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The Holidays: Remembering What Matters Most by Cecilie Ott, LMFTA, MS

Man Looking at Cooked Turkey, Blurred.The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year with the sparkle of lights, family gatherings, and good food. However they can also remind us of what we may be lacking, and leave us feeling less than completely happy. We want so much to give of ourselves and yet often get overwhelmed with the stress that tends to accompany this special time of the year. If we are dealing with a major change or loss it can become even more challenging to feel the joy amidst the sorrow. One thing I have learned over the years is that no one is immune from pain and stress. Life is hard. However, I have also found that those tough times are when I have been pushed to dig deep and recognize what it is that matters the very most to me.

Here are some lessons I have learned that have helped me over the years to remember that which matters most.

Choose to Be Present
traditionWhen life becomes challenging we often focus on the future or on things outside our control. We may tell ourselves that we will be happy when we land a different job, make more money, find a new partner… the list goes on and on. We waste a lot of time waiting for happiness to happen down the road and fail to notice the little blessings right in front of us. Choosing to recognize the moments of goodness today enable us to be more ready to embrace the moments of greatness when they do enter our lives. If we only keep our sights focused on the destination, we will miss much of the journey.

Choosing to Love Deeply
MP900289480When we are suffering, we sometimes forget that we are not alone. There is strength in connecting with others. There is power derived from leaning on each other and receiving/giving support. Part of loving is accepting what another is able to give. It is also accepting what we are capable of giving and knowing when enough is enough. We may not always be able to extend ourselves as much as we would like, but loving ourselves gives us permission to give what we can and let that be sufficient. Loving those in our lives means slowing down and listening. It may be taking the time to notice the little things before they are gone.

Choosing to Slow Down
I cannot count the times I have been rushing around, checking if the kids teeth were brushed and gathering my stuff for the day when I have miscalculated the countertop and watched a cup of juice fall to the floor, almost in slow motion. It is in those moments that I am rushing, that I tend to make my biggest mistakes. Sometimes it is just spilt juice, but sometimes it is a hurtful word or a lack of sensitivity. Being hurried zaps the joy out of the little moments that draw us closer to others and hinders us from being more centered on those things that mean the most. Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe, sit with a child, laugh, and listen.

I hope that at this special time of the year, we will remember what matters most. May we each find ways to lengthen the fleeting joyful moments and nurture those around us by being present today and loving more deeply. These principles can be the greatest gift we can ever give, not just to others, but also to ourselves.

CecilieAbout the Author: Cecilie Ott is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist. She received her bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Psychology and her Masters degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Utah State University. She has worked extensively in the area of addiction (substance abuse and sexual addiction), and loves working with couples to help strengthen and heal relationships. Cecilie is a native of Northern California and has called St. George home since 2006.

Hope for the Holidays by Alyssa Baker

Do you have hope during the holidays?

MP900309139A young couple is snuggled up by the fireplace as they watch their children open presents, smile, and laugh. There is snow falling, sweaters, Christmas pajamas, hot chocolate, candy canes, cookies, hugs, kisses, and even tears from such loving gifts and sentiments. This is the image that we see everywhere around the holiday season.

Although we are inundated with this vision of the holidays, I have never really experienced it. Is this actually the typical family? When we expect to celebrate the holidays in this way, are we all being set up for disappointment?

What if we spent this holiday season free of expectations? What if we were truly present with our friends, family members, and even ourselves? What better way to spend this time of year than being centered and at peace with who we are?

The holidays can be especially difficult when families experience divorce, loss of a loved one, or financial stress. Even positive changes can disrupt our vision of the “perfect” holiday season. Adult children may not be able to make it home, whether due to professional obligations or the forming of new traditions with their own family. No matter the circumstances, it is important to increase flexibility and embrace the following core values, especially at this time of year.

Gratitude
MP900289480Research has repeatedly shown how gratitude combats symptoms of depression and loneliness. Gratitude can be expressed with your loved ones or even with strangers. If you are feeling lonely, with a hole in your heart this holiday season, sharing your presence and gifts with those in need will fill even the emptiest of spaces. Tipping your waiter a little extra, writing a thank-you note to your mail carrier, or even making a sweet treat for your co-workers can be small ways of expressing gratitude.

