More2Life: The Kalani Sitake Foundation

We all know who BYU Head Coach Kalani Sitake is – the bruising BYU running back who played for Lavell Edwards and later was a long-time assistant coach for the University of Utah and Oregon State University. Since he has become BYU’s Head Football Coach, he has begun to change the culture of the program – with an emphasis on helping his team and Cougar Nation feel like a family.  

We’ve been BYU football fans since we were little kids. Coach Lavell Edwards, Steve Young and Ty Detmer were all legends that we looked up to. So when we had the chance to go the BYU football offices to meet with Coach Kalani Sitake, walking past memorabilia, posters and gear, we have to admit, we were pretty starstruck. 

We’d never been in a football coach’s office before – let alone BYU’s Head Football Coach. As we waited for Coach Sitake, we met several assistant football coaches and saw young football recruits walking down the hallway. From around the corner, we heard Coach Ty Detmer’s unmistakable Texas drawl as he was showing them around. Before he could turn the corner, we were called in to Coach Sitake’s office. Guess we’ll have to wait until next time for that photo op! We were nervous, but Coach Sitake’s calm demeanor and attitude helped put us at ease and we instantly felt like members of the BYU football family.  

While we met, Kalani shared with us what motivates him as a football coach; that one of his purposes is to help shape his young athletes to serve others and help them think about more than just themselves. Coach Sitake was open about how this desire led him to start something to accomplish this–the More2Life Foundation. 

A few years after his parents’ divorce, at an elementary school assembly put on by BYU athletes, Kalani was deeply affected by the kindness of a BYU player. “He sought me out and asked me my name. He embraced me and it was beautiful.” That moment was monumental. “I felt I had a purpose. It changed my life. I was already a BYU fan, but now I was going to die a BYU fan…that experience has impacted me for 30 years.” 

“The whole purpose of our mortal life is to help encourage others and to serve…with an intent to help young people whether they are disadvantaged in any way, whether it be physical, mental or financial. Simply giving people money isn’t enough… give them motivation and help them find passion. For us in our football program, there are two sides of it. Service brings the best out of people. When I was younger and growing up, helping others brought me a lot of joy. In college things tend to get selfish. In football, you’re worried about fitness – losing and gaining weight. We have a lot of missionaries who are just returning home who play football and utilize the platform we have. It is an obligation for us to help others. Our players are consistently serving others.”  

Kalani expressed a desire to see this type of service-oriented program start at every major sports program across the country and hopes to get other football coaches on board. Kalani emphasized, “what good we could do if all programs were able to do something like this.” 

One of the main initiatives of the More2Life Foundation is to inspire others to serve. Kalani often does this through events like recent visits to underprivileged children in Harlem and LA. There, they held activities to help children and coaches through lessons about life, competition, goal-setting and of course some football too. Kalani feels “the big events get a lot of attention. We hold events every month that maintain a lot of momentum and it’s not limited to just football. What if the BYU football team shows up to a service project? That would have been huge for me as kid. I would have gone to do it.” So would we! 

The True Blue Hero program, another More2Life initiative, partners with BYU football to honor children who are overcoming significant challenges at one of the weekly football practices. One of our colleague’s nieces was a recipient of this program before one of the games last year.  

“We are hoping to motivate others to serve,” Kalani stated, “Even though we put on football clinics – it’s not just limited to football. During these clinics, we also emphasize service projects and important life skills, such as making care kits for others and setting personal goals. We’ve received great feedback.” 

We asked Kalani how people can support the More2Life Foundation. ”Time!” he responded. “If people want to donate money, they can. It helped us take 32 players to Harlem and 34 players to LA. But donating is not just about money. Some people may not be able to donate money, but they can donate their time to help. Some have donated a few hours a week to organize. It’s not money that makes things run, it’s people.” 

“During the foundation’s first year, I’ve been impressed with our players. It’s humbling for them to see the effect they have on these kids. Some of our players haven’t served LDS missions, but they’ve been able to catch the vision of service.” 

