Top 10 Ways to Manage Stress & Anxiety

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My current situation is stressful. I work two jobs, which total close to fifty hours per week. I’m taking two college courses, both of which require lots of writing and reading. I’m working actively on one novel, the third in a series, and am planning two novellas which I intend to release before the end of the year. I became a homeowner not too long ago. I have a marriage, which like all relationships need regular care and attention to maintain. I want to be a mother soon. Oh, and I have an anxiety disorder.

So you could say I’m a little stressed right now.

Here’s the thing, though–thanks to my anxiety disorder, I’m almost always stressed about something. So even though my situation is a little over the top, I’ve managed to keep it together because honestly, I’m having a blast. I love my main job, I don’t hate my weekend gig, writing is what gives me purpose, owning a home is such a rewarding adventure, my husband is amazing, and kids can be fun, or so I hear. Even though this is the busiest I’ve been since, like, ever, I’ve managed to keep my anxiety in check. In fact, I haven’t had a major panic attack in months, and I haven’t needed to take my anxiety medication–which used to be a twice daily occurrence–in more than nine months.

I don’t pretend to be some kind of guru or expert, and I’m definitely not a doctor, so don’t take this list as a scientific prescription. You might need to take your responsibilities down a notch or say no to requests a little more often than you’d like. But here are the top ten ways I’ve managed to keep my stress and anxiety down to a realistic level this semester.

1. Prioritize

When I have a long to-do list, my gut instinct is to attempt all tasks at once and then collapse in a heap of failure when I realize that isn’t possible. The best way to tackle several tasks in a short period of time is to prioritize them, then work them start to finish one by one. You’ll be more likely to finish them all, and you’ll be rewarded with a more regular feeling of accomplishment.

2. Exercise

I’ll admit that I’m still working on making this a habit. When you have a ton of work to do, none of which can be accomplished on a treadmill, taking an exercise break seems counterintuitive, but the truth is that your mind will be sharper and more alert after even 15 minutes of physical activity. It’s worth it.

3. Hydrate

If you’re like me, you caffeinate when there are deadlines approaching. No judgment here–caffeine is a beautiful thing, and it can help us accomplish a lot–but soda, energy drinks, and coffee will never be able to replace water when it comes to our health. If you catch yourself lagging, suffering from headaches, or you’re hungrier, thirstier, or more tired than you should be, drink a liter of water. Nine times out of ten, it makes me feel better.

4. Eat Well

Your nerves will try to entice you with ice cream and pizza. You have to fight the good fight! Make sure you’re getting enough vegetables, fruit, and lean protein in your diet. Going too heavy on the carbs will make you feel yucky and irritable, and will result in weight gain if you do it for an extended period of time.

5. Take Your Vitamins

You don’t have to choose between Flintstones vitamins and those gigantic, foul-tasting pills anymore. They make gummy vitamins now that are basically candy! I started taking a multivitamin regularly back in September and it has made a tremendous difference in how I feel. When I feel better, I’m able to accomplish more!

6. Breathe

If you struggle with panic attacks, like I do, something that’s helped me cope with them (without medication) is to take long, deep breaths while I focus on various physical objects within my reach. Think about your blanket in mundane detail, over and over again. Talk about it out loud, if you need to. And don’t forget to breathe. Hyperventilation can lead to high blood pressure, among other issues, and can leave you feeling even more stressed and tired, so it’s best to avoid it if you can. (Note: If you experience panic or anxiety attacks that are interfering with your daily life, please seek medical attention.)

7. Ask for Help

Whether this means you finally go to see a doctor about your anxiety and accept a prescription, or you just ask your spouse to take over some of your responsibilities, asking for help is important. I know it can be hard sometimes, especially if you’re like me and don’t like admitting you can’t do ALL THE THINGS, but it’s important to recognize your limitations and own them. Asking for help prevents you from overextending yourself and burning out.

8. Sleep

This, like several of the points here, seems counterintuitive, but it’s important. Sleep deprivation is unhealthy and, depending on the situation, can be dangerous to you and others around you. It’s all right to pull the occasional all-nighter, but that isn’t a good habit to cultivate. On an average night, you should be getting enough sleep that you feel rested in the morning (an amount which varies from person to person).

9. Enjoy Yourself

I don’t get to read for pleasure nearly as much as I would like to these days, so I’ve recently turned to audio books. I listen to them when I’m driving, exercising, or doing tasks that don’t require too much active thought. Listening to stories I already know calm me, and most narrators have very soothing, rhythmic voices. Find something like this that helps you enjoy yourself, even in your busy schedule. It’s worth it!

