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Loneliness, an epidemic?

In 1949 Hank Williams composed the song, “I’m so lonesome I could cry.” The single reached # 4 on the Country charts that year, and many great legends followed to record the song as well; Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley just to name a few.

As you read and ponder the lyrics below; what memories and emotions come to mind?

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome I could cry.
I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry
Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves began to die?
Like me, he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry
The silence of a falling star
Lights up the purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review entitled, “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic,” reported, there is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet the rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980’s.”

A recent article in Psychology Today reported, “even though our need to connect is innate, some of us always go home alone. You could have people around you throughout the day or even be in a lifelong marriage and still experience a deep, pervasive loneliness. Unsurprisingly, isolation can have a serious detrimental effect on one’s mental and physical health.”

What is Loneliness?

Loneliness has been described as “social pain; an invisible epidemic that affects 60 million Americans.” It has been linked to depression, anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, sleep problems, tiredness, lack of motivation, cognitive decline, heart disease and even suicide. People who are lonely often share certain characteristics. These include having experienced trauma and loss during their lifetime and having spent their childhood years being cared for by individuals who have harsh, critical and negative parenting skills. In children, a lack of social connections is directly linked to several forms of antisocial and self-destructive behavior.

How is Loneliness Treated?

Doctors are recommending that individuals who experience loneliness be evaluated for possible symptoms of depression and anxiety; as well as receiving treatment from a mental health professional if warranted. Don’t allow loneliness to impair your physical and emotional health or affect your rate of mortality. Our therapists here at Wasatch Family Therapy are available to treat loneliness and improve your quality of life.

Sue Hodges LCSW

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More Than Man’s Best Friend

Some of my fondest memories from growing up are with my childhood dog. To this day, I still remember the times my family dog was there to support me. Being a tall individual, walking down stair cases with short ceilings proved difficult at times. Once or twice, I would hit my head very hard on a large beam down our family stairs. Of course I’d tumble down the stairs in agony as if I had just cracked my skull open. No sooner than I could check for blood (which there never was any) was our family dog Bridger there to provide me emotional support. With an expression of deep concern on his face he would nudge his nose near my face and lay there with me in my pain. This support for my brief pain was a memorable experience from my teenage years.

Flash forward a few years to now where my wife and I have our own dog Baloo. While pet ownership is not always easy, my wife and I can both attest to the emotional benefits that Baloo has brought us in our day-to-day stresses and anxiety. Our dog is always available to snuggle or just provide love when we are home, which has been a large stress reducer for our family. Whether he’s providing a sense of love and affection or making you laugh by silly behaviors, your pet is there provide you some joy.

For adults, pets have been shown to do the following:

  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Less visits to your doctor by 30% for those older than 65.
  • Adults or children interacting with animals often experience higher levels of oxytocin which promotes trust, bonding, and increased love. Which in turn decreases stress.
  • Reduced isolation and the feelings associated with it.
  • Provides feelings of unconditional love and safety.
  • Reduced depressive symptoms
  • Stress reduction
  • Improved health because if that pet is a dog they are going to get you out of the house.
  • 1 month into pet ownership has been found to increase family activities together (2012).

Here is some ammunition for all those children out there begging their parents for pets. Recent research done by Tufts University found that children tend to have better coping skills in correlation to a relationship with a pet (Rajewski, 2016). The study found that pets provided children with more confidence, better peer relationships, and more stability when parents were often out of the home (Rajewski, 2016). Animal ownership was also shown to help with providing all children with emotional support which is non-judgmental (Rajewski, 2016). Animals are able to provide loving and caring support just by being there for a child or adult.

Let me provide a disclaimer here: Pet ownership is a huge commitment and should not be taken lightly. In some circumstances it can lead to increased stress, anxiety, or an additional financial expense. If you are unsure about animal ownership spend some time with the animals at a shelter or volunteer to help with a friends pet. Benefits can still be found with these animals and reduce the need for an immediate commitment.

While our pets can be supportive, they are not always able to help us overcome all adversity. For help with the complex and simple challenges of life, consider visiting a therapist. Just like your pets, therapists will not judge you and can be there to support you through life’s many changes. If you are considering therapy and are worried what it will be like, please come and see me at Wasatch family therapy. I strive to provide everyone who comes with a comfortable, safe and non-judgmental atmosphere so that those I work with can succeed. Please do not hesitate to contact me at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555.  Together, we can learn further tools to help you through your specific changes, and I will be sure to tell you some funny stories about my dog.