“I don’t know how many wins this will get us, but I’m not really worried about that. The name of the foundation is that there is ‘More 2 Life’ than just football. I’d like to think you can win games through more than just x’s and o’s and working out.” Kalani states that if you serve together as a team and as a family, that is a victory in itself.  

“Get out and serve,” he advises, “Help others to not focus on their own issues by serving and by seeing that their worth is valued by other people and that it has a lot to do with giving their time and energy.” 

Let’s follow Coach Sitake’s counsel and go out and serve others. 

To read more about Coach Kalani Sitake’s More2Life Foundation, visit the website at www.coachkalani.com 

Phil and Triston are owners of the Center for Couples and Families in American Fork, Provo and Spanish Fork and provide marriage and family therapy to clients.  

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

 

Every Day is a Bonus Day: How a terminal cancer patient is inspiring others to live

My name is Melanie Day. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, just a few weeks after I found out I was pregnant with my third child. I endured chemo, surgery, and too many ER visits, all while pregnant. I eventually gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and then continued more chemo, radiation, and surgeries. After a year and a half of treatment, I had my first clear scan and was so excited to be moving on with my life, free of cancer. However, in 2015, they found cancer in my bones and I was given five years to live.

My perspective on life completely changed. Suddenly, I wanted to do all those things I said I’d do someday. I wanted to go on that Mediterranean cruise with my husband. I wanted to be more forgiving and stop judging others. I wanted to speak more freely and openly. I wanted to make sure that people knew how I really felt, and that they knew that I loved them. I wanted to stop saving my money and instead spend it on making memories with my loved ones. I wanted to stop worrying about what I looked like or what others thought of me. I wanted to instead build people up, make them happy and excited about life. I wanted to learn to enjoy the chaos of a toddler house and to stop obsessing with having a perfectly clean house. I knew I had to make a lot of changes. And I was grateful that cancer was teaching me to wake up!

I’ve always been the person who saved all my pennies and never splurged on anything. I’ve said no to so many adventures because I wanted to save my money instead, or I didn’t think I had the time, or some other excuse like that. But cancer has shown me how important it is to make the most out of life NOW. Making memories with my family and to no longer delay my dreams are top priorities for me now. My family and I have made an effort to go on adventures this past year to cross off my bucket list items. We spent Christmas making memories at a mountain resort instead of buying our kids presents. I skied in Tahoe for a weekend with the Send It Foundation. We took the kids to Disneyland for a magical week, thanks to some generous friends. In February, the BYU and Duke basketball coaches surprised me with the number one item on my bucket list. They got us tickets to the UNC at Duke men’s basketball game, my ultimate sports fantasy. In April, I spent two weeks in New Zealand playing in the World Masters Games with my former college teammates. Just last week, we witnessed thousands of lanterns in the sky at the Lantern Fest in Salt Lake City. A nonprofit organization called Inheritance of Hope is hosting us this next week in Florida at Disneyworld, Universal Studios, and Sea World. After that, we will be in Lake Tahoe for a family reunion. I plan on going to Hawaii in November, Europe the next two years, and NYC in the fall of 2018. I’m sure more opportunities for adventure will arise and we will seize them. I’ve said “no” to so many of these opportunities in the past, so going forward, I’ll mostly be saying, “yes.”

Although this terminal diagnosis drove me into depression and anxiety of my unavoidable death, I eventually realized the importance of sharing my story so that I could help others. That is now my life’s mission. I want to help others see what I see, without having a terminal disease. I want people to ponder their own death and let that motivate them to live their life how they want to NOW instead of waiting until it’s too late. I want people to realize that every day is a bonus day.

 

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Written by Melanie Day

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Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples: Healing and Creating Connections

All of us, from cradle to grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figures. – Dr. John Bowlby

Have we really cracked the code on love and romantic bonding? Perhaps. Scientists, poets, and lovers have long grappled with the question: “What makes romantic love work?” Through the work of Dr. Sue Johnson and the development of Emotionally Focused Therapy, it looks like we have an answer.

