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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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Now or Later

 
Perhaps you are one of those individuals who are constantly asking themselves the question, should I do this now or later?  If your answer to this question is usually later you may have created a habit which can lead to undue stress, anxiety, guilt and shame in your life. It has been said that, “Every day spent procrastinating is another day spent worrying about that thing.  Do it now, and move on with your life.”   
 
In his book “Wait: The Art and Science of delay,” San Diego University professor Frank Partnoy provides another perspective on procrastination, he states, “Procrastination is just a universal state of being for humans.  We will always have more things to do than we can possibly do, so we will always be imposing some sort of unwarranted delay on some tasks.  The question is not whether we are procrastinating, it is whether we are procrastinating well.”
 
Procrastination has been referred to as an active process where one chooses to do something else instead of the task that you know you should be doing. You may find that procrastination is not working well for you because avoidance doesn’t erase anxiety it just delays it.  If you are telling yourself that the reason why you procrastinate is because your are disorganized, apathetic or lazy, most likely you are telling yourself an untruth. Smart individuals are often procrastinators.
 
For some individuals procrastination can be symptomatic of a psychological disorder.  Procrastination has been linked to depression, low self esteem, irrational behavior, anxiety and neurological disorders such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  If you are finding that procrastination is impairing your quality of life consider seeking professional help from a mental health provider at Wasatch Family Therapy. 
 
Sue Hodges LCSW
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How to Declutter Your 2018

It’s Mine…” “No …it’s mine!”  Parents are quick to scold their children when there’s a squabble over toys, especially after the holiday season. However, kids aren’t the only ones anxiously attached to their stuff.
Grown-ups have a hard time letting go as well!  Over-consumption and excessive accumulation lead to physical and emotional baggage (not to mention the binding side-effect of consumer debt).  Here’s a short, four-minute explanation of why adults continue to act like children whenit comes to their belongings:
 
http://my.happify.com/hd/strong-attachments-to-our-things/
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Ahhhh! There’s so much to do!

canstockphoto35932473Life seems to have a way of getting crazy just when we don’t have time. There’s your child’s homework assignment that they forgot was due…tomorrow. An impending deadline at work that can’t be delayed any longer. What about the band concerts, dance lessons, or basketball games for your kids? School, church, and family obligations and responsibilities that we “have” to do. How do we balance all the demands on our time and energy?

Recently, I came to the point of realization that it wasn’t physically possible for me to accomplish and meet all my obligations the way that I had envisioned in my head. It was possible (though difficult) to meet the responsibilities on my list, but not in the way that I wanted them completed. Having realistic expectations of what I can and need to accomplish within the parameters of my life was a hard realization for me. I don’t just want to complete a task; I want to excel at that task. However, my overly high expectations of myself were leading to feelings of stress, anxiety, and negative self- worth. How do we combat these dueling feelings of inadequacy and the need for perfection?

Prioritize

Sounds simple enough right? However, how often do we sit down and write out all the demands on our time and energy for a day and then rank them? Try taking just 5 minutes and jotting down all the things that you need (or think you need) to accomplish for that day. Is it reasonable? How do you feel when you look at the list? Is it empowering and motivating? Or, do you feel the stress and anxiety like I did when I looked at mine? If your list is motivating, then you might have a good balance. However, if you react like I did, that’s a good indication that you are over-extended and need to pare it down a bit. How can I cut out something I “need” to do?

Good Enough

For those of us that suffer with perfectionistic tendencies, it’s hard to accept that less than perfect is good enough. Do we really need to be on every PTO committee at our children’s schools? Or, is being on one “good enough”? Are there things on your list where you can give yourself permission to be average? Adjusting the expectations that we set for ourselves can be a difficult thing to do, but I’ve found that being more flexible about what is and isn’t acceptable leads to a lot less stress.

Flexibility

After completing the first two steps, I realized there were several areas of my life where I’d created exceedingly high expectations. I had scheduled myself into a corner that didn’t allow for any deviation. Allowing for some flexibility in my schedule is very freeing; I don’t have to be doing something all the time. When something unexpected does pop up, I’ve left enough leeway to adjust accordingly.

I’ve learned that being able to look objectively at various aspects of my life and see where I can make improvements by doing less, either physically or mentally, is necessary at this stage. I simply can’t be or do all the things that I tried to tell myself that I had to. However, by carefully evaluating and choosing to prioritize the things most important to me, accepting that sometimes less than “perfect” is good enough, and allowing flexibility be my new mantra; I have a sense of strength, empowerment, and resiliency that was previously lacking.

