Improving Meaningful Connection with Others: A Letter & “Yondr” Ponder

An early morning read from a friend resulted in (1) a desire to be part of the solution, not the problem, and (2) a letter to a school administrator. Part of that letter is shared below along with an invitation to consider something similar for you and yours. What do you think, how might your family do a bit of Yondring?

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Looking for Happiness and Finding Addiction

Our community is the epitome of mainstream America. We have deeply rooted family values, safe streets, moral standards, and most families stand guarded against outside influences that threaten our happiness. Recently, however, Utah achieved the 7th highest drug overdose rate in the nation. How can a community named Happy Valley have some of the highest rates of adult mental illness and teenage suicide in the country? 

Treating addiction is clearly a necessity. However, explaining these alarming and confusing statistics may also come down to understanding some myths, or assumptions, about happiness.  

Myth No. 1: I Should Be Happy All the Time 

Some aspects of our local community amplify and reinforce the well-intended message that “good people” or “my kid” should not or would not encounter pain. At times, we may even feel entitled to getting our way and therefore feel betrayed when we stress and we encounter unwanted but normal life struggles. These challenges show up as: loneliness, divorce, work stress, relationship issues, domestic violence, bullying, prejudice, low self-esteem, and chronic pain to mention a few.  

Myth No. 2: If I’m Not Happy, Something is Wrong with Me 

For decades, mental health symptoms have been twisted and misunderstood to the point that painful or overwhelming thoughts and feelings are now presumed to be products of weak, faulty, and unworthy minds. Labels like ‘Anxious’, or ‘Addict’ are now used so frequently and in such negative ways it distracts us from the real issue at hand. Those labels not only build a wall but also mask the reality that we all struggle in similar ways. Combine these objectifying terms with a competitive culture this myth grows more powerful and exponential.  

Myth No. 3: For a Better Life, I Must Get Rid Of Negative Feelings  

Every single one of us experiences self-judgment, fear, and shame of not measuring up. It can be overwhelming and discouraging. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that promotes numbing and hiding as the solution to any pain or discomfort.   

Anger, over-working, blaming, over-booking schedules, and isolation has been dependable sources of distraction for years. Some argue how safe and how little impact these behaviors have on themselves and others. Ironically, they assume that dependent or ‘addictive’ thinking and behaviors are only appropriate if describing illicit drugs and alcohol. Recently, more camouflaged options like sugar, caffeine, over the counter medication, smoking, power drinks, and trendy diets have become legal and justified ways to remedy unwanted thoughts or deal with social pressures. All of these behaviors, and others, are designed to alter reality, enhance social performance, and reduce stress. Unbeknownst to us, we end up trading one form of addiction for another.  

Everyone considers himself or herself an unwilling and/or unaware accomplice and each would avoid the road of undue suffering if possible. Here are three practical take home ideas that can help you start breaking yourself free from the shackles of these myths and identify and strengthen your core values so you can stay connected with reality.  

  1. Take time and energy to notice core values that you have and may share with others. Write down and/or share thoughts, feelings, and memories that help identify and strengthen your core values. Yoga, meditation, and other quiet activities will improve focus and self-awareness. 
  2. Compare less. Look for opportunities to learn about and accept the uniqueness of others. Admitting and accepting our weakness and vulnerability to others actually creates meaningful emotional and social bonds.  
  3. React less. Take a deep breath and refocus values that you can practice today.  

All of us long for acceptance, empathy, and connection from others but sometimes get stuck in the attractive web of addictive behaviors. If help is needed, reach out to others or professionals. Enjoy the search for happiness in the everyday pursuit of values, not distractions.  

How do I Get My Husband to Come to Counseling?

Counseling, if done right, is husband friendly! Find the right therapist and you’ll understand. The problem is that many husbands worry that the therapist is going to take their wife’s side and gang up on him, or that therapy will be uncomfortable. While the latter may be true, the former isn’t. A good therapist doesn’t take sides or act as a referee. I have had many couples want to hash out an argument in front of me in counseling so that I can tell them who is right. I stop them, and explain that even if one of them ended up right, that they would be so wrong in their rightness – their marriage would suffer because they insisted on being right instead of compassionate and forgiving. A good therapist, rather, is able to foster healthy interactions between spouses so that they both feel safe and are able to be vulnerable and genuine with each other. When husbands understand that what they feel and think is important, then they are more willing to make this uncomfortable leap with their spouse. Women are more likely than men to initiate therapy, but without buy-in from the man, it is difficult to be successful in therapy. My suggestion to women who want to initiate counseling, but have a reluctant spouse is to recognize that this is scary for your spouse. They may feel as if they will be attacked, or worse yet, that they will lose you. Help them understand that your desire for counseling is because you love him and because you want this to work – but aren’t sure how to make fix it. Ask him to give therapy at least 3 sessions – after that, if he still feels reluctant there might be another counselor or approach that you could try. Most men feel better about therapy after at least 3 sessions if you have the right therapist for you.