Through decades of research on the importance of emotional bonding and what it is like to feel disconnected, isolated, and alone, relationship researchers are starting to unravel the mystery of love and adult romantic bonding and how to mend loving ties. The truth is, we are all hard-wired to connect to one another. This drive to connect is infinitely stronger in family and romantic relationships. To be emotionally isolated is harsh on our brains. Loving connections offer us a safe haven to go to where we can maintain our emotional balance, deal with stress, and respond more lovingly to our romantic partners. Essentially, when those connections are secure and strong, love is safe; love flourishes.

Unfortunately, disconnections between couples do happen and frustration, sadness, and anger are all too common in marital relationships. When those secure and loving bonds are threatened, emotional “primal panic” and a cycle of negative interactions ensues. These wounds can be difficult to repair for couples when left to their own abilities, and therapy is often the last step before looking to end the relationship. Unfortunately, many well-meaning therapists utilize their individual-based, time-tested techniques and attempt to apply them to relational interactions, which usually has little effect in restoring their loving bonds. In addition, many therapeutic techniques focus on helping partners change behaviors or thoughts, or teaching them communication skills. The common result from these approaches and techniques is that they usually struggle to gain traction, and the couple leaves therapy with less hope than before.

But there is hope. Within the last 25 years, a substantial amount of research has emerged that gives hope to couples on the brink and helps them tune in to their underlying emotions, identify their negative patterns of interaction, repair their attachment, and eventually create new patterns of bonding and positive interactions. This model is Emotionally Focused Therapy.

Grounded in the theory of attachment, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an experiential, short term, structured, and tested model of therapy designed to help couples identify their negative communication patterns, interrupt this pattern, and create more positive, bonding, and secure emotional patterns. EFT does not see individuals as “sick” or unskilled, but rather “stuck in habitual ways of dealing with emotions with others in key moments.” As the title reflects, priority is given to emotion as a key organizer of inner experiences. EFT looks within the emotional experience of the couples and how they navigate their emotional connectedness. Dr. Sue Johnson has said, “The EFT therapist has a map. A map to relationships and how they work. A map to how they go wrong. And map to what is needed to put them right.”

A substantial body of research has shown promising results of the effectiveness of EFT. Research studies find that 70-75 percent of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements. EFT is being used with many different kinds of couples in private practice, university training centers and hospital clinics, and many different cultural groups throughout the world. These distressed couples include partners suffering from disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and chronic illness.

In my work with couples, EFT has resonated with them on many levels. No longer are couples focused on fights and long-standing disagreements about specific content or trying to change the other person. When couples go through the process of EFT, perpetual problems are framed as negative disconnections that are about protests by each partner for a more loving connection and emotional safety. EFT takes the blame out of conflict and resentment and moves to fighting together against a common enemy—the negative pattern. As couples progress through the stages and steps of EFT and begin to accesses deeper emotions that underlie their struggle for connection, a new interaction emerges as individual partners see and experience each other differently. When partners experience each other as more accessible, responsive, and engaged, old wounds and negative patterns are healed, and love and emotional safety thrives.

Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Written by Dr. Jeremy Boden

Welcome American Fork couples therapist Tiffany Winegar, MS, LAMFT

 

New to the American Fork Center for Couples and Families team, Tiffany Winegar is taking new clients! She specializes in couples therapy, family therapy, anxiety/depression, self-esteem/self-actualization, perfectionism and teen/adolescent girls. Tiffany received her Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from Brigham Young University, one of the top MFT programs in the world. Prior to, and during her masters program, Tiffany was mentored by world-renowned social relationships psychologist, Dr. Julianne-Holt Lunstand and worked as a member of her research team studying social relationships and health. In addition to her work with Dr. Holt-Lunstad, Tiffany has been involved in additional research in the field of health psychology including the study of stress and emotional regulation. She is passionate about applying the principles from her clinical training and research to improve the lives and relationships of her clients. Tiffany is a member of AAMFT (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy) and NCFR (National Council on Family Relations). Tiffany grew up in Southern California and now resides in Draper, UT with her husband and two boys.