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Finding Joy Through Gratitude this Holiday Season

canstockphoto7856078I recently listened to a fabulous podcast where Brene Brown was being interviewed. (For those of you that don’t know, Brene Brown is a very well known therapist, researcher, and author. She has written several, brilliant books about embracing vulnerability and recognizing the difference between guilt and shame. Her books have had a big impact on my personal and professional life. I highly recommend all of them.) In the podcast Brene focused on being comfortable in experiencing vulnerable emotions. In particular she spoke about joy.
In Brene’s research she stated that joy was often associated with fear. Her example was simple, but profound. She spoke of a parent lovingly watching their child sleep at night. In that moment of joyful contemplation the parents often reported a high degree of fear right after having the feeling of joy/contentment. What if my child dies at an early age? What if I contract cancer? Everything is so good right now, something has to go wrong soon. When I heard this example I knew exactly what she was talking about! I have had those same thoughts and feelings as I tucked my children into bed. As I thought about it, a lot of times I feel joy I realized it was very often followed up with fearful thoughts that my happiness could only last so long before something went wrong.
The answer to challenging this commonplace problem showed up in Brene’s same research project. She stated there were a number of people that reported after they had joyful feelings they purposely stated thoughts of gratitude to themselves. Instead of leaving the situation feeling fearful and worried, like so many did and do, this second group of people reported feeling joyful, happy, and grateful. These people made mention of giving gratitude to a higher being, a thoughtful spouse, their jobs, health, and many other things that allowed them to feel happiness in that moment. 
 I took this to heart. Over the last week or two when I have noticed feeling happy with my family, marriage, house, holiday season, or really anything, instead of following up with a negative or fearful thought I immediately stated how grateful I was in the moment for that joyful feeling. What a difference! It seemed like the joy I was feeling multiplied and lingered much longer than when I had chaotically thought about what may go “wrong” next to ruin my happiness. It has made me a better wife, mother, friend, and daughter to practice this easy technique.  
This holiday season I challenge you to experience true joy. In those loud or often quiet moments when you find yourself feeling happy, follow those thoughts/feelings up with thoughts of gratitude. Why are you happy? Who helped you achieve that happiness? Why are you grateful for having the joyful feeling?  Extend your Thanksgiving list of gratitude into the Christmas season, and notice the difference it will make. 
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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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The Power of Music

Whether it is dancing with a loved one, head banging on our way to work, or singing our hearts out with friends and family; music affects our mood and our relationships. A recent study by Apple and Sonos found some surprising results regarding something we all love, music.

Apple and Sonos (2016) completed a global study of thirty-thousand consumers to see how music can affect our “home life”. The study surveyed people with varied backgrounds ranging from families with children, couples, and friends as roommates. Despite different backgrounds those that were surveyed had something in common: music impacted their relationships in positive ways. At this day and age we all seem to plug in on the internet, video games, and social media. While we tend to be physically present, we are not always emotionally or mentally present with those around us. We know electronics play a role in preventing some of these interactions, but how do we combat them. We can do this by just playing music!

The study found that in the US families spent more quality time together by four and a half hours versus families who did not play music (1). This is huge especially when we have a difficult time unplugging, we now know that we can plug into music together and spend more quality time with our family and friends which then improves our relationships.

For families spending quality time listening to music improved their relationships in a variety of areas including the following:

  • They were 33% more likely to cook together.
  • They were 85% more likely to invite others over including friends and other close family.
  • They also experienced 15% more laughter together as a family.
  • The words “I love you” and other words of affirmation were 18% more likely to be said among each other.

Each of these examples can translate to improved relationships. Music is something that is so simple, and yet,  can yield such a big impact for our relationships and drive more connection. The study further notes that the average of physical distance between family members was by 12% which the study called “a nexus of intimacy and togetherness” (1).

Throughout the study, couples began to experience 66% more intimacy while music played (1). Intimacy is much more than sex. Intimacy is moving from you and me to more of a “we”. The more intimate you become the closer you and your significant other will understand the ins and outs of the relationship. However, music did indeed improve the more “intimate” instances of intimacy. The study noted that couples were awake 37% more each evening which means that couples were having more, wait for it, sex (1).

When we’re having a bad day we can turn on our favorite song have a dance party and instantly our mood can change. Studies have shown that even by listening to happy or sad music we then perceive neutral faces as either happy or sad which matches the music heard prior by the individual (2).

Whether it is being closer with a loved one or improving the quality time your family spends together music can help. Music is something that can help us feel a variety of emotions and some good or bad. Music can help bring us together, but what really drives the connection between your family or friends at these times is becoming emotionally connected. When we truly open up with someone and have these musical experiences we show our vulnerabilities. During these vulnerable moments we can connect to someone on another level and they can see who we truly are.

When music is not enough to mend or help overcome a difficult patch in our lives we can seek further assistance. This assistance can come from friends, family, or professionals such as therapists to help work through your unique and challenging situations. If you are considering therapy and are worried what it will be like, please come and see us at Wasatch family therapy. We strive to provide everyone who comes with a comfortable, safe and non-judgmental atmosphere so that those we see can succeed. Please do not hesitate to contact us at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555.  Together we can learn further tools to help you through your specific changes.

  1. SONOS | Apple Music. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2017, from http://musicmakesithome.com/
  2. Cooper, B. B. (2016, August 26). 8 Amazing, Little-Known Ways Music Affects the Brain. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from https://blog.bufferapp.com/music-and-the-brain
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