In my last post, Flexible Thinking Part 1, I reviewed what flexible thinking is and its benefits. Over the last few months, we have all been “thrown in the deep end” of flexible thinking as the COVID-19 pandemic has required us to make adjustments. Flexible thinking, or the ability to adapt mentally, emotionally and behaviorally to a variety of situations, helped us transition to distance learning, working, shopping, and socializing.
In this post, I briefly highlight how flexible thinking can improve and help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety:
Depression tells us things will never change and reduces hope for the future. Flexible thinking applied to depression recognizes the opportunity each day and, in each situation, to do something different and breaks down negative feedback loops.
Anxiety feeds on possible, but unlikely, scenarios playing out in our lives and the lives of those we care about. Flexible thinking reminds anxious minds they have the resources around and within them to solve current and future problems and to create solutions to those problems. In short, flexible thinking focuses on “possibilities rather than deficiencies.”
What can we do to increase and improve our mental flexibility?
Engaging in mindfulness activities, (think deep breathing, meditation and guided imagery) yoga, aerobics and relaxation techniques have all been shown to increase executive functions and mental flexibility. Research has also shown we can also enable flexible thinking through positive affect (positive emotions such as cheerfulness, pride and energy and their expression), openness to experience and self-control.
As we consistently engage in flexible thinking, we can have more control over our thoughts and responses, reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, frustration and stress, meet our goals and successfully navigate the changing circumstances in our everyday lives and interpersonal relationships.
Emerald Robertson, M.S.Ed., ACMHC, NCC
Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 865-878.
Over the last month, you may have had that exact thought cross your mind a time or two (okay maybe a million depending on how well your kids are adjusting to on-line school). Seriously though, during this global pandemic and all the changes to our daily schedules and lives there seems to have been an overwhelming sense of discombobulation and unease with each new declaration. At least that’s my perception from my personal experiences with friends, family, neighbors, clients, and written accounts that I’ve read. It seems to leave a lot of us feeling like we’re living in an alternate universe….(cue the music), “You have entered the Twilight Zone!”.
How do we build some continuity into our “new normal”? By being creative and flexible with our expectations and focusing on our priorities we can reduce some of the anxiety of the unknown. Now, you’re probably wondering what exactly I mean by that and are wondering if I’m going to tell you to create a “schedule” that is color coded with daily achievement goals that is Pinterest or Instagram worthy? Nope!!!! I am going to suggest a couple of things that I have seen have huge impact, both personally and professionally, when trying to create a new normal.
First, set a consistent wake up time. If you are a natural early riser and like to be up with the sun and that helps you feel grounded and ready to start your day; set an early morning time. If you are more of a “I like to laze in bed a bit and then start my day”, type of person then set a little later time. Having a set time to get up every morning creates a natural sense of normalcy for our bodies.
Next, find a purpose in every day no matter how small. It can be from walking the dog to creating a presentation for your work Zoom meeting tomorrow. Just find one thing that will give you a purpose for that day.
Get outside the four walls of your house!!! Even the most introverted are struggling with feeling confined during the stay at home directives and orders. We don’t realize that over the course of a typical day many of us are in and out of our homes, offices, cars, stores, and schools many times. The loss of this freedom of movement can have a strong impact on our mental, and physical, well- being. Combat this by getting outside 2-3 times a day for at least 10 minutes each time. It doesn’t need to be for exercise purposes, although that certainly has added benefits, but just the change of scenery.
Make a connection with friends, family, coworkers, or neighbors every day. No, I am not saying throw the social distancing guidelines out the window and be reckless with your health. I am saying it is important to feel connected to those around us, especially in a time of stress. Isolation and loneliness are not our friends. We are social beings that have a need for connection. Think about it, how does the penal system punish inmates? They put them in isolation…solitary confinement. Break out of your solitary confinement and talk to your neighbor from your porch. Call your sister on FaceTime. Set up a virtual girls’ night. Stay connected!
Lastly, find a way to connect meaningfully with your source of power, whether that be through meditation, prayer, therapy, gratitude affirmations… whatever makes you feel grounded, empowered, and centered. Take the time everyday to find your inner peace and quiet the fears or worries in your mind. And, if you need help and are struggling then there are therapists and resources available on-line that can help you.
Desire discrepancy in couples is one of the most common sources of distress within sexual relationships. Couples may find themselves in situations where one parter is the high desire partner (HDP) and the other is the low desire partner (LDP). These labels can lead one or both partners to feel broken and blamed for problems in the relationship. Other couples may find resentment builds when their partner either “doesn’t want them sexually” or “only wants them for sexual release”.
