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Your Mental Health Check Up by Dr. Matt Brown, Ph.D, LMFT-S

Over the past several decades, we have experienced increasing awareness of health concerns and how they impact our lives. We are frequently inundated with information from empirical studies, reality TV, and our own lived experiences; all exposing us to the dangers and benefits of taking care of ourselves. It can be overwhelming to sift through all the things you should and should not be doing to achieve your optimal well-being. Fortunately, research is increasingly identifying areas of our lives that have the biggest impact on overall mental health. And just like your Primary Care Provider is able to conduct a regular physical exam focused on key indicators of health, this article will allow you to check in with yourself using key areas of mental health. We will focus on your relationships, stress, and mindset.

Relationships

It is now well established that social relationships have an important impact on our mental health. In fact, our relationships are the single biggest predictor of our happiness. Recent research has shown that both relationship quantity and quality affect our mental health in positive and negative ways. When considering your own mental health, you may want to ask yourself how much time you are spending with those people who are important to you (quantity) and what that time looks like (quality). Are you being selective in your obligations, prioritizing time with family and friends? When you are with your loved ones, do you make intentional effort to connect through conversation or activities? If you find yourself lacking in this area, find ways to respectfully say no to those things that take you away from relationships and make the effort to connect when you are with those people you care about.

Stress

Research has shown that stress itself is not the culprit of mental health problems; rather, it is the reactions we have to daily stressors that contribute to

problems like depression and anxiety. How do you handle these daily stressors? Do you find yourself becoming emotionally or mentally flooded when confronted with seemingly small challenges? You may need to step back and take a look at how you are handling stress. The list of ways to better handle stress is too lengthy for this article, but it includes several things you might expect (e.g., exercise, deep breathing, meditation, etc.). Something else you might try is laughing. Laughter has been shown to have multiple health benefits, including boosting immune system functioning, physiological relaxation, and reduction of pain and stress. Find time to exercise your sense of humor!

Mindset

Perhaps due to our social nature, we often compare ourselves to those around us. While there may be some benefits to this behavior (e.g., making positive changes to emulate those we admire), we need to guard against the tendency to focus on how we fall short when compared to others. Focusing on what we are lacking often leads to self-interested behaviors aimed at keeping up with the Jones’ in an attempt to measure up. The problem is that this does not lead to our intended outcome and has been shown to negatively impact mental health. Conversely, focusing on giving of ourselves has the opposite effect. For example, several studies have shown that when it comes to money, we report more satisfaction spending it on others rather than ourselves. We also find deep meaning and purpose when we are engaged in meeting the needs of others. Similarly, and ever-growing body of research has shown that focusing on what we do have and expressing gratitude is linked to positive mental health. When was the last time you gave of yourself to better someone else’s life? How often do you take time to reflect on those things for which you are grateful? If your answers reflect a need to rededicate yourself, you might start by developing a regular time to reflect, write, or talk about what you are grateful for. Opportunities to serve others are everywhere, and we often find the hardest part is not having enough time. You may start small by finding ways to serve those closest to you in small but meaningful ways.

Now What?

Hopefully, you have had some time to reflect on areas where you are doing well and some areas where your efforts could lead to increased well-being. As with any positive change we make, something is always better than nothing. No matter how small your change efforts, you are moving in the right direction. Motivation increases as we act and you can create positive feedback loops that lead to improved mental health.

mattAbout the Author: Dr. Matt Brown is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He holds a doctorate degree from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree from Brigham Young University. He is currently Assistant Professor and Program Director in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and a therapist at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families.

Literacy: Raising Strong Readers by Audrey Cornelius

readLiteracy. How can I raise my child to be a strong reader? I walk into the living room to find my six year old daughter snuggled up with her normally rambunctious four year old brother on the couch. She is reading her latest treasure from the library and her brother is completely absorbed by the story.

I know that the gift of literacy to my children is a gift of freedom and potential for their futures. So, how did we get to this moment? Did I higher personal reading tutors or lock my children in their rooms with a dictionary and an order not to come out until they could spell every word? No, that would be crazy! Instead I followed some easy, research driven guidelines set out by the Association for Library Services to Children and the Public Library Association. These are some easy ways to promote literacy in your home and give your child a gift that will last a lifetime:

Read to your child, even if you don’t think he is listening. I’ve done my fair share of reading to a dancing, train playing audience. You may not think they are getting anything out of it, but they are. One day they’ll sit through a whole book and you’ll be so glad you stuck with it.

read2Talk to your child a lot, and make sure you use big words. A strong vocabulary is linked to good comprehension skills. Small children can learn big words and they love using them. My four year old son loves to tell me how “hilarious” his preschool friends can be.

Sing to your child. This builds rhythm, pattern, and sound recognition. Besides, sometimes it feels good to belt out “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and end with a good tick session.

Give your child lots of opportunities to draw and write. Paper and crayons are cheep toys so let them exercise their fine motor skills and their imaginations.

Play with your child. This gives you and your child a chance to bond and build positive feelings while at the same time letting them experiment with story and narrative skills. After all, a super hero has to discover her powers first before she can defeat the bad guy and then save the day.

By following these easy guidelines you can build a home of literacy and learning, while building some happy family memories in the process.

audreyAbout the Author: Audrey Cornelius graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in English. In 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Library Science from Texas Woman’s University. She is passionate about children’s literacy issues.

Birds and Bees (Sexting) and Smartphones by Dr. Jeff Temple

Cover 2Adolescence is often described as a period of storm and stress – where children begin separating from parents, establishing their own identities, and discovering their sexuality. This development into junior adulthood coincides with myriad hormonal, physical, and emotional changes. In short, adolescence is difficult, overwhelming, and taxing. The fact that most kids make it through this critically important developmental period to be better human beings than when they entered is remarkable.

The fact that parents of adolescents make it through this period is nothing short of miraculous. And as if this period wasn’t hard enough, we now have to deal with smartphones – at the dinner table, on vacation, while they’re sleeping. Now we worry about cyberbullying, online predators, hundreds of dollars of in-app purchases from Clash of Clans to…SEXTING.

Sexting is defined as sending or receiving sexually explicit messages or images/video via electronic means (usually phones). My team at the University of Texas Medical Branch published some of the first studies on this relatively new behavior. While research in this area is still new, we and others have consistently shown that teen sexting is common and that it is often associated with real life sexual behavior.

Between 15% and 30% of adolescents have participated in sexting, with higher rates reported by older adolescents or when the sext is limited to just messages (no images). In my study of nearly 1000 teens, 28% of boys and 28% of girls had sent a naked picture of themselves to another teen. Nearly 70% of girls had been asked to send a naked picture.

Like all studies published on the topic, my research also shows that teens who sext are substantially more likely to be sexually active. Indeed, in a study published in the journal Pediatrics, my colleague and I recently found that teens who sexted were more likely to be sexually active over the next year, regardless of prior sexual history.

RF2_1734These statistics will alarm any parent. But should they? The short answer is “maybe.”

Let me begin by saying that I don’t want my kids sexting. That being said, most sexts are harmless in that they are seen only by the intended recipient and not the entire school, they do not end up on the internet, and they do not land the teen in jail. “Normal,” well-behaved kids sext, and accumulating evidence suggests that, when not coerced, sexting is not likely to have psychological consequences.

Furthermore, more teens are having real sex than are sexting. Thus, our priority should be promoting healthy relationships and teaching teens evidence-based and comprehensive sex education. Sexting education should be a part of this, but not at the expense of valuable information on the importance of delaying sex, and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

However, sexting can have disastrous consequences. So what should we do? Most importantly, we should talk to our kids and we should do so in a fully informed and honest manner. Approach this like you would a conversation about something as mundane as seatbelts. You probably would not tell your children that if they don’t wear their seatbelt they will likely die the next time they drive. You would probably say something like, “You’ll probably be fine if you choose to not wear a seat belt, but ‘what if?’” or “It only takes one time.” Similarly, we should not tell teens that their future is ruined if they sext. Instead, we can say, What if it does end up on the internet; what if someone forwards it to your teachers; what if your coach finds out; what if the college you’re applying for learns of this?” Adolescents are impulsive and moody and irritable and weird; but they are smart. We should treat them as such.

But what do I know? I have a 12 year old at home who knows everything and thinks I’m stupid. Wish me luck.

Jeff Temple[1]About the Author: Dr. Temple, a licensed clinical psychologist, completed his undergraduate degree at the University ofTexas-San Antonio and his Ph.D. at the University of North Texas. In 2007, he completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at Brown Medical School. Dr.Temple is an Associate Professor and Director of Behavioral Health and Research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UTMB Galveston. He is a nationally recognized expert in interpersonal relationships, with a focus on intimate partner violence.

Families and Cellphones by Camille Olson

RF2_1751Families and Cellphones: Technology has brought some amazing things into our family lives. We are connected in ways that we never imagined when we were kids. Paradoxically, we are often more disconnected as families than ever before, as our time and attention is increasingly absorbed by electronic media. There is a concept in physical/organic systems called “disentropy,” which is the idea that living systems tend to fall into a state of disorder or disorganization without constant action or forces to keep them together. Think of a family being in a boat together trying to row upstream on a river with a strong current. Without constant effort to maintain position or move forward, the strong current will quickly move the boat downstream. Even more insidious are the quiet and slowly moving currents beneath the surface that are almost undetectable but are carefully leading us away from our goals as families.

As a mom, I’ve watched the tides shift in my family as our kids have grown and been increasingly exposed to the pressures and expectations of being fully “plugged in.” While certainly helpful in many respects, the strong effects and pull on our kids (and others) to spend more and more time in front of a screen has been alarming. At the risk of sounding old fashioned (I never thought I would say that about myself), there is a need for a “call to arms” to confront some of the risks inherent in the currents of electronic media that are moving our kids into dangerous waters. With 91% of adults and 60% of teens reporting owning cell phones (Pew Internet & American Life Project Survey), it isn’t likely that we will avoid these challenges in our families, in some form. Medical and social/behavioral sciences are finally catching up to our kids and reporting some concerning effects.
In a recent Baylor University study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, James Roberts (study co-author) reported that “cell phone and instant messaging addictions are similar to compulsive buying or substance addiction and are driven by materialism and impulsiveness.” He further explained that “technologic addictions (a subset of behavioral addictions) are no different from substance addictions in that users get some kind of reward from cell phone use, resulting in pleasure. Cell phones are a part of our consumer culture, as both a tool and status symbol. They’re also eroding our personal relationships. A majority of young people claim that losing their cell phone would be disastrous to their social lives.” (http://www.news-medical.net) This is just one example among studies that have reported “side-effects” of constant use including: 1) generating negative feelings during face-to-face conversations when the device is visible/present, 2) increasing stress levels, (constant ringing, vibrating, alerts, reminders, etc.) insomnia and depression, 3) increasing risk of chronic pain (pain and inflammation in joints including fingers/hands, neck, shoulders, and back), 4) increasing risk of digital eye strain, among others.

RF2_1742Perhaps one of the most harmful effects is the way that cell phones, texting, and social media interrupt the flow of our time together as families and the opportunity to have face-to-face, meaningful time and contact with each other. Hence, the “tail wagging the dog:” something that is a minor or secondary part of something controlling the whole.

Putting things back in place:
The most important principle of change is to start where you are! One of the first challenges is to be willing to unplug, as the parent, and make time for the family. If you are willing to do that, everyone else may be more willing to follow your example. Another guiding principle of change is to understand the “why” of change. If your family understands the risks, the consequences, and the benefits of making time for each other and “parking” electronics during set times, they will be more willing to follow along. Particularly if you are using the black-out time to actually enjoy quality time together. One suggestion is to “dock at dinner” so that, as your family comes together at the end of a day, everyone shuts off, unplugs, etc. and is present with each other. The phones stay

Camille Olson is the marketing director at the Center for Couples and Families. She is also the editor of the Bay Area Health & Wellness Magazine in South Houston, TX.

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

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

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

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

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

Kids Are the Future of Tomorrow… So How’s Their Health? By Camille Olson

mid section view of a woman cutting vegetablesHow is the Health of our kids? We have all heard the old adage, “The kids of today are the future of tomorrow.” What happens when the kids of today are less healthy than the kids of yesterday? It is no secret that our children today have many health obstacles to overcome to ensure that they have a bright tomorrow.

I recently read an article by Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen. I could not believe what the research revealed about our children and their future health. I have included below some of my favorite parts from the article.

“Today’s teens are developing heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes at a younger age than any generation before them. After 40 years of improvement in America’s heart health, they’re likely to live shorter lives than their parents. There is no way to sugar coat this. More than 70 percent of teens studied already had one or more of these red flags: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides (a menacing blood fat), low levels of healthy HDL cholesterol, and lots of excess pounds.

CB100665How did kid’s health get so big? Blame the four S’s:
1. Sugary drinks and snacks: about 30 percent of teens’ daily calories now come from them.

2. Salt: kids eat more blood pressure-boosting sodium than any other age group.

3. Skipping the good stuff: only about 20 percent of kids eat five servings of fruit and veggies a day, or enough whole grains.

4. Sitting around: just 20 percent of teens get an hour of physical activity per day, the minimum for good health.

So as parents, and adult role models, what can we do to help? Truth is, we know what really keeps kids’ hearts healthy, not lectures and weigh-ins. Kids click with what YOU do. Don’t shame them, but focus on positives and their health. Start with these five basic recommendations:

peopleGet every kids’ cholesterol checked. Heart-health experts now recommend that all kids have a cholesterol test between ages 9 and 11 and again at age 17 to 21. Total cholesterol over 189, LDLs over 199 and triglycerides over 114, and healthy HDL below 45 means it is time to eat smarter.

Know your kids’ blood pressure. Your pediatrician can tell you if you child is fine, or needs help.
Change your menu. Today. Don’t wait! Few teens get even half the cholesterol-lowering fiber they need. Serve more fruits, veggies and grains. Toss walnuts and raisins on oatmeal, or Cheerio’s, keep apples and oranges on the counter, make sandwiches with 100 percent whole-grain bread, sprinkle veggies with almonds and serve water instead of sugary soft drinks.” Lead the way.

Downshift on pizza and other teen salt bombs: The single largest source of sodium in teens’ diets is pizza, so make it a once-a-month treat-and start with a big salad so a couple of slices of pizza will fill them up. Cutting back on salt now will cut your teens’ risk for high blood pressure later by 63 percent.
Tun off the TV and get moving: Play back-yard soccer, go to the playground, go skating or play Wii Fit. Simply cutting your family’s staring at TV time in half will help everyone burn calories and build muscle and as a result, self confidence.”

Not only do we need to follow these guidelines from Dr. Oz, but we need to realize the impact (both positive and negative) that parents and peers have on their children. Modeling good healthy behaviors will benefit both the leader and follower. These behaviors include: exercise, healthy eating, taking time for ourselves to “recharge” our batteries, and getting the proper amount of sleep. If you or a loved one is struggling, a therapist or health coach/trainers at Whole Fit can help support your efforts to change.

Whole Fit provides a comprehensive approach to wellness, weight management, and performance training. Our team includes experienced professionals with a wide range of health and wellness backgrounds. To learn more about our team visit us online at www.wholefitwellness.com.

camille2About the Author: Camille Olson is currently working in the marketing department at the South Shore Center for Couples & Families. She received her B.S. degree from Brigham Young University in elementary education. She is married and is the mother of five children.