Nathan Watkins, AMFT

 

References

Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology, 3. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234

Haley, E. (2017, March 26). The Healing Power of Animals. Retrieved January 18, 2018, from https://whatsyourgrief.com/healing-power-of-animals/

Rajewski, G. (2018, January 18). How Pets Help People. Retrieved January 11, 2016, from http://now.tufts.edu/articles/how-pets-help-people

Robinson, L., & Segal, J. (2017, October). Mood-Boosting Power of Dogs. Retrieved January 18, 2018, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/mood-boosting-power-of-dogs.html

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Have a Conversation

Have you ever had a conversation where you just needed to vent? You just needed to get out all the pent-up frustration, anger, disappointment (whatever emotion that you were feeling at the time out), and the person that you were talking to immediately started telling you how to “fix” the problem? How were you feeling in that moment? Heard? Validated? Or the opposite?

Recently, my 17-year-old came in grumbling and lamenting about the struggles of high school existence. I listened for a bit, commiserated on how terrible small-town living is (sarcasm), and offered really “helpful” suggestions. Cue the eye-roll! Yep, I fell into the “fix-it” pattern; it’s ingrained. We are a society of “fixers.” We want to listen to an issue, come up with a few reasonable alternatives and fix the issue. But what happens if there isn’t a solution? Or, really a problem to be fixed?

The “fix it” trap is a very common style of miscommunication within couples and families. Wait…miscommunication? They’re talking about an issue and the other person is trying to help them with it, how is that miscommunication? The miscommunication happens when the intent of the speaker and the intent of the listener don’t match up. You might be asking yourself, “How am I supposed to know what my spouse/child/friend wants or needs out of a conversation? I’m not a mind reader!” My response is simple, yet really difficult for many of us because it’s something completely different from our typical pattern…ask. You read that right, just ask the person what they want or need from the conversation.

During the exchange with my child, after seeing the eye-roll and hearing the frustrated huffing and puffing, I knew that I had not given them what they needed from me. However, I didn’t want to make an incorrect assumption, again, so I simply apologized and asked, “I’m sorry, how can I help you right now? Is this something you need to talk about or something that you need help figuring out?” Now, I know that people are going to read this and say to themselves, “I try asking my child/spouse/ friend what they need and they just get mad!” Yep! The pattern is ingrained in the other direction as well. Sometimes the speaker may not even realize that they aren’t seeking a solution, but an opportunity to talk. What are you supposed to do then? Listen.

Take the time to really listen to what the person is saying, validating his/ her experience (even if you don’t agree), ask some questions to clarify to make sure that you are truly understanding, and empathize with what’s happening. Giving the person your undivided attention will give you (and the other person) the opportunity the truly ascertain what’s needed from the conversation. Go talk!

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Your Inner-Child Called (She Wants her Creativity Back!)

Your Inner-Child Called, She Wants her Creativity Back: How to Reclaim the Healing Power of Artistic Self-expression

Creativity is universal and can contribute to our sense of well-being. In fact, expressive visual art activities can decrease feelings of sadness, increase positive emotions, and reduce stress. Young children seem to know this, as they quite naturally grab whatever is available to scribble, cut, or sculpt. However, adults are oftenmuch more constrained, sometimes even paralyzed, as they approach creative self-expression. If we polled a kindergarten classroom, I expect the kids would mostly agree: adults are missing out. Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Here are a few suggestions to help adults reclaim the healing power of spontaneous artistic expression:

Create for You (and you alone!)

Around second grade, most of us begin to question our artistic abilities. Likely because at this point in child development, we begin to focus more on winning approval from others. It is this developmental change that likely contributes to the shift of focus from creative process to artistic product. “My picture isn’t as good as hers.” If adults are to rediscover spontaneous creativity, we must throw comparisons out the window, and choose to create art for ourselves – not for the satisfaction or approval of others. 

Get Lost in the Experience

Young children often appear to tune out all surrounding noises and distractions when they are deeply engaged in artwork. Adults can rediscover this sort of absorbed focus if we practice and make time to turn off the television or put our cell phones on silent-mode. If we are fully present in the moment, it’s more likely we can access and express deep emotions during the creative process.

Be Willing to Make a Mess

Sometimes life is confusing, chaotic or ugly, and it’s helpful to have a way to work out or process those uncomfortable feelings. If we adults give ourselves permission to create chaotic or messy artwork, then we can begin to confront and explore the jumble of emotions hidden beneath the clutter of our lives.