 

Originally published on www.tristonmorgan.com

 

The Secret of Pornography

Secrets fuel addiction. As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, addictions, such as pornography addictions, are a shame-based experience. This means that when someone uses pornography they feel as if they are a bad person, rather than feeling that they are a good person despite making a mistake. When someone feels shame, they often compartmentalize what they have done – they hid it and separate it from who they think they really are, or, think that that mistake totally defines who they really are.

This is where secrets come into play. Over time, a man (or woman – I’ve worked with both in therapy for pornography issues) who has been using pornography and feeling shame because of it will gather many secrets. He won’t want to tell anyone what he is doing, or won’t want to tell them all that he is doing. He might only present the best parts of himself or just tell enough about his mistakes to others to appease them or to feel like he is being open. But, in fact, he is keeping secrets. These secrets start to bury him and make him feel more shame. They take an effort to maintain and keep hidden. They cause him stress and to feel disconnected from others. All of these things can lead to more addictive acting out.

Being transparent is key. This, in part, is why in the 12-step model of recovery (for alcohol, sexual addiction or substance addiction) addicts are asked to write a fearless moral inventory and to share it. Being open with others can feel uncomfortable and embarrassing. Many would say, “It’s in the past – let it stay there” or, “I don’t want to hurt her, so I’m not going to tell her about it”. These mindsets only make things worse for someone using pornography and their spouse/family. Telling others and being transparent is on the path towards recovery.

Pornography counseling offers a venue to be transparent and honest with yourself and with your loved ones. A good therapist will help you through this process in a way that might be painful, but certainly not shameful.

Originally published on www.tristonmorgan.com

 

When the Holidays Hurt

For many people, the holiday season is a time of joy and magic, a time where people relive and create happy memories. They are moments of joyous gatherings filled with love, laughter and crowded tables. But if you are not one of those people, the holiday season can be very difficult to endure. For individuals who have experienced the loss of a loved one, abuse in childhood, or another tragedy or trauma, the holidays just remind you of that loss and pain. Your days may not be merry and bright. Your days may feel more gloomy, more isolating, and you may feel more disconnected from the world around you.  

The holidays are here, and the holidays can hurt. 

Maybe it’s because of the chairs that will be empty or the phone calls that won’t come. Maybe it’s the time off from work that allows you to think about your life and feel the pain. Maybe it’s the reminder that all of your holidays your whole life were negative and filled with dysfunction and abuse. And maybe it’s the perception that everyone else has the picture perfect holiday gatherings with all their loved ones. Whatever the reason may be, a heavy sadness can take hold of you and you don’t know how to shake it off.  

For many of us, depression, grief, and sadness are constants and we get used to fighting them off and keeping them at bay. There’s nothing like the holidays that make you feel like you not only have to have it all together, but you have to wrap it up with a bow and display it for the world to see.  

If you happen to be hurting this holiday season, I’d like to offer some helpful advice. 

Let it hurt. Allow yourself to feel the pain and allow it to come fully without altering or inhibiting it. Life is difficult and painful sometimes and it is okay that you are not okay during this time. You don’t need to pretend that you are. Emotional reactions are expected and there are no right or wrong feelings.  

Don’t hide it. Be as authentic as you can with the people you are closest to. Allow people who love you to be there for you and support you in your time of pain and distress. Let them see you and know you–not an edited, “better” version of yourself.  

Today is really just another day. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it must be the most wonderful time of the year. It doesn’t have to be, and it clearly isn’t that this year.  

Practice self care. Be aware of yourself and what you’re feeling and if something is triggering and overwhelming.  Allow yourself to disengage or leave a painful situation and attend to your pain. Only you truly know how you are feeling and what your boundaries and limitations are. Be true to yourself.  

Embrace this holiday as-is. You may feel overwhelmed and in pain, but there is still goodness to be experienced, even in the pain. There will be holidays in the future that are lighter and happier, and these difficult days are part of the healing path to get there.   

New traditions. New traditions can be healing and can help you create better connections to the loved ones in your life. If you have survived the loss of a loved one you can start a new tradition that symbolizes letting go, such as sending balloons or floating lanterns in the air. 

Above all, know that is okay to be blue during the holiday season.  

If you need someone to talk to you can contact the Center for Couples and Families at (385) 312-0506, text  HOME to 741741 to reach the crisis hotline or call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. 

 Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Discovering You Have ADHD as an Adult

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is not just a childhood disorder. As a neurodevelopmental disorder, ADHD is usually identified in childhood, but several individuals reach adulthood without being accurately identified as having the condition. An estimated 8 million adults in the United States suffer from ADHD. In many of these cases, it is attention, rather than hyperactivity, which is the primary problem; this form of the disorder, formerly called “ADD,” is one of the more common types of ADHD in adults.  

 Missing ADHD in Childhood 

While all adults who meet criteria for ADHD will always manifest some form of significant symptoms in childhood, the level of impact of these symptoms can be quite variable. Several children do not manifest the hyperactive or impulsive symptoms sometimes associated with the condition. Their behavior in the classroom and at home may not be entirely problematic. Instead of being disruptive, talkative, or irresponsible, they may only appear forgetful or flighty. Some children learn how to hide their distractibility or compensate for attention concerns. They may be embarrassed by their limitations, but may be motivated to keep up appearances. Some children are able to compensate for attention concerns with high intelligence, perseverance, flexibility, creativity, and other strengths. Many children might have difficulty understanding their symptoms. They might lack insight into whether there is a problem. They might not verbalize their symptoms in a way which would impel an adult to seek a consultation. 

