A Check-Up From the Neck Up

Happy Thursday everyone! I have a huge treat for you today. The fabulous Kassandra Lamb is in the house and is going to hang out with us. You know how I like to go on and on share my thoughts on fitness and nutrition. Well, Kassandra is going help us tune-up our mental state.  I don’t know about you, but I needed to read this blog because I’m totally messed up sure I could use a minor adjustment. Trust me, we are in good hands, as you can see from her bio.

Kassandra Lamb:

Writing and psychology, have always vied for number one on Kassandra Lamb’s Greatest Passions list. In her youth, she had to make a decision between writing and paying the bills. She was partial to heat, electricity and food, so…

Now retired from a career as a psychologist, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe in which her protagonist, Kate, is always the kind, generous and insightful person that Kass wishes she were. When not at her computer, transported in mind and spirit into Kate’s world, she lives in Florida and Maryland, with her husband and her Alaskan Husky, Amelia. She also hangs out on Twitter –> @KassandraLamb and Facebook.

So, without further adieu, here’s Kass!

A Check-Up From the Neck Up


Thanks for letting me hang out with you today! Since you’re so in to health and fitness, Ginger, I thought I’d talk a bit about mental health.

Most of my clients when I was a psychotherapist, came to see me because they were really hurting. Going to therapy is right up there with having a root canal for most people; it tends to be a last resort kind of thing. And once my clients had cleaned out their psyches sufficiently that the pain went away, i.e., they were ready to leave therapy, I rarely heard from them again. Which was okay with me. It’s the nature of the job that you work yourself out of a job.

If I did hear from them, it usually meant that something was causing them pain again. So when I got a call one day from a former client, who said she felt that she was due for a “check-up from the neck up,” I thought, Uh, oh, I wonder what’s happened.

When she came in for her session, she talked about how her elderly mother was starting to need some care-taking, then segued into some quite normal frustrations with raising teenagers. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: she was getting divorced, her kids were into drugs, she’d been abducted by aliens. Nope, she just needed to talk through a few things, get my take on them, make sure she was on the right track with her mother and her boys.

Every year or so after that, she’d come in for her check-up from the neck up. And I realized that this was a very healthy thing she was doing. She was checking things out with a professional before they became a big deal, making sure she was on the right track as she handled life’s stresses.

I’m not sure what reminded me of this client recently but I got to wondering why we don’t have mental health check-ups, like we do for our physical health. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we nipped our psychological problems in the bud, instead of waiting until they abscess and we can’t ignore the pain anymore? Equally important, we should have more emphasis on preventive mental health practices. Like we do with our physical health.

So here are my Top Ten Tips for a Healthy Psyche:

#1: Drink more water.

Wait that’s Ginger’s list. I picked up the wrong one. Okay, here it is.

#1: Remind yourself daily that you are responsible for your own happiness. Others can’t make you unhappy. Oh sure, their actions can affect your feelings, but then you have a choice about whether or not you go on letting them affect you. You can (a) confront them to try to get them to change their behavior (good luck with that one, but certainly give it a try), (b) choose to ignore them (this is not pretending that you don’t care; you have to truly let it go), (c) change your attitude about what they are doing or the situation, and/or (d) get away from them. When you think about it, that’s a simple checklist of options whenever we don’t like something: change it, ignore it, adjust to it or get away from it.

#2: Check in with yourself several times a day and ask yourself how you are feeling. Make it a habit that you link to something else in your routine, like mealtimes or driving to and from work. Just stop and take a second or two to assess where you are emotionally. If you’re not reasonably content, then ask yourself why not? This ties in with…

#3: Avoid doing things you don’t like to do, if possible. What!?!? you may be thinking, There’s lots of things I don’t like that I have to do. I’m a responsible adult. Key words are “if possible,” but there are often a lot more possibilities than people realize.

I hate to exercise! (Ginger’s frowning at me.) But I know it’s a necessary evil, so I looked long and hard for a way to exercise that I at least didn’t mind. And I found one. I love Zumba! Now I’m only facing minor inertia when it’s time for exercise class; not dread and loathing!

When faced with a task you really don’t like (I’m not talking minor annoyance here) you can also ask yourself how you might do the task differently. I hate cleaning even more than exercise, but I discovered that if I did one or two chores every day or so–clean a toilet here, dust a room there, as needed–I always have a relatively clean house without spending an entire day, every few weeks, on the drudgery of cleaning (yes, I used to put it off for weeks).

We can also look at delegating and trading off options.