When we make something new, we tend to feel more alive. So, what’s stopping you: “Go, get your creativity on!”

 

Melissa Blumell, ACMHC

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Shark Music

canstockphoto18747442Karen turned off the automatic notifications of missing assignments from her daughter’s school.  Each time her phone would ping, she experienced a tightening in her chest, and a pit in her stomach, that gradually intensified, until finally each new ping brought panic and rage.

Karen’s daughter, Chelsea, had never been great at turning in homework, but the last couple of years things had gotten worse.  Chelsea was a bright child, but had struggled with some executive skills, and regularly forgot assignments, or just didn’t want to do them.  Her grades showed straight A’s in classes she enjoyed and F’s in classes she didn’t, with very little in between.

Karen wanted to see her daughter succeed, but worried that her apparent lack of motivation spelled doom for her future.  Karen enacted more and more control over her daughter, limited activities and free time in hopes of “inspiring” Chelsea to “be more responsible”.

Instead of helping, it seemed to make the problem worse.

Karen’s attempt at control stemmed mainly from the shark music.  We all recognize those two little notes.  Duuh duh…duuh duh… duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh, then bam, the shark appears.  With those two little notes, our breathing speeds up, our chests feel tight, and fearful anticipation makes it difficult to think about anything other than the impending danger.

Dan Siegel describes shark music as the “background noise caused by past experiences and future fear”.

Karen’s shark music started to play anytime her phone pinged with a new “missing assignment” notice because a new missing assignment made her fears for her daughter’s future replay in her head.  This fear made it difficult for Karen to address what was really going on with that specific assignment, because every assignment blended together as one big problem.

Learning to recognize when our own shark music has started playing is the first step toward a more intentional, less reactive response to our children.  Without the shark music, Karen could calmly talk to her daughter about specific assignments, and they could come up with plans to address the problems behind each situation, giving Chelsea the opportunity to learn important life skills.

For her missing math assignment, perhaps Karen would learn that Chelsea sat by her best friend in math, and often missed writing the assignment down because she was busy talking.  Brainstorming with Chelsea would teach her how to solve problems rather than put her in a reactive position to her mom’s “meanness”.  For a missing English assignment, maybe Karen would learn that Chelsea hadn’t understood what the teacher was asking for, and a solution could be to talk to the teacher after school for clarification.

We all have our shark music, whether it has to do with our child’s education, the time they spend with friends, or what their eye roll *really* meant, allowing ourselves to get pulled into the shark music causes us to miss out on what is really going on with our kids.  After we recognize what triggers our shark music, we can acknowledge our fear, and then refocus on what lesson we really want our child to learn.

Learning to recognize what triggers our shark music can be a challenge.  It involves examining our impulses and past experience.  Sometimes the most effective way to do this is with the guidance of a professional.  If you feel stuck in your own shark music and are ready to learn a new way of interacting with your child, call 801-944-4555 to schedule an appointment today.

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Sexual Shame

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Dr. Tina Sellers, author of Sex, God, and the Conservative Church, defines sexual shame as “a visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust toward one’s own body and identity as a sexual being, and a belief of being abnormal, inferior, and unworthy.”

Most of us grew up in a culture where parents didn’t often talk openly with their kids about bodies and sex, and a good number of us still don’t really know what to say to our own kids about the topic. In schools, many sex-education courses focuses on abstinence and skirt around topics deemed more appropriate for home discussions. Combined with our distorted, sex-saturated media, it’s no wonder so many individuals grow up with feelings of shame or inadequacy surrounding their bodies and their sexuality.

These feelings interfere with the development of our most important relationships, but they don’t have to.

Dr. Sellers suggests four steps for overcoming sexual shame:

The first step is to Frame. Framing means gaining accurate information on sexuality. Some of my favorite books on bodies, sex, and intimacy are:

For kids: “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg

For girls: “The Care and Keeping of You” by Valorie Schaefer

For boys: “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy” by Andrew Smiler

For parents of teens: “For Goodness Sex” by Al Vernacchio

On female sexuality: “Come as You Are” by Emily Nagoski

On male sexuality: “The New Male Sexuality, Revised Edition” by Bernie Zilbergeld

For LDS couples: “What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You About Sex” by Anthony Hughs

There are many more great resources out there. Having accurate and open information about your body and what “normal” looks like can help dispel the sexual myths you may have picked up growing up or through media. Education can calm anxiety and help lay out a plan for gaining the approach to sexuality that you’d like to have in your life.

