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Raising Awareness on Psychological Distress and Suicide by Dr. Michael Olson, Ph.D, LMFT

Published in the Bay Area Health & Wellness Magazine, Houston,  Visit us at txhwmagazines.com

Why Should Couples Consistently Set New Year’s Resolutions Together? By Dr. Matt Eschler, Ph.D, LMFT

I have counseled couples for twenty-five years. Panicking, anxiously pacing, wringing hands, couples have wandered into my office, hoping to find some peace in their relationships. In the counseling arena we explore some very principled foundation ingredients that, when mixed together, produce peaceful, passionate relationships.

There are three fundamental ingredients that all of us need to exercise for a shot at a sound relationship. My challenge to you is to sit with your lover and assess the following three principles, and set specific goals to learn a little more, stand a little more firm, and increase your skills in these three areas:

The first foundation principle is friendship. Friendship is unilateral. Increase your friendship with your lover every couple of hours. You do this by sharing information, being trustworthy, and being transparent—without conditions.

The second principle that relationships will not survive without is influence. You must accept your lover’s influence. Men seem to have a slightly more difficult time with this, but both partners will benefit from allowing influence. Think about a time when there was disagreement in direction of relationship or activity. Did you allow your lover to have influence? Did you argue until one of you gave in? Was their healthy negotiation until a mutually satisfying result occurred? The hope is always influence and no competition. Get a little better at this in 2018!

Finally, the third principle is generating a governing purpose for your marriage. This is the North Star that holds you both accountable to a result that is desirable and cherished. If you are seeking the same purpose, you won’t go after hostile results. For example, my wife and I want to travel the world. If I sneak out and spend our travel money on a new truck and lots of clothes, we won’t have resources available to travel. That causes issues. If I save and we put our travel fund together and watch it grow together, we will eventually accomplish our common goal.

I invite you all to accept this challenge: In 2018 be a little bit better in all three of these areas. Sit with your lover and map out a specific strategy to accomplish these three goals to improve your relationship.

 

About the Author: Matt lives in St. George, Utah where he and his wife Chris are enjoying their life with each other. Since their kids have grown and moved out perusing their dreams Matt and Chris travel the world. They want to visit 200 countries before the are done. Matt and Chris are active in their community and enjoy working out, training for marathons, and spending time participating in numerous activities with their adult children.  Matt has received his PhD in Psychology. He is focused on the arena of resolving personal conflicts and improving interpersonal relationships. In addition to his Doctorate Degree Matt has earned a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, studied Criminal Justice and received a category I licensure with Peace Officer Standard of Training along with a degree in the Arts of Business Management. Matt is a professor at Dixie State University and hopes to be part of the positive growth of Southern Utah.

Simple Ways to Improve Mood by Alberto Souza, MSN, APRN, FNP-C

We all have those days when it feels like we woke up on the wrong side of the bed. For whatever reason we are just in a bad mood. Often times these bad mood feelings are associated with difficult or stressful events in our lives such as trouble at work, financial problems or disappointment. Sometimes these bad mood feelings last for only a few hours, but sometimes they might linger for days at a time. There are many simple strategies to improve one’s mood in spite of what it is that might be bringing us down.

Be With People

Often times when we are feeling low just being with a trusted friend or family member and talking about our feelings can make all the difference. Having a sympathetic listener or someone that can get us laughing or looking at the bright side of things can make all the difference. We shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about our mood or admit that we need help. In fact, many times isolating ourselves can be one of the biggest culprits in a lingering bad mood.

Get Out

Whether its a brisk walk through the neighborhood or a trip to the grocery store, getting out of the house can do wonders for improving our mood. Sometimes we just need a little sunshine or to breathe in some fresh air. The sights and sounds of everyday life can get our mind off of things and be a beautiful distraction.

Enjoy Yourself

When a bad mood strikes we might find ourselves not even wanting to do the things we normally enjoy, but doing them anyways can take our minds off of negative thoughts and often times will help us feel better overall. Think of simple pleasures like reading, exercising, cooking or baking, shopping or just watching a funny movie or show.

Talk to a Professional

Feeling sad or moody are normal human emotions that we all experience from time to time.  Depression is different from these emotions primarily because depression is a pervasive feeling of sadness that impacts our entire life and doesn’t just go away even when things in our lives are good. We should not hesitate to reach out to a professional to help us understand our feelings and deal with them appropriately.

Source: Psychology Today

About the Author:  Alberto has worked in healthcare for over 10 years. He began as a CNA and then worked as a registered nurse until completing his Master’s Degree in Nursing.  Alberto has been been working as a Nurse Practitioner since April of 2013.  In addition to his work as a Nurse Practitioner, he also teaches online classes for the Dixie State University Nursing Program.  He is currently working at the St. George Center For Couples & Families.

The Holidays: Remembering What Matters Most by Cecilie Ott, LMFTA, MS

Man Looking at Cooked Turkey, Blurred. — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year with the sparkle of lights, family gatherings, and good food. However they can also remind us of what we may be lacking, and leave us feeling less than completely happy. We want so much to give of ourselves and yet often get overwhelmed with the stress that tends to accompany this special time of the year. If we are dealing with a major change or loss it can become even more challenging to feel the joy amidst the sorrow. One thing I have learned over the years is that no one is immune from pain and stress. Life is hard. However, I have also found that those tough times are when I have been pushed to dig deep and recognize what it is that matters the very most to me.

