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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.
<img src="http://ccfresources.com/testing/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2015/09/Andy-Thompson.jpg" alt="Andy-Thompson" width="270" height="179" class="alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-1069"About 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.

Childhood Stress: 7 Signs and 7 Solutions by Joan Landes

Kids on School BusYour five-year old keeps having melt-downs over small incidents. Your ten-year old has stomach aches every day. And your 15 year-old plays video-games until three in the morning. Are these just normal developmental glitches, or is there something amiss that needs attention?

Stress can challenge the coping skills of even the most resilient people, but children, especially, are vulnerable. To make matters worse, children often communicate their distress with behaviors rather than words.

Parents shouldn’t expect their children to say, “You know Mom, I feel over scheduled, tired, and unable to meet your expectations. I suggest we re-examine our family goals.” Instead, youngsters often resort to emotional outbursts, avoidance and bodily complaints to express their feelings. Unfortunately, many families focus on punishing the symptoms rather than addressing the underlying causes. That is often a huge mistake.

?????????????????Here are some behavioral signs that your child may be over-stressed:

1. Emotional volatility caused by minor triggers including crying, fighting, anger or more subtle signs such as irritability and over-sensitivity.
2. Numerous aches, pains and other physical symptoms such as headache, stomach ache, fatigue, and asthma attacks.
3. Self-harming behaviors such as nail-biting, hair pulling, anorexia, cutting, burning or non-cosmetic piercing.
4. Avoidant behaviors such as isolation, withdrawal, procrastination, over-sleeping. Additional red flags include unsocial immersion in activities such as video-gaming, internet surfing, music, or even homework and reading books. Other avoidances include withdrawal from activities which were formerly pleasurable such as sports, the arts or socializing with friends.
5. Self-medicating behaviors such as over-eating and substance use. Stress-related over-eating can result in a pattern of binging and/or purging through laxative use or vomiting. Substance use can include prescription drugs, street drugs, inhalants, and the habitual use of “energy drinks”.
6. Distracting activities such as gambling, pornography use, promiscuity, obsessions, compulsions, shoplifting, and partying with high-risk friends.
7. Cognitive difficulties may include a lack of concentration, academic problems and test anxiety.

Of course, some of these behaviors may be normal and transient as children grow up. But if you suspect that these behaviors are interfering with your child’s family life, social life or school success you may want to consult with a clinical counselor. In the meantime, apply some of the following strategies to relieve some of your family’s daily stress.

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.

Spring Cleaning Your Marriage by Chad Olson, LMFT

yellow 3How do you “Spring Clean” when it comes to your marriage? When I was growing up, I knew that every spring at the Olson household we would have a major cleaning session. It was time to dejunk, get organized and deep clean for the coming year because the house and yard tended to get neglected during the long winter.

As I reflect upon those “spring cleanings,” it was not an event I really looked forward to; in fact, I dreaded all the work. Yet, if I am honest with myself, there was something satisfying about working hard to get organized and make things look good again. These experiences have always reminded me that spring is a wonderful time of year because it’s symbolic of new life and rejuvenation.

Attractive couple portrait.New opportunity
Because of this, spring can offer an excellent opportunity to reflect on one of the most important relationships people experience during this life, their marriage. Because of “long winters” that occur at various times in marriage, there is value in taking time with your spouse to do a marital spring cleaning.
Sometimes when my parents asked me to complete a big project during spring cleaning, it seemed overwhelming and I didn’t even know where to start. My parents would then help me break down the bigger picture into smaller parts which made it possible for me to eventually complete the whole task.

If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of analyzing your whole marriage, consider the following suggestions to start the cleaning. You may even want to share with your spouse these ideas or ideas of your own that would be helpful for your own personal marital spring cleaning.

Take a look back at your wedding
First, I would suggest that you take some time as a couple to look through your wedding album or watch your wedding video. As couples reflect upon their wedding, they start to remember the reasons why they decided to get married in the first place. They can think about everything they did in their dating and courtship that made their relationship strong.