When my husband and I were dating, we would quite often end up at K-Mart during the course of the evening, where he would buy yet another package of underwear so that he could put off doing laundry awhile longer. Now you might be wondering why I kept dating this guy. Actually I am too because it sounds kind of creepy in the retelling, but we’ve been married almost 36 years, and that’s pretty much the weirdest thing he’s ever done. He just really, really disliked doing laundry.

But he likes to cook, which I’m not all that fond of. So when we got married, he took over the kitchen and I rule in the laundry room and we’re both a lot happier.

#4: Really avoid the things you truly hate!  Why? Because if you hate them that much, they are probably pushing your psychological buttons. And if you keep forcing yourself to do them, it will make you mentally and emotionally sick. Kinda like forcing yourself to eat spoiled food. Ick!

If you can figure out why that thing is pushing your buttons, that’s great! Then you may be able to pull the wires loose inside your psyche and disconnect the button. But even if you can’t do that, at least you will know why you need to avoid that thing that you really hate. You’ll go from feeling a little crazy to knowing you are taking good care of your mental health.

If you can’t figure out why your buttons are getting pushed or how to disconnect them, then look for a way to get around doing that thing that you hate, or again perhaps doing it a different way (See #1 and #3 above).

After about 14 years of doing psychotherapy, I started to burn out. I got into teaching part-time, so I could cut back on my therapy practice some. My first department chair and I, well, it’s not that we didn’t get along; it’s more that we didn’t quite know how to react to each other. I had trouble reading him and he seemed to have just as much trouble figuring out where I was coming from. Now I was used to being self-employed, with no boss at all. I discovered that I really hated working for someone else again, and worrying about whether or not they were going to keep me on as an employee (I was contractual, so I worked at his whim). My stomach was so twisted in a knot over it that I was contemplating quitting, even though I loved the teaching itself.

I had a little conversation with myself, and eventually realized that this situation was pushing my control buttons. I didn’t like somebody else having control over my ability to survive (i.e., make money to pay the bills). But then I realized I was thinking about it all wrong. I needed to think of myself as a self-employed contractor who chose to teach for that particular institution, and if I didn’t like it there, or if they didn’t renew my contract, I’d go teach somewhere else. I changed my attitude toward the situation and suddenly I felt in control again. I taught for that institution for nine years and, aside from private practice, it was the best job I ever had.

Now let me make an important distinction here, between the things you hate and the things you fear.

#5: Face the things you fear if they are obstacles to getting where you want to be. If you’re afraid of snakes and you live in the city and hate hiking, don’t worry about it. We do not have to face every one of our fears. Only the ones that are stopping us from achieving our goals. But facing our fear doesn’t necessarily mean you just forge ahead, making yourself do something. That may make things worse.

One approach is to try to figure out why we are afraid of something. Again identifying the button may help us to disconnect it. But sometimes, often even, we are just afraid of the unknown or the unfamiliar.

I was that way regarding promoting my books. I had no idea what I was doing and I knew I’d have to learn about Twitter and Facebook and blogging, and…, and… *grabbing paper bag*

I am techno-challenged and this all felt very overwhelming. So I gave myself some of my own advice. I told myself to…

#6: Slow down and “chunk it down” when you feel overwhelmed. I gave myself permission to take it slow, to just learn one form of social media at a time. So I got on Twitter (it helps if you get some instruction in a case like this as well; thank you, Shannon!) Once I was tweeting away with ease, I tackled Facebook. Now I’m starting to develop some confidence in my ability to learn these networks and I’m getting kind of antsy to try Pinterest, or maybe go get some bones over at Triberr, whatever the heck that means. But I remind myself to take it slow. I’m not quite there yet with Facebook and I don’t want to get overwhelmed again.

#7: Don’t procrastinate! If you are nervous about doing something, start it as soon as you possibly can. Then one of two things will happen: (a) you will get it over with, breathe a sigh of relief and can stop worrying about it, sooner instead of later; or (b) if it really is as hard as you imagined, you’ve got plenty of time to deal with it.

#8: Trust your gut! If you’ve got a gut feeling about something, know that there is a reason for that feeling. What we call our gut instinct is really some part of our brain, that we are not currently in direct communication with, that has noticed something is off, or has made some connection between two or more pieces of information that puts a different spin on whatever is happening.

Your gut is never wrong! Let me repeat that, your gut is never wrong! The problem with our gut instincts, however, is that the gut doesn’t talk. So we have to figure out what it’s trying to tell us. And sometimes we misinterpret the message. But that gut feeling means our brains have picked up on something!

