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MINDFULNESS

What comes to mind when we hear this word? 

For centuries, people have applied mindfulness to everyday life as a way to  enhance clarity and focus. Today, we can apply this tool to better relate and  respond to our busy minds, that are sometimes too full to interact or even  function. 

Simply put, mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of our current, present  experience and not that of past (regrets, sadness, loss) nor future (worries,  fears, anxieties). 

When we find ways to better respond and relate to our overwhelmed minds,  do we really ‘fix’ the problems holding us back? 

Not exactly ~ like many other worthwhile aspects of life, this is a practice, and that involves repetition. It includes the recognition that life involves suffering. This is not about pushing away these anxieties, worries, losses,  regrets and sadness, but finding a way to make room for them all.  

How can we do this? Invite ourselves into this moment. 

The past has passed. 

The future is not yet here. 

All we have is the present, which can bring us some peace ~ perhaps in  forgiveness (past) or calm (redirecting from future worries). This is mindfulness. 

By identifying these very elements (anxiety, regret, anger, panic) as they  approach, and without their attached story, we are already giving ourselves room to return to the present. We do it with softness, kindness and without  judgment. 

This is mindfulness. 

We can mindfully wash the dishes, brush our teeth or take a walk. Keeping  our awareness on what we can see, touch, hear and experience. This is mindfulness. 

Life is never still ~ the mind is never still. Awareness is always still.

Settling into the present may liberate us from the busy mind (perhaps taking  us into the past or future). 

“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help  the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”  

~ Thich Nhat Hanh 

Most of us are forgetful ~ we are not really here a lot of the time. Our  minds are caught up in worries, fears, anger, regrets and not mindful of  being here. We are caught up in the past or in the future, which sadly  results in us not living our lives fully in the present moment. 

It is human nature for our minds to wander ~ it’s just what it does with  thoughts and the stories that accompany them. When we recognize that our  mind has wandered, we can access mindfulness to bring ourselves back ~  without judgement or criticism and stories; just accepting we are back and  have the opportunity to start again.

We bring ourselves back by opening our eyes to what is in front of us, our  ears to what we can hear and allowing our minds to experience this. 

Think for a moment about all of the birds outside our window that we may  have silenced by the active mind, or the sunsets and sunrises missed when  worries flooded our minds. 

If we mindfully return to the present, even for a moment, we have stopped  talking (not only the outside conversation, but the inside talking, our mental  discourse). 

Then, we can fully awaken to what is in front of us while, even briefly, the  rest seems to settle. We become aware of something, such as a flower, and  we can be liberated from the anger, despair, worries and fears that  previously took us away. 

This is mindfulness. 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS With gratitude, I respectfully mention Howard Cohn, Oren Jay Sofer © Orenjaysofer.com, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Martin Aylward, whose teachings have influenced my practice and work.

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Tips for Parents of LGBTQIA Youth

LGBTQIA youth face unique mental health challenges as they struggle to reconcile their faith, sexual identity, or gender identity. If you are a parent of an LGBTQIA youth moving towards accepting your child’s identity, I would like to share a few thoughts. In this blog post, I will discuss the importance of familial support to LGBTQIA youth. Then, I will share simple, practical actions to support your child through this moment.


LGBTQIA youth who question their identity hide who they truly are for fear of being rejected by their families. LGBTQIA youth worry about hurting their parents and family members who believe that being gay is immoral and sinful. But when LGBTQIA youth hide their identities, they pay a high cost. It undermines their self-esteem and self-worth. New research shows that families and caregivers significantly influence their LGBTQIA youth’s risk and well-being. The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition reports that LGBTQIA teens who experience family rejection are eight times more likely to die by suicide than LGBTQIA teens accepted by family. Data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that LGBTQIA teens who are rejected by their families are six times more likely to have high levels of
depression, three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and three times more likely to be at increased risk for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases.


Conversely, studies show that LGBTQIA youth who are accepted by their families experience overall physical and emotional health. It also helps them to develop higher self-esteem and value their inherent sense of worthiness. Furthermore, LGBTQIA youth accepted by their families are less likely to be depressed, use illegal drugs, or attempt suicide. Family acceptance also helps LGBTQIA youth create healthy beliefs about their life outcome. They believe that they will be happy, productive, and have a good life with family support. If you are motivated to support your child through this acceptance journey, but unsure what to do, you are not alone.