Peace
Stress is a killer around the holidays. Where is the “peace” in running from store to store and traveling to six different holiday dinners? Find peace this season by spending time in your spiritual life. Find time to relax and unwind by taking a bubble bath, enjoying a hot drink, and cozying up with a good book or movie. The gift of peace is the best gift we can give ourselves, our families, and our friends this holiday season.

Joy
When is the last time you felt truly joyful? Maybe it has been a while. Even if your year did not turn out the way you wanted, you still deserve the time and space to feel joy. Experiencing joy has to be very intentional. You may not be much of a social butterfly, but if you are looking for joy this season and having trouble finding it, gather the courage to call an old friend or attend a holiday party at work.

My wish for you this holiday season:
May your gingerbread cookies be a little deformed.
May your Christmas carols be out of tune.
May you have a “snow day” (or “ice day”) that prevents you from working.
May your old memories chip away into new ones.
May your child throw a tantrum (if you don’t throw one first) that makes you quit shopping.
May your traditional holiday movie be a funny one.
May you take a vacation to somewhere warmer…even if it’s hiding under the covers.

May you find gratitude, peace, and joy in these moments and more.

Alyssa-web-croppedAbout the Author: Alyssa Baker is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate. Along with practicing at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families, she works as a Behavioral Specialist as a part of an Integrative Medicine fellowship with UTMB Family Medicine in Galveston. Alyssa has experience working with individuals, couples, families, and groups with a variety of stressors; including, mood disorders, chronic medical conditions, substance abuse, and relational struggles.

3 Steps to New Habits by Joan R. Landes, M.A., AMHC

stock-2A wise person once said, “We make our habits, then our habits make us.” So we set goals and make resolutions, but our good intentions and resolutions often end in disappointment. Isn’t there an easier way to create a good habits? The answer is “Yes!”

In three simple steps, a new habit can be formed in just a few days.
1. Anchor your goal to an existing habit
2. Start small with an easy behavior
3. Validate your efforts

First, use an existing behavior as an anchor for your new habit. For instance, if you wish to develop a habit of doing daily push-ups, and you already brush your teeth every morning, use brushing your teeth as your prompt for your new habit. After you finish brushing your teeth, begin to do the pushups.

goalsSecond, start with something ridiculously easy like one push-up. Or, if your goal is flossing your teeth, start with flossing just one tooth. While you do the behavior consciously tell yourself that you enjoy the activity: “I like the way my muscles feel alive when I do push-ups!” or “My teeth feel great when I floss!”

Third, after you complete your small goal, validate your efforts aloud. It can be as simple as saying “Great job!” or “Awesome!” Saying it aloud is more powerful than just thinking the words, so don’t be shy. Throughout the day make sure to keep telling yourself you did great when you think of your goal. The great thing about this type of self-validation is that it doesn’t cost anything, it’s legal, non-fattening and immediate.

That’s it! After a few days, you will find yourself looking forward to engaging in the new behavior. Gradually, you can increase your small goal into a bigger one.

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applaudingSince I try to practice what I preach to my clients, I have used this technique in my own life. My goal: Develop more upper body strength through morning push-ups. First, I thought of my existing morning habits and the first thing that came to mind was simple – opening my eyes! It’s hard to do push-ups while lying on a mattress, however, so I had to come up with another anchor habit. I chose to anchor my goal to my current habit of making my bed.

After tucking in the blankets and tossing the pillows on the duvet I dropped to the floor on my hands and toes for three standard push-ups followed by three modified push-ups (knee style!). I told myself, “This is very cool!” Easy, right?

Afterwards I said, “Awesome!” My sleeping husband pulled the bedspread and pillows off his face and called out, “What’s awesome down there?”
“I’m doing my morning push-ups, honey,” I told him.
“Good grief, all that grunting woke me up.”
“Wait till you feel my biceps,” I bragged.
“Keep working on it, Sweetie,” he said. “Someday you’ll find them.”

But it was too late. I couldn’t be discouraged because I had already validated myself and was looking forward to the next session! I haven’t missed a day since before Christmas, and the really cool part is that I don’t dread exercising. Hey, don’t mess with success, right? As my son who is a cadet at the military academy at West Point said, “Not bad for a 50-year old, Mom.”