10. Relax

This seems like a silly thing to say, but relaxation is important! Sometimes you need to push your responsibilities aside and watch a movie with your family, play a game, or even just take a quick nap. No one can run on empty, not even you. Remember to stop and refuel!

 

 

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How Your High Expectations Are Holding You Back

Usually when we think about expectations holding us back, our minds immediately go to low expectations, don’t we? A fish will only grow as large as its tank allows it, and all that. And the sentiment is completely true–if our goals are small, our accomplishments will be small. It’s only math.

But today, I want to talk about the other side of that problem. I want to talk about how your high expectations could very well be holding you back from something even greater.

If comparison is the thief of joy, expectations are the murderer.

Just over five years ago, I started dating the man who became my husband. Right out of the gate, he established himself as a thoughtful gift giver. Valentine’s Day fell just three weeks after we made our relationship official, and in that small amount of time he’d somehow managed to secure a first American edition of my favorite book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which he presented to me wrapped in brown paper and strings, just like the parcels Mr. Tumnus was carrying when he first met Lucy in the Wood. To top it off, he arranged for us to view one of my favorite films, Casablanca, at a historic theater.

My little geeky heart was in Heaven.

As time went on, though, the reality of this man’s thoughtfulness when it came to selecting gifts faded under the weight of my skewered expectations. Because you see, when it comes to the “traditional” boyfriend/fiancé/husband gifts, he isn’t so inclined. I can count on one hand the times he’s brought me flowers, and on one finger the times he’s brought me flowers without being nagged into it.

This used to bother me, especially when I worked in an office with women whose husbands sent dozens of long-stemmed red roses for everyone to see. My husband was a kind, intelligent, thoughtful man–why couldn’t he just have a natural inclination to send roses, too? That I didn’t even really care for roses seemed besides the point. It was just what was done.

This seed of irritation blossomed into a full-blown bitterness, culminating in a gift of a lovely, yet I’m sure overpriced, mixed bouquet on our first wedding anniversary. While I adored them and thought they were beautiful, the truth worried at my soul just below the surface. This wasn’t a token of affection. It was the white flag of surrender, offered by my husband as a last resort in the hopes that I would finally approve of what he had to offer me.

After that instance, I stopped nagging my husband to buy me flowers and decided to be grateful for the things he chose to give me out of love instead.

After letting those expectations go, I realized I didn’t even really like flowers that much. Sure, they’re nice, but they don’t do anything. They sit there, a momentary but very mortal decoration, and before long they’ve shriveled up and died. But the things my husband chose to give me on his own? Those were things I could actively use and enjoy for a long time. And the fact that he’s specially ordered 99% of the gifts he’s ever given me, or made special trips to multiple stores that are out of his way, mean so much more to me than the times he’s caved and half-heartedly purchased something that neither of us really wanted to begin with.

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The last time he brought me flowers was this past Valentine’s Day. They were free leftover flowers at his work, and he had to bring them home by shoving them in a box so he could get them on his motorcycle so they were falling apart a little, but they were my favorite bouquet by far.

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There are times when sticking to your guns as far as expectations go are a good thing. There are also times to re-evaluate what’s really important. Don’t let your high expectations prevent you from experiencing an even greater joy. There are things you don’t even know you want just on the horizon.

Top 10 Ways to Use Instagram as an Author

Top Ten.jpgI’ll admit, for a long time I didn’t really see the point of Instagram as an app unto itself. I basically just used it as a photo editing app for everything I wanted to post to Facebook. I never only posted a photo on Instagram. I rarely added captions, and never utilized hashtags. I let people follow me and I followed them back, but I never checked the feed or interacted with others.

I realized a few short months ago that this was a mistake. To help out one of my favorite indie authors, I joined forces with a couple of other fans and helped start a grassroots Instagram campaign. I was amazed at the book culture that is alive and well on a social network I’d largely considered pointless. Instagram has a thriving booklover community, and it is dying for more author-reader interaction.

I’m by no means an expert, having only danced around the fringes of #bookstagram culture for a couple of months, but there are some valuable things I’ve learned that I think more authors can take advantage of.

1. Pay Attention to Hashtags

The hashtags that will be important to you vary depending on what genre and age group your books fall into, but some of the broad ones to use are #bookstagram, #booksofinstagram, #bookish, #booknerd, #bibliophile, #readinglist, and #amreading. Use these hashtags when you post about your books, but also search to see who else is using them and interact with people who look like they might enjoy reading your books.

2. Form Relationships

When you come across users who look like they might enjoy your books, don’t spam them with buy links or suggestions right away. Instead, take the time to look through their photos. Leave a few likes and comments. Ask questions that show you’re interested in getting to know them, not just making a sale.

