Your Mental Health Check Up by Dr. Matt Brown, Ph.D, LMFT-S

Over the past several decades, we have experienced increasing awareness of health concerns and how they impact our lives. We are frequently inundated with information from empirical studies, reality TV, and our own lived experiences; all exposing us to the dangers and benefits of taking care of ourselves. It can be overwhelming to sift through all the things you should and should not be doing to achieve your optimal well-being. Fortunately, research is increasingly identifying areas of our lives that have the biggest impact on overall mental health. And just like your Primary Care Provider is able to conduct a regular physical exam focused on key indicators of health, this article will allow you to check in with yourself using key areas of mental health. We will focus on your relationships, stress, and mindset.

Relationships

Attractive couple portrait.It is now well established that social relationships have an important impact on our mental health. In fact, our relationships are the single biggest predictor of our happiness. Recent research has shown that both relationship quantity and quality affect our mental health in positive and negative ways. When considering your own mental health, you may want to ask yourself how much time you are spending with those people who are important to you (quantity) and what that time looks like (quality). Are you being selective in your obligations, prioritizing time with family and friends? When you are with your loved ones, do you make intentional effort to connect through conversation or activities? If you find yourself lacking in this area, find ways to respectfully say no to those things that take you away from relationships and make the effort to connect when you are with those people you care about.

Stress

Stressed BusinesswomanResearch has shown that stress itself is not the culprit of mental health problems; rather, it is the reactions we have to daily stressors that contribute to problems like depression and anxiety. How do you handle these daily stressors? Do you find yourself becoming emotionally or mentally flooded when confronted with seemingly small challenges? You may need to step back and take a look at how you are handling stress. The list of ways to better handle stress is too lengthy for this article, but it includes several things you might expect (e.g., exercise, deep breathing, meditation, etc.). Something else you might try is laughing. Laughter has been shown to have multiple health benefits, including boosting immune system functioning, physiological relaxation, and reduction of pain and stress. Find time to exercise your sense of humor!

Mindset

stress 1Perhaps due to our social nature, we often compare ourselves to those around us. While there may be some benefits to this behavior (e.g., making positive changes to emulate those we admire), we need to guard against the tendency to focus on how we fall short when compared to others. Focusing on what we are lacking often leads to self-interested behaviors aimed at keeping up with the Jones’ in an attempt to measure up. The problem is that this does not lead to our intended outcome and has been shown to negatively impact mental health. Conversely, focusing on giving of ourselves has the opposite effect. For example, several studies have shown that when it comes to money, we report more satisfaction spending it on others rather than ourselves. We also find deep meaning and purpose when we are engaged in meeting the needs of others. Similarly, and ever-growing body of research has shown that focusing on what we do have and expressing gratitude is linked to positive mental health. When was the last time you gave of yourself to better someone else’s life? How often do you take time to reflect on those things for which you are grateful? If your answers reflect a need to rededicate yourself, you might start by developing a regular time to reflect, write, or talk about what you are grateful for. Opportunities to serve others are everywhere, and we often find the hardest part is not having enough time. You may start small by finding ways to serve those closest to you in small but meaningful ways.

Now What?

Hopefully, you have had some time to reflect on areas where you are doing well and some areas where your efforts could lead to increased well-being. As with any positive change we make, something is always better than nothing. No matter how small your change efforts, you are moving in the right direction. Motivation increases as we act and you can create positive feedback loops that lead to improved mental health.

mattAbout the Author: Dr. Matt Brown is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He holds a doctorate degree from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree from Brigham Young University. He is currently Assistant Professor and Program Director in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and a therapist at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families.

Creating a Meaningful Mother-Daughter Relationship by Erik Labuzan-Lopez

yellow flower 2The mother-daughter relationship is complex, complicated, and ever evolving. Some mothers and daughters talk all the time, while others speak more sparingly. Some deal with conflict head on; others avoid fighting at all costs. No matter how you relate to one another, there will be arguments between mothers and daughters. How is it that mothers and daughters are masters at pushing each other’s buttons?

