5 Ways to Manage Your Stress During the Holidays

1. Delegate tasks and responsibilities. Even if you are the holiday hostess, you shouldn’t be burdened with all the preparations. Create a list of responsibilities and then assign them to other family members. These tasks can include gift wrapping, envelope licking, decorating, cooking and cleaning, or picking up your aunt from the airport. Make sure to let your relatives know their “assigned” task ahead of time with a warm phone call and convey the idea that you want to everyone to enjoy themselves and contribute.

2. Do as much shopping online as possible. This not only saves you time but it allows you to shop at night in your pajamas with a warm cup of tea. You save the energy that it takes to deal with mobs of shoppers at the stores, and you don’t have to drag the bags through the mall. Nowadays, most e-commerce sites offer great deals and even free shipping.

3. Set time limits. On your to-do list or on your daily calendar, mark the time you will dedicate to each activity. This way, you’re not rushing in and out of every store when you have a free minute. Accommodate your shopping trips to your work schedule, or when the kids are in school, or, as previously suggested, shop online.

4. Outsource the bigger tasks. Sure, we all know Latino families appreciate a home cooked meal, but the truth is we can’t be Wonder Woman all the time. If the notion of cooking is adding to your stress levels, seek professional help. Don’t feel embarrassed by ordering a pre-made cake, turkey, chicken or ham at from your favorite restaurant, bakery or grocery store. The same rule applies for cleaning your house: Consider it a Christmas gift to yourself and hire someone to do it.

5. Avoid shopping for yourself while shopping for others. This is a tough one. Every time I’m out shopping, I end up choosing more items for me than for my family and friends. But I’ve forced myself to leave those goodies behind; and so far, I’ve only bought a pair of sneakers that I really needed for Zumba. What I’ve learned is that if you don’t heed to this rule, you’ll be facing a much larger bill come January. If you really need something, why not wait until after the holidays and take advantage of the even deeper discounts?

The holidays are a beautiful time of year to spend time with our loved ones. It makes no sense to allow stress to ruin the occasion. With just a little bit of time management, you may actually get to chill during the holiday rush.

This article was originally published on Mamiverse.

How to Solve Conflicts Easily

What is true for Marta is not true for Lisa, and that is usually the case when the focus of our conversation is on who is right and who is wrong. What really matters is this: Is this type of communication producing a positive result for either one of these two women? If the answer is “no” then it behooves them to find a different approach, regardless of who is “right.”

This situation can be easily resolved if Marta and Lisa sit down and discuss what constitutes “frequently,” “constantly,” and “once in a while” for each one of them. Say that Marta considers being interrupted three times a day as “frequent” and anything over three times a day “constant,” and Lisa thought that only five interruptions a day would be considered “frequent” and anything over that as “constant.” Do you see how their differing standards (of which most of the times we are not aware) get in the way of producing positive results?

Once they sit down and clarify what each one of them means by these words, they can agree on new actions that help both of them achieve their goals: Lisa gets her answers, and Marta feels that she’s maintaining her relationship with a valued employee. They can now agree on a new course of action: Lisa will accumulate questions and come into her boss’ office twice a day to get her answers and Marta will stop work at specific times during the day to focus her attention on her assistant.

Think about how many of these situations you experience in your life daily and ask yourself if there are certain “behind the scenes” standards about which you and the other person need to talk. What is “late” for you and what is “late” for your boss? What is “a clean room” for you and what is “a clean room” for your teenage child? What is “too much” work, talk, food, travel, for you and for your partner?

The moment we start exploring these standards for ourselves and the people we interact with, a new realm of possibilities open up. I encourage you to use this approach with at least one person and see what happens.

This article was originally published in Mamiverse.

Holiday Tipping: Who To Tip and How Much Cash?

Here is a list of some of the people you should consider tipping with recommended amount. Keep in mind these are just guidelines that can be adapted to fit your circumstances. If you simply don’t have the budget, consider at least writing a nice holiday card thanking the person for his/her service. And remember that a little bit of appreciation (and chocolate!) goes a long way.

Building Superintendent: If you live in an apartment complex, or lease an office, your super has likely done some work in your space. So plan to tip $50 to $100 depending on the amount of work he’s done over the year. If he has an assistant, then give him/her $20 to $50, depending on the workload and responsibility.