“Fifty-one,” I said. I want every kudo I can get!

joan297x222About the Author: Joan Landes is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. She feels that therapy should be an adventure for her clients and (gasp!) actually fun. Joan loves learning the latest neuroscience underpinning human resilience and is enthusiastic about skill development in her clients. She has been married for 32 years and is the mother of 7 children who make this world a better place.

A Healthy Dose of Back-to-School Anxiety by Brent Black, LMFTA, MS

?????????????????What is a Healthy Dose of Back-to-School Anxiety?  As a family therapist, I often meet with parents who want to know if their child has anxiety and my quick response is “I hope so!” Today the mere mention of the word anxiety tends to induce stomach knots, racing hearts, and cold sweats. However, a proper dosage of anxiety is a key component for healthy and successful children. On the other hand, excessive anxiety and the absence of anxiety are debilitating. Since the launching of school can also launch levels of anxiety for many students, here are a few points for parents to consider as they look forward to a successful year.

MP900405644Too Much?
The better question about anxiety is “does my child have excessive anxiety?” All healthy individuals experience at least some anxiety, but excessive levels of anxiety can lead to harmful behaviors. In order to diagnose an individual with Generalized Anxiety Disorder they must meet certain criteria which include excessive anxiety or worry more days than not for at least 6 months, difficulty controlling the worry, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, or muscle tension. These symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, educational or other significant areas of functioning. So, a helpful question in determining excessive anxiety is — “has my child been significantly impaired for an extended amount of time in important areas of their life because of the anxiety that they feel?”

The beginning of the school year is a fitting time for parents to consider the possibility that their actions might be creating additional anxiety. One parental trend that often leads children to experience greater anxiety is an excessive family emphasis on achievement. Children who feel like they have to achieve in order to win the approval and respect of their parents are often filled with anxiety. Their motivation for achieving becomes less about personal growth and more about fear of letting parents down.

Kids on School BusNot Enough?
The opposite of anxiety is apathy or carelessness. Children who are apathetic give off a vibe of indifference, laziness, boredom, and unconcern. Faces are unflinching and tones are flat. The default response for many questions is simply “I don’t know.” There is not an official term of diagnosis to describe these characters but they are easily identifiable.

One parental trend that could lead a child toward apathy is a parent who is inconsistent, indifferent, and un-opinionated about their child’s success. I see exceptions to this trend, but I am often unsurprised by a child’s apathy after meeting both parents and understanding that a child is simply following the example of at least one of the parents. In these cases the apple really doesn’t fall that far from the tree.

Achieving the Right Amount of Anxiety
???????????????????????A great question from parents is ‘how do I help my children have the proper amount of anxiety?’ One of the best ways of helping kids reduce to a healthy level of anxiety is by maintaining high expectations while also assuring children both verbally and non-verbally that parental love is not dependent on child outcomes. In other words, parents need to convey that regardless of achievement level their children will always be genuinely loved.
One of the main ways that parents can increase the anxiety level of their apathetic children is to get actively involved. Parents who sincerely check-in and follow-up with their children are likely to see the kind of anxiety that will help motivate their children to succeed.

Although anxiety is often viewed in a negative light, a healthy dosage of anxiety helps children to be successful. Of concern are children who are experiencing excessive anxiety or no anxiety at all. Great parents are those who feel appropriate anxiety about helping their children to be balanced in their anxiety.

brentAbout the Author: Brent is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. During his Master’s Degree at Brigham Young University he worked at Wasatch Mental Health where he gained experience in working with families who have children that struggled with depression, anxiety, autism, trauma, or addictions. Learn more about Brent at st.georgefamilies.com.

For Busy Parents: Increasing Quality Time With Your Kids by Carol Kim, LAMFT

tradition 3Life can get super busy. There are so many things we have to do in a day… make breakfast, feed the kids, change diapers, clean, make lunch, feed the kids, clean, work, clean, go shopping, put toys away. And we do it all over again the next day and the day after that. When we get into this kind of routine, it feels like there is no room to make time to connect with our children. We often feel stuck or too exhausted to problem solve. We don’t have to make drastic changes in our routine. The secret is that little moments every day add up. Here are several simple things you can do to better connect with your children.

1) Let your children help out. This can be challenging. For example, I’ve found that involving my toddler in the kitchen makes tasks longer and often creates a big mess. However, I know that she loves helping me mix things and measure ingredients. I also know that I feel happy when we spend this time together. In addition, helping can also teach kids things such as math and motor skills.