Relationships are governed by laws and it will come as no surprise that couples who spend time together talking and doing fun things together are more attracted to each other. On the other hand, that same law states that for couples who neglect doing the fun things they did during dating and courtship, their relationship gets stale and mundane.
I realize that life gets busier after the wedding with careers, children, and challenges, yet couples who want to keep their relationship fresh will make time to do the things that made them fall in love with each other in the first place. So, get that photo album out and remind yourselves of that deep attraction you once had.

MP900440326Improve your friendship with your spouse
The next suggestion is to improve your friendship with your spouse. Research from the Gallup Organization indicates that a couple’s friendship could account for 70 percent of overall marital satisfaction. In fact, the emotional intimacy that a married couple shares is five times more important than their physical intimacy. This research is in line with other research studies asking happily married couples who have been together for over thirty years to what they attribute their marital happiness. The number one response was their friendship.
It seems simple, but friendships require time and effort. So what makes a good friend?
Simple qualities such as thoughtfulness and showing appreciation are a good start. Try to remember the little things throughout the day that your spouse is involved with and ask how they went. Make birthdays, anniversaries and holidays special by doing little things that remind your spouse they are your best friend.
A true friend is loyal, fiercely loyal. A genuine friendship is also based on principles of reciprocity, wherein both spouses are contributing and the result is mutually beneficial.

Consider the following quote from a well-respected ecclesiastical leader, Marlin K. Jensen:
Friendship is … a vital and wonderful part of courtship and marriage. A relationship between a man and a woman that begins with friendship and then ripens into romance and eventually marriage will usually become an enduring, eternal friendship. Nothing is more inspiring in today’s world of easily dissolved marriages than to observe a husband and wife quietly appreciating and enjoying each other’s friendship year in and year out as they experience together the blessings and trials of mortality.

Remember that even though spring cleaning can seem a little daunting, it can be very satisfying as well. So, let’s get cleaning.

OlsonAbout the Author: Chad Olson is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Utah and the clinical director of the St. George Center for Couples & Families. He enjoys working with couples, families, and teens on various issues.

The Role of Spirituality in Health Care by Dr. Victor Sierpina, MD

Lone Tree in SnowSpirituality and religious beliefs may seem like an inappropriate topic to discuss in the health care setting. Perhaps such conversations are best held by a pastoral counselor, clergy, or the hospital chaplain. Patients and their families always have some value system in place, whether based in traditional religious structures, personal spirituality, or some philosophy of life. It is often helpful to elicit these beliefs in order to understand a person’s support system, how and why they make health care choices, and how they might affect palliative care or end-of-life choices.
One model for addressing spiritual belief systems has been developed under the auspices of the John Templeton Foundation and is taught to health professionals through the George Washington Institute of Spirituality in Health. It is called FICA. This is a rather straightforward approach that allows a neutral, non-threatening, and supportive approach to inquiring about the patient’s beliefs. FICA is an acronym for:
Faith and Belief. A question like, “Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious?” can open up rich dialogue on personal values and beliefs.
Importance. A physician or health provider might ask, “What importance do your faith or beliefs have related to your health.”
Community. “Are you part of a spiritual or religious community?” This helps determine the support system.

balanceAddress in care. “How would you like me, as your healthcare provider, to address these issues?” They may not want to go any further at this time, but at least we now have permission to enter into this level of conversation.
In my experience, patients are eager and open to discuss spiritual beliefs with their doctor, yet most physicians feel uncomfortable initiating such discussions. By normalizing this kind of conversation and including it in the routine intake history with a patient, it becomes a matter of record and, with practice, easier to discuss. This requires more than dutifully recording the patient’s religious affiliation in the medical record. It also helps to avoid making the patient feel like they are at death’s door, as their doctor is suddenly talking about their belief system or religion.
Of course, healthcare professionals must be cautious not to proselytize their own religious beliefs on patients and to be diligently mindful of any conscious or even unconscious bias about someone of a different faith or spiritual belief than their own. We are there to explore the patient’s support system, to understand how they process the mysteries of life, and how they make decisions. If a patient and provider share the same religious outlook, patients often feel reassured by discussion, prayer in the office, sharing scriptures of relevance, and the like. Be attentive for “faith flags,” like religious symbols, certain verbal expressions, religious jewelry, T-shirt mottos, reading materials, even tattoos, as these might give a clue to a patient’s spiritual orientation and thus occasion a deeper discussion.