If you and your partner are stuck in this sort of dynamic, first, know that neither one of you is broken. All levels of desire are normal, and very few relationships involve couples with consistently balanced interest in sex.
Second, if you can step away from looking at your partner’s level of sexual desire as the problem, it will be much easier to work together to bridge the gap.
Bridging The Gap:
If you find yourself wanting sex more often than your partner, ask yourself, “what am I horny for”. Dr. Neil Cannon lists the following as motives for seeking sex:
When you identify what your motive for sex is, you can examine whether some of those desires could be met in other ways. This begins to reduce pressure on your partner, narrowing the gap between your experienced desire.
Another tool you can use to help bridge gaps in desire is to identify, as Emily Nagoski calls them, your sexual brakes and accelerators. What turns you on? What turns you off? How can you as an individual and as a couple work to minimize brakes and maximize accelerators?
One huge brake many individuals experience is not enjoying the sex they are having. This is usually a result of poor communication or shame surrounding sexuality. Using the brakes and accelerators framework can be a great way to improve communication about sexual preferences. Make sure you speak up so your partner knows what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy. Make sure to listen so you really hear what your partner is sharing with you. Think of this as an opportunity to learn about your partner, increasing mutual pleasure and satisfaction in your relationship.
Lastly, try scheduling sex in your calendar. On the appointed day, work on managing your own brakes/accelerators to help you get in the mood. Recognize when there are things you can do to help your partner look forward to the experience with positive anticipation. Text and flirt throughout the day. Make sure that when it comes down to it, saying “not tonight”, is still an option, this reduces pressure. If you are the partner who wants to say no, consider saying yes to something else instead. For example, “I’m really not feeling up to penetrative sex tonight, but I’d love to cuddle, skin to skin”, or, “I’m not feeling up for penis-in-vagina sex at the moment, but I’d really love to just make out with you”. Then leave the door open for whatever may (or may not) follow, pressure free. Regardless of the outcome, you will feel more connected and you will have improved your ability to communicate about your wants and desires.
If you’d like to learn more about bridging a desire gap in your relationship, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.
Have you ever wondered as you watch your husband check out
yet another Super Bowl what he is truly thinking? Whether you’re even on his
sports radar? Whether you even matter to him?
Okay maybe that’s a bit harsh. Perhaps its whether you enter his male
brain on a regular basis. As a therapist who has worked with men for 20 years,
I can state unequivocally that he is aware of you. How aware you ask? Quite aware so much so that this blog post
may be very surprising (and trust building!) to you.
#1)He Absolutely Loves It When You Notice Him
Really see him. How handsome he is. How he looks. How much he truly means to you. How sexy he is in those jeans that fit ‘just right.’ Although he won’t mention this to you, he totally loves it when you notice him. Men absolutely want to believe that they’re super handsome to their wives. Desired completely by you, his wife. Desirable as your wonderful husband. You can help him believe this by truly noticing him often.
#2) It’s Really NOT All About Sex
Although you may get totally different signals from him,
he’s absolutely not thinking about sex 24/7. Just as you’re not emotionally focused
constantly (gender stereotype!), men simply aren’t focused sexually every
moment of their day. In fact, men actually desire affection almost as much as
women do. Men in Utah love to be hugged. Kissed. Touched. And!
Men want to cuddle with “no strings attached” in bed. Truly! He isn’t planning
on the holding you close leading to sex every time either. Take a risk and ask
him if this isn’t correct. But, be ready to be surprised by his answer!
#3) He’s Like A Teenage Female Emotionally Inside!
Men are awash with emotions inside that they will never
admit to. He’s actually quite similar to a 16 year old girl. I’m not kidding.
Truthfully, he’s often an absolute mess of emotions inside that rugged male
exterior. Since men are raised to not share emotions/feelings, never admitting to
this makes complete sense to him. To be vulnerable or to risk sharing appears
“weak” to a man. Not masculine at all! Please know that when it seems like nothing
is bothering him, that something very likely is bothering him. You’ll likely find this to be quite exasperating,
but know it’s the truth. What can you do? Please check out the next secret for details.
#4) He Desperately Wants To Talk To You
He definitely wants to talk to you. Connectively. Openly.
Frequently. All hours of the day. But! He is totally baffled on how to make this
connection. Since you’ve likely demanded that he talk to you openly in the
past, throw that idea out with the trash. It just won’t work. You need to make
talking openly safe for him. It’s safe when you’re not demanding or seemingly
dramatic. It’s safe when you talk on his terms. His terms may be after the Utah
Jazz basketball game. His terms could be after a great date night at his
favorite restaurant. Friday night NOT Saturday morning. Oh and please do some
relationship research here. Actually risk and ask him about this!
