. Wash your hands. Avoid crowds or going out in public if you can. Wash your hands.

Then, once you have done all that, tell yourself that you and those in your household will most likely be okay. You’re doing everything you can do. It will be fine. (Rationalization.)

Is this lying to yourself? Maybe. Maybe not. You don’t know if the disease will hit close to home, but you might as well assume that it isn’t going to—AFTER you have taken the needed precautions to lower your risk.

There’s no psychological benefit to assuming that you or your loved ones will get sick. That’s pessimism and it’s also unhealthy. More on this in a minute.

Then Push the Thoughts Aside

Don’t let your mind dwell on the disease any more than is necessary to maintain the precautions you have taken. To stay calm, actively push those thoughts away when they come up (Repression) and distract yourself with other things. Read an engaging book, finally do some of those projects around the house that you’ve been putting off (look out bathroom, I’ve got my paintbrush and I’m coming in), do something creative, etc.

This latter idea is called Sublimation—actually channeling the emotional energy into something else. A whole lot of my author friends are currently writing stories about pandemics. Most of those stories will never get published, but the writing process keeps those authors sane (or as sane as authors ever are 😉 ).

(Read more on defense mechanisms here.)

The Proven Benefits of Optimism

Why should we bother to try to fool ourselves into believing all will be okay? First of all, for many of us, it will be okay. We’ll go through a scary time of worrying about our own health and that of our loved ones, but either no one in that group will get the disease or they will have a mild case of it.

And if and when the disease does strike a harder blow, well that’s soon enough to worry about it. As my grandmother used to say, “Don’t borrow trouble.”

Remaining optimistic has been proven again and again in scientific studies to have all kinds of health benefits. Optimism reduces stress, improves immune system functioning, makes people feel happier and helps them live longer. Being pessimistic, has the exact opposite effect. (For more on the benefits of optimism, here’s a good article.)

The first American study evaluated 839 people in the early 1960s, performing a psychological test for optimism–pessimism as well as a complete medical evaluation. When the people were rechecked 30 years later, optimism was linked to longevity; for every 10-point increase in pessimism on the optimism–pessimism test, the mortality rate rose 19%.

~ Harvard Health Publishing, Optimism and your Health, 2008.

But Isn’t This Just Another Form of Denial?

Yes, it is. I call it healthy denial. And all of us exercise this defense mechanism every day. Otherwise, we would never get out of bed, much less leave our houses.

Stay calm and run like hell! A tornado's coming.

Every day, we assume that we will not be mugged that day, we will not be run over by a truck, we will not be swept up by a tornado, etc. Even though those things will happen to some people somewhere.

Without healthy denial, we couldn’t function. We’d be paralyzed.

And that’s what I’m trying to fight here—the paralyzing effects of fear. Because we all need to do what we can, including remaining optimistic, in order to slow and eventually stop this pandemic.

And slowing it is extremely important. Because by slowing it, we keep it from overwhelming our healthcare system. This article has an excellent chart that shows this better than I could explain it (Note the dotted line that is labelled “healthcare system capacity.”)

Easier Said Than Done for Some

Some of us have been blessed with a naturally optimistic personality. Others have not. Those folks are going to have to work harder at this whole stay-calm thing.

Just as we try to become more aware of the surfaces we touch (or don’t touch, in the case of our faces), we need to become more aware of our thoughts. We need to catch ourselves if we are obsessing on the situation too much. We need to redirect our thoughts.

Stay calm and stop those negative thoughts,
Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash

One very simple but very helpful technique that therapists teach clients with OCD is called thought-stopping. When you notice your thoughts going down an obsessive track, you literally say, “Stop!” either out loud or inside your head.

A variation for visually oriented people is to imagine a big red stop sign in your mind’s eye.

Then you intentionally redirect your thoughts to something else that is engaging.

Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Keep your entertainment lighthearted during this crisis. Someone said to me just last night that they started to watch a show about the Nazis in Germany and had to turn it off. It was too much on top of worrying about the coronavirus. Good for her!

Even if you feel yourself drawn to heavier, more negative topics (understandable), don’t go there right now. Positive, uplifting, and even silly books and TV shows are preferable, to help maintain our optimism and healthy denial.

And keep those hysterical memes coming on social media. Promote laughter as much as you can.

Let’s all do our part not just to stop the spread of germs but to increase the spread of positive energy during this difficult time.

What helps you the most to stay calm at times like these?

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. 🙂 )

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An “Off” Week Goodie: Why Hugs Are Good For You

by Kassandra Lamb

I saw this article yesterday and wanted to share it.

Hugs are good for you
Photo by C.Valdez on Unsplash

I don’t know about the whole Chakra thing, but it is true about the cortisol levels going down and hugs encouraging the release of oxytocin.

The latter hormone makes us feel good, and also facilitates more social interaction.