In his landmark book, Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and death camp survivor, observed that even under the horrific conditions of the concentration camp, those who held onto some kind of personal goal, hope, or meaning for their life frequently survived. Often, those right next to them without such a spiritual construct were the first to die. Without hope, without meaning, without spirit, the body shuts down.
Our goals as health providers are to value our patients as human beings, mind, body, and spirit; to relieve both physical and metaphysical suffering; and to offer love, support, and caring on as many levels as the patient is ready to accept. Spirituality belongs in the clinical setting for these reasons.

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.

Marriage After Retirement by Dr. Rick Miller

?????????????????????How do you enjoy Marriage after Retirement? With mixed emotions, you finish packing up your things from your office and carry the box with you to your boss’s office, where you turn in your office keys. It all seems so surreal; you have been working for decades, but today is your last day at work. After a quick goodbye to your colleagues, you walk out to your car and officially begin your retirement.
Now what? After being in the workforce for so many years, you are about to experience the biggest change in your life since you graduated from high school or became a new parent. What is it going to be like spending most of each day with your spouse? For decades, spouses have spent most of each day apart, with at least one spouse working full-time outside the home. Suddenly, you are both at home, all day, nearly every day.
What do these changes mean for your marital relationship? As a university professor, I have been doing research on mid-and later-life couples for over 30 years, including looking at relationships during the transition to retirement. Here is what I have learned:
First, most couples will not experience a significant change in the quality of their relationship. The research shows that most couples who are happy before they retire remain happy post-retirement. Likewise, couples that struggle pre-retirement will likely struggle after they retire. Even though retirement will bring about huge changes in couples’ daily routines and schedules, the basic, core dynamics of the relationship (how couples “dance” together) remain relatively unchanged. The patterns of communication, styles of managing conflict, and patterns of expressing affection and appreciation will remain constant, despite changes in how they spend each day together. In short, the routine changes, but the basic relationship dance doesn’t.
Second, although the overall quality of the marriage after retirement will generally reflect its pre-retirement quality, the actual adjustment can sometimes be difficult. For example, wives of newly retired husbands often struggle with what has been called the “husband underfoot syndrome,” where wives become annoyed when their husbands open the refrigerator for the 12th time before lunch hoping, apparently, that something new has magically appeared since they last looked 10 minutes ago. This annoyance, though, is usually minor and subsides over time as they adjust to their new circumstances.
mid section view of a woman cutting vegetablesThird, housework matters. Or I should say that husbands’ involvement in housework after they retire matters because it has a significant influence on their wives’ satisfaction with the marriage. When husbands step up the work that they do around the house, their wives are more likely to perceive that their husbands are supportive. These wives have a sense that the relationship is fair, which leads to them feeling good about the relationship.
Finally, the great majority of older couples enjoy retirement. The research shows that most post-retirement couples like each other, and they enjoy spending time together. With fewer stresses in their lives and fewer demands on their time, they are at the stage of life where they can enjoy more leisure time together.

Rick Miller headshotAbout the Author: Dr. Richard B Miller is a Professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. His research focuses on the importance of healthy marital relationships on societal well-being and on marital relationships in mid- and later-life. He is also a licensed marriage and family therapy, and he maintains a private practice.

Stay Confused in Relationships by Kurt Attaway

stay confused 2When it comes to marriages, families and any relationship, one thing is pretty certain: conflict will arise at some point. Because relationships are about connection, it is essential that we learn the art of resolving conflict. Conflict creates distance, separation and strain on a relationship. On the flip side, resolved conflict creates closeness, connection and confidence that the relationship can persevere through challenges. Learning how to deal with conflict in a relationship is a vital skill for growing a healthy, vibrant relationship.

So how do you do it? How do you resolve conflict? Simply put…”Stay Confused!” Conflict often arises out of misunderstanding, miscommunication or simply when two people miss each other. If the goal of a relationship is connection, then we must remember to stay confused during moments of conflict so that we can work toward communication, understanding and, ultimately, connection.

I encourage people to stay confused during conflict because it results in questions. Additionally, it helps to limit defensive interactions. If you are confused, you have not made up your mind about the situation. You do not have a position you are trying to defend. Instead, you will seek the other person in conversation through asking questions. Throughout my life, whenever I find myself confused, my natural tendency is to ask questions. During conflict, asking questions and seeking the other person through a process of communication and sharing can help build interactions that naturally combat conflict and help bring the relationship through the issue being discussed.