#5) He Really Does Desire Compliments From You
Compliments are really different from noticing him as noted
above in #1. Compliments include telling
him how awesome he is for doing the dishes (another cool way is just saying “nice”
things to him). That he actually remembered to take the trash out today. For
working so hard for his family to bring home the paycheck each week. And, absolutely
don’t get stuck on the “why doesn’t he compliment me more often” mantra. Please
know that his brain is wired to relish being appreciated by you. It’s not wimpy.
It’s not being weak. It’s not even unmanly. It’s truly a marriage connection secret
that can pay you huge dividends in your relationship. Do you want a better,
more focused husband? Compliment him! Compliments = LOVE to most men.
#6) He Knows You’re Not Nagging Him
You definitely know what I’m saying here ladies. When you’ve
asked him 50 times to clean up after himself. Put away his workout shoes. Lift
the darn seat. Clean up the crumbs left on the kitchen table after an impromptu
snack. He then goes to the “stop nagging me” mantra because he totally knows
you’re right. He absolutely knows that
you’re right. He just doesn’t have the word vocabulary to battle back with your
superior brain. So very true!!!
#7) He Totally Thinks About You!
Often. Throughout his day. In the morning as he drives to his
work office. During his work day and almost always at lunch. Even on his
pilgrimage home after a trying work day. Please know that husbands often get so
busy that they just can’t call or text you. Or even get away to have lunch with
you. Even though he would definitely love to be able to do so. But! Know that
you’re frequently on his mind. Sometimes its about his kids. Or about this Saturday’s
date with you his amazing wife. Just understand that he’s working for you.
Thinking of you. Absolutely desiring to be with you.
One More Iconic thought on Seven Connection Secrets
If one of these 7 trust
building secrets has hit home with you, why not act on it right away? If you’ve
held back on complimenting him in the past, switch it up and compliment him today.
If you have believed that he doesn’t want to chat with you, pick the right
moment this Sunday and simply chat him up. Seriously! Just do it. Be willing to
reach out to him and be vulnerable. Truly risk. You’re marriage is definitely worth
it. And so are you!!!
Michael Boman, LCSW
is a therapist for Wasatch Family Therapy in Salt Lake City. He specializes in assisting
couples improve their marriage connection and affection. He is accepting new
clients on a limited basis. He can be reached by emailing Info@wasatchfamilytherapy.com
In Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout, they talk about how understanding the difference between a stressor and a stress response is crucial in helping us respond to both in healthy ways. A stressor is anything in our lives which causes strain or tension. A stress response refers to the physical changes in our bodies which occur in response to the stressor.
A deadline at work, an argument with our partner, a child who is struggling at school, or a to-do list that is longer than we have time for are all common examples of stressors. Your response and your neighbor’s response to any of these stressors may look very different. Sometimes resolving the stressor is fairly simple. We can work overtime to meet the deadline. We can resolve arguments with our partner. We can seek additional support for a child who is struggling in school. We can complete the to do list eventually. Some of these stressors will take longer than others to resolve, but whether by completion or the passage of time, the stressor will fade. What is left behind is the accumulation of the stress response.
Often we feel that the resolution of the stressor is sufficient, but Nagoski and Nagoski assert that it is not. We must also address the physical response to the stressor, and if we do not, the stress response will accumulate in our bodies to the point where it impacts our physical health. They suggest 12 methods for addressing stress response build up:
Creative self expression
Using your imagination
Superficial social connection
Intimate social connection
Connection with nature, landscape, or animals
Mindful self compassion.
The next time you feel stressed, take a minute to increase your awareness of your stress response. What changes do you notice in your body? What happens to those changes when you participate with intention, in one of the above methods?
If you find yourself overwhelmed with stress in your life and aren’t sure how to manage your stress response, give these suggestions a try, or for one-on-one support call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.
Being a marriage therapist is an interesting and fulfilling profession. One unique aspect of this job is that people want to ask my opinion on a regular basis. When I attend wedding showers, the room gets eerily quiet when it is my turn to give advice to the bride to be. One piece of advice I give regularly and often, is to connect with your spouse on a daily basis. This can happen in many different ways, however I think that daily talk time is an effective and powerful way to increase emotional intimacy that will help you feel connected to your spouse. Many times life gets so busy we forget how to talk with our partner. Here are three questions that can jump start your daily talk time.
What went well in your day today?
What did not go as you expected?
What are some ways I can help you tomorrow?