Becoming the mother of a daughter can inherently trigger issues you have with your own mother, and those feelings start influencing this new relationship. You’ve probably told yourself, “I’ll never do xyz, like my mother did!” Then later, you hear yourself saying that exact phrase that used to drive you crazy. Women also tend to communicate verbally, which leads to more interactions that are perfectly aligned for conflict. A mother makes a comment about her daughter’s hair, with the intention of caring for her daughter and making sure that she is set up for success (and underlying that, proving she’s a good mother), whereas the daughter interprets that as a criticism, which triggers fears that maybe she’s not perfect.

If you are noticing tension in your mother-daughter relationship, know that it’s normal. There are easy steps you can take that can improve your relationship, although admittedly, they will require some practice in both of your parts.

Communicate clearly – Sometimes mothers and daughters feel so close that they assume the other person just knows what they need, and therefore don’t communicate at all. Neither of you are mind readers, so you still have to be clear about what you need. It’s ok to say, “Mom, I just really need you to listen” or “I feel hurt that you yelled at me in that way.” You can also reflect back what the other person just said so that you make sure you understood their point.

Repair damage quickly – In healthy relationships, people don’t avoid conflict. Differences of opinion are unavoidable, and therefore, we have to find a constructive way to deal with conflict. By not dealing with issues, we actually hold on to them and carry them into our future relationships. Make decisions about what will be most helpful and pick your battles about what to argue over. If you’ve lashed out or said something hurtful, apologize and take the time to explore your feelings and why that took place.

Set boundaries – Boundary setting in very important no matter what stage of the relationship you are in. Here’s one of the best definitions of boundaries that I’ve ever heard: “What’s ok and not ok.” You can decide for yourself exactly what behaviors are ok and not ok, and then you have to communicate those and follow through.

The mother-daughter connection is incredibly special, but also challenging. It’s worth putting effort into this important relationship, as it’s a foundation for other healthy interactions in life. You both deserve to have a meaningful connection, enjoy being together, and find support from one another. What will you do to grow your relationship today?

Erika headshotAbout the Author: Erika Labuzan-Lopez, LMFT, LPC is passionate about working with couples and families looking to understand how the tough stuff plays out in interactions and how to move past the fighting. She specializes in couples therapy, infertility counseling, and the transition to parenthood. Erika is located at the South Shore Center for Couples & Families

Gratitude: More Powerful than Stress by Dr. Lee Johnson

balanceMany of us are overly stressed. We strive to balance our demands at home, work, and other community obligations. With these competing demands it is easy to understand why people don’t want to add anything else to our busy life. However, there is one emotion that has the power to put stress in its place—gratitude.
Stress is a chronic problem and wastes our energy and can actually have a negative impact on our health and our personal relationships (Childre & Martin, 1999). Researchers have discovered that our heart is much more than a pump. Our heart is part of our nervous system and even has it own brain. Additionally, researchers originally thought that our brain controlled our heart but we now know that our heart can influence and even override signals from our brain while regulating our body (Childre & Martin, 1999). In sending signals to our brain and to aid in body regulation our heart produces neurotransmitters and hormones. One of these is hormones is atrial natriuretic factor (ATF) or the “balance hormone”. This hormone regulates many of our bodily functions, blood pressure, and electrolyte balance (Childre & Martin, 1999). Gratitude is one of the keys to having our systems balanced to facilitate being calm and relaxed.
debtGetting away from some of the negative thoughts and feelings in our head such as frustration, anger and stress and focusing on our hearts with positive feelings of affection, appreciation, love, compassion and gratitude keep or heartbeat consistent and coherent and allow us to perform at our best (Childre & Martin, 1999). When I am overly stressed or negative, I have found that gratitude or appreciation is one of the easier positive emotions on which to focus to reduce the stress. An example from my life will illustrate how this works.
Lone Tree in SnowOne night it snowed a lot. I was scheduled to go for an 8 mile run the next morning. I grew up with cold winters and spent many childhood winters playing in the snow and as a teenager many weekends skiing. However, since moving to the south I have come to appreciate the warm winter weather and the luxury of year around training outside. I looked out the window and the negativity started; I hate being cold, I don’t need this workout, I can’t run that far, etc. With encouragement from my wife I got dressed and headed out. I discovered early on that I was correct—it was cold outside and I hated it, my legs felt like cement and I had strong doubts about completing the workout, and I thought I should just stop and go home. As I rounded a corner the wind started to blow snow from the trees into the sunlight. It was absolutely beautiful. My focus shifted from negativity and doubt to appreciation for the scenery, my ability to run, and being grateful to be outside. My ability to perform dramatically improved. My legs lightened up, I did not notice the cold and had a great run. What made the difference? I shifted to positive emotions (different from just positive thoughts) and the subsequent physiological heartbeat changes that accompany those feelings. I have used this moment as a guide and I have had similar experiences when work, family, or other obligations have stressed me.