Cleaning Person or Service: The holiday tip should usually be the equivalent of one visit. If you have a team that comes to your house or office, you can split the tip among the members and add a box of chocolates for the group.

Childcare Provider or Babysitter: If you use a babysitter frequently during the year, you should consider a day’s pay or one to two nights pay, if that’s when you use her. For someone who provides daytime childcare, like an au pair or nanny, a week’s pay and a small gift from your child is appropriate.

School Teacher: It’s customary to give school teachers a small gift along with a note from your child. These gifts are usually not expensive, and can even be a gift card, which is a token of appreciation for their hard work with your child during the year.

Tutor: The amount of one tutoring session with your child and a thank you card for helping your kid improve in school would be appropriate.

Nursing Home Worker or Home Care Worker: If a loved one is in a nursing home or relies on an in-home care provider, thanking the people who take care of him/her is important. Check the facility’s policy as some ban cash gifts. If that’s the case, some home-baked cookies or a small gift with a note would work. Otherwise, $50 would be a nice tip.

Pet Caretaker: For dog walkers, cat sitters and the like, anywhere between $15 and the daily rate is sufficient.

Mail Carrier & Package Delivery Service: We all have different shipping needs and habits. As such, you may know your mail carrier by name. Or the Man in Brown knows where to leave your package if you’re not home. Although the US Postal Service forbids mail carriers from accepting cash or any gift over $20, I’ve been giving cash to my mailman for years. I usually give $10 to $15 and a chocolate bar, which fits nicely into my mailbox. Depending on the volume of shipping that you or your small business does with any carrier, be it USPS, Fedex or UPS, you should consider a tip of $25 to $50.

Garbage Collector: Depending on where you live and how well you know your collectors, you can give each worker $10 to $20 in an envelope on the day they make your route during the holidays. It’s a good idea to check with your city’s policy, as rules vary and some municipalities forbid workers from accepting cash.

Salon/Spa Technicians: Anyone who makes you gorgeous on a regular basis—aesthetician, massage therapist, hair stylist, colorist, nail technician or eyebrow guru, etc.—is eligible for a holiday tip, which is generally equivalent to the cost of a regular visit. If you don’t have a close relationship with them, it’s also acceptable to give a $20 tip or bring some candy during your December visit.

Personal Trainer Whether you workout with a personal trainer, a boot camp: instructor or a yogi, the person who consistently kicks your booty to stay in shape deserves some personal booty. Again, depending on your personal relationship, anywhere from $50 up to the cost of a session is appropriate.

This article was originally published in Mamiverse.

Tips for Surviving an Overbearing Supervisor

An overbearing manager is one who seems overly confident in their position of power. They often love to micromanage and are not that generous with their praise. This kind of boss seems to take joy in barking out both commands and criticism. The problem is that the very nature of this position makes it difficult to confront the person in it, so how can you make your day-to-day dealings a little more tolerable?

Don’t Take It Personally: This can be hard for many people, particularly those who tend to be extremely sociable and for whom being liked is very important. Keep in mind that the expression, “don’t take it personally” doesn’t mean that your feelings are invalid or that you don’t have the right to feel angry at being mistreated. It only means that you would be better off taking a step back and realizing this type of boss behaves like this with a lot of people. If all of your supervisor’s criticisms had merit, you would likely be out of a job by now. And given that in order to grow professionally you must learn how to deal with conflict, this could be a great opportunity to hone this skill.

Seek Out Other Sources for Feedback: If you can’t trust your supervisor to give you legitimate feedback on your job performance, you need to look elsewhere. Ask coworkers or other managers in the workplace what they thought of your last project or how they think you measure up in terms of productivity. Approach people whom you trust to be honest and forthcoming.

Talk to Your Supervisor: Although this isn’t always easy, talking to the overbearing boss could give you some insight into why they act the way they do. Try to learn more about your supervisor so that you understand some of the factors that may be behind the management style. For example, one of my colleagues discovered that her boss had an abusive father and that she needed to feel in control to feel safe. The more my colleague invested in developing the relationship with her boss, the better things got for her.

Go to Your Supervisor’s Superior: If everything else fails, you may need to talk to your boss’s own supervisor. A CEO recently told me that he often receives requests to mentor women who are having trouble with their bosses. He said he coaches them on how to deal with the boss and helps them avoid getting into trouble for having gone over their boss’ head. That’s exactly what you need to accomplish if you decide to go this route. Be diplomatic. Simply explain that you feel your relationship with the supervisor is stunting your growth within your company or organization. Asking for guidance rather than asking for them to “fix the situation” will make you look more like the problem-solver in this situation than the victim.