Our Brains, Our Bodies, Our Relationships

As I work with individuals and couples, I like to educate them on how our brains and our bodies impact our relationships. Understanding the correlation between these elements seems easy enough, however, I often get the question, “How do I change my brain?” The answer to this question is a great starting point to create healing and allow new interactions to take place.

Our brains are wired for connection. Each interaction we have either strengthens or weakens the connections in our brains, thus influencing the relationships with those around us. The ability to allow one or two more heartbeats before reacting or responding to one’s partner is the ultimate goal. The better you are able to emotionally regulate (by allowing more heartbeats before reacting), the more positive your interactions with others can be.

There are many ways you can impact emotion regulation and the ability to create new experiences that improve relationship interactions. Some are easier than others, and some have been targeted to help with other areas of life. I’d like to highlight two very important ways to help increase heart rate variability and improve cognitive functioning so you are better prepared the next time you might want to fly off the handle. They are exercise and sleep.

Everyone knows that exercise is good for physical health, but it also has great implications for mental health and relationship health. Increased exercise impacts the way your heart pumps blood. Long-term exercise increases your heart’s efficiency in pumping blood to the body. It doesn’t have to work so hard, and this increases heart rate variability, or the amount of time in between heart beats in a given minute. Increased heart rate variability means more regulation (more parasympathetic, or calming, influences) on the heart, and thus, more flexibility in emotional responses. This means that you have more capacity to keep the breaks on when your fight or flight response is triggered, allowing you more time to thinking critically, solve problems, or socially engage before flying off the handle and reacting to environmental stimuli.

Additionally, exercise increases the volume of the prefrontal cortex—the area in the brain associated with learning and memory. Exercise also stimulates the growth of cells by releasing chemicals in the brain. These new cells are then cleaned, solidified, and bonded together to create new memories for individuals.

We have all heard that sleep is important and should be a priority. Sleep does a lot of thing for us—it helps with creativity, remembering physical tasks, and making decisions. Sleep also does two important things in the brain: creates and consolidates memories and clears out toxins. As neurons fire together (and therefore wire together), sleep helps to connect recent memories with earlier memories. This allows individuals to remember how they reacted in past situations, and react differently next time if they desire a different outcome.

Cleaning out toxins in the brain increases attention and memory, helps individuals think clearly, and even impacts the regulation of insulin. Not getting enough sleep inhibits the ability to clear out the toxins, which can be harmful to the connections that are trying to take place in the brain. Sleeping allows us the opportunity to create new and improved experiences each day.

There are many ways individuals can have more influence on emotional responses. These are only two, but by changing our brains and our physiology in the body, we are prepping ourselves for better interactions. Being mindful of how we can impact the physiology of our bodies allows us more control over how we interact with those around us. We increase our capacity to engage more positively and be more satisfied in our relationships.

Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Written by Dr. Kayla Mennenga

Hold Me Tight Workshop

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Have you felt a lack of emotional connection in your relationship? Do you get stuck in conflict and negative interactions? Do you want to feel more emotionally safe to ask for what you need in your relationship? Would you like to be more accessible, responsive, and engaged in your relationship?

This can help! Spend time with me learning the most successful approach to creating loving relationships!

‘Hold Me Tight’
Marriage Workshop
Friday, February 3, 6:00 pm–9:00 pm
and Saturday, February 4, 9am–5:30pm
Provo Marriott SpringHill Suites

$275 per couple (Early Bird price before January 16)
$325 per couple after January 16

Price includes:
• 10 hours of instruction and practice
• Hold Me Tight book
• Workbook for each partner
• Engaging, professional, and experienced presenter
• Small group for increased access to presenter
• Light refreshments

Roads to Ruin, Bridges to Recovery

 

Lisa started drinking when she was 16, just casually with her friends. After her parents’ messy divorce, she started to overdo it. Later, in college, things started to get out of hand, and soon she was on a downward spiral of excessive drinking. She knew it was destroying her life, but she couldn’t stop.

Mark first saw pornography when he was 13, but he didn’t make a pattern of looking for it until he was 16. Mark wasn’t close to his parents, and felt like a loner at school, and when he felt bored or stressed he found pornography made him feel a lot better. Years later, he was fired from his job for looking at pornography at work. Soon after, his wife started talking about separation.

Looking for a Fix

It can be hard to understand why people continue with an addictive behavior, even when it threatens to destroy their life. What we often don’t understand is that things like alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography can sometimes feel like the only options people have to deal with the mess in their lives.

When our need feels desperate, the pressure to find a solution can be overpowering. Think of what it would be like to crawl through the desert for days, mouth as dry as sandpaper, only to come across a pitcher of cold water, with a sign that says “do not touch.” Would you be able to restrain yourself? This gives you some idea of what an addict feels when their brain is pushing them towards meeting a need, or in other words, getting a ‘fix’.

Our brain is wired to solve problems for us. It builds bridges between problems (hunger) and solutions (eating). If we are lucky, we have felt the incredible comfort that can come from someone who loves you and is there for you in your time of need, and so when we feel lonely or sad, it makes sense to turn to one of these people—our brain has built a bridge. But what if this isn’t an option in our mind? Maybe, like Lisa, our family doesn’t feel safe, or like Mark, we don’t have many friends. Where can we build a bridge to?

Fortunately, the brain is a great problem solver, and it will find a solution somewhere else. Unfortunately, under pressure, sometimes it will find a solution that leads down the path of an addictive behavior. Our brain will remember how great that thing felt, and how useful that could be right now. Each time we indulge the impulse, the bridge grows a little stronger, until after a while it feels like the only possible option, and becomes relatively automatic.

Building New Bridges

The good news is, this understanding can open up some big possibilities for recovery. Instead of focusing on just stopping the behavior (which is often frustrating and ineffective) we can instead focus on what the underlying problem is that the addiction is responding to. Then we can find an alternative solution that lines up better with the way we want to live, and gives us the comfort or support we really need. Often, this is best achieved by developing a supportive relationship, and learning to go there for comfort and support.

For example, Mark came to a full awareness of the impact of his addiction, and wanted to make changes. He was so used to hiding his issues and feelings and using pornography to deal with them, that it was hard to open up and be honest—with himself, his therapist, and his wife. But as he learned to go to his wife when he needed comfort and support, they both found that their marriage soon improved to a point where they felt closer than ever.

After crashing out at school, Lisa was referred by her school counselor to an AA meeting. There, she met with people who understood the pull of alcohol, who didn’t judge her, but instead supported her to overcome her addiction. She started to repair relationships with family and friends, and this, along with the support of her group and sponsor, gave her the motivation to get her life back on track.

Addiction affects everyone, everywhere. Often, the best thing we can do to overcome it is to develop caring and supportive relationships that address the underlying need, and help the addict know that they are loved and they are not alone. Recovery can be scary and difficult at first, but it becomes easier as you walk a new path of openness and connection to the people and things that are truly important to you.

Written by Sam Ryland, LCSW

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Turning Holiday Stress Into Holiday Joy

happy family mother and baby little child playing in the winter for the Christmas holidays

It was getting dangerously close to Christmas. I had all but finished my shopping for the season when I realized that I had one more gift to buy. I knew I couldn’t order it online because it wouldn’t arrive on time, so my thoughts turned to how to navigate the stores with other last-minute shoppers. I dreaded the prospect of full parking lots, busy aisles and long check-out lines, and lamented not finishing my gift buying earlier. There was no choice, however; I had to go. I don’t know what it is about shopping that close to Christmas, but the atmosphere seemed to be charged with holiday stress rather than holiday joy. When I arrived at the store, shoppers were rushing in and out, elbowing me out of the way—almost battering me with the gifts they had so lovingly chosen for their family. The drive over to this part of town didn’t help either. It was almost as if driving a mini-van was license for some to weave through traffic like the Apocalypse was here, and that the only thing standing between them and their empty cupboards at home was the last loaf of bread being sold at the store. This is where I started to get stressed and thought to myself, “Isn’t this supposed to be the best time of the year?” On that day, it didn’t feel like it.

