Losing weight, being healthy, and staying in shape can be hard. That is why there are thousands of weight loss options, diets, gyms, and career paths dedicated to helping us live physically healthy lives. Most people struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle and consider the options of turning to a professional to help them with the knowledge necessary and how to apply that knowledge into real life.
A therapist is essentially a personal trainer for your emotional and psychological well-being. Our goal is to give you the proper knowledge to understand and deal with emotional and mental issues. Then we teach you how to apply the knowledge in your life. Therapy is not just for those with mental illness or emotional disorders just as personal trainers are not just for the over weight or unhealthy. Everyone can benefit from some professional training on how to live a healthier lifestyle.
In our physical lives we cannot eat healthy once and go to the gym for an hour and expect to be “ripped”. The same holds true for our mental health. We cannot go to therapy once and meditate for an hour and expect to be mentally healthy. Becoming mentally fit is a lifestyle just like being physically fit. We want to train you to live an emotionally healthy life and change the way you live. I am not saying that you will need a therapist for the rest of your life in order to be healthy just like I would not say you need a personal trainer for you whole life to be healthy. What therapy can give you is the knowledge and skills to apply that knowledge so you can manage your own healthy lifestyle.
As a therapist, when we tell people what we do as a career, we often get told, “I went to therapy before. I think it can work great for some people it just wasn’t for me.” In fact, people can usually think of several friends/family in their lives who could benefit from therapy before thinking about it for themselves. When I ask the follow up question (as therapists are trained to do) about why it “wasn’t for them,” I tend to get the same responses every time. See if you’ve ever thought, felt, or said any of this about your prior experience with therapy:
1. I didn’t like the therapist.
I totally get this. You’re not going to jive with everyone. Whether the therapist just didn’t get you, you’re fundamentally polar opposites as people, or the therapist was seemingly preoccupied with something else and didn’t give you the attentiveness you deserve, you don’t want to waste time or money seeing a therapist you don't like.
*Jamie, An anonymous contributor said this: “I can think of about six therapists I’ve been to in my life. A few of them I saw only once or twice, tops. I just didn’t connect with them for various reasons. If I didn’t connect with them after a session or two, I’d just quit scheduling with them. Then I’d kind of just think the problem wasn’t going to be helped by therapy anyway. When things got worse instead of better [after quitting therapy] I’d eventually try therapy again. By eventually, I mean a couple of years would go by. I probably shouldn’t have struggled for that long but I was convinced no one could help me. That’s not true though because the other three [therapists] I probably saw for several months to a year each. So this was like, once was when I as a teen, then again in my early 20s and the shortest time in my 30s. Each one of those therapists couldn’t have been more different than the other in personality and therapy style. I don’t know, it was like I just liked spending time with them and felt lighter after sessions. I think what made the difference was they genuinely seemed to like me and believed in me. I always remember one therapist who said, 'I like meeting with you because you know deep down what the answer is, you just need someone to listen while you process it out loud.' That meant a lot because I felt the therapist really did believe in me. So if they challenged me at times, I knew it was coming from a caring place and I listened to their feedback. Mostly, I think each one [of the therapists] taught me to trust myself and be okay with who I am. I don’t know that I’ll need to go to therapy again in the future but if I do, I know I may have to try a couple of people before I find the right match. I know that can be frustrating but I feel like it’s just part of the process.”
2) It just felt weird to complain about my problems to a stranger.
Fair enough. Some people just don’t like to talk about their feelings. Some cultures (whether a family culture or a societal culture) believe feelings=weakness or talking about feelings makes you weak. Plus, if you have a good friends or family who listen and are there for you when your struggling, you might think that’s good enough.
Those social connections can be powerfully healing, but they also require mutual support. You may be unable to talk to a friend or loved one about your stress who is going through a lot themselves. Your therapist isn’t going to make the session about themselves or have you stop to comfort them. Or at least, they shouldn't! You get to be totally selfish in monopolizing the time and conversation while in therapy. That’s expected because it is your time and money.
Besides, sometimes family and friends, as well-meaning as they may be, are actually too close to a situation themselves to be able to give sound advice. I mean, you can only complain about your boyfriend so much before they give Tom the stink-eye every time at the next family BBQ. That may not be helpful when you’re trying to make it work and realize deep down, both you and Tom are contributing to the relationship problems!
Therapists do far more than just listen and tell you Tom is a loser and you deserve better. They are trained to know how to help you figure out why you chose to be in a relationship with Tom in the first place, and what part you can play in improving your relationship with Tom. They can stay much more neutral while allowing you to figure out if Tom is the guy for you. They can even help you learn the skills to move forward in that relationship or find better Toms in the future. They can do all this for you while not being part of the family group [gossiping] text messages you just know are happening behind your back!
