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.

Pornography Addiction: An Epidemic By Dr Matt Brown and Dr. Mike Olson

Pornography is a big business. Americans spent 97 billion dollars on pornography over the past five years. The monetary cost of this epidemic is only a part of the real cost of this problem in our country. Over the past decade, increasing attention has been given to the damaging effects of pornography on the brain and, by extension, the lives of individuals and families. The accessibility of pornographic material and the multitude of technologic means by which it comes into our lives has brought this issue increasingly into the spotlight. In fact, you may be reading this because pornography has impacted you, personally, or someone you love.

There has been controversy in the psychiatric literature about whether those who struggle with pornography are “addicted.” Whether or not it is formally designated in the professional literature as an addictive disorder, it certainly has been shown to affect the brain and the lives of its users in ways consistent with other addictive disorders. As with any addiction, an understanding of the process is key. Let’s start with how the brain responds to pornography. Our brains are designed to catalog our experiences with the end goal of preserving life and eliminating threats to our safety. Essentially, our brains are effective at remembering what feels good and what doesn’t. While this process is complex, a basic understanding of a few key brain chemicals is critical.

stress 1The brain responds to pornography by releasing a powerful chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is released whenever we have pleasurable experiences. The release of dopamine and another powerful chemical called epinephrine (adrenaline) floods the brain in connection with pornography. With repeated exposure, a neural pathway in the brain is created that links arousal and associated neuro-chemicals dopamine and adrenaline with pornography use. As pornography exposure and dopamine release increases, dopamine receptors are eliminated. This “flooding” of the brain creates habituation or tolerance, resulting in the need for even greater stimulus (more explicit and “hard-core” pornography, novelty and intensity) to achieve the same effect.

Dr. Donald L. Hilton, Jr. MD, a neurosurgeon at the University of Texas, has written extensively about the effects of pornography on the brain. His research and other reviews conclude that the effects of pornography on the brain are comparable to potent drugs, such as cocaine. He also explains that when the body orgasms, the brain produces a particular neurotransmitter called “oxytocin” which creates bonding. Oxytocin is also secreted in the brains of babies and moms during breastfeeding. So we are literally bonding to pornography (a digital image) when we reach climax. In an article published in the Harvard Crimson, Dr. Hilton states that “pornography emasculates men—they depend on porn to get sexually excited and can no longer get off by having sex with their women alone. What happens when you are addicted to porn is that you crave it. Real sex even becomes a poor substitute for porn, and you lose interest.” ¹

A final neurophysiologic effect of pornography is the damage created to the impulse control center of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex. With constant flooding of the brain with dopamine and epinephrine, there is a reduction in size and control of this area. Essentially, the ability to self-regulate and exercise impulse control is reduced until, ultimately, the addiction drives appetites, desires, and behaviors. As individuals fall into the grip of this addiction, they often experience other effects, such as isolation, depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and relationship distress, among others – all of which spiral the individual away from resources that can lift and help them toward recovery and healing.

As awareness of this issue increases, so do resources aimed at educating and assisting those affected by pornography addiction. A relatively new campaign called “Fight The New Drug” (www.fightthenewdrug.org) is an excellent resource for those seeking more information regarding the impact of pornography. There are also many religious/spiritually-based programs available², many of which are based on the twelve-step program utilized by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

¹ http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2011/4/7/porn-men-addiction-pornography/

² https://addictionrecovery.lds.org/family-and-friends/help?lang=eng

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.

Compassion by Dr. Victor S. Sierpina, MD

?????????????????Compassion, a universal cure to what ails us as individuals, societies, and nations, is the response to the suffering of others that creates a desire to help. This attribute, essential to the optimal practice of medicine and healing, gives the healer an understanding and appreciation of the effects of suffering and sickness on the attitudes and behaviors of others. More than mere tolerance, it creates a feeling similar to love, in the universal sense of that word.

While browsing my library recently, I noticed a paperback by the Dalai Lama called Beyond Religion, Ethics for a Whole World. A skilled, heartfilled local meditation teacher, Terry Conrad, uses it when he teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and it found its way to our library through my wife’s work there.

The Dalai Lama, a Buddhist by tradition, pointed out that the compassion lived and espoused by the founders of all major spiritual traditions is often lost amongst their followers. In the name of religion and the defense of various ideologies and creeds, people across time have often violently departed from the teachings of their revered scriptures and teachers. They visit upon others what they would not want done to themselves. Compassion has often been abandoned, leaving the world a worse place.

