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.
We’ve all heard of postpartum depression. A lot of us have known someone with postpartum depression. It’s those weeks, and sometimes months, after a woman has delivered her baby that trigger depression and anxiety. Little do people know, postpartum depression has a sister that is rarely talked about and sometimes, unknown. This is called antepartum depression.
Allow me to break this down just a bit. Ante is a latin term that means before. Partum refers to the delivery phase of the pregnancy. Depression has many definitions, so we will define it here as an overwhelming feelings of sadness. Therefore, antepartum depression means depression that happens before you deliver your baby. In other words, it is depression while you are pregnant.
I was first introduced to antepartum depression when I was pregnant with my third child. In my years of practice, I had worked with several pregnant mothers that described feeling down and blue. We worked through the depression, but I never named it or did a great deal of research on it. During my third pregnancy, I was very sick. Days of sickness turned into weeks. The weeks turned into months. It turned out that my entire pregnancy, I was extremely sick. After feeling sick for weeks on end, I started feeling depressed. My desire to do things that usually brought me happiness seemed unimportant. My energy was incredibly low. I had a hard time getting out with friends and family because I didn’t feel up to it. For weeks, I complained that I didn’t feel like my normal self.
After some time, I set out to find more information about antepartum depression. Realizing that it is a real problem that many women struggle with made me feel a lot better. I started naming it, talking to people about it, and taking steps to make myself feel better. This did not come easily and took me a long time to do. In fact, while I was diligent about doing all of those things, I still feel that my depression lasted until I delivered my daughter. However, talking about it and getting the help I needed really made all of the difference in the world.
What are the symptoms of Antepartum Depression?
The symptoms of antepartum depression are very similar to depression outside of pregnancy. This include but are not limited to:
-Feelings of worthlessness
-Feelings of guilt
-Change in sleep (sleeping more or less than usual)
-Change in eating habits
-Change in desire to do things that once brought happiness
-Thoughts of hurting yourself
-Thoughts of suicide
What can I do to treat my antepartum depression?
-Psychotherapy is one of the best tools to use when dealing with antepartum depression. A therapist can help guide you through your thoughts, feelings, and help give you solutions to work through them
-Medication is another route to take. This has implications on your baby and you will want to talk in depth with your medical provider. There are some medications that are safer to take while pregnant.
-Herbal supplements are another option. Again, talk to your doctor about what he/she feels is best for you and your pregnancy. There are several herbal treatments that can help.
-Foot zoning was a major help while I was dealing with antepartum depression. It eased my sickness and helped me feel more centered with my thoughts and feelings.
-Exercise is the last thing you want to to when pregnant (and depressed) but it is truly one of the best things you can do. Even walking around the block will release endorphins that will help your mood.
-Eating a balanced and healthy diet will be beneficial for you physically and mentally during your pregnancy.
-Sleeping and getting enough rest is essential during this time.
If you are suffering from Antepartum Depression, please know you are not alone! Thousands of women suffer from this on a daily basis. Share this blog post with someone you feel needs to hear about this. Antepartum depression is rarely talked about and needs to be an active conversation with women who are expecting babies. If you need further help, please call Wasatch Family Therapy. There are kind and professional therapists here to help you through this difficult time.
Most people are aware that eating healthy and exercising will result in a smaller waistline. I am not sure, however, that people understand the impact eating healthy and exercising have on your mental health. Think about it: your brain is a body part, right? If poor eating can make your heart suffer and not function properly, why wouldn’t poor eating make your brain suffer as well?
There is a lot of scientific research supporting the fact that eating a whole foods, plant-based diet can improve mood and decrease the occurrence of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. In a study published in the 2012 Nutritional Journal, participants who decreased consumption of meat, fish, and poultry improved several mood scores in just a few weeks. In 2009 Arch Intern Med, Dr. Grant Brinkworth and colleagues found that a high carbohydrate, low fat, and low protein diet (plant-based) resulted in significantly lower rates of depression and anxiety. These are just a few of the many studies showing the mental health benefits of eating a plant-based diet.
Part of the benefit of eating plants is that there are thousands and thousands of chemicals and nutrients that our body uses on a cellular level to rebuild and repair itself. Scientists haven’t even identified all the advantages to these chemicals and nutrients there are so many. We need to trust our body to use nature to be in optimal health. The evidence is clear: our brain needs natural plant food to function the most optimally. Sadly, we are often misinformed on nutrition-related topics because there are a lot of people who make a lot of money if you eat poorly (there isn’t necessarily a lot of money for marketers to make off of you if you follow a plant-based diet).
When it comes to exercise, most people think of endorphins and all that jazz. This is all good and well, but I love exercise for my clients more for its ability to increase distress tolerance. Physical exercise is ALWAYS a mental exercise also. If I can push my body to a point of discomfort for my overall benefit, what else can I do that is hard? If you talk to avid exercisers, none of them say, “Yeah, I have been doing this long enough that it doesn’t hurt anymore. I feel only pleasure in mile 13.” Seasoned athletes still experience discomfort and pain (if not more) but have learned to tolerate it.
Your increased distress tolerance works as a shield against debilitating hardship. I have seen so many clients begin to exercise and all of a sudden, they have increased confidence and start to believe they can do hard things! While going to the gym may not seem like a big deal, it is a huge deal for your brain. The important key to implement this is to find an activity YOU love. If it isn’t running on a treadmill, then don’t do that. Walk your dogs or play frisbee or do something else entirely.
