Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: stress

This week has been really rough. One problem after another. No Internet. Printers wouldn’t work. It has been one setback after another. On and on. I have felt like I have been trapped in Hell’s Whack-A-Mole. Just about whack one problem on the head and two more pop up in the peripheral vision.

It is very easy to get discouraged. In fact, I set aside time for my own pity-party this morning. You would have liked it. It was catered and everything.

The thing is, we all have bad weeks. Setbacks and getting discouraged or overwhelmed are all a part of life. We live in a realm of contrasts. One of my favorite movie lines of all times was from Vanilla Skies. “Just remember, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour, and I know the sour.”

Writing is a highly competitive business. Now that everyone can be published, there is more competition than ever. If we stopped long enough to think about our career choice, we would probably have a stroke. We face rejection letters from agents, bad reviews of our books, complaining e-mails, and all kinds of other emotional assaults where we exercise very little control.

Thus, the people who are going to succeed in life (particularly a writing life) need to have effective ways to deal with stress, setbacks and disappointments.

I have a very weird personality. I am, by nature, quite lazy and love to procrastinate. Over the years I’ve become self-disciplined enough to make lists and tackle a plan. But my new problem is that I get target-fixation. Any deviation off my plan throws me into a total tailspin.

For instance, I couldn’t get Internet, so I couldn’t download the assignments from Warrior Writer Boot Camp so I could edit and give feedback. Okay, no problem. Move to next on the list. I would print off my new book and do the line-edits. WTH? I have no printers installed? Every time I tried to install a printer, my computers made this clunking sound and a red window appeared.

Okay…red windows are never good.

Know the feeling?

After two hours of fighting with my computers, I sounded like I had Tourette’s Syndrome, and I think I still have a bit of a twitch in my left eye.

I was so pissed off at my computers and lack of Internet, that I couldn’t seem to focus on things I could do without printers or Internet…like, um writing? Reading? I felt like that scene from “Bug’s Life.” A leaf fell in front of my Things To Do List and I panicked.

Me: I’m loooooost! What do I do??? I’m gonna be stuck here FOREVER!!!!

Hubby: Do not panic. Go around the leaf!

Me: You don’t understand. I’m loooooooost! *breathes into paper bag*

Hubby: It’s okay. Look into my eyes. We’re going around the leaf.

Me: A-around the leaf? I-I don’t think we can do that.

Hubby: Nonsense. This is nothing compared to the Twig of ’93.

That’s me panicking in the front of the line.

Of course, Hubby came home later that night and in ten minutes all the printers worked. AT&T took pity on me and sent out someone to run new line for my Internet and that was fixed…

…and I felt like a fool.

How could I let such petty disruptions throw me for such a loop? Know the answer? I am human, and every day is a learning experience.

This morning, I sat back and thought about my week and my choices. How could I do things differently next time?

Evil Kristen: Throw computers out the window, obliterate with shotgun then set on fire????

No *sigh*. Although that would be fun, I believe it would cause even more hassle long-term. No, after some careful consideration, this is what I came up with after I traced back to when things began to go wrong:

We need rest.

I normally take Sunday off. I work hell bent for leather all week, but Sunday is a rest day. A big name author responded to my request for a blurb, so instead of resting Sunday, I spent all day at the computer getting this manuscript ready to go.

This means that by Monday, I was on my eighth work day in a row, and I work 10-12 hour days. I was tired. Ok, I was fried. So, when setbacks came my way, my frazzled emotions blew them out of proportion.

We need to rest. Rest is important. We live in a modern society that wears sleep-deprivation like a merit badge. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Being overworked, stressed and tired just makes us cranky, stupid, and inefficient.

We need to be flexible.

I still have to work on being able to switch tasks. I tend to get compared to a pit bull a lot :D. Tenacity is a noble trait, but sometimes persistence looks a lot like stupid. Sometimes, we need to just back away and let go.

Maturity teaches us discernment. As writers we are encouraged to be persistent, but sometimes it is better to back away. Been shopping the same novel of 5 years and it is still being rejected? Stop reworking it. Put it down. Move on. We aren’t a failure, we are being mature and knowing when it is time to stop chest compressions.

The manuscript is dead. Flat-lined. Harvest for viable organs to be used in another manuscript that still has a chance at life.

When I realized three doors had been cut off, ramming my head against them didn’t get anything accomplished…it gave me a headache. Next time I hope to be better at recognizing that not only is the door closed, but it is locked and triple-bolted. Time is better spent on open doors. Duh. Not rocket science here.

Be willing to ask others for grace.

Stuff happens. I find it funny that often we are so generous with others, but then are afraid to ask anything from them. I remember years ago, I was so broke I didn’t have money for anything. Wendy’s 99 cent menu was my friend. I recall being so embarrassed to go ask family for help. WHY?

Would I have batted an eye if any of them came to me? I would have enjoyed an opportunity to be generous. It would have felt great to be needed, and that this person would come to me for help. Yet, when it was me needing the help, suddenly things were different? No. No they weren’t.

Last night, I felt so discouraged and depressed that I couldn’t make certain deadlines. It only later occurred to me to e-mail and explain my technical problems and ask for grace. Perfectionism can cause undue stress and tunnel-vision. We are wise to give ourselves permission to not be perfect. We sometimes are better off realizing we cannot control everything. Relax. Breathe. Ask for help.

Mash-Up of Awesomeness will resume next week. I didn’t have Internet long enough to do a good job, so I am taking my own advice and asking for grace :D.

So what do you guys think? What do you do when you hit a wall? What have you learned from your bad weeks? Have any tips to share? Maybe share your battle story of the Leaf of ‘09 or the Twig of 2010?

I want to hear from you!

And, to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel.

Happy writing!

Until next time….

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

I often like to dedicate Fridays to talking about the writer as a person—time management, character, attitude, health, and all the more “human” components that affect how well we perform in our craft. Top athletes do mental exercises, watch nutrition, make certain to get enough rest to ensure they are running at peak performance. Why shouldn’t we?

I am not going to claim to be an expert at writer wellness, but today I am going to give you my two cents about a simple change that can help you operate at a higher level of efficiency and make you feel like a race car on rocket fuel. Just so you know, my advice and $2.75 can get you a grande coffee at Starbucks, so take it for what it is…my opinion. I will tell you that Who Dares Wins Publishing, the vanguard of excellence in the new publishing paradigm, has just launched Writer Wellness by Joy Held, and she is a real expert. So I highly, highly recommend that you get a copy of her book and check out her web site the first chance you get.

Back to my opinion :D…

Our work is a product of us, and if we are chaotic, unhealthy and strung out, it is going to negatively affect our writing. Too many of you are not sleeping well. You’re tired and wonder what happened to all of your energy. It might be hard to focus and you just don’t feel good in your skin. You want to be best-selling authors, but might wonder how on earth you will ever have the energy to do all that needs to be done. Today I would like to share some of my story in hopes that it might benefit many of you reading.

I have a tremendous amount of natural energy and I rarely drink more than one cup of coffee a day. I sleep eight hours with no trouble and am rarely ever sick. This wasn’t always the case. I still remember the day I had gained so much weight that I was officially in the plus sizes, a land of zebra stripes and rayon where polyester stretch pants go to die. I huddled in a corner and cried. What moron did they put in charge of designing plus sizes? Oh, yeah, a line of cheetahs across my a$$ really made it look smaller.

No matter what I did, my weight kept climbing. I was exhausted all the time, had terrible stomach problems, and I was always sick with something. I actually did exercise. All the time. But, no matter how much I worked out, my weight just kept climbing. My thyroid was fine and most of the doctors just rolled their eyes when I told them that I was eating healthy and working out.

Long story short, after some horrific health problems, I finally found the real culprit behind my weight gain and health problems. I had a massive wheat and dairy intolerance. See, I was eating “healthy.” I did the Special K challenge and added more whole wheat and skim milk…and just got sicker and heavier. Plain fact was that my body didn’t know what the heck to do with the wheat and dairy, so it just stored it as fat. Also, because I was eating so much stuff I was allergic to, my immune system was in a constant state of agitation causing all kinds of problems—eczema, allergies, stomach upset, joint pain, mood swings, etc. We can also assume that I was suffering chronic malnutrition because my body couldn’t use what I was giving it.

Gluten intolerances are often hard to spot because a gluten reaction is not a histamine response like when someone eats shellfish or strawberries. It is an autoimmune response. The body senses the gluten as an invader, and the immune system starts attacking everything in its line of sight. The symptoms can vary from person to person. My mother gets asthma attacks. I get a severely stomach upset, joint pain, and my heart rate (and weight) shoots up. It also makes me exhausted. I’d eat pasta and the only thing I wanted was sleep.

I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but all the sudden gluten-free is popping up everywhere. See, in my layman’s opinion, the food industry has created a massive health problem. Gluten enhances flavor. It stimulates the same dopamine response centers as cigarettes, sex, drugs and alcohol. It’s called “comfort food” for a reason. The gluten protein is very difficult for humans to digest, but it does make food extra yummy and even addictive. Think of gluten as the nicotine of the food industry.

Gluten stimulates appetite. Food manufacturers started adding it to everything—salad dressing, soy sauce, hot dogs, lunch meat, chips, etc. Eat a regular corn chip. Then try and eat one Dorito. It’s tough. We have a hard time staying out of the bag. The reason? Gluten is an appetite stimulant that makes us eat more food so we buy more. Problem is, the food industry added a substance that had a potential to be an allergen to everything! Think if they suddenly started adding peanut oil to everything. How would the peanut allergy rates rise due to overexposure? That is what they did with wheat.

Back before the 50s, the only time you ate wheat was if you ate bread, pastry, cake, or something fried. It was easy to tell when you were having wheat. You could see it. Now? The food manufacturers have subtly slipped this ingredient into virtually everything. So, as a society, we have been overexposed and, as a result, many people are walking around with an intolerance that is wrecking their lives and their waistlines as it once did mine.  

I now eat clean, and what a difference. I have plenty of energy and am blessed with excellent health. Yes, it requires extra effort, but it is worth it for the way I feel. If some of you out there are struggling with weight, body pain, constant fatigue, try pulling gluten out of your diet (Casein—dairy—is similar to gluten so that might have to go, too). It takes three days to get the offender out of your system, and it will be very easy to tell if you cannot tolerate it. You will feel as if you’ve been hit by a wrecking ball the next time you eat it. People think I have this amazing self-discipline, but I really don’t. I just know how horrible I feel eating that stuff, and I prefer feeling great.

I say it’s like putting molasses in the gas tank of a Ferrari vs. putting in high-octane fuel. What a difference in performance!

As writers, we are often multi-tasking. We regularly work a regular day job on top of our writing. Two jobs! Spouses, kids, pets and dust bunnies don’t disappear all because we want to be a novelist. We need all the energy and focus we can get. If you’re in a slump, try taking out the gluten. Even if you aren’t allergic or intolerant it will make you eat healthier and the weight will fall off. Gluten is tough to digest, so it can make even people who aren’t intolerant feel sluggish. There are other grains that are less taking on the system. The first four months I cut out wheat I dropped 30 pounds (much of the weight was edema caused by the allergy).

I now have energy like I did when I was a kid, and that makes a huge difference when it comes to my profession. Thanks for indulging my segue, and I hope it blesses you with good health. Make sure to pick up a copy of Joy’s book. She is the expert, and she has many tips, tools and tactics to help you guys be productive, healthy and more creative.

What are some tips you guys would like to add? How to you stay fit and healthy? What are your challenges?

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

Feel like you have writer’s block? The words won’t flow and you think you might have worn out your thesaurus function looking for another word to say “the?” You might be your own worst enemy.

This has been an insanely stressful week for me. Most of the time my life is blessedly uneventful, but life is life and it can suddenly make you feel as if you got tossed in the spin cycle. The impact that anxiety has had on my body, mind, and ability to write has been tremendous. I haven’t met many of my writing goals and have suffered tremendous fatigue…so I figured I could use this experience for your benefit and turn it into a blog post :D.

Writing can be therapeutic. True. But, our creativity can also be one of the first casualties of too much stress, which makes sense when we really study what is happening to us when we’re under too much pressure.

Biology 101. Have you ever wondered why you can’t remember half of what you said after a fight? Wondered why it seems the only time you can’t find your keys is the day you’re late for work? Been curious why you said the stupidest comments in the history of stupidity while in your first pitch session with an agent?

Yup. Stress. But how does stress make perfectly normal and otherwise bright individuals turn into instant idiots?

Basically, the same biological defense mechanisms that kept us alive hunting bison while wearing the latest saber tooth fashions are still at work today. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work in tandem to regulate the conscious mind. Sympathetic gears us for fight or flight. Parasympathetic calms us down after we’ve outrun the bear…or opened that rejection letter.

In order for the sympathetic system to do its job effectively, it dumps all sorts of stress hormones into the body—DHEA, cortisol, adrenaline—to enable that super human strength, speed, and endurance required to survive the crisis. The problem is that the human body thinks in blanket terms and cannot tell the difference between fighting off a lion and fighting with the electric company.

The human brain is divided into three parts:

Cerebral Cortex—higher thinking functions like language, meaning, logic.

Limbic/Mammalian Brain—used for experiencing emotions.

Reptilian Brain—cares only about food, sex, survival.

I believe that writers (and people in general, for that matter), could benefit greatly by truly understanding stress and the affect it has on the mind and body. A brain frazzled to the breaking point physiologically cannot access information contained in the cerebral cortex (higher thinking center). Thus, the smart writer must learn to manage stress. 

And for the purpose of this blog, I am referring to bad stress so there is no confusion.

Modern life may not have as many literal lions and tigers and bears, but we are still bombarded with their figurative counterparts all day, every day. When stress hits, the body reacts within milliseconds. The sympathetic nervous system floods the body with hormones, increases heart rate, pulls blood away from digestive and reproductive systems, etc. And, most importantly, it diverts blood supply to the mammalian and reptile brain at the expense of the cerebral cortex. Apparently the body feels your witty repertoire of Nietzsche quotes are not real helpful in lifting a car off your child.

Thus, since the mammalian brain is in high gear, this explains why it is not uncommon to experience intense emotion while under stress. This is why crying, when confronted or angry, is very common. It is also why, once we calm down, we frequently wonder why we were so upset to begin with…mammalian brain overtook logic. This is also why the gazillion action figures your child leaves littered across the floor suddenly becomes a capital offense two seconds after you accidentally set dinner ablaze. Your emotions have taken front and center stage and knocked logic into the orchestra pit.

Another interesting point…

When the sympathetic nervous system prepares us for fight or flight, our pupils dilate. The purpose of this is to take in as much information about a situation as possible. The problem is that, although we are seeing “more” we are actually seeing “less.” The body is totally focused on the cause of the stress. This is why, when we’re running late to work, we see every clock in the house, but cannot seem to find our car keys.

This also explains how, once we take time to breathe and calm down, those keys have a way of magically appearing in the same drawer we opened 763 times earlier (while screaming at the kids, the dog, the cat, the laundry….). Poof! Magic.

Once we understand and respect stress, it seems easier to give ourselves permission to go on vacation or truly take a day off. It is a matter of survival. When bad stress piles up, we physiologically are incapable of:

1) Being productive.

That book proposal will take 15 times longer to prepare because you keep forgetting the point you were trying to make in the first place. 

We will wear out the thesaurus function on our computer looking for another way to say “good.” Face it. Stress makes us retarded.

2) Making clear decisions.

We won’t be making decisions from the logical part of our brain, so eating everything in the house will actually seem like a good idea.

3) Interacting in a healthy way with our fellow humans.

The new trees for your back yard might never get planted because your husband will be too busy plotting a way to bury you under them.

The most important lesson here is to respect stress. We must respect its effects the way we should alcohol. Why do we make certain to have a designated driver? Because when we’re sober, we think clearly and know that driving drunk is a very poor decision. Yet, the problem with alcohol is it removes our ability to think with the higher brain functions. Stress does the same thing. It limits/obliterates clear thought.

That’s why it is a very good idea to have people close to us who we respect to step in and 1) force us to back away and take a break, 2) convince us to take a vacation, get a pedicure, go shopping, hit the gym 3) give us a reality check, 4) take on some of the burden, 5) run interference with toxic people.

Like great violinists take great care to protect their hands, we writers would be wise to do the  same with our emotions and our minds. So when the stress levels get too high and you start seeing it seeping into your writing, it is wise to find a way to release stress. Take back the keys to your higher thinking centers! Take back that cortical brain!

Exercise, read, pray, meditate, watch a movie, laugh, do yoga, take a walk, work in the garden. Most of all…write. But do a different kind of writing. Write without a care in the world. Ever wonder why experts advise us to do freewriting when we hit a wall? Seems counterintuitive, but it is actually super smart when you think about the biology lesson we just had. If we can just write forward, without caring about the clarity or quality, we often can alleviate stress rather than fuel it. This freewriting can calm us back into the cortical brain so later, when our head is back on straight, we can go back and clean up the mess.

Which is exactly what I will do…after I go for a walk.

What are some ways you guys deal with stress? How do you overcome writer’s block?

Happy writing!

Until next time….