3) Things got better on their own.
Again, this makes sense! Sometimes situations do spontaneously improve! That difficult boss you have might get transferred. The marital stress may turn a corner and improve. You might get on an antidepressant and feel a lot better!
Another thing to consider, however, is that you may have been unconsciously putting things out there (such as a lack of assertiveness) that was subtly attracting difficult relationships. These subconscious driving forces may be things that when addressed in therapy, started leading to the "spontaneous" life changes you were seeing! But therapy is not just about improving life problems in the short term, but also preventing them from becoming recurring life problems and decrease your susceptibility to stress and struggles over time. The therapy work you were doing could have been the catalyst for your new, improved life!
I would encourage you that if you’ve given therapy a chance before, but didn’t like the therapist, felt weird about talking about your problems, or life just suddenly improved, consider going back if you even THINK you might need it. If you want to be happier, feel more confident, think about the past less or worry less about the future, call us. Family Solutions Counseling has several therapists you are welcome to “try us out” before finding the one you connect with and make the lasting changes you deserve.
*Name was changed to protect confidentiality
Many of us are striving to achieve something in our lives: Emotional health. Whether we think about it that way or not, when we pursue “happiness,” emotional health and stability is often our goal. One of my favorite actresses is Kristen Bell. You know, Veronica Mars, The Good Place....this cute little film called Frozen.....She is not my favorite because she is objectively the best actress or even subjectively, to me, the best actress. She’s certainly very talented, sure. However, what draws me to her, and many of us to her, is her energy, candor, wit, and obvious inner strength. Okay, maybe this is what you'd describe as a girl crush? Anyway, these traits can’t help but come across the screen and make me feel like I, too, can achieve a Kristen Bell-like zest for life.
On my recent commute, I was intrigued to find out that her husband, Dax Shepard, has a fantastic new podcast and his first interview subject was Kristen. As I listened to the interview, Dax and Kristen were so relatable and brutally honest, as usual. I was again thoroughly impressed with Kristen’s life philosophies regarding having positive self-esteem and seeking to make choices based on what brings her joy. I found myself impressed with what an emotionally healthy person Kristen seems to be. Dax, too, has a lot of wisdom and insight but I mean, the interview subject was Kristin. Even as I was thinking how I could best use Kristin and Dax’s attitudes and philosophies to help my own therapy clients, and in her true, tell-it-like-it-is-while-remaining-adorable Kristen Bell way, she once again brought up her depression.
Yes, Kristen Bell, a seemingly mentally healthy person has a diagnosis of depression. It seems contradictory. How can I state that I believe that even while she describes how she struggles to get out of bed on some mornings due to her emotional state, that I also believe she is thriving emotionally? It’s important to note that I do not know Kristen Bell personally [um, but, six degrees of separation, amirite? It's only a matter of time]. Point being, I can’t definitively label her emotionally healthy, per se. Certainly it would be unethical of me to personally diagnose her. However, I can definitively say that she outwardly displays traits of someone who recognizes the value in, and actively works to maintain her emotional health. So let’s explore what it really means to be emotionally healthy, anyway:
Myth 1: Emotionally healthy people are never depressed/anxious/down on themselves, etc.
Fact: Emotionally healthy people are human [obviously]. Part of being human is having emotions: Yup, all of them. Furthermore, just as genetics and environment can contribute to medical conditions, so can they contribute to mental health conditions. It is certainly possible for an emotionally healthy person to have experienced a mental health condition. However, emotionally healthy people develop resilience, coping skills, awareness of their triggers, and a willingness to continue pursuing emotional health. They are devoted to their task. It’s important to note that there is also a difference between a trait and a state. A trait is an inherent or longstanding way of being. Emotionally healthy people have practiced the necessary skills for emotional health that it becomes closer to being a trait they have. A state is a moment-to-moment emotional fluctuation of being and is influenced by many factors, both internally and externally. Emotionally healthy people have learned how to manipulate their state of being, taking advantage of internal skills and external controls.
How do they do this? When Kristen wakes up and realizes she is feeling down and hopeless, does she wallow in that state of being the rest of the day? Not likely. She may allow herself to feel those feelings for a moment, then she probably takes active measures to change her state of being and connect back to her trait of positivity. She might think of all she has in her life that brings her joy, she might go for a jog to increase her endorphins and increase mindfulness. The good news is, we too, have the ability to change our state of being on a moment-to-moment basis. However, just like for Kristen, it may be necessary to work with a therapist or take medication to increase your ability to do so.
