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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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4 Ways to Create MORE Stress During the Holidays

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  • Complicate Everything: In order to create the perfectly stressful holiday, make sure that you make everything as complex as possible. There is zero room for simplification if you want to achieve high stress. Don’t just serve one kind of pie; make sure you make everyone’s favorite kind. Tablecloths, napkins, place settings, and your outfit should all match for ambiance. Additionally, all recipes should be great great great aunt Emm’s, passed down from generation to generation or the holiday just won’t be stressful enough. Remember that 12-step process so the homemade rolls are the right kind of fluffy.
  • Do NOT Delegate: Make sure for the ultimately stressful holiday, that you do everything yourself, and I mean everything. This should include loss of sleep, not actually participating in the activities you prepared for everyone else all night and day, and never accepting help of any kind. This will be tempting when others offer, but don’t give in. No one else can do it as well as you anyway. The stress is just an added bonus.
  • Have High Expectations: After all, these holidays come only once a year, so it must be perfect or you have ruined it for everyone and can’t try again for a whole year and everyone will be completely distraught until then. That is, unless you mess it up next year too. Make sure you are as rigid as possible. There is no room for flexibility this day. Do not tolerate anything that doesn’t go according to that wondrous magical plan you created in your head. For an added stress-filled bonus, make sure you meet everyone else’s too high expectations also!
  • Focus on Commercialism: As these holidays roll around, make sure to focus on the true meaning of each holiday. Everyone knows that is commercialism and aesthetics only. Nothing else. As long as the way you did the holiday makes you look good to everyone else and you spent a ton of money, then you did a perfect job at creating a stressful holiday. Don’t get distracted with all that family love stuff and gratitude crap. This is game time. You have waited all year to be this stressed out. Stay focused.

Wishing you the most stressful of holidays!

Kathleen Baxter LMFT

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Misbehavior – A Form of Communication

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When a child misbehaves or exhibits behavior that becomes problematic, their behavior is telling you something, but what?
A child that misbehaves is trying to communicate that they have an unmet need, but how do parents determine what that need is?
Parents can look for clues that might tell them how the child is feeling. When parents figure out what is wrong or missing, they can then follow to assist the child to take care of themselves.
What are some of the reasons that a child might misbehave?
  • They may be hungry, tired, ill or bored.
  • They might not know or understand what is expected of them.
  • They might be held to expectations that are beyond their developmental level.
  • They may have experienced trauma or abuse.
  • They may be copying the bad behavior or their parents or someone else.
  • They may be trying to cover up feelings of pain, fear or loneliness.
  • They may be experiencing feelings that are overwhelming to them.
  • They may feel bad about themselves.
  • They may be experiencing bullying.
  • They may be experiencing dietary issues.
  • They may be trying to get attention from others.
  • They may be testing whether parents will set limits, boundaries and enforce rules.
  • They may be asserting themselves and seeking to be independent.
They may have an untreated disorder such as:
  • Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • General anxiety disorder.
  • Sensory processing disorder
It is important to remember that misbehavior does not mean that a child is “bad.” They should never be labeled as such. There is a difference between a child’s character and how they behave. What a child does is not who they are.
Maybe you’re frustrated and having difficulty determining why your child is misbehaving. Maybe you have an idea of why your child is misbehaving but don’t know how to approach the issue. Maybe you’re wondering if your child has an untreated disorder. If so, call us at Wasatch Family Therapy (801.944.4555) to schedule an appointment for a parent consultation with one of our trained providers. Mental health is just as important as physical health to a child’s well being.
Sue Hodges, LCSW

 

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What Do I Have To Be Grateful For?

canstockphoto7797192The cooler fall air is the first indicator that the season of thankfulness and gratitude is upon us, but what if you don’t feel that you have anything to be grateful for this year? Perhaps your life has been plagued by chaos and uncertainty. Grief, job loss, depression, problematic relationships, and isolation are just a few of the things that can lead to feelings of apathy towards life and general ungratefulness. How can we combat this discontent and find gratitude and joy again?

Start as You Mean to Go

This is a phrase that I use often for a number of situations, but I think that it is particularly applicable when talking about gratitude. Simply begin your day as you want it to go for the remainder. Make the choice of gratitude as soon as you wake in the morning. Before you climb out of bed to begin your day, take a moment and find one thing, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential it may be, for which you are thankful. This choice to start with a grateful heart will set the tone for the day.

Stop and Smell the Roses

An overly used cliché, I know, but it’s true. It’s hard to be truly grateful if we are so busy living that we don’t take the time to appreciate the little things that make life worth living. Be mindful of what is happening around you, and take the time to truly experience and appreciate the small blessings, victories, and learning opportunities that life has to offer.

Look Outside Yourself

What better way to forget about our problems than to look around and see the problems that other people are dealing with? This isn’t to say that we should take joy in others’ pain and suffering, but to use it to put our problems into perspective. Stepping outside of ourselves and helping those that are less fortunate enables us to really appreciate the good in our lives, as meager as it may be, and also to recognize that there is always someone that has less.

Find a Purpose

Find a purpose in life that gives your life meaning. Maybe this means volunteering your time to a cause that is close to your heart, finding fulfillment in your family or career, or deciding to go back to school. The possibilities are endless. Whatever your direction, find something which you are passionate and excited about and share it.

Have an Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude is a choice. Choose a life of gratitude by having an attitude of gratitude that starts as soon as you wake in the morning. Find the things that you appreciate about your life and celebrate them, no matter the size. Slow down and take the time to seek out and appreciate the lessons that life has to offer, even the hard ones. Life is hard, and there are plenty of opportunities to get down, but look to others to gain insight and perspective of your challenges. Lastly, find your purpose. We aren’t all going to find a cure for cancer or negotiate world peace, but we all have the chance to leave this world better than we found it.

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Avoid These 4 Behaviors to Improve Communication In Your Life and Relationships

canstockphoto14934251Dr. John Gottman, Author of “7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.”, wrote about what he calls the “4 horseman of the apocalypse”. He outlined how, if unaddressed, these behaviors can erode trust and security in a relationship. Look out for them in your communications.

Blame/Criticism– Blame and criticism increase defensiveness and derail problem solving.

Contempt– Use non-judgmental language. Contemptuous language like, “You’re so lazy! You never empty the dishwasher” will get you nowhere fast. Try instead, “I feel frustrated that I am emptying the dishwasher so frequently. I would like us to share this responsibility” The latter is a reasonable request. Try to label the behavior rather than the person.

Defensiveness– Defensiveness is usually a response to feeling blamed or criticized. Take ownership for what part you played in the situation and be open to hearing the reasonable request. Acknowledge what the other person is saying and the feelings they are expressing (validate where they are coming from). Address their request/concern rather than justify your behavior.

Stonewalling– Stonewalling is refusing to participate fully in the conversation or avoiding the discomfort. Instead, commit to hearing the person out. Stonewalling means you will never hear their reasonable request and therefore not be able to problem solve. If you feel overwhelmed, ask to pause the conversation for a short period of time and commit to returning when you are calmer.

For more information check out the link below or any of John Gottman’s books.

https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/

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How To Support A Spouse With Mental Illness: Good Things Utah

How To Support A Spouse With Mental Illness: Good Things Utah

In any given year, 1 in 5 Americans experiences mental illness of some kind (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.). Clearly, this is an issue that affects a great deal of us, particularly the loved ones of those suffering. And mental illness is more than just an individual problem; it is a family concern. Here are some ways to support a spouse or partner with mental illness:

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Anxiety Disorders: Meditation is Helpful Medicine

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According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are affecting over 18% of the American population, making it the most common mental health issue in the United States (adaa.org). Anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder (PD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

Alarmingly, little more than one third of the people suffering from any form of Anxiety disorder are getting treatment (adaa.org). Often the barriers to treatment include not knowing that treatment is available or where to find it, or not wanting to resort to medications. Some people may not realize they have a diagnosable disorder, while other people may know they have it but not want to have to “do therapy.” If you or someone you know is not getting treatment for whatever reason, some lifestyle choices could help, including a clean, balanced diet, appropriate exercise, adequate sleep, and something that’s getting more attention in scientific research, meditation.

In January 2017, Psychiatry Research, a peer reviewed scientific journal, published the results of a randomized study that found significant reductions in stress related hormones in those participants who practiced Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as compared to the control group participants who did not (Hoge et al., 2017). Furthermore, when mindfulness techniques are combined with therapist guided cognitive-behavioral intervention the results are even more impressive and longer lasting (Evans, 2008). In short, working with a good therapist to learn healthy cognitive-behavioral habits and making good lifestyle choices—including practicing meditation on a daily basis—can go a long way toward helping you and/or your loved one overcome whatever form of Anxiety disorder you’re dealing with.

There are an abundance of free resources available to help you learn how to meditate.

  • YouTube offers countless videos of guided meditations. Some of my favorites are from Deepak Chopra.
  • You can download any number of meditation apps for your phone. I highly recommend Meditate Me, available only through the App Store for iOS devices.

Whatever resource you use, you’ll be glad you took the time and put the practice to the test!

Call us for an appointment with a skilled therapist.

Here’s to a peaceful life!

 

Evans, S., Ferrando, S., Findler, M., Stowell, C., Smart, C., & Haglin, D. (2008).

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22, 716-721.

 

Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Palitz, S. A., Schwarz, N. R., Owens, M. E., Johnston, J. M.,

Pollack, M. H., & Simon, N. M. (2017). The effects of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in general anxiety disorder. PsychiatryResearch. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2017.01.006

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Shut Up! I’m Trying To Be Mindful!

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Mindfulness is all the rage right now. There are a million pins teaching you how to be mindful, and just about as many books or articles. The problem is trying to find the time to be mindful! I’m trying to balance three children, my husband, work, dance class, homework, preschool, nap time, volunteering, self-care, my own hobbies, and the list goes on. I could write a whole blog post about everything that I have to do, and I’m sure your list is just as long (if not longer).  The last thing on our list is to take some time to ground ourselves so we can continue to move forward with the many responsibilities we have. Here is a small but effective grounding, or mindfulness exercise to try. So put a show on for your kids or lock yourself in the bathroom and give this a try.
Take three calming breaths and look around while identifying:
5 things that you see
4 things that you feel
3 things that you hear
2 things that you smell
1 thing that you taste
Find a good time in the day and set an alarm on your phone to do this exercise. You will be surprised at how five minutes of reconnecting with yourself can help you throughout the day.

 

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