These questions open up a dialogue about your day and what went well and poorly. The last question helps your spouse feel that you are invested in their day going well and shows your support of that happening. If you feel that some growth is needed in your relationship I urge you to start daily talk time. Ten minutes a day can make a big difference in your marriage. Start with these questions and see where the conversation goes.
As a clinician who frequently works with sexual problems, I talk about genitals a lot! A lot! As I embark on these conversations with my clients, I have noticed how many people either don’t use the correct words for their genitals, or don’t even say the words at all. One of the most common errors I see is that people commonly say men have a penis and women have a vagina. While this is true, they are not the equivalent of one another.
I see this error in common culture verbiage also, people
referring to the female genitalia only as her vagina. The vagina however is one
part of the female genitals. It is the canal that leads from the vaginal
opening to the cervix. This is an internal part of the female anatomy. I hear
many people use the word “vagina” to refer to a woman’s external genitalia.
This would be somewhat equivalent to calling the male external genitals a vas
deferens (male internal tube) instead of a penis.
What people mean to say is that men have a penis and women
have a vulva. Vulva is the correct term to refer to the external female
genitals. It is made up of the 2 sets of lips called the labia majora and
minora. It protects the internal components of the female reproductive system.
So, next time you say the word vagina, make sure you are
referring to the correct anatomy. If you have never even said the word vulva, I
encourage you to start using it as the appropriate term for female external
So you’ve been to therapy and it feels like it is not helpful! Finding the right therapist can take time. Just like going to a doctor, therapist all have specialties. When searching for a doctor, you look for those that will meet your needs. They may have a specialty or a background that aligns with things you value. The same is true when finding a therapist. Therapists have specific modalities or styles based on their experience or training. It is important to find a therapist that aligns with your values and specializes in areas of interest; such as, addiction, marital, depression, trauma, or parenting.
When looking for a
therapist it is important to do your research. A therapist may put on their
profile “Couples Therapist”, “EMDR Certified”, or “Children Specialist” when
they may not have in depth training or experience in those. It is not
inappropriate or unprofessional to see if the therapist offers a face-to-face
or over the phone consult so you can gain some insight to their experience and
Even more important than
finding a therapist that specializes in your area of interest and need is
finding a therapist with a good fit for you and your personality. This is known
as the “therapeutic relationship” or “client-therapist fit”. Short version of
the fancy term is that you need to be able to relate or connect with your
therapist. This relationship is one of the primary factors that promotes change
in therapy alongside with the therapist specialty. If you feel understood by
your therapist then it is easier to build a relationship of trust which helps
The search for the right
therapist can take some time, but it is well worth the effort! Sometimes asking
friends or family for referrals can help you narrow your search. When you find
a therapist give it three to five sessions prior to determining whether the fit
is right. If you feel like you cannot relate by then see if they can help you
find a better fit as they may have some other referrals that can meet your
Lastly, you can wait too
long to go to therapy! Just as you would not put off going to the doctor for a
medical emergency you should not put off prioritizing your relationship or
If you wait too long, especially in a marriage, therapy change can take quite some time. Marriage therapists are not miracle workers and cannot fix things immediately. Therapy is not a quick fix for patterns that have taken months or years to develop. Therapy is a wonderful way to improve your relationships, understand yourself, or improve your mental well-being, especially when you find a therapist who is a good fit. If you have tried therapy in the past and felt like it has not worked, reconsider trying therapy again. Keeping in mind that it can sometimes take time to find the right therapist for you. Wasatch Family Therapy has a dedicated and experienced team to help find the right fit for you.
Bessel A. van der Kolk, a leading trauma expert, said, “As I often tell my students, the two most important phrases in therapy, as in yoga, are “Notice that” and “What happens next?” Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”
Through my clinical work over the past 10 years, I have found the body to be one of the greatest teachers in helping clients to connect with, and heal from, trauma that is stored in the body. Stored trauma often manifests itself physically, such as with anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, fear, and other “uncomfortable” emotions. Consequently, our bodies are often feared, rather than embraced as the wise teacher it is.
I have found one of the most powerful tools in helping myself, and my clients, stay in a state of curiosity, rather than fear, of these bodily sensations is the breath. When triggered by these bodily sensations mentioned above the body typically moves into the sympathetic, or fight or flight nervous system. Often, clients with trauma have learned to operate in this nervous system more often than is useful. The breath is a powerful bridge between the sympathetic and parasympathetic, or “rest and digest,” nervous systems.