In other words, the more we hug, the more we like being around people, and thus the more likely we are to get hugs.

I’m not sure about Virginia Satir’s numbers, though. I suspect a few hugs a day will suffice for well-being, and I’m pretty sure hugging cats and dogs and other cuddly pets counts (snakes and lizards, maybe not).

Also, a word of caution. Not everyone is comfortable with hugs, so never hug anyone unless you’re sure they’re okay with it (you can always ask, though).

Virtual hugs from us to you!! (Not as satisfying, but the best we can do. 🙂 )

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.

Why Is the Divorce Rate So Low? (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

No, that is not a typo in the title—I am asking why the divorce rate is so low. As I contemplate the approach of the 44th Valentine’s Day I will spend with my husband, I thought this was a fitting time to again offer up this post I originally wrote in 2012.

I am absolutely amazed that anybody makes it for 44 years, or longer even, without divorcing. Or committing homicide.

The Divorce Rate is Lower Than You Think

Why is the divorce rate so low

My mother and I going into the church before my wedding. I had no idea what I was getting into.

The common myth is that the divorce rate is 50%. This is just plain not true, but like most myths, it gets repeated so often, with absolute certainty on the part of the person saying it, that we all believe it.

This frequently quoted statistic is based on comparing the number of marriage certificates issued in any given year with the number of divorces filed in that year. That number indeed hovers around 50%, because the number of people getting married has been going down at the same rate as the number of people getting divorced.

The Real Divorce Rate

Counting the number of people who are STILL married in any given year and comparing that to the number of divorces is a more complicated and costly process, so it isn’t done very often. (This data, by the way, is collected by the Center for Disease Control. So I want to know which is the disease, marriage or divorce? I’m assuming the latter. But I digress.)

Comparing those getting divorced to those still married paints a very different picture. The divorce rate in the U.S. actually peaked in 1979 at 23%  (yes, that is twenty-three percent; it has never been 50%). These days it hovers around 20%. Much better odds than 50-50!  (If you don’t want to take my word for it, here is a good article on the subject at PsychCentral.)

So why am I saying the divorce rate is surprisingly low, if it’s actually a lot lower than everybody thinks it is?  Because it just isn’t all that easy to stay married for decade after decade.

Stresses on Marriage

First we’ve got that whole men-and-women-don’t-really-understand-each-other thing going on. (See my gender differences posts for more on that topic.)

Then, throw the stress of parenthood into the marriage mix. Are we clueless about what we are getting into there, or what? But then again, if we weren’t clueless, the species would have died out by now. If we knew in advance how hard parenting is, nobody would do it!

Why is the divorce rate so low

Me giving my mother heart failure, before the age of seatbelts and air conditioning.

And we’ve got the whole aging process, and the fact that people change over time, as they experience new and different things. We don’t always change at the same rate or in the same direction as our partner does. So it takes a lot of work to stay on the same wavelength.

And we should keep in mind that marriage was invented back when the average lifespan was twenty-five years! As recently as the early 1900’s, one partner or the other was bound to die after a couple decades–from childbirth, disease or a cattle stampede.

And I can’t help but suspect that, before the days of modern forensics, a certain number of household accidents were early versions of a Reno quickie divorce.

So how have hubby and I made it this long?

Choosing Well

First, you’ve got the making-the-right-choice-to-begin-with factor. We lucked out there, or perhaps it was divine intervention, because I had definitely dated my share of losers before he came along.

The most important part of making that right choice is marrying someone who shares your values. You don’t have to have all the same interests or even come from the same background or ethnic group. But you do need to care about the same things in life. And fortunately we do.

The Most Important Factor in Surviving Marriage

Communication. You gotta talk to each other, every day, about the little stuff and the big stuff, and about how you feel about things. It’s real easy to get out of the habit of doing this, or to decide that a certain subject is just too painful, or will start a fight, so you don’t go there.

Study after study has found that the single most important factor in marital satisfaction is that both spouses consider their partner to be their best friend.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to my best friend! I hope we have many more, but I’m not taking anything for granted, because marriage is hard work.

Why is the divorce rate so low

When you stop laughing at hubby’s funny-looking tuxedo, please share your thoughts on the important factors in keeping a relationship strong.

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.

6 Questions to Ask to Avoid New Year’s Resolution Failure

by Kassandra Lamb

Avoid New Year resolution failure
(image by Nevit Dilmen CC-SA-BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I sat down today to write a New Year’s post. I looked at past posts, seeking inspiration, and decided that I couldn’t improve on last year’s, so I’m re-running it. If you find your resolutions/goals are out the window by February, here are 6 questions to ask yourself to avoid New Year’s resolution failure.

The problem may be with how you are wording the resolutions/goals. Or perhaps they aren’t quite the right ones for you.

1.  Is the goal/resolution too abstract?

I will be the best person possible sounds good, but it is doomed for failure as soon as you make your first mistake of the new year. Instead, ask yourself what traits or behaviors you would like to improve and make the goal more concrete and specific.

I will strive not to interrupt people during conversations is much more doable.

2.  Is it too big?

avoid New Year's resolution failure -- chunk it down!

Chunk it down into more manageable sub-goals. These can be celebrated as they are achieved, versus only looking at the big goal that feels so far away and difficult.

I will write and publish my first novel this year feels overwhelmingly hard. But if you chunk it down into:

  • I will finish the first draft by June.
  • I will strive to do two self-edits by September.
  • I will send it to a professional editor by October 1st.
  • I will investigate what is involved in getting my book published.
  •  I will set the publication process in motion by the end of the year.

3.  Is it something within your control?

When I was a novice psychotherapist, I foolishly thought that I could readily help people lose weight. I had studied hypnosis and figured it would be a great tool to get people to eat less and exercise more.

And the hypnotic suggestions usually did work, but I soon discovered that weight management was much more complicated than that. Even when people did everything they should do, they didn’t always lose weight. Sometimes there were physical issues—slow metabolism, medications, genetics, etc.—and sometimes there were psychological barriers. And sometimes it was a plain old mystery why the pounds weren’t coming off.

Note that I’m calling it “weight management,” not “weight control” as it is more often labeled. The reality is that we cannot directly control certain things, and our weight is one of them.

Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.

― Epictetus (Greek Stoic philosopher, circa 55-135 AD)

So to avoid New Year’s resolution failure, look at those resolutions and ask yourself if the end goals are totally within your control.

I will research and establish healthier eating patterns and increase my activity level is more realistic than I will lose thirty pounds.

4.  Are you “shoulding” on yourself?

Is this a goal you really want or are you setting it because you believe it is something you should be doing?

Does I will find a better-paying job get shifted from one year’s resolution list to the next? Maybe you really like your job, but it just doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet. Are there other alternatives, such as asking for a raise or looking for a second-income source?

Maybe, after asking these questions, you realize you really should pursue the goal, even though you don’t particularly want to, but being clearer about why you are doing it may help you get there.

So the resolution may become I will look hard at my finances and try to find a way to ease them, which may require changing jobs.

5.  Is your measurement criteria accurate? Or to put it another way, are you judging success based on the right aspect of the goal?

avoid New Year's resolution failure -- use realistic criteria

One of the frustrations I encountered when working with clients on weight management was their obsession with the scale. The reality is that the number of pounds we weigh is not always the best measure of our health or even our appearance.

After a while, I started asking clients to put their scales up in their attics and use a measuring tape instead to keep track of how many inches they were losing as they lost fat and toned muscles (which get denser and heavier when they are toned). Going down three clothing sizes was a better indicator of success than how many pounds they had lost!

6.  Is your resolution related to a goal or dream that you have lost interest in or one that you don’t care enough about to put in the effort required?

This can be a subtle reason why New Year’s resolutions fail. Sometimes, things we used to be gung-ho about aren’t so important anymore, and sometimes a goal turns out to be too damn difficult to be worth the bother.

It’s also sometimes hard to admit this to ourselves.

So ask this question, when you find yourself feeling lackluster about a resolution/goal: Are you giving up due to lack of confidence but you really do want it? (In which case, figure out what you need to improve your skills and confidence and push yourself to get there.)

OR are you not willing to make it happen because it’s just not important enough anymore?

There’s no shame in this.

And it doesn’t mean the goal was stupid to begin with—things change over time, including our enthusiasm and willingness to commit resources to something. And it may be a goal that becomes important again down the road, when the resources are more readily available. 

My first novel, 17 years in the making. Now I have 20-some books out. (Multiple Motives is FREE on all ebook distributors.)

I started writing my first novel 15 years before it was finished and 17 years before it was published. For the first 5 of those years, I will finish my novel was on my New Year’s resolution list.

And every year, I would fool around with it some—change the opening, add a scene or two—but then I would get discouraged and put it away again.

I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t willing to put in the effort to get it published once it was written. This was back in the days when traditional publishing was the only viable alternative.

I knew getting a publisher would be difficult, involving many factors I couldn’t control, and I HATE not being in control of my own destiny.

At that point, I stopped putting it on my resolutions list and told myself I would pursue my writing dream once I was retired and had more time and energy. The story languished in my hard drive, all but forgotten, for years.

But after I retired, I decided to finish writing it, even if it never got published. In retirement, I could justify “wasting time” on something that might never pay off. I sat down and finished the first draft in 6 weeks. 🙂

Hopefully these tips will help you modify your resolutions/goals this year, so that they are less likely to end up on the trash heap. Can you think of other ways to avoid New Year’s resolution failure?
Fireworks for avoid New Year's resolution failure
HAPPY NEW YEAR!! (Photo by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

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. 🙂 )

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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.