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Managing the Stress of the Election Season

Click here to view Clair Mellenthin, LCSW on KUTV discussing how to manage stress during the election season!

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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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Anxiety in a time of COVID Part 1: The Perfect Storm for Anyone with Anxiety

Are you wondering why so many people who don’t have COVID-19, or even know anyone who has been diagnosed are seeing a spike in feelings of anxiety? It’s not just because of the many changes in our communities and around the world since the pandemic began: over 26 million Americans were out of work, K-12 schools and universities nationwide closed overnight and many of us spent weeks or months inside our homes and yards not socializing. However,change and stress are not the main sources that fuel anxiety, they are simply kindling. The real lighter fluid and gasoline is UNCERTAINTY.

When is school going to start back up? What is that going to be like? Will students really wear a mask all day?
How long until we REALLY know how this disease affects people?
What if someone I care about gets COVID-19 and dies?
What if I test positive for COVID-19 and have to stay home for 14 days?

All of these are valid concerns and questions. It is normal to feel some anxiety in new situations,like starting a new school year, a new job, moving to a new place or living through a worldwide pandemic for the first time. Uncertainty lies underneath all of these situations and questions. We often think, “If I have answers and information I can be prepared, and my anxiety will calm down.” It might, for like a minute. But that doesn’t prevent uncertainty popping up in other areas of our life, on a regular basis. (More on that in my next post).

Anxiety serves a very important function of protecting us. It’s the feeling that tells us we should put our seat belt on when we get into a car or wash our hands after touching common surfaces in public.

However, for some of us, anxiety has too much power and control in our lives. It acts as a bossy, know-it-all alarm and yells loudly about horrible, scary things that could (but are not likely to) happen and that is when it becomes problematic. It often starts with one worry or concern and quickly spirals into 10 worries or more. Remember, ANXIETY LOVES UNCERTAINTY. It feeds on it and grows exponentially like Mentos dropped in a Coke bottle:

“What if people don’t wear masks and I get sick? What if I spread it to my sweet old neighbor (who I have never talked to or met) who walks her dog and she dies and its my fault? What if all my friends get COVID-19 from me and then they don’t want to be my friend anymore? Who am I going to sit with at lunch? What if we don’t ever go back to school?!!! How am I going to get into college and get a good job? What if this pandemic never ends…?” And on and on it spirals.

Anxious thoughts often have a small grain of truth in them and frequently center around a possible, but unlikely, scenario or chain of events.

So, what can we do to handle so much uncertainty in our lives and manage out of control anxiety? It starts with externalizing the anxious thoughts and worry, (it’s not you, it’s the anxiety that hangs out with you) predicting when it will show up and creating phrases to say back to and refute the worry.

Example: “Listen anxiety, I knew you were going to show up when I went to school today, but none of the bad things you predict EVER happen. I don’t need you right now, you can go away.”

When we predict the anxiety, we won’t feel blindsided by it and we already know it’s anxiety overreacting. In my next post, I will go into more detail about how to access the resources within ourselves we all have to manage bossy, know-it-all anxious thoughts and retrain our brain to be more helpful and accurate instead of a Chicken Little alarm clock.

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Is it Erectile Dysfunction or Erectile Disappointment?

I recently came across an article by Dr. Chris Donaghue PhD, LCSW, CST.  Dr. Chris, as he is known, talks about how performance pressures on men to get and maintain hard erections actually lead to erectile difficulties.  These difficulties can lead men to seek out performance enhancing drugs in order to “have good sex”.  Dr. Chris shares 8 tips for overcoming erectile disappointment.

  • 1- Have realistic expectations for how a penis functions.
  • 2- Develop a more expansive view of sex.
  • 3- Communicate!
  • 4- Diversify your sexual skills.
  • 5- Work on your “erotic esteem”.
  • 6- Stay in the moment.
  • 7- Allow each partner to be responsible for their own orgasm.
  • 8- Be a sex and body positive activist.  

If you or a partner have ever experienced erectile disappointment, check out the full article here then schedule a session with Alice at 801-944-4555 to help guide you through these steps.  

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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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Flexible Thinking Part 2: Flexible Thinking and Mental Health

In my last post, Flexible Thinking Part 1, I reviewed what flexible thinking is and its benefits. Over the last few months, we have all been “thrown in the deep end” of flexible thinking as the COVID-19 pandemic has required us to make adjustments. Flexible thinking, or the ability to adapt mentally, emotionally and behaviorally to a variety of situations, helped us transition to distance learning, working, shopping, and socializing. 

In this post, I briefly highlight how flexible thinking can improve and help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety:

  • Depression tells us things will never change and reduces hope for the future. Flexible thinking applied to depression recognizes the opportunity each day and, in each situation, to do something different and breaks down negative feedback loops.
  • Anxiety feeds on possible, but unlikely, scenarios playing out in our lives and the lives of those we care about. Flexible thinking reminds anxious minds they have the resources around and within them to solve current and future problems and to create solutions to those problems. In short, flexible thinking focuses on “possibilities rather than deficiencies.”

What can we do to increase and improve our mental flexibility? 

Engaging in mindfulness activities, (think deep breathing, meditation and guided imagery) yoga, aerobics and relaxation techniques have all been shown to increase executive functions and mental flexibility. Research has also shown we can also enable flexible thinking through positive affect (positive emotions such as cheerfulness, pride and energy and their expression), openness to experience and self-control.

As we consistently engage in flexible thinking, we can have more control over our thoughts and responses, reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, frustration and stress, meet our goals and successfully navigate the changing circumstances in our everyday lives and interpersonal relationships. 

Emerald Robertson, M.S.Ed., ACMHC, NCC

Reference:

Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review30(7), 865-878.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-inner-life-students/202003/flexibility-in-the-midst-crisis

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Help!!!! I’m Going Crazy!

Over the last month, you may have had that exact thought cross your mind a time or two (okay maybe a million depending on how well your kids are adjusting to on-line school). Seriously though, during this global pandemic and all the changes to our daily schedules and lives there seems to have been an overwhelming sense of discombobulation and unease with each new declaration. At least that’s my perception from my personal experiences with friends, family, neighbors, clients, and written accounts that I’ve read. It seems to leave a lot of us feeling like we’re living in an alternate universe….(cue the music), “You have entered the Twilight Zone!”.

How do we build some continuity into our “new normal”? By being creative and flexible with our expectations and focusing on our priorities we can reduce some of the anxiety of the unknown. Now, you’re probably wondering what exactly I mean by that and are wondering if I’m going to tell you to create a “schedule” that is color coded with daily achievement goals that is Pinterest or Instagram worthy? Nope!!!! I am going to suggest a couple of things that I have seen have huge impact, both personally and professionally, when trying to create a new normal.

First, set a consistent wake up time. If you are a natural early riser and like to be up with the sun and that helps you feel grounded and ready to start your day; set an early morning time. If you are more of a “I like to laze in bed a bit and then start my day”, type of person then set a little later time. Having a set time to get up every morning creates a natural sense of normalcy for our bodies.

Next, find a purpose in every day no matter how small. It can be from walking the dog to creating a presentation for your work Zoom meeting tomorrow. Just find one thing that will give you a purpose for that day.

Get outside the four walls of your house!!! Even the most introverted are struggling with feeling confined during the stay at home directives and orders. We don’t realize that over the course of a typical day many of us are in and out of our homes, offices, cars, stores, and schools many times. The loss of this freedom of movement can have a strong impact on our mental, and physical, well- being. Combat this by getting outside 2-3 times a day for at least 10 minutes each time. It doesn’t need to be for exercise purposes, although that certainly has added benefits, but just the change of scenery.

Make a connection with friends, family, coworkers, or neighbors every day. No, I am not saying throw the social distancing guidelines out the window and be reckless with your health. I am saying it is important to feel connected to those around us, especially in a time of stress. Isolation and loneliness are not our friends. We are social beings that have a need for connection. Think about it, how does the penal system punish inmates? They put them in isolation…solitary confinement. Break out of your solitary confinement and talk to your neighbor from your porch. Call your sister on FaceTime. Set up a virtual girls’ night. Stay connected!

Lastly, find a way to connect meaningfully with your source of power, whether that be through meditation, prayer, therapy, gratitude affirmations… whatever makes you feel grounded, empowered, and centered. Take the time everyday to find your inner peace and quiet the fears or worries in your mind. And, if you need help and are struggling then there are therapists and resources available on-line that can help you.

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Bridging The Gap

Desire discrepancy in couples is one of the most common sources of distress within sexual relationships.  Couples may find themselves in situations where one parter is the high desire partner (HDP) and the other is the low desire partner (LDP).  These labels can lead one or both partners to feel broken and blamed for problems in the relationship.  Other couples may find resentment builds when their partner either “doesn’t want them sexually” or “only wants them for sexual release”.  

If you and your partner are stuck in this sort of dynamic, first, know that neither one of you is broken.  All levels of desire are normal, and very few relationships involve couples with consistently balanced interest in sex.  

Second, if you can step away from looking at your partner’s level of sexual desire as the problem, it will be much easier to work together to bridge the gap.  

Bridging The Gap:

If you find yourself wanting sex more often than your partner, ask yourself, “what am I horny for”.  Dr. Neil Cannon lists the following as motives for seeking sex:  

  • Orgasm/Sexual Release
  • Touch
  • Connection
  • Calming Anxiety
  • Mood Elevation
  • Kink
  • Reassurance/Validation

When you identify what your motive for sex is, you can examine whether some of those desires could be met in other ways.  This begins to reduce pressure on your partner, narrowing the gap between your experienced desire.  

Another tool you can use to help bridge gaps in desire is to identify, as Emily Nagoski calls them, your sexual brakes and accelerators.  What turns you on?  What turns you off?  How can you as an individual and as a couple work to minimize brakes and maximize accelerators?  

One huge brake many individuals experience is not enjoying the sex they are having.  This is usually a result of poor communication or shame surrounding sexuality.  Using the brakes and accelerators framework can be a great way to improve communication about sexual preferences.  Make sure you speak up so your partner knows what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy.  Make sure to listen so you really hear what your partner is sharing with you.  Think of this as an opportunity to learn about your partner, increasing mutual pleasure and satisfaction in your relationship.

Lastly, try scheduling sex in your calendar.  On the appointed day, work on managing your own brakes/accelerators to help you get in the mood.  Recognize when there are things you can do to help your partner look forward to the experience with positive anticipation.  Text and flirt throughout the day. Make sure that when it comes down to it, saying “not tonight”, is still an option, this reduces pressure. If you are the partner who wants to say no, consider saying yes to something else instead.  For example, “I’m really not feeling up to penetrative sex tonight, but I’d love to cuddle, skin to skin”, or, “I’m not feeling up for penis-in-vagina sex at the moment, but I’d really love to just make out with you”.  Then leave the door open for whatever may (or may not) follow, pressure free.  Regardless of the outcome, you will feel more connected and you will have improved your ability to communicate about your wants and desires. 

If you’d like to learn more about bridging a desire gap in your relationship, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.

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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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It’s Not a Vagina!

As a clinician who frequently works with sexual problems, I talk about genitals a lot! A lot! As I embark on these conversations with my clients, I have noticed how many people either don’t use the correct words for their genitals, or don’t even say the words at all. One of the most common errors I see is that people commonly say men have a penis and women have a vagina. While this is true, they are not the equivalent of one another.

I see this error in common culture verbiage also, people referring to the female genitalia only as her vagina. The vagina however is one part of the female genitals. It is the canal that leads from the vaginal opening to the cervix. This is an internal part of the female anatomy. I hear many people use the word “vagina” to refer to a woman’s external genitalia. This would be somewhat equivalent to calling the male external genitals a vas deferens (male internal tube) instead of a penis.

What people mean to say is that men have a penis and women have a vulva. Vulva is the correct term to refer to the external female genitals. It is made up of the 2 sets of lips called the labia majora and minora. It protects the internal components of the female reproductive system.

So, next time you say the word vagina, make sure you are referring to the correct anatomy. If you have never even said the word vulva, I encourage you to start using it as the appropriate term for female external genitalia.

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