 

So what is the key to applying this information to reducing stress? Shift your focus to the positive emotion of appreciation or gratitude. It may be helpful to focus on the scenery, the enjoyment you get out of your family, or think of someone you love and appreciate. This is more involved than making a list of things you are grateful for, it is focusing on theses things until you feel the appreciation or gratitude. It is important to practice these skills at various times during the day. Build them into your day and make them a part of your routine. While these skills take practice the return on the little investment of time will be worth the rewards.

Reference: Childre, D. & Martin, H. (1999). The heartmath solution. San Francisco: Harper.

 

 

LeeAbout the Author: Dr. Lee Johnson is a faculty member in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Brigham Young University. He is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, AAMFT approved supervisor, and a USAT Certified Triathlon Coach.

Aging Gracefully=Let’s Get Moving by Carrie Ermshar

Mature couple with laptop.How do we age gracefully? Let’s face it, we are all growing older. With each birthday, we are given another year to celebrate. Yet, as the candles increase on the cake, it seems harder to blow them all out at once!
Society does not help the situation with our huge campaign of “fighting aging.” And, the truth is, our body certainly takes the brunt of aging, as does our mind. A lot of these effects are natural, and we are slowly learning to embrace the beauty of growing older, rather than fighting it. The baby boomers may be to thank for the gradual shift. With the largest population known in history reaching age 65 and older, science and technology are providing phenomenal resources for everything from medicine to anti-aging products. There is a massive education focus and increase in quality living; 50 is truly fabulous, and 70 is suddenly not old, it’s the new 60!

However, the reality is, that for most of us to age gracefully, the same thing is required of us as is with almost anything else that we value in life: EFFORT. And focusing that effort into physical activity and mental stimulation will gain the most benefits. In short, get moving!
According to Colin Miller, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, we now know that a lot of the problems previously thought to be related to aging aren’t related to aging at all, but rather to disuse of the body (WebMD). Years of sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles are ultimately what cause problems as we get older, not necessarily aging itself.

The good news is we are learning that there are ways to change the cycle. Research from The American Geriatric Society tells us that inactivity doubles the risk of mobility limitations as we age, while vigorous activity has the opposite effect. Exercise has also been proven to slow cognitive declines, keeping our minds sharper longer. The baby boomers are not letting this opportunity slip by them. No longer are we in a world where turning 65 means settling into your favorite armchair.

Active senior living can be found almost anywhere and should certainly be pursued to assist in aging gracefully. Examples are fairly simple: walking at least 30 minutes a day, gardening, golfing, eating fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, laughter, playing with grandchildren or volunteering at a local elementary school. The lessons we’ve been taught throughout our years of living healthy determine how we will age. So let’s get moving and make healthy choices!

Carrie ErmsharAbout the Author: Carrie Ermshar, MHA serves the field of aging services with experience in care management services, operations management, program development, and education. Carrie has 20 years executive leadership with long term care services, and passion for integrating healthy aging options within health care and local communities.

Dear Mom by Kurt Attaway, MA, LMFTA

Dear Mom,

yellow flowerFirst, let me say, “Thank You!” In case you have not heard it today, I want to remind you that you have a significant impact on the ones around you. Second, let me encourage you to receive the “thank you.” Allow yourself to breathe deep the reality of your role. You are loving, caring, shaping, serving, laughing, crying, holding, cherishing, protecting, correcting and investing in your little one(s). Did I mention you are doing a great job?

As a son, father and husband, I have observed motherhood up close and personally. I see the investment, the fatigue, the worry, the hope, the celebrations and the seeming defeats. I know there are sleepless nights and sleepless weeks and sleepless years. There is endless work in the home and often work outside the home. Not to mention you might want to have at least one friend and an occasional night to relax. Does it seem like you are supposed to offer others the whole world while not losing your world? Quite the tall task if you ask me. Do everything. Be everything. Never make a mistake. Always smile. And do it all with grace and patience.

On this Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate you. Let’s acknowledge that every day is a chance to celebrate Mother’s Day because mothers serve and love daily (Yes, dads do as well, but this article is all about moms). Moms, with all the burden you carry for your family, I want to remind you to breathe. You deserve it. Find time to embrace your courage and strength. Make celebrating the simple things a daily habit.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, highlighted motherhood as one of the most significant areas women feel shame1. How have we allowed this in our culture? I believe it is time for us to shift from shame to celebration. Motherhood is the result of life. Motherhood is a heart of love. Motherhood is a relationship to be celebrated.

yellow flower 2Tips for embracing more celebration:

• Celebrate daily: Identify successes every day. Share them at dinner time. Journal them before bed. Text them to a friend. Did the kids eat, did they get a hug, did you share a laugh? Count every success, especially the small ones.

• Find time to refresh: You need energy to celebrate. Make time to recharge and refresh. You care for your kids, make sure you care for yourself. Go for a walk, take time to journal, meet a friend for dinner, schedule time every month to reenergize who you are.

• Write notes to your child(ren): Taking time to encourage your child(ren) increases purpose and passion. Writing helps your focus and shapes your perspective. Writing notes gives a gift to your kid(s) and to your heart. This practice will help keep you focused on the big picture…loving well!

• Use the buddy system: Find others to share the journey with. Find a friend who encourages you. Find someone to encourage. This journey is too meaningful to experience alone.

We love and celebrate you mom!

1. Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly. New York: Gotham, 2012. Print.

Kurt leadershipAbout the Author: Kurt Attaway is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy Associate in Texas. Kurt graduated with his Master’s from UHCL, where he was listed the top family therapist in his class. He values working cooperatively and collaboratively with his clients to help them take steps forward that bring greater expressions of life, hope and wholeness. Kurt works in private practice at The Center for Couples and Families, and serves as the Director of the WholeFit Leadership Team. Here he works with individuals and corporations to help increase the health and wellness of his clients mentally, physically, relationally and professionally.