The tricky part about this is that we need to trust our gut even when others are telling us we’re wrong, overreacting, being silly, etc. We are none of those things. We are just trying to figure out what our gut has picked up on and what it means; in the meantime, we need to keep ourselves safe, physically and emotionally, by remaining a bit on guard. Better safe than sorry, as the saying goes.

#9: Relax at least three times a day. And one of them needs to be right before bedtime so you sleep well. This is basic stress management. And no whining that you’re too busy and can’t do this. I’m talking about a 5 to 10-minute break (although 15 to 20 minutes is better). If you stop and relax, and lower your stress level for a few minutes, you will be more focused and more productive when you go back to what needs to get done.

#10: Get and give lots of hugs! Research has found that physical affection increases the release of a hormone called oxytocin, in both men and women. This hormone calms us and helps us cope with stress, and it also works on our brains to encourage “affiliative behavior.” That’s psychobabble for it makes us want to hang out with others more, which helps us get our emotional needs met, and helps us get more hugs. Isn’t that a cool little hormone!

Now I’m not saying that doing all these things will guarantee good mental health, any more than eating more fiber and drinking lots of water will guarantee physical health. But training yourself to do these things on a daily basis will drastically increase the chances that you will be more mentally healthy, and happier!

Ginger’s over there on the treadmill, so we have a little while yet. Any thoughts about all of this? Any helpful hints for mental health that I’ve forgotten to mention?

Oh, by the way, I had a new book come out this week, in my Kate Huntington mystery series (she’s a psychotherapist too), and to celebrate, misterio press is holding a contest. Anyone who comments here today will get their name put in the hat to win a free three-book set of the series. If you go to www.misteriopress.com and comment on my blog there, we’ll put your name in the hat again, and you can get a third entry by showing up tomorrow over at Jennifer L. Oliver’s place,  http://www.small-escapes.com  where she and I will be chatting about writing, eating and puppy dogs. And there’s another way to get a bonus entry, but you have to go to misterio press to find out what that is (because we like to be mysterious).

Here comes Ginger.

Hey thanks for letting me come visit today. You’re the best, Ginger!

~Isn’t Kass awesome! Thanks so much for your tips. There were a lot of those that I have been neglecting to do in my life.

Now I know you all want to run out and get Kassandra’s book. I know I do! Check out this fabulous cover.

As an added bonus, Family Fallacies is only .99 cents until June 30th! At the end up the month, price goes up to $3.99, so grab your copy fast at AMAZON or at BARNES and NOBLE!


About Ginger Calem

I never met a notebook I didn't want to buy. Pens speak to me. Sticky notes are dear to my heart. Some of my best friends are those clambering in my head trying to get onto the page. And when they have their stories told, and I release them to the world, I hope they'll be your friends too.

Posted on June 14, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. Great information Kassandra. Learning that other people and their behavior do not control my emotions was the single most freeing thing I learned. I too have a client who continues to come in regularly, long past the time of ‘therapy’. But she uses the time to talk about lots of things going on in her life (a career change, her mom, her recovery from alcoholism) so that a slip is not likely. she says that staying on a safe track is a small price to pay to ensure ongoing sobriety.

    • Ah, Louise, I dream of the day when insurance companies include one or two check-ups from the neck up per year in their health plans. And it’s not because I’m trying to drum up business for you and our fellow therapists. Trust us, ladies and gentlemen, there are plenty of really hurting people out there, unfortunately, to keep every good therapist on the planet quite busy.

      Thanks for stopping by, Louise!

    • Louise, that’s my hardest thing too … not letting other people’s actions and behavior control my emotions. It’s a HARD one and I have to continually work at it.

  2. Fantastic post! I love your tips, Kassandra. I hold fast to that rule of not doing that which I hate. My hubby laughs at me, and it took him a while to grasp it. But seriously, following our bliss and passion is where it’s at! Being a super sensitive person (gee, rare for a writer lol) helps a lot. Tasks, jobs, etc., we don’t love have a much worse impact on us than people who easily grin and bear it.

    Loving your blog hop! Thanks for sharing her with us and for the fab interview, Ginger. 🙂

    • An excellent point, August, about sensitivity. I too am very sensitive emotionally, although I’ve developed a somewhat thicker outer skin through the years. People do vary in this respect. I’m always amazed when I see a friend truly blow off an event that would have devastated me, for at least a day or two (those same friends are the ones who usually help me through my devastation by putting things back in perspective for me).

      I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog hop. I’m having a blast!

    • I don’t do what I hate either, if I can avoid it at all, I always do!

  3. Shannon Esposito

    Oh, now that is an idea that you should be shouting from the rooftops! A mental health check once a year should be right up with with a physical! Preventing something is sooo much easier than trying to cure something. Because I deal with clinical depression, I’ve learned to check in with myself throughout the day and take a time out alone if I need one. (And if it’s possible) And to call a friend if I need to talk. I’ve also had to learn tools like meditation and paying attention to the negative self-talk. It is a lot of work, but like you said with the cleaning, doing one or two things a day will keep you from getting overwhelmed with a big job!

    Now, dealing with fear…whole other issue 🙂

    ps. Ginger, you can get off the treadmill now! lol

    • Hey, Shannon, thank you so much for mentioning self-talk. I knew there was one I was forgetting! It is sooo important to monitor that voice in your head (not talking about our characters’ voices, my fellow authors; and if you’re hearing multiple voices that aren’t your fictional characters, uh, I hate to have to tell you this, but you really, really need that from-the-neck-up check-up).

      It takes some practice to get in the habit of catching and changing those ‘I can’t do this; this is horrible’ internal comments to more positive ones, like ‘I can handle this. I’m a strong person. I’ve dealt with worse things and gotten through them.’ But it is a powerful way to improve your mental health!

      I’m glad you’ve figure out what you need to do to take care of yourself, Shannon, because you totally deserve to be happy!

    • Whew — thanks Shannon! 🙂 Actually, while this blog got hopping this morning, I was indeed at the gym trying to kill myself. All in a day ….

  4. prudencemacleod

    Kassandra, thank you so much for this post. It’s awesome! Okay, so by now you’ve guess that I am doing most of the things you recommend. Sigh. I’m so transparent.
    I do like the idea of a check-up from the neck up though. I sort of started doing that a few years ago and it does help keep a lot of excess stress at bay.
    Great post
    Thanks Kassandra
    Thanks Ginger
    Hugs to one and all

  5. Love the post and the information Kass and Ginger (powerhouse team – got the physical and the mental covered). I love all the tips but especially the one about avoiding things you truly hate…evaluating and making decisions that are in your best interest. I struggle most with this one because I get caught up in what I think are other people’s expectations. But in the end, realizing that my health and happiness is MY responsibility, I’m able to make better choices and let what other people need and want from me fall to the waist side. I find taking the time to truly evaluate has been key….
    Also the point about taking time to relax through the day. I’m definitely going to incorporate!
    Thanks both!

    • Oh, Natalie, I like your words better: ‘…evaluating and making decisions that are in your best interest.’ Sounds so much more socially acceptable than ‘avoid the things you hate.’ I struggle with how to explain this tricky balance to people, between meeting their legitimate commitments to their friends, families, employers… but also looking out for their mental and emotional stability.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Hi Nat. I agree, Kass and I could really be a Powerhouse Team! Love it.

  6. It’s fantastic that you’re taking such good care of your mental health, Prudence! You are an awesome lady, and I love the picture of your pooch (come see me tomorrow at Jennifer’s; I’m gonna be talking a bit about mine).

    And thanks for giving me one of my minimum daily allowance of hugs. Here’s one back at you! {{{hug}}} I’ve heard that we need at least eight a day, but I don’t know if the FDA has actually studied that scientifically yet. 🙂

    Thanks so much for stopping by, Prudence!

  7. what a wonderful and informative blog! Love the idea of having a yearly check-up for ‘mental health’, Kassandra (though I’m certain I’ll put it off just the way I do my yearly dental check-up *s*). But these tips for smoothing out the day-to-day…. marvelous! I’m going to print this out and share it with my daughters! Thanks for sharing this super advice!

    • I’d probably put off the yearly check too, like I do everything else. Don’t remember how long ago I went to the doctor. *hangs head in shame* Love that you’re sharing this with the girls. Kassandra gave awesome advice and I will try very hard to heed in the future!

  8. Hey, don’t talk to me about dentists right now; I’m having some major problems because I put off that dreaded check-up for too long. (I hate going because they always find something wrong. Well, duh, if I went more often they wouldn’t find something every time!)

    I’m so glad, Jennifer, that you got a lot out of the post, and that you are sharing it with your daughters. That’s awesome!

    • Talking about dentists!

      Ours is all about prevention, so we see the hygienist four times a year and the main man three times a year to nip anything in the bud. My gum chart is 1 & 2 which means super healthy. That’s not to say I ‘enjoy’ the experience because I hate the thought of anyone coming near me with sharp instruments, but I endure the scraping and polishing because the thought of drilling and needles makes my blood run cold.

      Oh and I’m sharing this post with my girls too – they’re gorgeous goal driven career girls who’re always interested in learning more about how they ‘tick’!

      • Oh, yes, I have learned my lesson re: dentists! No more skipping check-ups.

        I’m so thrilled, CC, that you and Jennifer are both sharing this info with others, and Jennifer, I like your ‘smoothing out the day-to-day’ Great way to phrase it!

  9. I love this post!!!! Good job, girls.

    Wonderful idea to have an annual ‘check-in’ with an expert! I have three monthly check-ins with my oncologist and the build up to those makes me go quiet and then there’s the whole ‘phew’ dodged the bullet feeling when the tests come back clear so now I’m down to six monthly check-ins, but in between those I see the research nurses (vampires) because I’m on a clinical trial for five years. What I’m trying to say (and not doing it well) is that my emotions can roller coast between feeling ‘yes, I can do this’ and the desire to hide in a dark room wishing everything and everyone would simply go away.

    Fortunately I’ve a support team who include my GP and breast nurses who have been amazing and I can talk to them at any time and two friends who are therapists who give me the beady eye if I ‘go quiet’. But the thing that’s saved my sanity is writing romance. Who knew writing about luuurrvve could be so freeing and bring joy and delight?

    Christine xx

    • Oh, dear, you really are on an emotional roller coaster, and legitmately so. When I was growing up, people wouldn’t even say the word, it was so scary; cancer was called the big C. I’m glad to hear that you have such a great support team, both medically and emotionally. I know about friends who give you the beady eye; although a few of mine are inclined toward a good shake!

      And yes, writing has saved my sanity more than once as well. Hugs back to you, Christine. You are a delight!

      • Nah!

        No emotional roller coaster for me. I’m absolutely fine. But seem to have my ‘moments’ which I’m assured are ‘normal.’ The strange thing with all this is that it wasn’t until everything was ‘finished’ that I lost it a little bit? But I also understood that my feelings are normal. As a person I accept that shit happens in life and acknowledge that it’s how we deal with it. Can I say that I totally hate the word ‘normal’ btw?

  10. Love your ten tips, Kassandra! Number five is my bugaboo, and it’s related to number seven. Clearly, I’ve got one than one work in progress going on over here.

    • Oh, yeah, facing the things I fear is my toughest one, too. And I really wish I hadn’t procrastinated for so long about getting into the social media. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be (a lot of things we’re afraid of, aren’t) and I’ve discovered this wonderful online group of writers.

      Aren’t we all WIP’s? I know I am. Thanks for stopping in and sharing, Pat.

  11. Karen McFarland

    Not blaming others for our own faults is a biggie Kassandra. Also trusting your gut. And giving and receiving lots of hugs. Yep, I love those. If we can’t apply at least these three things, we would be so stuck in our lives. Can’t imagine.

    What a fun and informative post filled with positive things. Like you said, a mental check-up.

    Thanks Ginger and Kassandra! You two make a great team. And Ginger, you can get off the treadmill now! 🙂

  12. Sorry, I was missing in action a bit this evening. Had to shut my computer down. We had massive thunderstorms here for several hours (Mother Nature, please note, this is Florida, otherwise known as the SUNSHINE State. Just a friendly reminder.)

    Yes, Christine, you did mention that it was a fab post, but I certainly won’t stop you from saying it again. 🙂

    I think I was projecting a bit re: the roller coaster, because that is what I would be feeling, for sure. And I have no clue what ‘normal’ is. I too am not fond of that word. I much prefer the words ‘healthy’ or ‘natural’ as in, “that’s a natural reaction, under the circumstances.” Btw, I hate the word ‘abnormal’ even more. How about ‘dysfunctional’ or ‘maladaptive,’ as in “that behavior/attitude doesn’t work; let’s try a different approach.”

    Karen, #1 is #1 on the list because that’s the one I have a hard time remembering, Goes back to that being a tad hyper-sensitive that August mentioned. And I agree, Ginger and I do make a great team. I hope she let’s me hang out with her again soon. (She’s much better than I am about getting a good night’s sleep; she turned off the treadmill and went home awhile ago.) 😉

    Thanks for dropping in this evening, ladies!

  13. A really excellent post! Thank you Kassandra, and Ginger! I found that I do quite a lot of these, but #7 is a tough one for me, I can be a huge procrastinator. I too hate the housework and will also put it off for weeks! Gads! Good luck with your books! 🙂

  14. Thanks so much, Serena, for your good wishes. I used to be a procrastinator (and still am at times). Now I’m kind of obsessive in the other direction. When I know something is going to be challenging, I just have to Get It Done. And if I can’t, for some reason, start doing it right away, I make lists of what has to be done, so I feel in control. Yes, I am a bit of a control freak. Did I mention that?

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