2) Talk with your children while driving. Engage them in conversation. Talk to them about how their day is going. Sing songs with them or sing to them if they are too young. They will enjoy it.

3) Watch TV with your kids. I sometimes find myself needing a break and put the TV on for the kids. This break time can be a great time to connect with your kids through cuddling or talking with them about what they are watching.

singer 34) Take 10-15 minutes out of your day to have one on one time with your child. This can be challenging, especially for mothers with many children or who work. Be disciplined in scheduling 10-15 minutes a day for the purpose of connecting with your child. If 10-15 minutes isn’t feasible, try 5 minutes, or if circumstances demand it spend time with one child a day . The important thing is consistency. During this time, play with them and give them your undivided attention.

5) Bedtime. Make it meaningful and a time you look forward to. Chat, tell each other stories, read books, sing, pray, or any other calming activity that allows you to connect..

As parents, sometimes we feel like we are in survival mode. Life gets busy but it is important to mindful of being present with our children. If we practice being in the here and now, our children will take notice and we will have a stronger relationship.

CarolAbout the Author: Carol Kim is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent the past 6 years practicing in several cities across the United States, including Boston, San Francisco, and now, American Fork. She is passionate about applying the principles of therapy to improve lives and relationships, and is committed to creating a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment.

The Power of Meditation by Kenneth Jeppesen, LAMFT

Lone Tree in SnowMost people I meet don’t meditate, though many have tried it once or twice. What we know about meditation usually comes from TV shows and movies, where wizened gurus tell us to think of nothing, or to clear our minds. But anyone who has ever tried to think of nothing knows how impossible that is. How do you visualize and think about something that doesn’t exist?! I’m not sure you can. The irony is, we think of “nothing” by thinking with intense focus on something.

There’s more than one way to meditate, but in general, the important part is that we concentrate on something in our present reality. For most, that means concentrating on our breathing, how do we do that? It’s helpful to pick one aspect of our breathing like the way the air feels in our nostrils, or the sound the air makes as it goes in and out. Focusing on our breathing anchors our awareness to the present moment, and that is the essence of mindfulness. We become more aware of our existence. We get out of our head and start to concentrate on being. We notice the signals coming from our body, we become more connected to ourselves, more in touch with what we are experiencing in the moment. As we become focused on just being, existing without having to do or think about anything, we find a stillness that begins to settle on us. It is an amazing feeling and one that you just don’t experience unless you’ve practiced calming your mind. Some people like being out in nature because it helps them find this clarity and calmness. But we don’t need to plan an expedition so that we can feel peace. The brain can’t really tell the difference between being in the woods and imagining being in the woods.

balanceVisualizing being in a beautiful place where nothing is required of you, where you are your perfect self is an incredibly powerful way to let go of the sorrows and worries we usually carry around. For the time we are meditating, it’s like we’re a different person who doesn’t feel stress. Really though, this is our true self, this is the person we are when the baggage of the world is stripped away. We can access this blissful, stable, and happy self of ours whenever we pause to meditate. With practice, we strengthen the neural pathways of peace in our brains. Where once there was an overgrown and hard to find path to peace, with frequent use, we can pave it to create a wide freeway leading to serenity. It took me about a year of consistent practice to get to that point. It was well worth it, because now at any time, I can concentrate and return to stillness without actually having to meditate. Frequent meditators enjoy more happiness, deeper sleep, better immune systems, and less fear. It is a skill worth practicing, that I hope someday will come to rightly be seen as important as eating our vegetables.

Kenneth-Jeppesen-Headshot-e14380277335081About the Author Kenneth Jeppesen is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies from Weber State University, and a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Kenneth is a therapist at the Provo Center for Couples & Families.