So, the next time conflict emerges in your important relationship, don’t too quickly jump to a conclusion; instead stay confused and ask questions until the issue is addressed and connection is discovered. Staying confused can help you turn conflict into connection.

Kurt leadershipAbout the Author: Kurt Attaway is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy Associate in Texas. Kurt graduated with his Master’s from UHCL. Kurt works in private practice at The Center for Couples and Families, and serves as the Director of the WholeFit Leadership Team.

The “Mosquitos” of Inaction: Dealing with the Problems in Our Life by Kenneth Jeppesen

stress 4We’ve all experienced a summer evening outside ruined by relentless mosquitos. Eventually we realize that no amount of swatting will stop the onslaught, and that we’ll die of exhaustion before we ever smash enough to make a difference. We quickly find the price of sitting still is a fight that never ends.

On the other hand, runners don’t have to worry about mosquitos. Mosquitos have a pathetic top speed of 1.5 mph; runners simply move too quickly to be caught. Even walking with purposeful speed can keep us ahead of the bloodsuckers.

I have found that the same is true of life. When we stop moving toward our dreams and values, and do only enough to survive, worries and fears descend on us. We sleep in, drag ourselves through work, go home in exhaustion and spend the rest of the night in front of a screen, hoping it will distract us from the reality of the next day. We begin to dread our lives. We begin to fear even little things like eye contact with strangers. The mosquitos of inaction suck the energy out of us, and often our confidence and hope too.

business womanWhen our problems are buzzing thick around us, we can feel trapped and powerless. But all that we need to do in those moments is get moving. Just by having a goal and moving toward it we can avoid having the life sucked out of us by a thousand tiny worries. The mosquitos of inaction cannot catch us when we pursue our dreams. While we can never fully escape problems in life, we can upgrade them for better ones. The problems of inaction stagnate and stall us, but the better problems of progression help to push us forward. Those better problems are opportunities to grow and gain greater happiness.

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.

Avoiding Abusive Relationships (and Building Good Ones) by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

stock-1In my work as a therapist and relationship educator the most frequently-recurring issue I see among single adults is the belief that all of the good men/women are already taken. Many seem stuck in a pattern of abusive, controlling, neglectful relationships that they desperately want to escape. Others have heard the horror stories of their friends and are understandably reticent to enter the dating scene themselves.

Fortunately, there is a way to avoid getting into negative relationships and develop healthy ones instead. Dr. John Van Epp, a counselor with decades of experience working with single adults, has developed a research-based program, charmingly titled “How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk” (based on the book of the same name) that offers essential tools for dating well.

MP900309139As a certified instructor of this “No Jerks” class, as well as a marriage and family therapist who was single for years, I’m well aware that it’s a jungle out there. Allow me to offer four keys to help the never-married, the divorced, the widowed, and the struggling to date with confidence and caution, but without fear.

1. Don’t allow your level of touch to exceed your level of commitment.
2. Don’t trust someone more than you actually know them.
3. Be the type of person that you want to attract.
4. Live a life worth living on your own.

Let’s dig a little deeper on each of these:

1. Don’t allow your level of touch to exceed your level of commitment.
In popular media we frequently see couples entering very early into a physical relationship; the decision to enter (or not) into a committed relationship often comes much later, if at all. This seems to work fine on the page and screen, but remember that those are fictional destinies, determined by authors and screenwriters instead of by reality. In real life, explains Dr. Van Epp, early physical involvement creates a false sense of intimacy. In other words, you think that you’re more in love than you actually are.

Couple holding hands.This is because physical intimacy triggers the release of bonding hormones that make you feel intensely attached to the other person. Of course, if you don’t really know the other person and haven’t developed a pattern of reliably meeting each other’s needs over time, the sensation of “love” is actually a mirage that may or may not actually materialize. The other person may not be dependable, they may not be who you think they are, or they may be lying to you. A breakup after physical intimacy is usually far more painful than one where things didn’t go as far.