How many of us experience an increased level of stress or even anxiety during the holidays? There are many reasons this could be the case: Trying to balance success at work and fitting in an abundance of errands, buying the “perfect” gift, lack of money/resources, more time with family or reminders of family losses (death or absence of a loved one).

The holidays, for some, equates more to holiday stress than holiday joy. Stress often leads to anxiety, a natural response to uncomfortable situations. Anxiety isn’t necessarily bad; it can cause us to act in ways that solve our problems. If experienced in excess or handled in an unhealthy manner, though, anxiety has the potential to cause mental health issues as well as ruin experiences that could bring us joy.

Given that holiday stress has the potential to turn into serious anxiety, and that anxiety is the most common mental health issue adults face (according to SAMHSA), we need to not let holiday stress turn into a holiday anxiety disorder!

The question, then, is how do we do this? How do we not let holiday worries and tasks become more than we can bear? Focusing on holiday rituals can help. Rituals are similar to traditions, in that they are actions or behavior we routinely participate in that have meaning to us. In his article “The Value of Rituals in Family Life,” Evan Imber-Black (2012) pinpoints five purposes behind family rituals. These can help us refocus our celebrations, and perhaps aid in letting go of unnecessary seasonal stress.

Relating – We create rituals during the holiday season to connect with others. It is easy to forget that the most important part of the holidays is being with the ones we love. Plan simple activities or gatherings that allow you and your loved ones to be together. Years after the wrapping paper has been thrown away, children often remember what you did together as a family more than what was under the tree. A ritual my family had when I was younger was cutting down our own Christmas tree. I am sure my siblings don’t remember every Christmas gift they received, but they do remember the year the Christmas tree we were cutting down fell on and trapped our youngest brother. This ritual has created humorous and loving memories for our family over the years.

Changing – Holiday rituals can highlight or ease us into changes in our family. As children grow older, we might celebrate this by having them participate in different and meaningful ways during the festivities. Perhaps give them tasks you normally took on, like organizing a game or making a treat. When children turn into young adults, some serve LDS missions. To mark this transition in life, ask them to prepare a traditional holiday meal from where they served. This allows them to participate and share a significant part of their life as they grow older.

Healing – During the holidays, we often remember those who have passed away or who are not present. It can also invoke memories of better times or more comfortable circumstances. This can be a stressful and painful experience. Creating rituals to honor and remember those who are gone can be healing and freeing. One family watches a home video of their son and shares memories about him as they sit together. This allows them to celebrate his memory and gives him a place in their family rituals. This family is able to heal and feels free to live even though their son is gone.

Believing – All too often, the meanings behind the holidays we celebrate are forgotten as we become focused on tasks, decorations, and planned events. In order to decrease anxiety and stress, make an effort to remember why you choose to celebrate this holiday. Deliberate attention on creating rituals that honor our beliefs helps us to refocus on what is most important.  Perhaps it will help simplify our celebrations, ease the task load, and teach younger family members the reason we celebrate.

Celebrating –  The holidays we choose to celebrate show what we value and who we are. They connect us with family members and others in the community. Choose to celebrate in ways that address the previously mentioned areas—creating relationships, changing, healing, and believing. If you are in a bicultural or interfaith family, discuss together how to share rituals that are important to each person so that all can feel included and connected in celebrating. If we say to ourselves after the holidays are over, “I thought that was supposed to be more fun,” then we might want to re-evaluate how we celebrate this time of year.

While it is impossible to turn off the traffic, crowds and even some of the busyness, it is possible to find holiday joy in a potentially stressful season. The tasks on our to-do lists can be part of family fun, but if they take away joy and create imposing anxiety instead, perhaps we could examine the purpose of our holidays. Let go of holiday stress and embrace healthy, simple and meaningful rituals.

Written by Triston Morgan, PhD LMFT

Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness