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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.

How to be a Fearless Public Speaker, by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

leaderHow do we become a fearless public speaker? “According to studies, most people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld
About a decade ago I performed with a comedy group in college. Some nights I was “on,” but other nights I’d get nervous about the crowd. Fear of embarrassment led me to forget my lines or stumble in my improv attempts. Joel, one of my fellow performers, was an audience favorite who never seemed to choke on stage. When I asked him for the secret to his fearlessness, his answer surprised me: “I just try to remember that there are people in the audience who are going through hard times. I have the privilege of helping them to laugh and feel happy, so each performance is my gift to them.”

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applaudingI had committed the cardinal mistake of public speaking and performance: I had made it about me. I got wrapped up in wanting people to be impressed by me. I worried about embarrassing myself if I forgot my lines or that my ad-libs would fall flat with the crowd. Joel taught me to take myself out of the equation. Instead of worrying over what people would think about me, I started to focus on what I could do for the people in the audience.
It changed my entire approach and has helped me to find my courage as a comedian, a presenter, a group therapist, and even at church. Great presenters, preachers, speakers, and performers don’t get that way by mechanical adherence to “tips” on vocal intonation, talking with their hands, or maintaining eye contact with the crowd. They’re great because they care about, and connect with, their audience; those other things are just tools.
To be great in front of a crowd, shift the focus away from what they think about you and to what you can give them. You can better their lives! Whether it’s a message, information, a product, or humor, have confidence in the material and the service you are providing. Then talk to your audience intimately and personally. I don’t mean that you should share personal secrets. I mean that you should take down the wall which distances a speaker from their audience.

To do this, think of any teacher, comedian, or speaker that you’ve really enjoyed. Odds are that you felt that they were speaking to (or with) you, not at you. We speak at a crowd when we want to distance ourselves for protection. We speak to (or with) a crowd when we care more about them (and what we are offering them) than ourselves.
This isn’t to say that nervousness isn’t part of the equation, nor do I wish to imply that this is the one and only key to overcoming public speaking jitters. Some cases of social anxiety, for example, are intense and require more than what I’ve outlined here. But forgetting myself as much as possible in order to lighten the burden of others has been a tremendous help to me whenever I get in front of a crowd. I hope that it will be for you as well.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the St. George Center for Couples and Families and is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113.

“Little Shifts:” Creating Change by Rebecca Hall, CCF Intern

Chess pieces on chessboardCreating change in one’s life can seem intimidating and stressful, even when change would be extremely beneficial. According to Suzanna Stinnett, author of “Little Shifts,” you can “create change, with every single choice every day all day long.” In this book, Stinnett gives practical baby steps to create a decided difference in one’s life. She is transparent as she chronicles the positive reactions these changes have brought in her life. Stinnett specifically wrote the book to encourage people to use their imagination in every day situations. She opens with a personal example of daily anxiety she experienced at a busy intersection. The anxiety provoked at the intersection created negative thoughts and chronically derailed her day.

Stinnett decided to simply change her path to work. This simple task of seeing new scenery every week on the way to work shifted her thoughts in a positive direction. She believes that little changes can have significant differences. Another example she gives is an intentional decision to make eye contact and smile at someone. This can brighten your attitude and mood, with a bonus of improving the environment of those around you! Since smiling can be difficult for some, she recommends practicing smiling in the mirror to calm yourself and then to try it out on neighbors you pass.

Power Struggle Between a Man and a WomanWith society moving at a rapid pace it is difficult to stay calm and focus on finding happiness from within. There are many influences portraying an idea of what we need. Instead of listening to people and the media she recommends sitting in a calm space and realizing your authentic needs. When one taps in to their reflective and creative side they are then opening new doors for future paths and ideas. The next step is to write these ideas down and begin to use them.

stress 4While some people enjoy change, others find it scary. It helps to remember that change does not have to be overnight nor does it need to be drastic. Small shifts in our thinking and living can create positive affects. Stinnett emphasizes to always be tuned in to your creative side and learn to create peace in your everyday interactions. One has to work on being positive, and daily reminders such as uplifting words written on your wall or mirror can help facilitate the desired outcome. Creating a peaceful environment requires desire, skill, and patience. It will be initiated by a little action for most, and that is a good thing. According to Stinnett, every little shift is a radical act.

About the Author: Rebecca grew up in Houston and graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology from the University of Houston Clear Lake. She intends on continuing her education with a masters. Currently, she is exploring different fields that relate to sociology. Rebecca’s passion is encouraging others and assisting them with their needs.