Myth 2: Emotionally healthy people have everything they want/have already achieved all their goals
Fact: Emotionally healthy people usually do have most of what they want. But it’s not for the reason you think. First of all, emotionally healthy can still be susceptible to the subtle/not-so-subtle marketing around them telling us we want/need more. Even Kristen Bell can’t pass up a good deal at Target! However, emotionally healthy people know to be wary of comparing themselves or what they have to others. Even people who aren’t wealthy or have very few material goods can achieve emotional health. The trick they have learned is to fully appreciate everything they have. If there is something they want, materialistically-speaking, or a goal they want to achieve, they set realistic goals to obtain what they want without sacrificing their acceptance and appreciation of their current reality. They may even self-analyze and attempt to gain insight when ever they do feel compelled towards attaining something. And they absolutely work to have realistic expectations of what the sought-after item, experience or achievement can bring them. Bottom line: They live in the present, without overly emphasizing or focusing on what may be to come in their future.
Myth 3: Emotionally healthy people are excited about the future.
Fact: They may be excited, especially about something specific, but more importantly they do not live in fear of the future. When you have learned to live in, be content with, and be mindful of your present moment, you realize that you are just as capable of doing so in future moments. You are empowered to know the level of control you have over yourself and your emotional state, no matter what comes your way. You even recognize there will be difficulties ahead, but you generally feel confident in your ability to use the same coping skills you possess now to move forward. Emotionally healthy people may also recognize the opportunities for growth that come from experiencing emotional pain and hardship. They don’t seek these difficult times, but they have a plan to thrive because of and in spite of them.
Myth 4: Emotionally healthy people have perfect relationships.
Fact: There is no such thing as a perfect relationship. Sure. We know that. Okay, but how cute are Dax and Kristen together, especially when they are honest about their respective personal "issues" and shared relationship imperfections? Still, obviously emotional health is a difficult, though worth it, thing to achieve. Far more of us are striving to obtain it than have already achieved it. Because of the many of us in process of achieving emotional health, naturally, emotionally healthy people are likely to have plenty of relationships with people who are unhealthy emotionally. Relationships between emotionally healthy and emotionally unhealthy individuals are no healthier than the established boundaries between them. An emotionally healthy individual knows it is not his or her job to cater to the other person’s emotional state. They do not enable unhealthy people or unhealthy behaviors. Rather, they are clear they take accountability only for their own emotional state.
Due to that sense of personal accountability, emotionally healthy people are more likely to attract others who are emotionally healthy. Having other people around who are also emotionally healthy is a motivation to maintain their own emotional health. Since emotionally healthy people have learned they can’t bring someone along for the ride or achieve it for anyone but themselves, they know they need their strength to carry their own load. They also expect those around them to be accountable for their own emotional health. Interestingly, even this trait is inspiring to those around them who aspire to be emotionally healthy. Modeling emotional health is the healthiest way to help those around them also achieve it.
Myth 5: Once someone has achieved emotional health, they will always be emotionally healthy.
Fact: Once you’ve learned and implemented the skills to achieve emotional health, you are more likely to maintain it or more quickly know how to regain it if you are derailed. We can not control every experience life throws at us. It is always possible to experience a trauma that overwhelms the current ability to cope. Emotional health takes dedication but it is not completely within our control, either.
Consider the action a person who is in good physical health regularly takes: Exercise, eating healthy, and taking care of themselves. Imagine this person get injured and requires time to recover, lessening his or her ability to exercise and leading to some muscle loss. Even in this scenario, the person has the ability to control other aspects of their physical health: How they eat, sleep, and follow the treatment recommended for their injury. If they physically heal, they know how and what to do to get back on the path to their previous level of physical health.
We also have some control with our emotional health, even if there are factors outside of our control. As long as we are recognizing what is within our control, making our best efforts to maintain our emotional health in those controllable areas, and accepting ourselves during the many times we will fail, we may actually be a more emotionally healthy person than we thought. In fact, you may already have your own unique brand of Kristen Bell [insert the name of someone you think exudes emotional health here]-esque, adorableness.
Happy, Sad, Mad, Glad. We chuckle at the simplicity of these four emotions. We often consider such a basic list to be elementary in our human understanding of the many emotions. There are lists upon lists of vocabulary in most languages to describe the nuances of our emotional states.
As it turns out, it really IS so simple as the basic four. When psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett studied emotion, what she found is that we over complicate them. Across cultures, the only emotional states that absolutely exist for everyone, is: Pleasantness (such as being happy), unpleasantness (such as being sad), Aroused (such as being Mad) and Calm (such as being “glad”). Each culture individual breaks these down in to multiple description words for each category. One culture may not necessarily have a word for an emotion that is considered universal by another culture. Not only may they not have a word for it, but it can be argued that they don’t recognize it as an emotion at all!