Dr. Sellers’ second step is to Name.  This means finding a group you feel safe in, where you can tell your story and feel heard.  This could be a therapy group, it could be a book group (using any of the above suggestions!), it could be an online support group.  The important thing is to find a place where people can really hear and understand you so that you can name, or verbalize your own story.

The third step is Claim: Where sex is used so commonly to sell products (either by sexualizing our lunch or pointing out our flaws in order to get us to buy the product that will “fix” everything), media and marketing can throw a real punch to our sense of self worth. We need to claim our right to be okay just the way we are. If this is an area you struggle with, reading books and sharing your story can help, but sometimes you might find you need extra help learning to heal internalized shame. Find a therapist to talk to. Practice challenging negative self-talk.  Claim the amazing things that make you who you are.

The last step is Aim. Aim means to write a new story for yourself. We all have stories or narratives that we tell ourselves, and if the old one hasn’t been helpful, begin writing a new story. Learning to look at your past in new ways can help open up potential for growth and new discoveries in your future. Let the keyword for your new narrative be “hope.”

If you have struggled with shame in connection with your body or sexuality and it’s holding you back from creating the connection and pleasure you hope for in your relationships, call and schedule an appointment today at 801-944-4555.

 

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Books to Help Kids Cope with Divorce

Most divorcing parents are greatly concerned about how their child will take the big change. Many expect sadness and worry but do not always feel equipped to help the child cope. Understandably, it is hard for moms and dads to offer ample emotional support to their child if they feel overburdened themselves. Parents are typically overwhelmed with grief, anger, financial concerns, residence changes, custody arrangements, and co-parenting issues, to name a few. Yet children cannot put their needs on hold until parents have fully adjusted. So in the meantime, something simple, like sharing a carefully selected book together, may offer some connection and understanding the child needs for that day. The following children’s books have been valuable in my work with child-clients, so I share them hoping they can help others too:

“The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst (Ages 3+)

The Invisible StringChildren whose parents divorce typically experience repeated separations from one or both parents. This versatile book reassures children they can still feel connected even during times apart.

“People who love each other are always connected by a very special string, made of love. Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart, and know that you are always connected to the ones you love” (The Invisible String by Patrice Karst). 

:Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss” by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen (Ages 8+)

Tear SoupWhen a couple divorces, all family members usually experience grief to some degree. This book tells the story of a woman who makes “tear soup” after she suffers a great loss. She shares some essential ingredients of the healing recipe: feel the pain of loss, accept that it takes time, and recognize that grief is different for everyone.

 

 

If your child experiences distress due to parental divorce, call to schedule an appointment with Melissa at Wasatch Family Therapy – 801.944.4555.

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10 Things To/Not To Say To A Single Person

10 Things (WFT)
While in grad school, I had the opportunity to study the experience young adults are having being single in today’s world. I had particular interest in the topic given that I myself am single and work with single people regularly in my therapy practice. After a year of study and research, I was asked to share what I learned at a regional mental health conference.

Early on in my presentation, a man in the audience (probably mid 50’s) raised his hand and asked, ”so why aren’t you married?” Thinking it was a joke, I chuckled and quipped back with something to the effect of, “That’s a great question, and I’d love to know the answer when you figure it out!” Everyone in the room laughed except for this gentleman. After clearly not answering his question, he fired back more intently: “No really, what’s wrong with all of these single people today? What’s keeping you guys from getting married?” By the looks on the faces of the audience members (a mix of single and married individuals), it was safe to say that the majority of us were taken aback by the question. Realizing that he wasn’t trying to be funny, I did my best to address his question as professionally as possible without becoming emotionally reactive. However, inside I was thinking, “how dare he ask me to defend/expose one of my greatest insecurities in front of this audience?” Another part was able to look past the abrasiveness of the delivery and focus on the underlying issue at hand. Which is, because relationships (or the lack thereof) are so personal, sometimes it’s hard for us to know how to talk about them.

Ironically, the core message of my presentation focused on understanding the experience, pressures, and judgement young single adults face in today’s society. I genuinely believe that my new friend had no malicious intent. Rather, he used poor tact when asking an honest question.

So, in hopes that we can promote more safety/support and less judgement in our conversations, here are 10 suggestions of “things no to” and “things to” say to your single friends:

10 Things NOT To Say To A Single Person
1. You are such a catch! I’m surprised you aren’t married yet.
2. What about ______? They’re single too!
3. I wish I was single again. Life was so much easier.
4. Maybe you’re just being too picky.
5. Don’t worry, there are always more fish in the sea.
6. Maybe you’re just not putting yourself out there enough.
7. You need to hurry and get married or you won’t be able to have kids.
8. Look aren’t everything-they will change after you’re married.
9. Your time will come. I just know it.
10. You’re probably having too much fun being single, huh?