Because of these reasons, the full impact of ADHD-related symptoms in a child may not be obvious to others. When parents or teachers do not see that there could be a problem, it is unlikely that the child will be referred for an assessment. Even more obvious cases are not always given the opportunity to be assessed for ADHD. Some parents may believe that there is a problem, but may be hesitant to access mental health services. 

 Noticing the Impact of ADHD 

As academic demands, work demands, and household responsibilities increase in adulthood, problems with attention can become more noticeable and more frustrating. Some adults may question whether they themselves have a problem as they see their siblings or their own children struggle with symptoms of the disorder. Many of the risk factors for ADHD, after all, are genetic factors. Adults who previously felt like they had effectively covered up their attention problems may sense that their coping mechanisms are losing their effectiveness.   

How ADHD can be Identified 

For adults who believe their own attention problems may have flown under the radar, there is a way to determine whether ADHD is present. Self-report questionnaires, used to compare an individual’s symptoms to hundreds or thousands of other individuals, can be helpful in providing information about the problem, but these are just one aspect of a comprehensive evaluation. An individual’s developmental history is important and this is usually obtained through a comprehensive interview with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other qualified mental health provider. Computerized tests and performance-based tests can also help to assess the full extent of the problem. 

Sometimes attention problems can be due to normal forgetfulness. Sometimes these problems can be directly caused by depression or anxiety. Sleep problems and other medical problems can also negatively influence attention. Not everything that looks like ADHD is ADHD. Participating in a psychological assessment with a qualified provider can be an effective way to know the difference. Understanding the cause of symptoms is the first step in finding ways to improve.  

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

You might exercise to improve your physical health and appearance, but did you also know that exercise has serious benefits for your mental health and relationships? It can lead to a healthier and happier life. I ran on the cross country and track team at BYU and as an avid runner and someone who has suffered from postpartum depression, I have reaped the benefits from running for nearly two decades. Running helped me tremendously throughout college, as a young mother, and in my professional life. 

Reduce Stress 

One of the most common mental health benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working out can help you manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases amounts of norepinephrine, which moderates your brain’s response to stress. So, working out will reduce stress and increase your body’s ability to deal with existing psychological stress. 

Boosting Happy Chemicals 

Another common mental health benefit to exercise is its increase of endorphins in the brain, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can alleviate symptoms among clinically depressed persons. In some cases, exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication in treating depression. Just 30 minutes a few times a week can instantly boost your mood.  

Improve Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem 

Consistent exercise leads to improved levels of fitness. Physical fitness can boost your self-esteem and improve your self-image. Regardless of your weight, size, gender or age, exercise can improve your perception of your own attractiveness and self-worth. A study of adolescent girls found that running was linked to their greater self-esteem. Girls who could run more laps at a faster pace reportedly exhibited higher levels of self-esteem. In additional studies, overweight kids who participated in vigorous aerobic exercise such as running experience an elevation in self-esteem levels.  

Alleviate Anxiety 

Running and other forms of vigorous exercise can reduce your anxiety and help you relax. The chemicals released during and after exercise can help you calm down. Also, engaging in some moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise (HIIT/intervals) can reduce anxiety sensitivity.  

Help Manage Addiction 

The brain releases a chemical called dopamine in response to any form of pleasure whether it’s from exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, food, or shopping. On a positive note, exercise can help in addiction recovery. Short exercise bouts can effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts causing them to de-prioritize cravings in the short-term. Alcohol abuse disrupts many body processes, including circadian rhythms. Thus, alcoholics find that they can’t fall asleep or stay asleep without drinking. Exercise helps reboot your body’s clock and helps you go to sleep at normal time. This leads to better sleep quality. A study from Vanderbilt University found that heavy marijuana users experienced a marked decline in both cravings and daily use after a few sessions of running on a treadmill. Several other studies found that running reduces cravings for other drugs including cocaine, meth, nicotine, and alcohol.  

Food can be an addiction when taken to extremes and exercise can help manage food cravings as well. Studies show that after one hour of fast running, participants were more likely to choose healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables over junk food.   

Helps the Brain Heal from Substance Abuse 

Amazingly, studies have found that exercise can help your brain heal from substance abuse even when the drug is as potent as meth. Meth decreases your brain’s production of dopamine and serotonin and burns out their receptors so it is harder for the brain to use dopamine and serotonin. Running helps to re-normalize the function of these two key neurotransmitters, and increases their production.  

Although exercise may not completely protect you from mental distress or illness, it definitely has positive effects beyond the gym. Furthermore, the benefits available to you through regular, consistent exercise go beyond your mental and physical health. When you feel better it affects other aspects of your life such as your relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. Improved mental health can lead to improved relationships and a healthier and happier life.  

 

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine