Friday, May 31, 2013

Best Stress Management Tips

In my May 17th post about toxic stress, I promised to share my favorite article on stress management. Last year, when my stress levels were over the moon, I read everything I could find about stress management, hoping to find some way to cope when I could barely breathe. Some articles were simplistic and obvious, others condescending. The advice I found at is helpful, practical, non-judgmental, and spot-on from my perspective. I'll summarize it here but highly recommend you read the complete article yourself.

The authors, Melinda Smith and Robert Segal, begin by recommending a stress journal to help identify the sources of stress in your life. I was fully aware of the source of my stress, so I skipped over that section. However, if you are feeling stressed in general, this might help pinpoint the causes. Next, they advise looking at the ways you currently cope with stress, including a laundry list of unhealthy behaviors. Since I tend to internalize my stress, none of those behaviors directly applied either.

Then we get to the most valuable section, the part we've all been waiting for: healthy ways to manage stress. In it, the authors describe the Four A's of dealing with stressful situations.

Change the situation:                     OR                       Change your reaction:
1. Avoid the stressor.                                                  3. Adapt to the stressor. 
2. Alter the stressor.                                                    4. Accept the stressor.

They offer six stress management strategies.

#1: Avoid unnecessary stress.
      Seems obvious, right? Even in the face of chaos, you'd be surprised how much you can still control. After reviewing the following list of strategies, I discovered several ways to reduce some of the non-job-related stress in my life. I bet you will, too.

  • Learn how to say "no" to excessive tasks and responsibilities.
  • Avoid people who stress you out or limit your interactions with them.
  • Take control of your environment - Look at the small, stressful interactions during your day and adjust or eliminate them where possible.
  • Avoid hot-button topics - This was a major source of stress for me, particularly leading up to the last election. OG has very strong opinions, and while I may share them, listening to too many political rants of any kind is hard on me.
  • Pare down your to-do list.
#2: Alter the situation.
  • Express your feelings - I would recommend being somewhat careful with this. Depending on how and to whom you express your feelings, you might end up increasing your stress instead of decreasing it.
  • Be willing to compromise - Try to look at your situation from different perspectives.
  • Be more assertive - Again, temper this with reason. An assertive confrontation with a bad  boss might make things worse. However, a take-charge approach to managing your own life will give you a greater sense of control.
  • Manage your time better.
#3: Adapt to the stressor - These are standard approaches used in cognitive behavioral therapy and can be very useful, depending on the sources of your stress and the available options.
  • Reframe problems.
  • Look at the big picture.
  • Adjust your standards.
  • Focus on the positive.
#4: Accept the things you can't change - Important life lessons for us all.
  • Don't try to control the uncontrollable - I need lots of work on this one!
  • Look for the upside.
  • Share your feelings.
  • Learn to forgive.
#5: Make time for fun and relaxation.
  • Set aside relaxation time.
  • Connect with others - This is critical during stressful times. Stress is isolating. We often hesitate to dump our troubles on family and friends. But even if you don't share the details, you need the support of loved ones.
  • Do something you enjoy every day - You need to pamper yourself during tough times, even if it's just taking time to read a good book or cook a favorite meal.
  • Keep your sense of humor - Try to find ways to laugh. Watch a funny movie. Go to the zoo.
#6: Adopt a healthy lifestyle.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Reduce caffeine and sugar.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs.
  • Get enough sleep -  Sometimes easier said than done, but we have to at least try.
You can read the complete article HERE and let me know if it resonated with you the way it did with me.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Reflections on Thirty Years of Marriage

Thirty years ago today OG and I were married in an intimate ceremony in my parents’ living room. It was the second marriage for us both, but in truth we were babes in the woods. Our short, early marriages had left us largely unscathed and without much emotional baggage. We’d barely dipped our toes in the tempestuous sea of marriage. We were wildly in love and married because we couldn’t imagine not being married.

But that wasn’t always the case.

I met OG on my first day at a new job in 1977. The supervisor was late, and OG was sitting in her chair with his feet on her desk flipping paper clips into her coffee cup. It was a very revealing introduction but certainly didn’t engender love at first sight. In fact, I thought he was a goofball. Within a few weeks, we discovered we had quite a bit in common: we’d both left Kansas City for colleges on the East Coast and had even visited each other’s alma maters. We became friends and saw each other socially, along with a group of other employees about the same age. Eventually we both found ourselves single, began dating, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The first half of our life together was a roller coaster ride marked by multiple job changes and losses, infertility, eventual parenthood, out of state moves, health challenges, and loss of a parent. In other words, the sort of things that happen to most people. However, that’s small consolation when it’s happening to you. The drama has eased during recent years, but we’ll both carry the battle scars of those early years for the rest of our lives.

Sometimes, when things were at their worst, I would ask myself the ultimate Ann Landers question: Are you better off with him or without him? The answer always came back the same. OG and I are a team; the whole is greater than the parts. His love and unwavering support have 
allowed me to become more than I ever would have otherwise.

