Gratitude: More Powerful than Stress by Dr. Lee Johnson

balanceMany of us are overly stressed. We strive to balance our demands at home, work, and other community obligations. With these competing demands it is easy to understand why people don’t want to add anything else to our busy life. However, there is one emotion that has the power to put stress in its place—gratitude.
Stress is a chronic problem and wastes our energy and can actually have a negative impact on our health and our personal relationships (Childre & Martin, 1999). Researchers have discovered that our heart is much more than a pump. Our heart is part of our nervous system and even has it own brain. Additionally, researchers originally thought that our brain controlled our heart but we now know that our heart can influence and even override signals from our brain while regulating our body (Childre & Martin, 1999). In sending signals to our brain and to aid in body regulation our heart produces neurotransmitters and hormones. One of these is hormones is atrial natriuretic factor (ATF) or the “balance hormone”. This hormone regulates many of our bodily functions, blood pressure, and electrolyte balance (Childre & Martin, 1999). Gratitude is one of the keys to having our systems balanced to facilitate being calm and relaxed.
debtGetting away from some of the negative thoughts and feelings in our head such as frustration, anger and stress and focusing on our hearts with positive feelings of affection, appreciation, love, compassion and gratitude keep or heartbeat consistent and coherent and allow us to perform at our best (Childre & Martin, 1999). When I am overly stressed or negative, I have found that gratitude or appreciation is one of the easier positive emotions on which to focus to reduce the stress. An example from my life will illustrate how this works.
Lone Tree in SnowOne night it snowed a lot. I was scheduled to go for an 8 mile run the next morning. I grew up with cold winters and spent many childhood winters playing in the snow and as a teenager many weekends skiing. However, since moving to the south I have come to appreciate the warm winter weather and the luxury of year around training outside. I looked out the window and the negativity started; I hate being cold, I don’t need this workout, I can’t run that far, etc. With encouragement from my wife I got dressed and headed out. I discovered early on that I was correct—it was cold outside and I hated it, my legs felt like cement and I had strong doubts about completing the workout, and I thought I should just stop and go home. As I rounded a corner the wind started to blow snow from the trees into the sunlight. It was absolutely beautiful. My focus shifted from negativity and doubt to appreciation for the scenery, my ability to run, and being grateful to be outside. My ability to perform dramatically improved. My legs lightened up, I did not notice the cold and had a great run. What made the difference? I shifted to positive emotions (different from just positive thoughts) and the subsequent physiological heartbeat changes that accompany those feelings. I have used this moment as a guide and I have had similar experiences when work, family, or other obligations have stressed me.

 

So what is the key to applying this information to reducing stress? Shift your focus to the positive emotion of appreciation or gratitude. It may be helpful to focus on the scenery, the enjoyment you get out of your family, or think of someone you love and appreciate. This is more involved than making a list of things you are grateful for, it is focusing on theses things until you feel the appreciation or gratitude. It is important to practice these skills at various times during the day. Build them into your day and make them a part of your routine. While these skills take practice the return on the little investment of time will be worth the rewards.

Reference: Childre, D. & Martin, H. (1999). The heartmath solution. San Francisco: Harper.

 

 

LeeAbout the Author: Dr. Lee Johnson is a faculty member in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Brigham Young University. He is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, AAMFT approved supervisor, and a USAT Certified Triathlon Coach.

Aging Gracefully=Let’s Get Moving by Carrie Ermshar

Mature couple with laptop.How do we age gracefully? Let’s face it, we are all growing older. With each birthday, we are given another year to celebrate. Yet, as the candles increase on the cake, it seems harder to blow them all out at once!
Society does not help the situation with our huge campaign of “fighting aging.” And, the truth is, our body certainly takes the brunt of aging, as does our mind. A lot of these effects are natural, and we are slowly learning to embrace the beauty of growing older, rather than fighting it. The baby boomers may be to thank for the gradual shift. With the largest population known in history reaching age 65 and older, science and technology are providing phenomenal resources for everything from medicine to anti-aging products. There is a massive education focus and increase in quality living; 50 is truly fabulous, and 70 is suddenly not old, it’s the new 60!

However, the reality is, that for most of us to age gracefully, the same thing is required of us as is with almost anything else that we value in life: EFFORT. And focusing that effort into physical activity and mental stimulation will gain the most benefits. In short, get moving!
According to Colin Miller, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, we now know that a lot of the problems previously thought to be related to aging aren’t related to aging at all, but rather to disuse of the body (WebMD). Years of sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles are ultimately what cause problems as we get older, not necessarily aging itself.

The good news is we are learning that there are ways to change the cycle. Research from The American Geriatric Society tells us that inactivity doubles the risk of mobility limitations as we age, while vigorous activity has the opposite effect. Exercise has also been proven to slow cognitive declines, keeping our minds sharper longer. The baby boomers are not letting this opportunity slip by them. No longer are we in a world where turning 65 means settling into your favorite armchair.

Active senior living can be found almost anywhere and should certainly be pursued to assist in aging gracefully. Examples are fairly simple: walking at least 30 minutes a day, gardening, golfing, eating fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, laughter, playing with grandchildren or volunteering at a local elementary school. The lessons we’ve been taught throughout our years of living healthy determine how we will age. So let’s get moving and make healthy choices!

Carrie ErmsharAbout the Author: Carrie Ermshar, MHA serves the field of aging services with experience in care management services, operations management, program development, and education. Carrie has 20 years executive leadership with long term care services, and passion for integrating healthy aging options within health care and local communities.

Dear Mom by Kurt Attaway, MA, LMFTA

Dear Mom,

yellow flowerFirst, let me say, “Thank You!” In case you have not heard it today, I want to remind you that you have a significant impact on the ones around you. Second, let me encourage you to receive the “thank you.” Allow yourself to breathe deep the reality of your role. You are loving, caring, shaping, serving, laughing, crying, holding, cherishing, protecting, correcting and investing in your little one(s). Did I mention you are doing a great job?

As a son, father and husband, I have observed motherhood up close and personally. I see the investment, the fatigue, the worry, the hope, the celebrations and the seeming defeats. I know there are sleepless nights and sleepless weeks and sleepless years. There is endless work in the home and often work outside the home. Not to mention you might want to have at least one friend and an occasional night to relax. Does it seem like you are supposed to offer others the whole world while not losing your world? Quite the tall task if you ask me. Do everything. Be everything. Never make a mistake. Always smile. And do it all with grace and patience.

On this Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate you. Let’s acknowledge that every day is a chance to celebrate Mother’s Day because mothers serve and love daily (Yes, dads do as well, but this article is all about moms). Moms, with all the burden you carry for your family, I want to remind you to breathe. You deserve it. Find time to embrace your courage and strength. Make celebrating the simple things a daily habit.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, highlighted motherhood as one of the most significant areas women feel shame1. How have we allowed this in our culture? I believe it is time for us to shift from shame to celebration. Motherhood is the result of life. Motherhood is a heart of love. Motherhood is a relationship to be celebrated.

yellow flower 2Tips for embracing more celebration:

• Celebrate daily: Identify successes every day. Share them at dinner time. Journal them before bed. Text them to a friend. Did the kids eat, did they get a hug, did you share a laugh? Count every success, especially the small ones.

• Find time to refresh: You need energy to celebrate. Make time to recharge and refresh. You care for your kids, make sure you care for yourself. Go for a walk, take time to journal, meet a friend for dinner, schedule time every month to reenergize who you are.

• Write notes to your child(ren): Taking time to encourage your child(ren) increases purpose and passion. Writing helps your focus and shapes your perspective. Writing notes gives a gift to your kid(s) and to your heart. This practice will help keep you focused on the big picture…loving well!

• Use the buddy system: Find others to share the journey with. Find a friend who encourages you. Find someone to encourage. This journey is too meaningful to experience alone.

We love and celebrate you mom!

1. Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly. New York: Gotham, 2012. Print.

Kurt leadershipAbout the Author: Kurt Attaway is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy Associate in Texas. Kurt graduated with his Master’s from UHCL, where he was listed the top family therapist in his class. He values working cooperatively and collaboratively with his clients to help them take steps forward that bring greater expressions of life, hope and wholeness. Kurt works in private practice at The Center for Couples and Families, and serves as the Director of the WholeFit Leadership Team. Here he works with individuals and corporations to help increase the health and wellness of his clients mentally, physically, relationally and professionally.