3. Participate in Challenges

There will almost always be an ongoing photo challenge that centers on books, reading, or writing. In February, I participated (half-heartedly) in the #AuthorLifeMonth challenge. This month, I’ve been doing the #YABookADay challenge. Next month, I’m planning my own! This is a great way to connect with readers, book bloggers, and other authors, and it really helps get you in the habit of posting at least once a day.

4. Host Giveaways

Last month, I participated in an Instagram giveaway with several other indie authors. We all gave away a printed copy of one of our books. People entered to win by following me, liking the post, commenting with the hashtag #iLovePrinted Books, and tagging a friend who also loves printed books. Each of the participating authors linked to another author in our post, so theoretically an Instagram follower could click through the chain and enter each author’s giveaway. I had a blast participating in this–I received several new followers, met some great authors, and I gained a new reader in England thanks to the giveaway! It was a great experience and I hope to do it again soon.

5. Increase Blog Traffic

Create free graphics for your blog posts on sites like Canva and post them on Instagram with a sample of your blog for the day. Believe it or not, people will actually hop on over to your blog if you ask them to! I’ve seen increased traffic since I started doing this.

6. Promos, Sales, and New Releases

Continuously spamming buy links is no more successful on Instagram than it is on Twitter or Facebook. However, Instagram is a great place to share occasional promotional posts for your books, as well as eBook sales and new releases! Use hashtags like #ebooks, #kindle, #freebies, #FreeEbooks, and #newrelease in conjunction with the usual book-related hashtags I listed above to get the best coverage.

7. Provide Regular Updates

Did you just finish an amazing outline? Do you have impressive, serial-killer-like notes stuck all over your desk? Did you just print out your manuscript in all its several hundred page glory? Readers love seeing these kinds of visual progress reports. They’re fun to share, and you just might snag some future readers by keeping your followers informed about your WIP.

8. Help Boost Author Friends

Help your fellow authors out by taking a screenshot of their photos and reposting them with the hashtag #regram and tag them in the caption. It feels easier and more natural to promote others rather than ourselves, so it won’t be as obnoxious as us constantly reposting stuff about our own books, and it shows that authors are friends, not competitors.

9. Create Your Own Hashtag

Before doing this, make sure to search Instagram for it to ensure it’s not being used by another group already.

10. Post Non-Writing Related Photos

This probably seems counterintuitive, but think about it for a second. I’m sure you appreciate when the celebrities you follow on social media post about their movies, shows, albums, and books, since that’s probably why you’re following them to begin with. But don’t you really love it when they drop that persona and just get real with you? Aren’t we all dying to know what Stephen King is having for dinner, or what Nathan Fillion’s backyard looks like? Obviously, most of us self-published and indie authors aren’t celebrities by any stretch of the word, but people love to see what lies behind our writing persona. It makes us seem more like real people and encourages connection.

Five Favorites: Early Modern Poems

Some of you might know that I’ve started working on a Master of Arts in English. This semester, in addition to the creative writing workshop I talked about last week, I’m working on another prerequisite before I can dive into the graduate level courses.

I was a little upset about this at first, I won’t lie. The thought of taking three 300 level courses seemed so unnecessary. But already, I have seen the error of my ways. These survey courses are a great way to get me back in a lit state of mind after six (SIX?!) years and have started me on a noble quest I’ve often dreamed about: becoming acquainted with the Western literary canon.

Currently, I’m studying Medieval and Early Modern British literature, and I’ve found that I absolutely adore the early modern poets. Here are, as you might be able to guess from the title, my five favorite poems (or collections thereof).

1. Paradise Lost, John Milton

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When it comes to Milton’s magnum opus, I’ve only read three books out of the twelve, and it took some major mental wrestling and guidance for me to understand even a sliver of what was there, but I still can’t help but love it. The fact that he wrote this piece after he was blind is absolutely astounding. Worrisome theological implications aside, this piece is flawless. Everyone should read at least part of it.

2. The Holy Sonnets, John Donne

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Despite Donne’s insistence on mixing his pet themes of God, the soul, and erotic love in sometimes highly upsetting ways (“Batter my heart, three-person’d God” much?), I really do enjoy his Holy Sonnets. His verse flows well and carries so many layers of meaning. Metaphysical poetry is where it’s at.

3. Astrophil and Stella, Sir Philip Sidney

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Even though this sonnet cycle is not really so much about love as obsession, these poems are definitely worth your time and energy. I think Sidney being such a sly dog is what makes me love these sonnets so much. His sonnets are filled with paradoxes and contradictions. He describes how his writer’s block precludes him from writing a love poem–in a love poem. He declares that he cannot describe his lady’s looks–in a poem describing her looks. He’s such a tricky jerk. I love that.

4. Hero and Leander, Christopher Marlowe

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Scholars have said that had Christopher Marlowe lived longer, his work would have rivaled and perhaps even eclipsed that of Shakespeare’s. Reading Hero and Leander, I understand those claims. Exploring the mythical tragic love story between Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite, and Leander, a young man from Abydos, this unfinished mini-epic explores complex themes such as nature, artifice, desire, gender, and sexuality.

5. Sonnets, William Shakespeare

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I’ve been a fan of Shakespeare ever since my father took me to see a production of Macbeth for my eleventh birthday. While the other high schoolers were groaning about having to read his plays, I soaked them in, even when I didn’t always understand them. I never would have imagined his sonnets being about to top his barding skills. I was wrong. After reading only a sampling of his poetry, I finally started to understand the true level of his talent and genius. Warning: if you, like me, are prone to literary-induced tears, don’t read too many of these in one sitting. You will indeed grow weepy.

The Bennett eBook Extravaganza!

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My wedding anniversary is in March (the 23rd, to be exact), so I always like to do something a little special to celebrate. Last year, I did a Kindle Countdown promotion for The Partition of Africa. This year, I have TWO books, so I’m doing TWO promotions!

The Partition of Africa

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Both Bennett books are always free on Kindle Unlimited, but on March 15 and 16, The Partition of Africa will be free for EVERYONE! Make sure to grab your free download before the promotion ends:

Buy link for Kindle

 

 

The Marshall Plan

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The Marshall Plan will be part of a Kindle Countdown deal March 17-24. The price will drop down to 99 cents on the first day and gradually make its way up to the regular price of $3.99. Make sure to grab your discounted copy before time runs out.

Buy link for Kindle

Top 10 Obscure-ish Movies You Should Watch on Netflix

More often than not, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, I use Netflix as a means to obtaining background noise when my husband isn’t at home. I cook dinner, clean house, and let my mind melt into a puddle at the end of a long day as long-familiar episodes of Friends, The Office, Parks & Rec30 Rock, and/or Gossip Girl play on loop on my mantel.

But every once in awhile, I use Netflix in the way it’s meant to be used. I scroll through the nearly endless lists of movies and documentaries until one strikes my fancy. This method of selection sometimes ends in horror and regret, like the time we tried to watch Children of the Revolution–trust me, just don’t–but oftentimes we end up discovering real gems. Here are the top 10 obscure-ish movies you should watch on Netflix.

Disclaimer: Some of these movies might have been removed from Netflix since I watched them last. If that’s the case, I apologize, but you should still track every last one of these movies down and watch them! 

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A Peek Into My Soul . . . Or Something Like That.

Some of you know that this semester, in addition to working on the last book in my young women’s fiction trilogy The Bennett Series and working full-time, I have also started taking classes in preparation for graduate studies in English and creative writing.

I am, for the first time in my life, taking a writing workshop class. The results of our various writing exercises and discussions have actually become quite interesting. A poet and short fiction writer, I am not–at least in my heart–but I have been pleasantly surprised with some of the poems and short stories that have been produced over the past eight weeks.

Here is a poem that was written in a scaffolding exercise early on in the class. Scaffolding a poem sounds like a rather dangerous activity that involves heights and a need for hardhats, but thankfully it’s rather simple. You take an existing poem, write it down on a piece of paper leaving space in between each line, and in those spaces, you write your own poem, drawing influence from the original.

The class started out with “Consolations After an Affair” by James Tate:

My plants are whispering to one another:
they are planning a little party
later on in the week about watering time.

I have quilts on beds and walls
that think it is still the 19th century.
They know nothing of automobiles and jet planes. 
For them a wheat field in January
is their mother and enough.
I’ve discovered that I don’t need 
a retirement plan, a plan to succeed.
A snow leopard sleeps beside me
like a slow, warm breeze.
And I can hear the inner birds singing
alone in this house I love.

After about three or four rounds of revisions, this is what I came up with. This is the first poem I’ve written in nearly five years, and the first since high school I’ve felt proud enough to share. A poetess still I am not, but now I know I could be, should the desire ever strike. I hope you enjoy it.

“Consolations After a Motorcycle Accident”

My clothes are gossiping with one another:
they are planning a little mutiny
later on in the week, if I still haven’t washed them.
I have books on shelves and floors
that think genies in bottles are real.
They know nothing of the world “impossible.”
For them, a winter ball in Moscow
is everything, and enough.
I’ve discovered that I don’t need
a will to live to breathe.
The cat watches silent in the corner
like an ominous fell breeze.
And I can taste the sad words calling forth
a ghost of diamond dust and ash and rust.