Finally, parents, you may be struggling with your emotions, and that’s ok and normal. However, it is critical to emphasize that parents’ or caregivers’ actions and words have a powerful impact on their children’s well-being. If you’d like to foster a more supportive environment for a LGBTQIA child or teen, here are a few things you can do.

  1. Show love and affection.
    LGBTQIA youth worry about being loved by their parents or caregivers. The question that they may be asking themselves is, “Am I loved? Am I lovable?” Don’t hesitate to tell your child, “I love you.” Also, show your child displays of physical affection. These actions will promote a secure attachment between you and your child.
  2. Reach out and listen
    Your child may interpret long periods of silence as a sign of anger. It will feel uncomfortable to talk about your teens’ sexual orientation or sexual identity but reach out to talk to them about their experiences. Listen to what they have to say and respond with empathy.
  3. Happy future
    Parents, accepting your LGBTQIA youth allow them to envision a happy future as an LGBTQIA adult. A positive narrative about the future is essential to counteract isolation, hopelessness, risky behaviors, and suicide ideation.
  4. Stand up for your child.
    Remember, as a parent, your words are powerful. Through your journey and your child’s journey, you may hear some negative comments from families and friends. When you hear these negative comments, it is an opportunity to practice courage and let others know that you will not
    accept insults, teasing, or discrimination against your child. Insist that family members and friends treat your child with respect or rethink the very definition of family and friends.
  5. When you know better, do better.
    As human beings, we are always evolving and growing. As parents, we also make mistakes. Do not try to be perfect but try to be human. American poet Dr. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Parents, your LGBTQIA child needs your love. They are afraid and worried that you might never love them. They need a secure attachment bond to become physically and emotionally healthy adults.

References:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, June 21). LGBT Youth. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm. 

Sanders, R., & Fields, E. L. Tips for Parents of LGBTQ Youth. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/tips-for-parents-of-
lgbtq-youth. 

Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition. (2017). Utah Suicide Prevention Plan 2017-2021.
https://www.health.utah.gov/vipp/pdf/Suicide/SuicidePreventionCoalitionPlan2017-
2021.pdf. 

Resources:
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
https://pflag.org/chapter/pflag-salt-lake-city

Utah Pride Center
https://www.utahpridecenter.org

Equality Utah
https://www.equalityutah.org/mission

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Anxiety in a Time of COVID: Part 2

We have many internal and external resources available to us when anxiety becomes overwhelming. We can typically recognize an unhelpful anxious thought because it often starts with some variation of “What if…” and or is predicting negative events that are possible but incredibly unlikely.  In this post, I will briefly outline some of the internal and external resources that can be extremely effective in confronting and managing anxiety.

Internal Resources

1)    Talking back to and Challenging Anxious Thoughts:

Anxiety is like an annoying know-it-all and overly critical boss; it constantly points out what might go wrong or what it thinks you didn’t do right, and it is usually flat out wrong! When we talk back to or challenge anxious thoughts with phrases like, “I’m allowed to make mistakes!” or “I’m enough as I am!” and “You don’t know everything!” we are bossing back our anxiety and taking charge.

2)    Past Successes:

What difficulties have you overcome in the past? How did you do that? What did you learn about yourself? Anxiety likes to make us forget or discount all the challenges we have overcome in the past. But, as we stack up our past successes, we are reminded of just how capable we really are, no matter what anxiety says.

3)    Problem Solving Skills, Creativity/Imagination:

Clearly you have gotten yourself this far in life, which means you have solved literally thousands of problems. Life throws curve balls at us regularly, and it is our creativity, imagination and problem-solving skills that help us work through them. When anxiety says things like, “What if you get sick?” We can say back to anxiety, “Then I will rest, get lots of fluids and take care of myself. I know what to do when I am sick.”

External Resources

Support Systems:

Some problems and concerns are outside of our experience and skill set to solve. Who do you have in your life that you could go to for help? Make a list of people in each arena of your life that you feel comfortable approaching and asking for help. For example, who at work can help you when you have questions or problems? When you are at school, who is most likely to have the information you need? Our external resources include people in our support systems, people who know us and care about our well-being and are invested in our success: parents, teachers, friends, family members, coaches and teammates, therapists etc.

When anxious thoughts and feelings begin to escalate, start by recognizing these feelings for what they are, ANXIETY, and then access your internal and external resources to challenge and talk back to your anxiety. 

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All Hope is Not Lost

Whether it is hardships from the pandemic, civil unrest, political discourse, loss of a loved one, fear of the future, or many other aspects of life, it sometimes may feel there is no end in sight to the pain that life can sometimes bring. Finding continued hope through the burdens of daily life can often feel daunting, uncertain, and just out of reach. Through the recent year, many people may have found themselves uttering these simple words either to another or to themselves:

Ex: “ I would like to… but I don’t want to get my hopes up”…

 While the simple rhetoric is often over looked, the profound impact on our lives is not to be underestimated.

Hope: “ (A belief that things can be better than what they are”) is one of the most powerful aspects of human life. The instillment of hope can offer peace in a moment of chaos; comfort in a moment of fear; and courage in a moment of despair. The loss of hope, or (hopelessness) often results in a person loss of will to live. 

Maybe this past year you have found yourself not planning, not hoping out of fear of disappointment. Maybe you have felt lost, overwhelmed, or out of control. Maybe you have lost a family member or loved one and need to find a way to some how keep moving forward.  The joy of hope is that it is accessible to all who seek it, and is found all around us. May I offer 3 principles of Resiliency  to help you increase your hope, and in turn, increase your ability to manage hard times in your life. 

  1. Commitment 

We commit to the challenge ahead of us. We commit to the strength, the endurance, and the help needed to survive. Asking for help is not weakness. Everybody in life needs help. Most of all we commit to not let our burden consume us, destroy us, or allow us to lose our selves in the process. We tell ourselves, “ no matter what happens, I will be ok”. 

2. Control

A main source for unmanageability and discourse is caused by trying to control things that are out of our ability to control. Learning to let go of what is out of your ability to control, and having the courage to do something about what you can control can drastically reduce the out of control feeling life can bring. 

3. Challenge 

Much of the research about resiliency and hardiness speaks to how we choose to look at a situation. Some are financial, others physical, some trauma, others mental health related. Challenge, adversity, and pain are essential to provide opportunities for growth. Seeing our problems through a lens of opportunity rather than suffering can help provided a new perspective of hope that will allow us to face our trials with gratitude. 

Symbols of hope can often provide something that reminds us to have hope in a moment we need it. Find something that inspires you, makes you feel happy, or gives you courage to keep moving forward. Symbols of Hope include:

  • A favorite quote, 
  • A poem, 
  • A song, 
  • A picture, 
  • An experience. 
  • A person you look up to
  • A deity, religion, or spirituality practice

Surround yourself with little things that bring hope into your life. As we move into a new year I am reminded of a statement from Viktor Frankel:

“ We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.” 

Frankl, V. E. (2006). The meaning of life. In Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy (p. 108). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

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Cautious Not Fearful…Brave and Afraid

Brene Brown has said “Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave AND afraid at the exact same time.” (Emphasis added) 

After months of living through the pandemic, homeschooling two of my four children, having a newborn and busy toddler vying for attention during homeschooling, working over Telehealth, quarantining from family and friends, kissing my husband goodbye as he goes to works with sick people, and managing my own thoughts and anxiety about the world I have learned a very important lesson. You can feel brave and afraid at the same time

My emotional journey the last several months has been sporadic. At times, I have felt very hopeful and optimistic. Other times, I have felt sad and anxious. After experiencing an anxiety attack in April, I realized I had to change my thought process. My mantra became “cautious but not fearful.” I pushed fear away and decided to let hope reign supreme. Gone were the days of worrying about what would happen if my parents contracted the virus. Say goodbye to stressing about exposure to people, and what it would be like if/when my family got sick. My mind was aware of the hospitals and medical staff, but I would not let that transfer into fear and worry. I let myself think that if I felt any fear at all I was letting fear win. I was wrong. 

What have I learned about myself during this pandemic? I have learned that I can feel brave and afraid at the same time. In reality, the worried and stressful thoughts were and are still coming at regular intervals. The difference is when the fear comes, I no longer hide from it. Pushing the fear/worry/anxiety down gives it more power. Locked in the recess of your mind fear-or whatever you would like to call it-is biding its time until you are not ready for it. Then BAM out it comes with a lethal vengeance. Covid-19 has taught me to acknowledge the fear. When those fearful thoughts come into my mind  I identify them and acknowledge their existence. Instead of running from the thoughts, I put my arm around them and let my bravery take over. 

I can be fearful and brave at the same time. I can worry about what is happening across the world and still have hope that it will get better. I can be worried about our healthcare workers while allowing my gratitude for them to overshadow that worry. I can stand in the face of my husband, children, parents, and loved ones contracting the virus because I know that there are people and enough love in my life that will help me get through it.  I have learned to hold both of these things in my hands and heart and be alright with that. And Brene is right…it is truly an adventure. 

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Rethinking Porn Addiction

Whether unwanted pornography use has impacted you directly or not, this series of youtube videos hosted by Nate Bagley, with Kristin Hodson, LCSW, and Doug Braun-Harvey, MFT, CGP, is a must watch.  They’re looking to change the conversation surrounding porn to decrease shame and increase the ability for individuals who need help, to get it.  


In the first video, Doug states that under the current treatment model, people have to hurt those they care about before they get help.  Having more open conversations is one way to change that.  If you are struggling with unwanted pornography use or feel you might have an addiction, set up a session with Alice by calling 801-944-4555.

Enjoy!
https://youtu.be/GjevzF3QJ4I

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Movember and Me

You might be asking yourself why is a therapist writing about Movember? Isn’t that just about men’s prostate cancer and mustaches? While yes, both of those things are true, Movember is so much more. Movember is primarily to bring attention to various medical and mental health issues that men often face or go unspoken, and to promote longer healthier men’s lives. During this month of Movember, my goal is to let everyone out there, mustache or no mustache, know how they can participate and show love for the men in their lives. 

One of the primary causes that is talked about during Movember is suicide. Every hour of every day we lose 60 men to suicide. In order to bring attention to this and build resources to support men’s mental health, Movember gives you the option to move for 60 miles throughout the month. If this doesn’t get you up and make you want to move, I don’t know what will. Moving can look like, biking, swimming, walking, hiking or running. Follow along with my Movember while I run 60 miles. You can find it on Instagram @natewatkinslmft. If you do not want to move or grow a mustache, here are some other ways to show your support.

How you can show support:

  • Move for 60 miles for the 60 men lost across the world
  • Grow yourself the best mustache the world has ever seen
  • Donate to the Movember cause
  • Do your own epic adventure and tag Movember
  • Host a gathering (via zoom or follow your local health guidelines) and highlight the importance of Movember
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To Thine Own Self be True

We live in a world where we are being fed a constant stream of information at, seemingly, every turn. It can be easy to get lost in all the noise, and disconnect from our core sense of self, worth, and values. When that happens, one might experience depression, anxiety, feeling untethered, resentment, and unhealthy relationships, among others. One of my greatest steps in my own journey was learning how to come out of the self-betrayal that had become familiar and comfortable.

What is self betrayal? Self betrayal can manifest in many different ways. It can be sacrificing your own values and boundaries to maintain a relationship, saying “yes” when you actually want to say “no,” people pleasing, perfectionist tendencies in an effort to feel, or be seen as, “enough,” or living in a cycle of shame from not understanding the wounds that drive behavior. In a sense,
it is disconnecting from that voice of truth within.

Learning to connect to your most authentic self can be scary and liberating, all in the same breath. Some tools to help you connect to this authentic self can be:

-Meditation and mindfulness exercises
-Truth and distortion journaling prompts
-Future self authoring exercises
-EMDR, and other somatic work to process past trauma
-Inner child work and attachment healing

As you learn to connect and find belonging to your truest self, you will find deeper and more meaningful connections in your relationships, as they are no longer responsible for filling your cup of worth. If you have experienced self betrayal in your life, and are wanting to find healing, know that you have all the tools of healing within you to begin this journey. An experienced counselor can help you unlock those tools when you find yourself feeling stuck.

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Nine Minutes A Day to Strengthen Your Relationships.

The world is still reeling from COVID-19 and the strict new guidelines of proper social etiquette. It is difficult to emotionally connect with someone when you are not allowed to touch them, and sometimes cannot see most of their face. We are all adjusting to the new and needed guidelines that keep our physical health safe. In the meantime several people are noticing a severe decline in their emotional intimacy with friends and partners.  There is an innate desire for us to connect with people around us, and yet people are having a difficult time doing that these days.

May I suggest a nine minute daily exercise for you to participate in that can strengthen your relationship with your partner, children, and friends? Everyday, we have several times in which we say hello and goodbye to someone. In the morning, we say hello for the day to our children and if we have one, our partner. We say goodbye when we leave for work or school. Hello, again, when we come back from school or work. And goodbye, again, when we go to bed. With friends at work we have the hello when we arrive, and when we leave. With the people that live in your house: I challenge you to make good morning an event. Look your children and spouse in the eyes and give them a hug. Ask them how they slept. Try and connect on a physical and emotional level. It will only take three minutes. When your kids or spouse gets home from school and work do the same thing. Look them in the eyes, give them a hug, and ask them how their day was. Sit and listen to them. It will take about three minutes. Before you go to bed look your spouse and children in the eyes and hug them. Ask them what their favorite part of the day was. It will take about three minutes. We are now up to nine minutes of connection time you have just had with your spouse or children. That makes a huge difference in feeling connected to someone! It will add a special dimension to your relationships with your spouse and children. Sometimes it may take longer, than nine minutes, but the reward will be well worth it.     

The same can be done with co workers. Instead of greeting someone with a quick hello, stop and be physically and emotionally present. You cannot get close to them, and often a mask will be in the way. You can still connect with that person! Look them in the eyes. Ask them how they are doing and lean in, showing that you care and you are interested in what they are saying. When you leave to go home, check in with those co workers. Take a few minutes to again, ask them about plans for the evening. Ask them about their children, spouse, or hobby. This may seem like an easy task, but again one that will reap great rewards as you connect emotionally with the people you work with. 

As always, watch your own emotional health. People all over the world are feeling disconnected from each other. If you are feeling overwhelmed and depressed, there is always help out there for you! Good luck as you try out this new social experiment of connection!

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Managing Your Stress Response

In Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout, they talk about how understanding the difference between a stressor and a stress response is crucial in helping us respond to both in healthy ways.  A stressor is anything in our lives which causes strain or tension.  A stress response refers to the physical changes in our bodies which occur in response to the stressor.

 
A deadline at work, an argument with our partner, a child who is struggling at school, or a to-do list that is longer than we have time for are all common examples of stressors.  Your response and your neighbor’s response to any of these stressors may look very different. Sometimes resolving the stressor is fairly simple.  We can work overtime to meet the deadline.  We can resolve arguments with our partner.  We can seek additional support for a child who is struggling in school.  We can complete the to do list eventually.  Some of these stressors will take longer than others to resolve, but whether by completion or the passage of time, the stressor will fade.  What is left behind is the accumulation of the stress response.  


Often we feel that the resolution of the stressor is sufficient, but Nagoski and Nagoski assert that it is not.  We must also address the physical response to the stressor, and if we do not, the stress response will accumulate in our bodies to the point where it impacts our physical health.  They suggest 12 methods for addressing stress response build up:

  1. Exercise
  2. Sleep
  3. Mindful breathing
  4. Creative self expression
  5. Using your imagination
  6. Mindful crying
  7. Superficial social connection
  8. Intimate social connection
  9. Connection with nature, landscape, or animals
  10. Spiritual connection
  11. Laughter
  12. Mindful self compassion.


The next time you feel stressed, take a minute to increase your awareness of your stress response.  What changes do you notice in your body?  What happens to those changes when you participate with intention, in one of the above methods?


If you find yourself overwhelmed with stress in your life and aren’t sure how to manage your stress response, give these suggestions a try, or for one-on-one support call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.

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