The philosophically practical Dalai Lama points out that we all share a common humanity. We are not necessarily born into a religion or belief system, but are all driven by a desire to be happy and to avoid suffering. Acknowledging that all other humans share that same basic drive is the basis of compassion. This means seeing others as more like us than different from us, seeing their suffering as our own. Compassion is a necessity to the survival of humanity. Without it, we turn on each other like wild and undisciplined animals.

How do we develop compassion? It is an intrinsic human trait universally encouraged by all major spiritual traditions. Meditating on compassion for others and ourselves helps us bring it into our daily lives and consciousness.

I wrote awhile ago about the “Loving kindness Meditation” which I have found helpful in bridging the compassion gap between me and those I see as different from me. While there are many versions, here is one to consider. I keep it taped onto my dashboard and my phone.

May you be happy.
May you be well.
May you be safe.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be filled with loving kindness to yourself and all others.

balanceConsider this kind of compassion building meditation/prayer exercise daily with a focus first on compassion for yourself. As you continue, channel it mentally toward someone you greatly respect and honor such as a spiritual teacher; then to a dearly beloved person such as a spouse or family member; then to a person whom you know but feel neutral toward; and finally direct your loving kindness meditation toward someone who you consider hostile or even hateful.

Do your part in building a more compassionate you and a more compassionate world.

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist! -Martin Luther King, Jr.

*Previously published in Galveston county daily news.

Sierpina_Victor_5x7About the Author: Dr. Victor Sierpina is currently the director of the Medical Student Education Program at UTMB, Galveston. He is a WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine, and also a Professor in Family Medicine. He is a University of Texas Distinguished Teaching Professor. His clinical interests have long included holistic practices, wellness, lifestyle medicine, mind-body therapies, acupuncture, integrative oncology, nutrition, and non-pharmacological approaches to pain.

“It’s Only One Drink…Right?” By Alyssa Baker

Stressed Businesswoman“It’s only one drink.” How many times have we heard that statement from others or told it to ourselves? For some, it actually does mean one drink; however, for about 16 million adults and almost 700,000 adolescents in the U.S., one drink turns into an alcohol use disorder (SAMHSA, 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health). Alcoholism can develop through many different avenues, such as, genetics, upbringing, social stressors, and mental health. Some cultures and families are at a higher risk of developing alcoholism based on their genetic makeup.

So, what’s the difference? Why can I stop at one drink, but my friend cannot? Do I have an alcohol problem? How do I help my Mom realize that she has a problem? There are so many questions surrounding alcoholism, and the important thing is to ask them. Let’s be brave and keep the conversation going.

I’m “normal,” right?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines normal use as:
Women: No more than 3 drinks per day, and no more than 7 drinks per week
Men: No more than 4 drinks per day, and no more than 14 drinks per week

Okay, so maybe I’m not normal…
Alcohol abuse takes place when drinking is creating problems for someone, but there is no dependence on the alcohol, and there are no withdrawal effects once the use subsides. Alcoholism, on the other hand, means that the person is having negative effects from alcohol, is dependent on it, and when they are not able to drink, they experience uncomfortable withdrawal effects.

Am I at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder? Here are a few indicators, thoughts, and behaviors that could lead to problem drinking.
1. I have a family member who struggles with alcoholism.
2. I struggle emotionally, and sometimes alcohol “evens me out,” or “makes being around other people a little easier.”
3. I have a difficult time stopping drinking once I’ve gotten started.
4. Sometimes I just feel the need to drink.
5. My loved ones keep bringing up my drinking. Sometimes I feel so ashamed and guilty about it.
Most importantly, if alcohol is making your life more complicated and difficult, then it has become a problem.

Now what?
So, after reading a few signs and symptoms, you may have realized that you or someone you know may be experiencing this struggle. Congratulations on taking the first step of making yourself aware of the issue. There are treatment facilities, support groups, meetings, and counsellors who are trained and ready to help. Take control!

??????What I’ve learned through my loved ones’ addictions:
1. Know that we cannot force our loved ones to address their alcohol problem.
2. There is more to the alcoholic/addict than the substance. Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, or Bipolar Disorder could be going untreated.
3. Know that the more you push your loved one to change, the further they will push you away. Come alongside of them and meet them where they are.
4. “Sobriety” is a temporary state, while “Recovery” is a lifelong process and battle.
5. Love them, even when it’s difficult. Tell them.

View More: http://nicholelivingstonphotography.pass.us/centerforcouplesandfamiliesheadshotsAbout 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.

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.