So what’s my advice for a lasting marriage?
  • Remember what drew you to your partner in the first place. I was initially attracted to OG’s keen sense of humor and mordant wit, and he still keeps me laughing after all these years.
  • Cultivate shared interests. You don’t want to spend every free minute together, but it’s important to have things you enjoy doing together.    
  • Don’t hold grudges. Face it—you’re going to wound each other. We’re all human, and we make mistakes. Forgive what you can and move on.

The past thirty years haven’t always been easy, but they have been rich and deeply rewarding. Happy Anniversary, Sweetie!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Is Your Stress Level Toxic?

Stress can kill you. We all know that, right? But have you ever taken a test to evaluate your risk?

Six months ago, I had reason to worry that work-related stress had destroyed one of my most valued assets—my health. I rarely slept more than four hours a night, my hair was falling out in fistfuls, and I’d lost so much weight that even my smallest sized clothes hung on me like a scarecrow. I did a little research and discovered an online stress inventory that has been used for decades to help determine the risk of developing a serious physical illness as a result of stress.

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale (or Social Readjustment Rating Scale) was developed by two psychiatrists in 1967. It assigns a numerical score to each of 43 significant life events from the death of a spouse to minor legal problems. You determine whether you have experienced each individual stressor during the past twelve months then add up the numbers assigned to each one.  If your score is less than 150, you have only a slight risk of developing a serious, stress-related illness in the next two years. 150-299 presents a moderate risk. Over 300 and you have an 80% chance.

Here are two places you can try it out for yourself. The first asks the questions a bit differently then adds the points up for you.

Both tests told me that based on the events of the past year I am at a very high risk of getting sick. This is unsettling because I never get sick. With the exception of a nasty bout of norovirus I caught from a co-worker whose husband (a high school teacher) brought home from school, I haven’t had so much as a cold in nearly ten years.

While I’ll admit I’ve had more than my fair share of stress in the past year, I’m not entirely certain I took the test properly—that’s one of the main problems with self-administered tests over the Internet. Most of my stress was work-related, and there are several questions that address bad work situations from different angles. Per the instructions, I answered yes to all that applied, but I wonder if that might have over-magnified the true situation. If you take the test, you’ll see what I mean.

Based on the test, I’m feeling much better than I should. This is borne out by the results of yet another Internet test (don’t you just love them?). According to the Stress Screener at I’m in great shape. It evaluates one’s current emotional state in response to stress instead of measuring the quantity of stressful events. My results suggest I have developed healthy ways of coping with stress. In my next post, I’ll share the best article I’ve found on stress reduction and management.

Try the tests for yourself, and let me know if you think the results are valid.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I Need to Get to Work

OG and I have been in California for a month now, and I've had plenty to keep me busy without the frantic pressure I sometimes felt when I was working full time. We've met with the contractor and designer for our new house to settle on the final plans, and so far we've chosen appliances, windows and doors, and flooring, as well as having the lot cleared of overgrown brush. 

For the past couple of days, we've worked on choosing an exterior color scheme. We plan to re-side with shingles but wanted to take the opportunity to try out some different color combinations before the workmen tear off the old siding. We're looking at either a warm, buttery tan body with dark red shutters or a light gray-green with dark green shutters. The windows and trim will be white. We're undecided but leaning toward the gray and green at the moment. Which do you like best? I love the bold combination, but it might be a bit
too much. Several of the neighbors have variations of green and gray, but it suits the cottage look I'm going for and compliments the natural surroundings.

In addition to all the house activity, I've also been feeling an internal pressure to make more progress on my new career. I've hesitated for a number of reasons, but I know I need to just suck it up, take the plunge, and establish my new business. Since the first of the year, I have designed three book covers, and those books are now available on Amazon. They credit Creative Author Services (the name I've chosen for my business) for the cover design, but as of yet, there is no such legal entity. First, I need to file a fictitious business name with the county. That's pretty simple, but I also need a new website, and that's not simple at all. Even deciding what I want and need is complex. 

And then there's the matter of my writing. I have several projects in various stages of completion. I need to finish revising my contemporary romance about the owner of an all-female bodyguard agency who signs on to protect a former spy-turned-thriller writer on a national book tour. That book, Unwritten Rules, is slated to become my first venture into independent publishing later this year. Next, I'd like to expand If Wishes Were Fishes, a holiday short story I wrote last year, into a novella or full length novel in time for Christmas. Both books will also need covers. 

If I manage to complete these projects by the end of the year, I'll feel I've truly made the transition to my new portfolio career. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Series is Complete - My Third Portfolio Project

My friend Jannine Gallant has just released He'll Never Know, the final novella in her Secrets of Ravenswood trilogy (for which I designed the covers), and I want to take this opportunity to share it with you.

The stories are set in a small town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and center around three young women who have been friends since childhood. The first is a romantic suspense, the second a bit of a ghost story, and the third more of a straight contemporary romance. I've read We'll Never Tell (and loved it!) and am half-way through She'll Never Rest. I need to hurry up and finish so I can move on to He'll Never Know

When I designed the covers, I had only Jannine's notes to work from since the stories were still in editing. I was very satisfied with the final results, but now that I've had the opportunity to see the Sierras firsthand and get to know the characters through the books, I'm even more delighted by how well the covers depict the stories. Check them out; you won't be disappointed.

Congratulations, Jannine!