Could Those Bored Couples in Restaurants Actually Be Happy? by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

CB100665There may be no greater argument against lifelong monogamy than the bored couple in the restaurant. “Oh heaven, please don’t let us end up like them,” you may have thought as you observe them silently picking at their food, looking at their phones, or vacantly scanning the restaurant for something presumably more interesting than their partner, from whose mundane company they are almost certainly planning their escape. They seem to display the opposite of the flirty chemistry and laugh-filled companionship we’re all looking for. But could these “bored couples” actually be happy?
While some of these pairs may indeed be as miserable as they look, many others have found a level of intimacy in which silence is comfortable, not awkward, no matter how it looks to outside eyes. My wife and I are better friends, and more in love, now than during our “all-fun-all-the-time” courtship phase. When we go out, we often chat and laugh and flirt, but sometimes we’re just…tired. Grownup responsibilities, like work, finances, and taking care of the kids can leave us tuckered out. A night out together becomes a grateful opportunity to catch our breath. Sometimes we sit together and don’t say much, lost in our thoughts or taking in the flavor of the food. And you know what? It’s nice.
?????????????????????When I was single, I always feared becoming half of a “bored couple in a restaurant” one day. Now I’ve discovered that maybe those couples aren’t bored after all. In my marriage, while it’s important to fan the flames of passion, enjoy conversation, and laugh together often, it’s equally important to reach a point where, if we don’t feel like doing any of that, we’re perfectly content just to be together. Adult life can be chaos, and sometimes we need our partners to help us create, and enjoy, the calm.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George. He is available for face-to-face or online video conferencing sessions. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113. To read more of Jonathan’s articles, please visit www.jdeckertherapy.com.

Mediation: An Alternative to Litigation and Pathway to Healing Chris Turner, TMCA Credentialed Distinguished Mediator

Several years ago, as a young mother, I was a patient undergoing a superficial procedure during which a scalpel severed many layers of tissue, tendons and muscles in my shoulder. I compassionately understand that mistakes, both professional and personal, are a part of life. However, In order to avoid involvement in a possible lawsuit, doctors waited for the statute of limitations to end before surgically exploring my injury and attempting to repair the damage. The inability to correct that mistake is what, to this day, still causes an emotional response in me that I am not proud to harbor.

This experience led me to a career for which I am very grateful. It began with this simple question: “What if the doctor was able to disclose mistakes and repair damage, both emotional and functional, prior to the point at which it became a lifelong hurt?” It is a question that I attempt to answer, as a mediator, with each person I meet that is in conflict.
Conflict is a constant in life. It is often what encourages us to make changes in our lives, thereby providing us with an opportunity for growth. How we deal with conflict directly correlates to the value we will have when the conflict is past. Most of us avoid conflict because the risks and cost are too expensive: emotionally, financially and/or personally. The investment in relationships at home, school, church and work can easily inhibit open communication and honest interaction in an effort to prevent further damage. As a result, small issues escalate and the gaps in a relationship grow larger. A mediator can provide the necessary tools to structure interactions that move people toward resolution of conflict.

leader 2Very simply, mediation is the process through which a neutral third party assists others in resolving disputes.
It is the role of a mediator to facilitate communication and to help parties resolve issues, forming a plan of action which guides their future interactions. Mediation is not counseling, nor is it the practice of law. Mediation involves two or more parties voicing their opinions and generating options for resolving issues with the goal of creating a written document that reflects their agreement. In some cases, the agreement may be binding and irrevocable. Mediation can be utilized in many different situations: from divorce to disputes among students, and from damages from an oil spill to neighbors arguing about the placement of a fence.
Although most often used as part of a legal process, mediation is available whether or not legal action is pending. In addition to being significantly less expensive than litigation, mediation is helpful in resolving issues before they escalate to the point of legal intervention or a total breakdown of communication. Mediating early in a dispute can serve as a formal time out, setting ground rules, both personal (such as when and how parties will communicate) and functional (such as how bills will be paid).

The agreement may also document the understanding between parties, such as what assets and benefits of the partnership will not be affected and if intervention during the period of the agreement, such as counseling, refinance, etc. will occur. By instituting a plan, parties are able to have a time out from emotions and stress that a dispute is creating while maintaining relationships and assets which have been mutually supported. Many times, the initial agreement may be the basis of a more permanent resolution, such as a divorce or dissolved partnership. In some cases, it provides needed respite, which enables parties to reconcile and move forward. Mediation can be used informally or as the basis of a legal settlement. The process is confidential, collaborative and cost effective.
Conflict resolution through mediation can be an effective agent for change. It is not about who is to blame, it is about being honest about what exists today so that a plan for tomorrow can be made. From that plan hope and healing are often found.

Chris TurnerAbout the Author: Chris Turner, TMCA Credentialed Distinguished Mediator, is working with the Center For Couples and Families in the South Houston area.