If none of these options gets you a positive result, it may be time to start looking for an opportunity in a different department or worst case scenario, a different place to work. If you do stay and have to make a lateral move, if it opens doors for future growth, it may be the way to go.

Regardless of what happens, continue to do your best work, as in the end, your work will speak for itself regardless of your boss’ opinion.

This article first appeared in Mamiverse.

The Power of a Bilingual Brain

My friend and personal editor, Susan Landon (by now, my not-so-secret weapon), has had the biggest belly laughs and hair pulling episodes while editing my blogs, columns, books and anything else I throw her way. And, as I believe in the literary adage “show, don’t tell,” here is one of our latest exchanges to help you fully appreciate my grammatical handicap.

I sent Susan a new Op-Ed, which I had originally entitled: “Black Woman on the Golf Course.” (Admittedly, I had previously checked via phone with her that it was “on the golf course.”) My subject line, however, read: “Black woman in the golf course.”

Susan – It’s ON the golf course!!!!

Me – Sorry, wrong subject line but the title is correct. Did you notice I used your favorite word “eschew”?

Susan – Yes, I noticed “eschew” and I wondered where on (not IN) earth that came from!! You are really stretching your wings. 🙂

Me – You are such a great influence in me!

Susan – It’s: influence ON me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I can’t catch a break.

In my defense, (and the defense of many second language learners!) there’s little rhyme or reason for the grammatical rules of these two little devils. You wait in line at the store but you’re online on the Internet. Someone is on your side but in your mind. They are on your team but in your heart. Something is on TV, on the radio and on a website, but it’s in a book. It’s on a continent but in a country; in Manhattan but on Long Island. Come on! (Or should I go with “Come in, take a seat. Experience life as a second language learner!”)

Over the years, I have repeatedly studied the many rules that regulate prepositions trying to discover the patterns that elude me to no avail. So, I decided to settle for the second best thing besides speaking prepositionally-perfect English: Knowing that being a frequent user of both Spanish and English delays the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, makes me better at multitasking, and allows me to be keenly aware of what’s important and what’s not at every moment.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Ellen Bialystok, a cognitive neuroscientist who has spent 40 years learning about how bilingualism sharpens the mind, says that, according to her research, 5 and 6 year-olds who are bilingual “manifest a cognitive system with the ability to attend to important information and ignore the less important.” How does that work? Dr. Bialystok explains:

“There’s a system in your brain, the executive control system. It’s a general manager. Its job is to keep you focused on what’s relevant, while ignoring distractions. It’s what makes it possible for you to hold two different things in your mind at one time and switch between them. If you have two languages and you use them regularly, the way the brain’s networks work is that every time you speak, both languages pop up and the executive control system has to sort through everything and attend to what’s relevant in the moment. Therefore the bilinguals use that system more, and it’s that regular use that makes that system more efficient.”

After reading this interview a few months ago, I felt a little bit better about my failures and began to plot a strategy. I was thinking of just mumbling something that sounds in-between on/in something like… “en” (which is the preposition we use in Spanish for both “in and on”) so nobody can tell which preposition I’m using. I was getting ready to start using my new solution when Susan called me out on doing something similar with two other pairs of words.

Susan – “Do you know the difference between ‘run’ and ‘ran’ and between ‘hang out’ and ‘hung out’? Because you always seem to mumble them and I always wonder which one you meant. I’m starting to think that you just don’t know which one is which.”

Me – “I just go with the same pronunciation for both because I can’t hear the difference between the present and the past tense and I can’t be bothered.”

Susan – “Well, that’s like me saying ‘ella fui a su casa’ instead of ‘ella fue a su casa’ and telling you I can’t be bothered,” she said using as an example the wrong conjugation of the verb “to go” in Spanish. Now that got my attention.

So, I’ve decided to practice my pronunciation of present and past tense for these two verbs because I believe the tense of the verb is often critical to understanding the meaning of what you’re saying.

But when it comes to on/in, I’ll let that slide in support of Dr. Bialystok’s research. It’s now obvious to me that my bilingual brain doesn’t identify those two as relevant information.

This article was first published in the Huffington Post.