The Pursuit of Happiness by Dr. Mike Olson

Portrait of FamilyAs a licensed marriage and family therapist, I was trained to assess, diagnose and treat mental and emotional illnesses in individuals, as well as relational patterns/problems in couples and families. The standard reference for classifying diseases (nosology) is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V)(1). This manual provides a standard system for naming and categorizing (nomenclature) mental and emotional illnesses.
Competence to make sense of complex physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms in a manner that can lead to successful treatment is of paramount importance in healthcare. There is, by necessity, a place for the deductive and circular reasoning that guides professionals in helping clients.
This approach, while critical to the formation of an accurate clinical picture, is insufficient. What do I miss when I only wear the glasses of pathogenesis and psychopathology? I may miss some of the key factors that can lead to health, wellness, and ultimately, happiness. The term “salutogenesis” is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a professor of medical sociology. He used this term to describe an approach that focused on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease. He also argued against falsely dichotomizing or separating health from illness but rather thought of this as a continuum (2). Antonovsky pointed that more than just disease and illness need to be considered in our scientific approaches to help others. The pursuit of happiness is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. An article published by Forbes revealed that Americans spent 11 billion dollars on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching, and stress management programs in 2008, alone, a 13.6% increase from 3 years previous. We are clearly looking for happiness in a lot of places, but is there a science to uncovering it? A branch of psychology, called “positive psychology,” is beginning to shed light on this question. In a “Psychology Today” post by Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., he states “positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. It is a call for psychological science to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.”(4) Positive psychology, he points out, is not to be confused with untested self-help, footless affirmation, or secular religion, no matter how good these make us feel. Peterson cites a few of the findings from positive psychology science, which include:
1. Most people are happy.
2. Happiness is a cause of good things in life and not simply along for the happy ride. People who are satisfied with life eventually have even more reasons to be satisfied.
3. Most people are resilient.
4. Happiness, strengths of character, and good social relationships are buffers against the damaging effects of disappointments and setbacks.
5. Crisis reveals character.
6. Other people matter mightily if we want to understand what makes life most worth living.
7. Religion matters.
8. Work matters if it engages the worker and provides meaning and purpose.
9. Money makes an ever-diminishing contribution to well-being, but money can “buy happiness” if it is spent on other people.
10. As a route to a satisfying life, eudaimonia (Greek origin, referring to a state of having a good indwelling spirit or being in a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous) trumps hedonism.
11. The “heart” matters more than the “head.” Schools explicitly teach critical thinking; they should also teach unconditional caring.
12. Good days have common features: feeling autonomous, competent, and connected to others.
13. The good life can be taught.
Attractive couple portrait.This last point speaks to the reality that one can learn to be happy and it is not simply, as Peterson put it, “the result of a fortunate spin of the genetic roulette wheel.” A physician colleague of mine often starts his conversations with his patients with a simple question, “What do you want your health for?” or “What gives your life meaning or purpose?” What a brilliant and simple way to change a focus in a system that often starts with “What seems to be the problem?” I’ve thought about practical ways to introduce this into my own life and family. An easy starting point for me was asking my children, “What was the best or most meaningful part of your day today?” This doesn’t mean we don’t talk about issues/problems that have come up and work to develop solutions for them; it just means I intentionally shift our focus to the good, the resourcefulness, the beauty, and the strength that lies within each of us and those around us.
References:
(1) http://www.psychiatry.org/practice/dsm.
(2) Antonovsky, A. “Health, Stress and Coping” San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1979.
(3) http://www.forbes.com/2009/01/15/self-help-industry-ent-sales-cx_ml_0115selfhelp.html.
(4) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not.

michael3About the Author: Dr. Michel Olson is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the clinical director of both WholeFit and the Centers for Couples and Families in TX. He earned a doctorate degree from Kansas State University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Behavioral Medicine at UTMB, Galveston

Literacy: Raising Strong Readers by Audrey Cornelius

readLiteracy. How can I raise my child to be a strong reader? I walk into the living room to find my six year old daughter snuggled up with her normally rambunctious four year old brother on the couch. She is reading her latest treasure from the library and her brother is completely absorbed by the story.

I know that the gift of literacy to my children is a gift of freedom and potential for their futures. So, how did we get to this moment? Did I higher personal reading tutors or lock my children in their rooms with a dictionary and an order not to come out until they could spell every word? No, that would be crazy! Instead I followed some easy, research driven guidelines set out by the Association for Library Services to Children and the Public Library Association. These are some easy ways to promote literacy in your home and give your child a gift that will last a lifetime:

Read to your child, even if you don’t think he is listening. I’ve done my fair share of reading to a dancing, train playing audience. You may not think they are getting anything out of it, but they are. One day they’ll sit through a whole book and you’ll be so glad you stuck with it.

read2Talk to your child a lot, and make sure you use big words. A strong vocabulary is linked to good comprehension skills. Small children can learn big words and they love using them. My four year old son loves to tell me how “hilarious” his preschool friends can be.

Sing to your child. This builds rhythm, pattern, and sound recognition. Besides, sometimes it feels good to belt out “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and end with a good tick session.

Give your child lots of opportunities to draw and write. Paper and crayons are cheep toys so let them exercise their fine motor skills and their imaginations.

Play with your child. This gives you and your child a chance to bond and build positive feelings while at the same time letting them experiment with story and narrative skills. After all, a super hero has to discover her powers first before she can defeat the bad guy and then save the day.

By following these easy guidelines you can build a home of literacy and learning, while building some happy family memories in the process.

audreyAbout the Author: Audrey Cornelius graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in English. In 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Library Science from Texas Woman’s University. She is passionate about children’s literacy issues.