2. Don’t trust someone more than you know them.
Dr. Van Epp describes trust as the mental image you have of the person, i.e. who you “think they are.” We don’t trust others, we trust our idea of them, which may or may not be accurate. This is why, when someone betrays our trust, we say “You’re not who I thought you were!” Early on, we gather bits and pieces of a person’s identity from what we observe and what we’ve heard about them. If we’re not careful, we may rush to fill in the gaps with what we hope they are or who we assume them to be, based on limited information.
What’s more, they may be, at best, trying to make a good impression or at worst actively deceitful. This is why it’s important to take time to get to know somebody before entering into a relationship. Build a friendship. Talk frequently and observe them in a variety of situations. See if their actions match their words and if they are who you think they are. Watch carefully how they treat other people. It generally takes at least 90 days for true behavioral patterns to reveal themselves.

3. Be the type of person that you want to attract.
I once had a client in my office for therapy (story shared with permission) who told me that he’d probably never marry because his standards were too high. When I asked him what those standards were, he offered to bring me a list he’d prepared, which he did in the next session. The lengthy list of traits required of his “perfect woman” went on and on. With each requirement this dream female was sounding more and more like a cross between Mary Poppins and Wonder Woman. I took my client’s list, turned it towards him, pointed at it, and said: “Here’s the thing. The woman you describe here… what her list look like?”

The man looked like ice water had been thrown on his face. He realized that he wasn’t living up to the standards that he had set for his mate. He had to be the type of person that he wanted to attract, and if he expected her to embrace and tolerate his imperfections, he’d better be prepared to embrace and tolerate hers. If you want an honest person, be an honest person. If you want a loyal partner, be loyal. If you want someone hard-working, work hard. If you don’t want to be pressured into a relationship, respect the right of others to make their own choices as well.

yellow flower4. Build a life worth living on your own.

It’s fine to want someone to hold and to make memories with here and now, but as soon as that want becomes need, you’re likely to get hurt. Why? As soon as you need to have a man or a woman in your life right now, you’re in love with the idea of being in love. That’s when you scare people away by coming across as desperate. That’s when shady characters can use your neediness to manipulate and use you.

I look at it this way: if you aren’t able to swim on your own, if you’re afraid of drowning in loneliness and despair, you’re going to cling to whatever piece of slimy driftwood comes floating by. The best way to combat this is to build a life worth living on your own. You can still love your life by helping others, developing your relationships with friends and family, and pursuing worthwhile goals. This will make you less desperate, less needy, more attractive to others, and more able to swim on your own. That way, if you end up with someone, it will be because you choose to be with that person, not because you need someone right this moment or you’ll fall apart.
While I’ve much more to share on the subject (and will in the future) these four keys are essential to dating well. Good luck, and happy hunting!

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.

Stress: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Dr. Mike Olson, LMFT

stress 1The Good. We often think of stress as a bad thing, something that we must eradicate from our lives. Yet, without it, we would not be able to survive a single day. There is, deep within our brains, an amazing little factory called the hypothalamus that produces/secretes thousands of very powerful and potent chemicals called neuropeptides and neuro-hormones. The hypothalamus works with the pituitary and adrenal glands to secrete these hormones which include cortisol and epinephrine or adrenalin. The levels of these neuro-hormones rise and fall naturally daily (diurnal rhythms) and help us to wake up in the morning, focus and deal with the challenges of each day and finally allow us to drop off into sleep at night.

The Bad. The problem that most of us have is not the presence of stress or the stress hormones that flow through our blood stream each day. It is however, the excess of these hormones as they build up in the body without release. Take a car engine for example. The engine revs and shifts as the gas pedal is pressed. The RPMs continue to climb as the demands rise on the engine. If the pedal remains pressed down without release, the RPMs will reach a critical level and eventually the engine will overheat and breakdown. The brain and body work in a similar way. When the stressors of life place demands on us our brain produces the chemicals necessary to deal with that stress. The branch of the central nervous system (CNS) called the autonomic nervous system controls the “gas pedal” and the “braking system” of the body, called the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The beauty of these systems is that they are self-regulatory and will, if left alone, rebalance.