Some clients I have are weary of taking mood-altering pharmaceuticals, but are they bothered enough to get really uncomfortable and change their eating and movement patterns? I am not suggesting that research shows these changes to be a direct cure for mental health problems. Research can’t entirely do that. However, I am suggesting that it is certainly worth adding to the tool box and trying in order to have an overall better mood and mental health.
For more tips and support changing your lifestyle to improve your mental health, schedule an appointment today!
In 2007, my sisters and I decided to run a 10k together. It was perfect timing, as I had just moved from Logan (Go Aggies!) and needed a new hobby. I trained hard and finished the 10K in a little under an hour. The morning of the race was an emotional high. All of the runners at the starting line anxiously waiting for the race to begin. The high as you finished the race. The amazing feeling of accomplishing something. I had found my new passion.
Fast forward to 2009 when my husband, sister, and I decided to run the Wasatch Back Relay Race. I had recently gone through a very difficult miscarriage, and, without knowing it, was headed into almost two years of infertility battles. My second leg of the race was at two in the morning. The stars were bright as I ran along the side of the road in the dark with just myself, my music, and my headlamp. At some point, I remember starting to cry and allowing that to happen. The rest of the race, something magical occurred. A lot of my worry, anxiety, sadness, and fear got translated into my running. I allowed all of those feelings to fuel my run, and it felt amazing. That race helped me heal from a lot of sadness. Over the next two years, I ran races and trained to help myself get through a lot of the feelings that came from infertility.
Now, let’s fast forward to 2018. Modern medicine is a wonderful thing, and my husband and I have three wonderful children. They are seven, four, and eighteen months old. Now running takes on a different role in my life. It helps keep me in shape. It is a hobby that gives me some time away from my kids so I can be a better mother. It motivates me to make and accomplish new goals. It makes me a happier, more satisfied person. It helps my patience with my kids and my husband. Running keeps me sane.
When you exercise, your body releases something called endorphins. These chemicals helps reduce your perception of pain and can also trigger a positive feeling. These chemicals will help you fight feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise is consistently something I encourage my clients to participate in.
What do you like to do to stay active? What kind of exercise keeps you sane? This summer, get outdoors and experience some different activities and find which one you like the best. It will be one of the best things you do for your physical and mental health.
“Today on Fresh Living Clair Mellenthin, a therapist at Wasatch Family Therapy, sat down with Brooke with some coping skills anyone can use to help deal with anxiety. About Clair Mellenthin: Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S is a sought after speaker, author, and trainer.” – KUTV 2News
When I was a small child, my family had several large German shepherds as pets. I don’t remember the times those dogs jumped on me and knocked me down, though I have been told it happened. I do remember growing up with an intense fear of large dogs. Throughout my childhood, when I saw a large dog, my primary instinct was to run away.
Unfortunately for the young-child-me, dogs enjoy a good game of chase. By running away, and encouraging the “big scary dog” to chase me, I was reinforcing my own fear: that dogs were scary and should be avoided at all costs.
Anxiety is often a “big scary dog”. We feel the discomfort, and seek to avoid it by running away, or avoiding situations that cause anxiety. When we avoid anxiety-provoking situations, we reinforce in our brains that those situations are unsafe, creating a cycle of fear and anxiety that grows the more we avoid specific situations.
In order to retrain our brain, we have to confront the big scary dog. This can be an overwhelming task, so it is important to have tools to draw from. Three helpful tools are box breathing, positive affirmations, and challenging thinking errors.
Take a deep breath, filling your lungs completely while imagining moving your lungs in the outline of a square. At each corner, pause and hold the breath for 4 seconds, then exhale along the next side of the square. Breathing in this way helps to regulate your nervous system, increasing your sense of calm.
Words are powerful, and we tend to believe the words we tell ourselves. A friend recently recounted her experience on a climbing wall. “I was doing really well, until I looked down. At that point I panicked and told myself, “I can’t do this”, I sat frozen for several seconds and then let go of the wall, letting the ropes catch me and return me to the ground.”
If we constantly tell ourselves “I can’t do this”, “This is too hard”, or “My anxiety is too high for coping right now”, we are likely to give up early or avoid the situation entirely. When those thoughts pop into our minds, we can replace them with a positive affirmation. “I can do this”,“I am capable”, and “I’m stronger than I feel” are all positive affirmations that can help push back against the anxiety that is preventing us from reaching our goals or functioning in daily life.
Challenging Thinking Errors:
Thinking errors are irrational patterns of thinking that often come along with anxiety or depression. As with positive affirmations, we can replace thinking errors by challenging them. Common thinking errors include all-or-nothing thinking (where we view things in very black and white terms), mind reading (where we assume we know what another person is thinking), filtering out the positive (where we focus entirely on the negative, and ignore anything that might counter our current thoughts), and emotional reasoning (taking our feelings as signs, i.e., I feel scared, so I shouldn’t attend this event).
Recognizing then challenging these kinds of thinking errors can help us confront our anxiety by reminding our brain that there are other ways to see the world and we do not have to be stuck in our anxiety.
If you have tried utilizing these tools and need more support in confronting the big scary dog of anxiety in your life, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy can help retrain your brain to see the dog not as a snarling beast, but as something more approachable. ERP therapy is effective in treating anxiety as well as obsessive compulsive disorder.
If you are struggling with these issues, schedule an appointment with Alice in either the Bountiful or Cottonwood Heights office at (801) 944-4555.
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,” reports that there is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet the rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980’s. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. Another article (this one in Psychology Today) expresses it this way: “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 a social pain and an unmet longing to connect, physically and emotionally with someone else. 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 connection 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.
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
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
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
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.