Fun and Play by Dr. Jeremy Boden, LMFT, CFLE

When was the last time you and your partner really had fun together? When was the last time you were truly playing together?

Family in PoolWhen working with couples at the Center for Couples and Families, one of the most consistent questions I ask to evaluate the current vitality of their relationship is about their level of fun and play. I’ve found in both my therapeutic and educational settings that couples overwhelmingly underestimate the power of play and fun in their long-term relationships. In fact, two findings consistently show up in the research: 1. Couples give too little notice to fun and play in their relationship and, 2. playing together and having fun is a key contributor to marital happiness among couples.

You might contend, “We are too busy for fun.” If this is your sentiment, let me be the first to validate that concern. Yes! our lives have become increasingly busy. Having fun just doesn’t seem productive when there are jobs to go to, rooms clean, kids to feed, and activities to attend. I know. It’s tough. However, humor me and let’s see if I can bring in another perspective to the importance of fun and play in marriage.

MP900309139Dr. John Gottman, an award-winning marital researcher, has interviewed and observed couples in his “love lab” for the last twenty-five years. He found that when couples maintain at least five times as many positive interactions as they do negative interactions their relationship is more likely to be stable. However, few people have wedding vows that state, “I promise to make this relationship stable all of our married life.” At the genesis of most marriages, couples hope for their relationship to be full of vitality and happiness for the length of their lives. Thus, the goal for couples should be to have 10 to 20 times as many positives as they do negatives. I believe the main reason this is important is because during times of tension, conflict, or frustration, if you don’t have a reservoir of positive interactions stored up, the negative interaction can drain any positive feelings you have for your partner and create more tension than the issue probably deserves.

MP900289480So, what is a positive interaction? A positive interaction is any pleasant interaction (great or small) where a bond is strengthened and fortified. Therefore, having fun and playing together as a couple is a form of positive interactions. This can include dates, surprises, romantic acts, flirtations, appreciation, physical affection, or just plain silliness. An example of a simple positive interaction occurred the other night between my wife and me. As we were winding down from the day, she found an app on her phone where one can take a picture and manipulate a self-photo with crazy hair, make-up, morph their face, and so on. We sat there for about 15-20 minutes making a variety of different silly pictures of me, her, and other family members. It was fun, silly, and, most importantly, bonding. That simple act, created a positive interaction between the two of us.

In my experience with couples, those relationships that do the best are those that are proactive and intentional about positive relationship habits. Most relationships don’t just accidently succeed but rather it is two partners committed to intentionally nourishing and enriching their relationship daily. So, let me help you be a little more intentional by giving you a little homework or, what I like to call, Home Practice. Tonight, set aside 20 minutes when you are both relatively relaxed and wound down. Then, with your partner, engage in the following activity:
1. Separately write down five ideas of things that would be fun.
2. Together share your ideas and be open to your partner’s ideas.
3. Do your best to engage in activities that are, for the most part, fun for both partners. But also try to stretch yourself a little.
4. Make a plan for this upcoming weekend to engage in one of the activities.
5. Finally, make a point to not shy away from moments in your day together where you could be more spontaneously playful, affectionate, flirtatious, and/or silly.

Make fun and play a healthy habit in your relationship and watch the fruits begin to blossom.

Jeremy2(1) (297x221)About the Author: Jeremy Boden, PhD, LAMFT, CFLE is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. He has a PhD in Family Studies and is a Certified Family Life Educator as well as an instructor at Utah Valley University.

Balance by Jamie Porter

?????????????Lately, I have been challenged to find balance. This wasn’t by any particular person’s request or by a class requirement, but by a chain of events that redirected focus onto myself.

What exactly is balance? How does one achieve it? Why is it so important? And how do you do it?

Balance is defined by a state of equilibrium or equipoise (dictionary.com). In biomechanics, balance is an ability to maintain the line of gravity (vertical line from centre of mass) of a body within the base of support with minimal postural sway.[1] Sway is the horizontal movement of the centre of gravity even when a person is standing still. A certain amount of sway is essential and inevitable due to small perturbations within the body (e.g., breathing, shifting body weight for one foot to the other or from forefoot to rearfoot) or from external triggers (e.g., visual distortions, floor translations). (wikipedia.com). The merium-webster.com dictionary defined it as a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance.

An activity I do often with overwhelmed clients, is to have them hold onto a small plate. As I ask them what they have on their plate, I add sugar packets for everything they list. I have a doctor appointment, homework in science, need to wash my car, take my daily medicine, talk to the neighbors about babysitting my dog this weekend, washing clothes, paying the bills, cleaning my carpet, calling back my grandmother….. The list can go on and on and on. When the plate starts to overflow and sugar packets are falling on the floor, I am reminded by the overwhelming fact that there is absolutely no balance and it’s my job to help my clients prioritize, re-structure and build better coping skills.

Now the trick and truth of every therapist, is to not just give sound suggestions, but to follow it themselves.

single 2See the following….
MAKE YOUR LIST AND PRIORITIZE: take a couple of minutes to sit down, write out your list of things you need to get done TODAY, and then start putting numbers on what is most important TODAY. 1 would be most important and the higher the number, the less of importance. The higher numbers may even be done tomorrow or the next day, even set for long term goals.

PRIORITIZE SHORT TERM AND LONG TERM: As you are making your short term goals, long term goals will develop too. Prioritize those too. You may have a project that you want to do, but don’t need to do. If your attention was focused on it today, all the TODAY objectives would never get done and then your project that doesn’t need to be done today takes over the importance.

STAY FOCUSED:
A problem that people that ‘do too much’ or ‘focus on too many projects’ run in to, the they often lose focus of what really needs to be done. Some even hyperfocus on one subject, loosing focus on everything else. Additional tips to best manage distractibility might include:

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applauding1. SET AN ALARM: if you need to get something done in a short period of time, set your alarm clock.
2. GET A CALENDAR: use your calendar to remind yourself of deadlines. (paper, electronic, both)
3. BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD: cross things off your list done, re-mind yourself what is on your short term, long term goal list, prioritized with numbers of importance and continue to attempt
4. REWARD: It’s only human nature to want to be rewarded when a project is done. Don’t forget to reward yourself with a break, a walk, a treat (food or financial), friends and family, internal gratification, words of affirmation

And remind me again of some things that will help me find balance?

MEDITATION/BREATH: Focusing on one word at a time like the word ‘Calm’, ‘Peace’, ‘Pause’ are very helpful for grounding emotions. Meditation allows the body to slow down, worries to fade and pushes the mind and body to be present in the current moment. Breath from the deepest part of your core, down to the floor in hale deeply, and breath loudly, slowly exhale out of your mouth and repeat. This is a good practice when you feel overworked, overwhelmed, out of balance, stressed. Go ahead, practice. Find a quiet place to sit. Cross your legs or sit in a position where your legs are bent at the knees. Then practice your core breathing, focusing on meditative words. Be completely and fully present.

ART: This is a great way to re-center too. Paint, color, pastels, chalk or other are great ways to get balance. Display your raw emotions on paper, capture a piece of nature, or just doodle/scribble the negativity away, looking for the balance in your revealed masterpiece.
READING: Reading is mindless. It takes you to another place. It distracts in a healthy way. It builds vocabulary. It restores balance.

Athlete Running Through Finish LinePHYSICAL ACTIVITY:
Move! Run, walk, hike, jump….it’s important that we get our endorphins moving to help us find an outlet. Sweat result leaves us with a heightened energy level, healthier body movement, and feelings of accomplishments.

THERAPY: the inside joke is that all therapists need a therapist. But the truth is they do. We have the tendency to focus so much on our own clients that we lose sight of what is important for us and how to manage, especially when overwhelmed with other’s emotions. One of the best ways to manage and maintain balance, is to be honest with yourself, with your therapist, and dig deep. Allow unhealthy emotions of the past to move past the detrimental stage and re-gain balance in your new life. So whether it’s at the most personal level as a therapist, or the personal level as a client, it’s important to not self-neglect.

singer 3PLAY: Don’t forget to play. Have fun. Smile. Play with your kids. Play with your spouses. Play with friends and families. Play card games, board games, pool, park, movies, and/or travel. ENJOY yourself!