Next time you find yourself filled with anxiety, I challenge you to take four deep “box” breaths, where you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out of four counts, and hold for four counts. After which, maintain the deep breathing pattern and notice what is happening in your body physically, and breathe into any tension you find. Then, remain curious and ask yourself what is needed to help you feel safe and secure in the present moment. At that point you may ask, “what happens next?” Take note of what inner child wounds or beliefs may be surfacing, and allow yourself to sit with that wound to find truth. Learning to become curious about thoughts that once seemed overwhelming, scary, or insurmountable can be an empowering exercise when you start unwinding unhelpful past conditioning.
Sometimes with trauma, clients may find themselves feeling stuck at certain points of traditional talk therapy. If that has been the case, it is helpful to explore other modalities to help release trauma on a cellular level, such as EMDR. Other movement based interventions such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and dancing have also been found to be helpful in healing trauma. If you have found yourself stuck in processing past trauma, please feel free to reach out to see if we can explore some additional healing modalities. You can schedule by calling 801.944.4555.
Running a social skills group for kids ages 7-11 has taught
me a lot about the benefits of flexible thinking. Flexible thinking in kids
produces turn taking, transitioning smoothly to new activities, and the ability
to adapt mentally, emotionally and behaviorally to a variety of situations.
Flexible thinking in adults also enables mental, emotional,
and behavioral adaptability. It is the ability to consider situations from
multiple perspectives, include context clues to inform decision making, manage
rising emotional responses in appropriate ways, problem solve, and balance and
prioritize competing desires and goals. Flexible thinking also allows for
spontaneity in our romantic relationships that can increase excitement and
Flexible thinking looks like letting someone else pick the
restaurant for dinner, cancelling plans to be with a friend or spouse who’s had
a difficult day, finding solutions to problems instead of ruminating on the
endless escalating spiral of “what if…” scenarios, truly listening to
understand what others are saying, and not telling your boss what you really
think of them when they take credit for your work during the company meeting.
Inflexible or rigid thinking in adults is often manifest in
all or nothing (Black and White) perspectives and doesn’t allow for nuances and
mitigating circumstances. Doing something because, “That’s how we have always
done it” is an example of rigid thinking. Other examples include not listening
to other’s ideas, struggling to consider the feelings and experiences of
others, and obliviousness to opportunities around us because we are locked into
our self-appointed expectations, rules or ideas about how something is
“supposed to be.”
There is a popular Huffington
Post article (“Reasons my
son is crying will crack you up!”) that is unknowingly
highlighting inflexible and rigid thinking. In each of these pictures, the
child is having an emotional meltdown because they are stuck on one thought and
the associated feeling so deeply, they become overwhelmed, abandon all reason
and rebuff efforts to console them; for example, “He wouldn’t fit through the
doggy door. Note the open-door right beside him.” With toddlers and adults
alike, inflexible thinking can lead to unhelpful and stressful situations.
As a caution, let’s be clear that not all rigid thinking is
unhelpful. There are areas in life that being inflexible is necessary and
protective. With regards to physical safety and personal and emotional
boundaries, it is advantageous to be rigid.
We all have times where we utilize both flexible and rigid
thinking, the important part is to identify where we, as adults, teens or kids,
could benefit from more flexible thinking.
Is there an issue with your friends or spouse
that keeps coming up, how could you change your perspective or response in the
situation to increase connection with that person?
What could be a different way to address the
issue? What about that issue is the real problem?
Could any of these same questions be applied to
work relationships and circumstances?
You need to be a pipe cleaner.
Here is a visual way to conceptualize flexible thinking. During
one of my first weeks running the aforementioned social skills group I came
across an activity highlighting the importance of and difference between
flexible and rigid thinking using a popsicle stick, a pipe cleaner and a piece
A popsicle stick is sturdy but rigid. Attempts
to bend the popsicle stick typically result in it breaking. Not helpful.
Pipe cleaners are soft and fuzzy on the outside,
come in multiple colors, bend easily, hold their shape and have sturdy wire in
the middle: the creative options are endless. They are so adaptable they can
bend to whatever the situation requires while maintaining their inner core
(read: personal values and goals).
A piece of yarn can barely hold any shape at
all, it’s too flexible. It can’t stand up for itself or hold a boundary and can
be easily manipulated with no resistance.
Thinking like a pipe cleaner allows flexibility, adjusting,
shifting, adapting and changing as needed without compromising our values. What
areas in your life are you like a pipe cleaner? Are there some relationships,
situations or events where you are more like a popsicle stick? Which of these
scenarios or people would benefit from you being more like a pipe cleaner?
Look for Flexible Thinking Part 2: Mental Health, where I
will review how flexible thinking impacts and effects our mental health.