Power Struggle Between a Man and a WomanThe Ugly. The problem is that with repeated stressors (worries, financial stress, work and family problems, etc.) these systems fail to rebalance and keep the “gas pedal” pressed. Chronic elevation of stress hormones has been shown to lead to a host of health problems including auto-immune disorders, skin problems, musculo-skeletal pain, arterial/heart disease, inflammation, and the list goes on. The relationship between stress and performance is not linear; meaning that increase in stress will lead to increase in performance or functioning only to a point and then it deteriorates, leading us to function less and less effectively.

balanceWhat to do? Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardio-vascular surgeon and researcher from Harvard and founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine has spent the last 30+ years studying what he calls the “relaxation response.” His work has shown that with a few simple steps, entirely within our control, we can activate this relaxation response, or brake system in the body.

The first step is diaphragmatic breathing (slow inhaling breath through the nose, slow exhaling breath through the mouth with pursed lips to slow flow of air down). Deep and slow breathing increases and decreases pressure on the vagal nerves and flow of blood from the heart to the brain. The rhythm of the heart is affected (more variability or change in the rhythm) which is connected to the brake system of the body as well.

The second step is to focus on a word, a number or a short phrase that is repeated in the mind as you take deep breaths. As thoughts come into your mind (random, distracting, intrusive, worrying thoughts), you passively disregard or let these thought flow through your mind and then return to your repetition (word, phrase, number). Dr. Benson has shown that within 3-5 minutes of following these steps, there are measurable reductions in cortisol, epinephrine, increased oxygen in the blood, increased delta/theta waves in the brain (slow, undulating, relaxed brain frequencies), among others. Finding the place/time to practice this basic skill on a daily basis can have measurable positive effects on health by significantly reducing stress in the body.

If any of our therapists or health coaches can be of assistance in your quest for wellness and stress reduction, let us know and we will be happy to help. Our staff has experience and training working with stress reduction and management using this technique among others (biofeedback, psychotherapy or talk therapy, autogenic techniques, EEG neurofeedback, etc.).

MikeAbout 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

Fight Fair by Kenneth Jeppesen, MS, LMFTA

business man with laptop over head - madSurveys have shown that for the most part, couples divorce because they don’t feel loved. One of the biggest things that makes us feel like our spouse doesn’t love us is fighting. Since we can’t expect to remove all conflict from marriage, what are we supposed to do? The answer is to change the way we fight. Today I’ll share one thing that can start to change the way you fight.

When we get in a fight with our spouse, our emotions are running high, and we feel attacked. Researcher John Gottman has found that we experience the fight-or-flight response which he calls being “flooded.” Our heart rate gets up around 100 beats per minute, our digestion stops, the blood rushes out of our limbs to prevent from us bleeding to death if injured, and most importantly, our brain mostly shuts off except for one part. The part of our brain that is highly active during fights is the part that looks for threats. And when we are in a fight, we perceive our spouse to be a threat. Even if there is never any physical violence, there is a very real threat to our self-esteem and our happiness if we are in conflict with the person we are supposed to love and cherish. When we are flooded and our brains are on high alert for threat, almost anything we say will cause more harm than good.

For this reason, Dr. Gottman recommends a time-out. It takes at least twenty minutes for our bodies to calm back down. While we take this time-out, we can’t be thinking about the argument, or we will continue to be in this state of physiological arousal. In order to calm down, we have to think soothing and calming thoughts. Dr. Gottman has found through his research that men have a harder time with this. Men are more likely to mull the argument over in their heads, thinking thoughts like, “I shouldn’t have to put up with this.” Women are much better at thinking thoughts like, “Everything is going to be fine, we’re still in love.”

MP900387517It is a lot harder to think calming thoughts when we are charged up with emotional energy. It can be very helpful to do something physically demanding during the twenty minute time-out that will drain that energy. Sprinting, for example, is quite effective. Afterwards it’s much easier to take control of the thoughts we’re thinking about our spouse and relationship. Meditation is a powerful tool that can help with this if we will develop it as a skill.

When you feel yourself getting flooded with emotion and adrenaline, that’s when it’s time for a break. But walking away from your spouse during an argument can make things much worse. When you call a time out, make sure that you agree on a time when you will come back together to continue the discussion. In part two, I’ll share how to make the fights less distressing in the first place.

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. He is currently at the Provo Center for Couples and Families