BOUNDARIES: it’s okay to say NO! It doesn’t make you a bad person. It helps you stay accountable to the things you can do and can follow through with, versus over-planning and over-committing and not completing a task.

How does this work again? Taking the time to be cognizant of yourself, your emotions and your priorities will help you keep a balance. Balance exists in life, friendships, relationships, work, emotions and functionality. As long as you can PAUSE and reflect on where you’re sitting in the midst of your ‘full plate’, then you are more willing to take care of the things on the plate and the person balancing the plate. A great analogy is that of a waiter with their tray of plates, glasses and food. If one glass slides and all your focus goes onto that one glass, you will lose everything on your tray. If you move the whole tray to help rebalance the glass, than everything else on the plate gets a level of respect and attention that is needed for safety. The greatest of these challenges, is follow through. Take the balance challenge. Are you ready for a life of balance?

jamieAbout the Author: About the Author: Jamie Porter has a Master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from UHCL. She has worked in non-profit settings working with women, adolescents, children, families, couples, and equine assisted psychotherapy. She is currently the Sugar Land Center for Couples & Families office manager, and an AAMFT approved supervisor.

Positive on Purpose by Andy Thompson, LMFT, MS

business man with laptop over head - madA life dominated by negativity can be stressful, and stress causes wear and tear on our bodies, minds, and relationships. Have you ever noticed the tendency in yourself or in others to pay more attention to the negative things or problems in life than to the positive things and aspects of life that are going well? This is called negativity bias, which is the notion that things of a more negative nature, such as unpleasant thoughts, emotions, experiences, or interactions with others, will have a greater effect on a person’s emotional/mental/psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things, even when events are of equal intensity.
While I am not suggesting that we ignore challenges and difficulties, we do need to pay attention to the ratio of positive to negative experiences in our lives. For example, marriage and relationship researchers have come to recommend that for relationships to survive, a couple needs to have at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction.

In many areas of our lives, negativity can overwhelm us and begin to become chronic. Sometimes we might develop symptoms such as anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and distorted patterns of thinking. If negativity dominates our conversation, we might even start to notice that others distance themselves from us because they experience us as negative. This can turn into a vicious cycle that leads us to be unhappy.
Fortunately, there are many steps we can take in order to counteract negativity bias without invalidating the concerns we may have in our lives.

Businesswoman Ready for Work with Husband In Kitchen.What you can do in your head: Be aware of negativity bias and intentionally pay more attention to positive experiences. For example, eat a delicious meal slowly and really savor it. Pay attention to the positive sensations you get from your food, including tastes, textures, and smells that are pleasant.
What you can do with your actions: Intentionally bring more positive things into your life. Don’t wait until you feel positive to pursue positive experiences. Schedule in something positive, like a massage, a fishing trip, a movie with friends. If money is tight, there are still positive things to plan into your life, like a walk in the park, watching a sunrise, or a phone call to a family member or friend.
What you can do in your relationships: Prioritize. Avoid overloading your relationships with too many negative or difficult topics. Don’t try to fix every problem, correct every annoying behavior, or have all the hard conversations all at once. Pick the most important issues to deal with, and then work to have positive interactions in between facing challenges.

What you can do in your heart: Gratitude. Regularly think of things you normally take for granted (eg. Access to clean drinking water) and imagine your life without those things. This can often help us create an experience of appreciation for the good things in our lives, which can help us to feel more positive.
Again, I am not suggesting that it is a good idea to ignore or push away all negative experiences. Avoiding difficult conversations with a spouse, child, or other family members and friends can be harmful to our relationships. I’m also not suggesting that we need to put on our rose colored glasses and trust everyone and everything. What I am suggesting, however, is that if we make the effort to increase positive thoughts, experiences, and feelings in life, then we will be happier, healthier, and be more energized and capable of tackling challenges without getting overwhelmed by negativity.
Andy-ThompsonAbout the Author: Andy is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the St. George Center and the Cedar City Center for Couples and Families. He graduated from Utah Valley University with a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science with an emphasis in Family Studies. To set up an appointment call (435) 319-4582.