What’s more, our emotions aren’t a result of something happening outside of ourselves. Nope. Our emotions are actually a result of something happening internally. So when we say our boss “made us mad.” That isn’t the case. Our emotions are actually just giving us a readout from our brain of the experiences our body is having. So, if our boss puts us down in front of a coworker, our cognitive interpretation of that event may be that we won’t be respected by others or that our job is at risk. These thoughts may lead our heart to pound and our face get hot. We may feel our fists clenching or jaw tightening. Our brain does a quick survey of it’s sensory inputs and reports back: We are aroused, and it’s not pleasant.
Yet another person may interpret this experience completely differently. They may think, “my boss doesn’t have very good social skills” or “maybe he’s going through a rough time.” As a result of interpreting this experience differently there is not the physiological response leading to the same emotional readout. This person may experience some unpleasantness related to the situation, but overall a sense of calm.
If our interpretations can vary so widely depending on a variety of factors, we can’t possibly say our boss was the cause of anything direct.
When you do have a strong emotional response, what is your brain wanting you to do with this information? That, it doesn’t know. It has done its job to send us the report. It’s encased in that thick skull of ours. It doesn't’ know beyond anything beyond what the senses have told it and it certainly doesn’t know what the best response is to the discomfort.
What we do then, requires a higher level of thinking. So what are the choices?
It’s important to note that sitting with it does not mean fueling it. You are not adding thoughts such as, “my boss always does this to me!” Instead, you are just embracing the emotion, “This does not feel good.” It’s also critical you not judge it. “Why do I let my boss get to me like this?” Your brain did it’s job in giving you its full report. Just appreciate it did its job and let it be, knowing the intensity will pass.
Photo Courtesy of Mark Lacy @ Anylightphoto.com
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition that effects many people around the world. Especially In Northern Utah, we have a distinct winter season that is punctuated by “The Inversion.” The Inversion, familiar to those of us along the Wasatch front, is when our beautiful valleys act as a bowl which collects a lid of thick pollutants trapped in an icy cold air. The result is poor air quality and day after day of dark, gloomy skies. And it seems to go on and on…
Here are some tips to avoid the seasonal depression that can result from these long winter months:
Take a Vacation
I know, pretty obvious. But It doesn’t have to be an expensive cruise. Sometimes, you just need to get out of the valley to feel a little better. Even spending an evening or overnight in warmer parts of the state where there is likely to be more sun and warmer temperatures, can give you the mental boost you need. Set some gift money aside and buy experiences which provide lasting memories.
Get Above it All
Utah is obviously known for its winter sports, so are you taking advantage of that? Go high up in the mountains to get above the inversion and go skiing, snowboarding, etc!
Stay Active (indoors)
Join a gym, an indoor soccer league, go to a skating rink, walk the local mall before work, find a yoga class; whatever it is, keep your mind and body healthy by staying active inside where the air pollutants aren’t such a big factor.
Spend time with friends or make new friends (in person!)
Maybe you don’t have a friend group you regularly spend time with. Start attending community groups or activities with common goals in mind. These groups can often be found on Facebook, but make sure to take part in the in-person get together's they may plan. Keeping up with your social connections can improve depression and distract you from the cold temperatures.
Get Up Earlier and Go to Bed Earlier
Due to Daylight Saving, darkness comes sooner than usual. If you are in a habit of sleeping in, you are missing out on precious daylight hours and we need the sun! So get on an early schedule and stay on it, even when you have holiday time-off.
Focus on the Holidays
This doesn’t just mean the big ones-- Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. No, make plans for even smaller holidays or make up your own! A lot of people experience an emotional letdown after the big holidays. Pare back on those and plan a couple smaller get-togethers in January, February and March. Maybe a popcorn party for National Popcorn Day on January 19th, for example? Check out this calendar to see what fun days you could make in to a celebration!
Try Sun Light Therapy
Lack of sunlight has been shown to lead to decrease in mood. Try a sun lamp such as this one to help fight the effects of lack of sun light.
Get a Workbook Like This One and use the long, evening hours for self-reflection and improvement.
Go to Therapy
Sometimes, you just need to talk it out. You need to be heard. When your mood is low you tend to feel less satisfied with your work, relationships, and your life. Make an appointment with a therapist and they will be happy to help you figure out how to beat those winter blues!
Remember, Spring is Coming
Winter comes to an end. It does every year. Winter won’t last forever but keeping active and emotionally healthy can help it feel more enjoyable and perhaps even make it feel like it passed a little quicker! Make the best of these 3 (to 5) months and yet use the comparison of those long, dark, cold days to really appreciate the rest of the seasons!
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