Positive on Purpose by Andy Thompson, LMFT, MS

business man with laptop over head - madA life dominated by negativity can be stressful, and stress causes wear and tear on our bodies, minds, and relationships. Have you ever noticed the tendency in yourself or in others to pay more attention to the negative things or problems in life than to the positive things and aspects of life that are going well? This is called negativity bias, which is the notion that things of a more negative nature, such as unpleasant thoughts, emotions, experiences, or interactions with others, will have a greater effect on a person’s emotional/mental/psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things, even when events are of equal intensity.
While I am not suggesting that we ignore challenges and difficulties, we do need to pay attention to the ratio of positive to negative experiences in our lives. For example, marriage and relationship researchers have come to recommend that for relationships to survive, a couple needs to have at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction.

In many areas of our lives, negativity can overwhelm us and begin to become chronic. Sometimes we might develop symptoms such as anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and distorted patterns of thinking. If negativity dominates our conversation, we might even start to notice that others distance themselves from us because they experience us as negative. This can turn into a vicious cycle that leads us to be unhappy.
Fortunately, there are many steps we can take in order to counteract negativity bias without invalidating the concerns we may have in our lives.

Businesswoman Ready for Work with Husband In Kitchen.What you can do in your head: Be aware of negativity bias and intentionally pay more attention to positive experiences. For example, eat a delicious meal slowly and really savor it. Pay attention to the positive sensations you get from your food, including tastes, textures, and smells that are pleasant.
What you can do with your actions: Intentionally bring more positive things into your life. Don’t wait until you feel positive to pursue positive experiences. Schedule in something positive, like a massage, a fishing trip, a movie with friends. If money is tight, there are still positive things to plan into your life, like a walk in the park, watching a sunrise, or a phone call to a family member or friend.
What you can do in your relationships: Prioritize. Avoid overloading your relationships with too many negative or difficult topics. Don’t try to fix every problem, correct every annoying behavior, or have all the hard conversations all at once. Pick the most important issues to deal with, and then work to have positive interactions in between facing challenges.

What you can do in your heart: Gratitude. Regularly think of things you normally take for granted (eg. Access to clean drinking water) and imagine your life without those things. This can often help us create an experience of appreciation for the good things in our lives, which can help us to feel more positive.
Again, I am not suggesting that it is a good idea to ignore or push away all negative experiences. Avoiding difficult conversations with a spouse, child, or other family members and friends can be harmful to our relationships. I’m also not suggesting that we need to put on our rose colored glasses and trust everyone and everything. What I am suggesting, however, is that if we make the effort to increase positive thoughts, experiences, and feelings in life, then we will be happier, healthier, and be more energized and capable of tackling challenges without getting overwhelmed by negativity.
Andy-ThompsonAbout the Author: Andy is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the St. George Center and the Cedar City Center for Couples and Families. He graduated from Utah Valley University with a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science with an emphasis in Family Studies. To set up an appointment call (435) 319-4582.

Childhood Stress: 7 Signs and 7 Solutions by Joan Landes

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

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

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

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

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

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

joan297x222About the Author: Joan Landes is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. She feels that therapy should be an adventure for her clients and (gasp!) actually fun. Joan loves learning the latest neuroscience underpinning human resilience and is enthusiastic about skill development in her clients.

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.

Spring Cleaning Your Marriage by Chad Olson, LMFT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wellness Is More Than What You Eat by Kurt Attaway

VegetablesWe live in a fast paced society. Everything is moving quickly. Fast food. Fast cars. Lose weight fast. Make money fast. Text. Tweet. We are running faster and pushing harder, “for what?”
Depression is taking a significant toll on people (http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_statistics_depression). Over 40 million people struggle with anxiety (http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics). Relationships are strained, and obesity is on the rise. . It appears that in our fast paced lifestyle, we have lost our focus on living well.
Wellness is often associated with food and exercise. While this is an accurate association, it is not a complete picture of wellness. Wellness is defined by merriam-webster as the quality or state of being healthy. Our quality and state of being is much more than physical. We are emotional, mental, relational, and recreational beings
Body
Jim Rohn once said, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” The amount of research indicating the positive impact that healthy eating, consistent exercise and regular sleep habits do to one’s overall well-being is astounding. Individuals who incorporate sustainable, yet evidence-based lifestyle changes, report not only improved physical health, but increased mental, social and emotional fulfillment.
Mind
Stressed BusinesswomanWhat we think about matters. Have you ever taken time to notice what makes up your thoughts? Often times it is our own perspective that influences the level of stress, anxiety and worry in our lives. Stress and anxiety are very real and regularly emerge in our minds. Expectations often create pressure. Anxiety is often driven by ruminating on the possible negative outcomes. As you reach for a greater experience of wellness in your mind, look for opportunities to trade fear for hope. Choose to focus on what you can do, as opposed to what you cannot do. Awareness is the first and most necessary step to reach mental wellness.
Emotion
Emotions give meaning to our life experiences and provide opportunities for us to connect with others. However, sometimes instead of controlling our emotions, we feel controlled by our emotions to the point where we aren’t able to accomplish the things we set out to achieve (whether they be professional, relational, or academic goals). In order to learn to manage your emotions better, you may consider these two suggestions: 1. Control your thoughts because they directly influence your feelings and 2. Engage in regular self-care practices, such as meditation, deep breathing or participating in a hobby.
Love
CB009188Relationships can be a vibrant, satisfying aspect of life. Healthy relationships can improve one’s mood, increase one’s purpose and offer a buffer against life’s challenges. Research from Life Innovations (www.prepare-enrich.com) highlights communication as the single greatest contributor to satisfying relationships. Connection and intimacy grow from the rich soil of healthy communication. Moreover, communication focused on kindness and gratitude will keep you focused on what you do have in a relationship as opposed to searching for what’s missing.
Leisure
Research on happiness suggests that those who engage in hobbies and activities that align with their interests and passions find life much more enjoyable. Even more important is to engage in these types of activities consistently and often, rather than take a big vacation once a year and work yourself to death the rest of the yearThe most important aspect of leisure is that you enjoy life through small and simple things on a daily basis.
Being aware of these elements in your life and the impact they have on your happiness is the first step to achieving total body and mind wellness.

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