 

10 Things TO Say To A Single Person
 
1. You are such a catch.
2. Let me know if you like being set up. I know some really good people.
3. Do you want to talk about dating? Or would you rather not?
4. I think you’re great. You deserve to find someone you think is great too.
5. You really seemed to like _______. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out.
6. I’ve noticed that you’ve been doing _________. How is that going?
8. I would really love for you to find someone you’re compatible with.
9. What do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to?
10. I’m headed to ________. Would you like to join me?
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Let’s Put the Phone Away and Talk!

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It seems that teens are tethered to their phones and they are reliant on them to help them navigate the world. As parents, we look back and wonder how in the world the kids of today would have survived without the buffer of social media. Would they be able to function if they had to speak face-to-face and have regular interpersonal communications without the crutch of a phone, ipad, or computer? Modern teens have grown up in a world where the technological advances of phones and other devices is constantly evolving. Phones and computers are made more intuitive to anticipate the user’s next move, and there seems to be an app for everything. The world is at our fingertips, 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days per year. However, with all of these advances in communication, parents and teens still complain that they don’t communicate or understand one another. Why?

Parents say that kids today just don’t know how to carry on conversations or talk to one another without a phone in their hand, and even then, they don’t talk. Look around next time you are somewhere that has a mix of both teens and adults and observe what you see. Is it just the teens on their phones, or are the parents on theirs too? Guess what parents? We are part of the problem! We are using our electronic devices to avoid in-person communication, too. It’s a lot easier to sit and scroll through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or watch a funny video or a Snap than it is to carry on a conversation with an acquaintance.We have become device dependent., and our kids are learning by watching us.

“But, I need to just check this email from work really quick!”

“But, I need to send off this text really quick before I forget.”

“But, I’m using social media to communicate with my kids.”

Obviously, these are all good reasons to use our devices. Life in our world relies on technology, but what is it costing us in our relationships? How can we strengthen relationships and communication with teens in the environment of social media?

Turn It Off

Actively unplug, take the devices off the table, literally, if even for just a few minutes. Eat a meal together, take a walk, hike your favorite trail, anything that enables conversations to happen organically. Giving your child your undivided attention lets them know that they are a priority to you.

Create Opportunities For Connection

Make space for a conversation to happen. Teens are faced with a lot of internal and external pressures, so they need a safe space, emotionally and physically, to vent their stress and frustrations. Teens are learning to self-regulate their feelings and parental support can bolster their efforts by validating what they are feeling.

Listen To Your Children

Don’t just hear them, but really listen to them. Sounds easy right? We are surrounded by sounds, but how often do we really listen? Listening takes practice; it is a skill. We often want to “fix” the problem, but often times advice isn’t the answer. They aren’t asking for the solution, they are asking for us to listen to their struggles. They are asking us to see them as capable of finding their own solutions and supporting them in trying.

So, let’s all put our phones away for a while and talk!

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What Every Parent Should Know About “Happily Ever After”

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On any given day, kids and teens may feel joy, wonder, disappointment, rage, jealousy, and endless other emotions. Yet, many kids will inevitably learn from parents or peers that “happy” is the only emotion acceptable to express or even experience. “Happiness” in our culture tends to reign supreme as the highest aspiration – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is what we are taught to aim for – what we all deserve.

I commonly hear parents say to their kids:

  1. I just want you to be happy.
  1. “How can you be so down? Just look at all you have to be happy about.”
  1. Just focus on the positive. You’re dragging everyone down.”

Though these parents have good intentions, their statements might imply that if kids are not contented, they are somehow failing, or that happiness is the only feeling others are comfortable with. Children may respond to these messages by feigning a cheerful disposition and generally suppressing negative feelings to please parents. Unfortunately, suppressing feelings can compromise a child’s psychological well-being and fuel unhealthy behaviors.

Pain is a critical part of the human experience and in most cases, it is healthiest to confront it head on. Encourage children to acknowledge and accept emotions, such as anger or hurt, by using mindfulness meditation strategies. If your child seems overwhelmed by her emotions, encourage her to find a way to express them: talk to someone she trusts, write in a journal, create a work of art, or see a mental health therapist. Let us teach children that no one’s life is solely full of sunshine and that to live fully, we must stand in the occasional rainstorm.

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