Here are some lessons I have learned that have helped me over the years to remember that which matters most.

Choose to Be Present
When life becomes challenging we often focus on the future or on things outside our control. We may tell ourselves that we will be happy when we land a different job, make more money, find a new partner… the list goes on and on. We waste a lot of time waiting for happiness to happen down the road and fail to notice the little blessings right in front of us. Choosing to recognize the moments of goodness today enable us to be more ready to embrace the moments of greatness when they do enter our lives. If we only keep our sights focused on the destination, we will miss much of the journey.

Choosing to Love Deeply


When we are suffering, we sometimes forget that we are not alone. There is strength in connecting with others. There is power derived from leaning on each other and receiving/giving support. Part of loving is accepting what another is able to give. It is also accepting what we are capable of giving and knowing when enough is enough. We may not always be able to extend ourselves as much as we would like, but loving ourselves gives us permission to give what we can and let that be sufficient. Loving those in our lives means slowing down and listening. It may be taking the time to notice the little things before they are gone.

Choosing to Slow Down
I cannot count the times I have been rushing around, checking if the kids teeth were brushed and gathering my stuff for the day when I have miscalculated the countertop and watched a cup of juice fall to the floor, almost in slow motion. It is in those moments that I am rushing, that I tend to make my biggest mistakes. Sometimes it is just spilt juice, but sometimes it is a hurtful word or a lack of sensitivity. Being hurried zaps the joy out of the little moments that draw us closer to others and hinders us from being more centered on those things that mean the most. Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe, sit with a child, laugh, and listen.

I hope that at this special time of the year, we will remember what matters most. May we each find ways to lengthen the fleeting joyful moments and nurture those around us by being present today and loving more deeply. These principles can be the greatest gift we can ever give, not just to others, but also to ourselves.

About the Author: Cecilie Ott is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist. She received her bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Psychology and her Masters degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Utah State University. She has worked extensively in the area of addiction (substance abuse and sexual addiction), and loves working with couples to help strengthen and heal relationships. Cecilie is a native of Northern California and has called St. George home since 2006.

Hope for the Holidays by Alyssa Baker

Do you have hope during the holidays?

A young couple is snuggled up by the fireplace as they watch their children open presents, smile, and laugh. There is snow falling, sweaters, Christmas pajamas, hot chocolate, candy canes, cookies, hugs, kisses, and even tears from such loving gifts and sentiments. This is the image that we see everywhere around the holiday season.

Although we are inundated with this vision of the holidays, I have never really experienced it. Is this actually the typical family? When we expect to celebrate the holidays in this way, are we all being set up for disappointment?

What if we spent this holiday season free of expectations? What if we were truly present with our friends, family members, and even ourselves? What better way to spend this time of year than being centered and at peace with who we are?

The holidays can be especially difficult when families experience divorce, loss of a loved one, or financial stress. Even positive changes can disrupt our vision of the “perfect” holiday season. Adult children may not be able to make it home, whether due to professional obligations or the forming of new traditions with their own family. No matter the circumstances, it is important to increase flexibility and embrace the following core values, especially at this time of year.

Gratitude
Research has repeatedly shown how gratitude combats symptoms of depression and loneliness. Gratitude can be expressed with your loved ones or even with strangers. If you are feeling lonely, with a hole in your heart this holiday season, sharing your presence and gifts with those in need will fill even the emptiest of spaces. Tipping your waiter a little extra, writing a thank-you note to your mail carrier, or even making a sweet treat for your co-workers can be small ways of expressing gratitude.

Peace
Stress is a killer around the holidays. Where is the “peace” in running from store to store and traveling to six different holiday dinners? Find peace this season by spending time in your spiritual life. Find time to relax and unwind by taking a bubble bath, enjoying a hot drink, and cozying up with a good book or movie. The gift of peace is the best gift we can give ourselves, our families, and our friends this holiday season.

Joy
When is the last time you felt truly joyful? Maybe it has been a while. Even if your year did not turn out the way you wanted, you still deserve the time and space to feel joy. Experiencing joy has to be very intentional. You may not be much of a social butterfly, but if you are looking for joy this season and having trouble finding it, gather the courage to call an old friend or attend a holiday party at work.

My wish for you this holiday season:
May your gingerbread cookies be a little deformed.
May your Christmas carols be out of tune.
May you have a “snow day” (or “ice day”) that prevents you from working.
May your old memories chip away into new ones.
May your child throw a tantrum (if you don’t throw one first) that makes you quit shopping.
May your traditional holiday movie be a funny one.
May you take a vacation to somewhere warmer…even if it’s hiding under the covers.

May you find gratitude, peace, and joy in these moments and more.

About 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.

3 Steps to New Habits by Joan R. Landes, M.A., AMHC

A 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.

Second, 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.

Since 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!

About 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.

Could Those Bored Couples in Restaurants Actually Be Happy? by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

There 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.

About 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.

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.

Consider 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.

About 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

“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.

About 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.