An Ethic to Live: Building Barriers to Suicide Around Ourselves & Those We Love

In cities throughout the world, notable high buildings and bridges increasingly have additional fencing built atop of them with the specific purpose of preventing suicides. Suicide fences tend to work because research has shown that suicidal actions are frequently impulsive, hence such fences serve to forestall that impulse and buy individuals precious time to further think about their decisions. In studies of suicide fences, it appears that individuals don’t leave such barriers to go look for another bridge or tall building to end their lives from, but instead return to the business of living for yet another day.  

Presently suicide is the leading cause of death among young people ages 10-17 here in Utah, and over the last decade, it’s also doubled amongst adults in our state. As concerned friends, neighbors, and parents, how do we help our community build more barriers to suicide; protecting and empowering those we love? Over the next year, I’ll be writing a series of articles in answer to this question; offering my perspective as both a therapist, who has stood on sacred ground in helping others walk back from suicidal thinking, and as one who’s felt and ultimately rejected the dark pull to end my life amidst heavy times.   

Perhaps you’ve already noted that there’s no way to build suicide fences everywhere or to somehow block all of the endless ways in which someone might consider ending their life. Sound public policies on prevention and physical barriers like suicide fences are only some of the important ways to help. So in addition to these forms of prevention, the focus of my writing will be on how to build barriers to suicide directly into the thinking and values of individuals, and into the culture of our community as a whole. In this first article, I want to introduce how we help foster an ethic to live within ourselves and in others as a key barrier to suicide.  

An ethic to live means valuing our lives and holding a commitment within ourselves to continue living — even when we’re unsure of how we’ll cope or move forward. In my experience, helpful conversations about consciously building an ethic to live, begin by first taking care to turn our attention to the reality that to live is to be vulnerable to an array of difficult life experiences, with the potential to evoke within us the thought to end one’s life to escape them. Throughout human history, individuals and peoples have had to confront extremely painful and unjust challenges which have overwhelmed their sense of being able to continue on, and it’s important to acknowledge that when we confront such considerable pain, it is the most human thing in the world to want relief from it. This is real; excruciating human suffering beyond one’s current sense of how to reduce or stop it is real, and in these concentrations of pain, we may find ourselves having suicidal thoughts.  

When we acknowledge and honor that such excruciating life experiences do show up for many of us, it’s then that we can locate where we need to begin building internal fences to prevent suicide. It’s here that we recognize the need to develop a strong ethic to live even though there are times that we might not yet fully know how we’ll cope or be able to see brighter ways forward. It’s also here that we find the need to define as individuals what makes life worth living with specificity to our own life experiences, as well as the need to find a listener who we can turn to and voice what’s going on inside of us. 

As you navigate life’s difficulties, no matter how hard things may get, make the commitment now to live and identify your personal reasons to do so. Additionally, identify suicidal thoughts as a  sign to find a listener who you feel safe enough to talk to. It’s worth thinking about right now who it is you might feel comfortable turning to during your hardest times. By doing so, you’ll begin to build your own internal fence between you and suicide as well as have greater insight as to how to help others you care about to do the same.  

* If you or someone you care about is currently having thoughts of ending their life, caring help is available 24/7 by texting 741741 from anywhere in the USA or you can call 1-800-273-8255 to speak directly with a Counselor from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

Bio: Laura Skaggs Dulin holds a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from San Diego State University. She currently sees clients at the Spanish Fork Center for Couples and Families and at Encircle LGBT Youth and Family Resource Center in Provo.  

How You Can Create a Happy, Healthy New Year in 3 Simple Steps

Life Coaching is the favorite part of my job. I love sharing personal stories and real-world experiences as I help clients overcome addictions to food and other substances. When they understand that challenges with food are just symptoms of greater core issues, often related to emotions, they begin to overcome them as I teach how to change the behaviors for good.  

I was a cake decorator for over thirty years. This was my life’s passion, but it ultimately ruined my health. Giving this dream up was a huge sacrifice but one that led to greater health, energy and joy in my life. From this experience and others, I understand what it feels like to be an addict and the behaviors associated with it. I also understand the emotions and fears that come when giving up comfort and an artificial kind of love.  

Food is meant for fuel, nutrition and energy but we take it a step further and use it for comfort, love, and numbing out so we don’t have to feel what is truly going on inside. Emotional eating creates health challenges like addiction, obesity, fatigue, mental instability, and eating disorders of all kinds. It is fine to derive pleasure from food, but that should be a secondary result of making healthy food choices. 

We know now that scientists have engineered processed food to increase our cravings and desire to keep coming back and purchasing their products. Sweet tastes, for example are what we are biologically programmed from infancy to gravitate toward. Mother’s milk is sweet and toddlers often choose fruit over vegetables. High fructose corn syrup is added to many products from ketchup to cereal to satisfy the cravings for sweets. The unfortunate consequence of eating it, however, is that it turns off the mechanism in our brain saying we are full, so we continue to eat until we are stuffed or feeling sick. Processed sugar feeds candida and causes a host of health problems if eaten regularly over time. 

So, we are not completely to blame for our addictions, but there are things we can do to change our behaviors around food and make wiser choices that will reap greater benefits. As we enter a new year, I’d like to give 3 suggestions to help you make better decisions before going into the kitchen. 

  1. CREATE A PLAN: People who fail to plan, plan to fail right? Look through your recipe books and decide what to make for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Go shopping and get the ingredients needed.  
  2. PREPARE AHEAD:Prepare your mealsahead and refrigerate or freeze them for use throughout the week to save time and money.  
  3. ASK YOURSELF QUESTIONS: Sometimes we eat because we’re bored or tired and we aren’t even hungry. Here is a series of questions you can ask yourself before going to the refrigerator or pantry for a snack.
  4. What do I want to eat?
  5. Is it something that will give my body nutrition,fuel and sustained energy?
  6. Why do I want it?
  7. What emotion istied to thisfood? 
  8. Will _____ serve me for the better or worse?
  9. What physical symptoms will I feelafter eating _______ ? 
  10. Is it worth it?

 

Asking yourself these questions will help you become conscious of your decisions and help make better ones. If you want to eat it, just because, then own that and don’t make yourself feel bad. Good habits are learned as we practice over time. Taking baby steps forward will help us see and feel the progress. Create a Happy New Year! 

 

 

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.  

Forced Apologies

My four-year-old daughter placed herself in the middle of our living room to play with blocks. She was so engrossed with building a wooden castle that she didn’t notice her two-year-old sister walking towards her with her right arm stretched far back to slap her older sister across the head. When that slap came, my older daughter went from happy to surprise to anger and then lots of tears. She ran towards me seeking justice. “Mommy, she hit me!” My younger daughter remained still, looking innocent. I immediately walked over to her with my older daughter in hand and said, “Hands are not for hitting. Say sorry for hitting please.”  I’m sure many parents can relate to this scenario. Teaching our children the skills for making amends is an important life skill and is not so much about saying the words “I’m sorry”.  

There is a belief amongst some parents that enforcing premature apologies on children is not effective. Their reasoning is that premature apologies teach children to lie and encourage insincerity. It also creates shame and embarrassment. Other studies show that young children have the ability to be empathetic even before they can speak; therefore, parents should encourage apologies (Smith, Chen, Harris; 2010). As I reflected on my research and my knowledge as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I recognized several things we can do as parents to create productive apologies: 

  1. Keep yourself in check: It’s frustrating to see your children fight, especially when it happens at inconvenient times. However, it’s important to remain calm and model for your children how to handle frustration.   
  2. Be immediate when possible: When you see an incident occur between your children, address it. The best time for learning and growth is when the incident is still fresh in their minds. However, when there are time constraints and the issue cannot be addressed right away, it is important to tell your children when and where it will be addressed. Be consistent when using the alternative and follow through.  
  3. Ask instead of tell: Avoid lecturing. Ask questions instead. “Tell me what happened?” “What were you feeling when you hit your sister?” Validate the expressed emotion and help them to understand that it is okay to feel frustration and sadness; however, it is not okay to hit or throw things. Help them to also make the connection between emotion and action. “Look at her face, how do you think she’s feeling right now?” Asking these types of questions enhances empathy. 
  4. Problem Solve: Ask questions about what they think they should do when they feel frustrated or sad. Help them to come up with solutions.  Ask questions about how they can make things better with their sibling/s. 
  5. Have them practice a do-over: When your child identifies the solution, have them practice it with the other sibling/s. Praise them for their efforts at the end.    

What is more important than the phrase “I’m sorry” is what children take away from the experience. We can facilitate and enhance learning opportunities by not focusing on the phrase “I’m sorry” but instead more on what can be learned from this situation and how can we improve.  

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

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We are excited to announce that we are now paneled with Select Health. This includes the following plans – Select Choice, Select Care and Select Med. Call us to set up an appointment today!

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples: Healing and Creating Connections

All of us, from cradle to grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figures. – Dr. John Bowlby

Have we really cracked the code on love and romantic bonding? Perhaps. Scientists, poets, and lovers have long grappled with the question: “What makes romantic love work?” Through the work of Dr. Sue Johnson and the development of Emotionally Focused Therapy, it looks like we have an answer.

Through decades of research on the importance of emotional bonding and what it is like to feel disconnected, isolated, and alone, relationship researchers are starting to unravel the mystery of love and adult romantic bonding and how to mend loving ties. The truth is, we are all hard-wired to connect to one another. This drive to connect is infinitely stronger in family and romantic relationships. To be emotionally isolated is harsh on our brains. Loving connections offer us a safe haven to go to where we can maintain our emotional balance, deal with stress, and respond more lovingly to our romantic partners. Essentially, when those connections are secure and strong, love is safe; love flourishes.

Unfortunately, disconnections between couples do happen and frustration, sadness, and anger are all too common in marital relationships. When those secure and loving bonds are threatened, emotional “primal panic” and a cycle of negative interactions ensues. These wounds can be difficult to repair for couples when left to their own abilities, and therapy is often the last step before looking to end the relationship. Unfortunately, many well-meaning therapists utilize their individual-based, time-tested techniques and attempt to apply them to relational interactions, which usually has little effect in restoring their loving bonds. In addition, many therapeutic techniques focus on helping partners change behaviors or thoughts, or teaching them communication skills. The common result from these approaches and techniques is that they usually struggle to gain traction, and the couple leaves therapy with less hope than before.

But there is hope. Within the last 25 years, a substantial amount of research has emerged that gives hope to couples on the brink and helps them tune in to their underlying emotions, identify their negative patterns of interaction, repair their attachment, and eventually create new patterns of bonding and positive interactions. This model is Emotionally Focused Therapy.

Grounded in the theory of attachment, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an experiential, short term, structured, and tested model of therapy designed to help couples identify their negative communication patterns, interrupt this pattern, and create more positive, bonding, and secure emotional patterns. EFT does not see individuals as “sick” or unskilled, but rather “stuck in habitual ways of dealing with emotions with others in key moments.” As the title reflects, priority is given to emotion as a key organizer of inner experiences. EFT looks within the emotional experience of the couples and how they navigate their emotional connectedness. Dr. Sue Johnson has said, “The EFT therapist has a map. A map to relationships and how they work. A map to how they go wrong. And map to what is needed to put them right.”

A substantial body of research has shown promising results of the effectiveness of EFT. Research studies find that 70-75 percent of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements. EFT is being used with many different kinds of couples in private practice, university training centers and hospital clinics, and many different cultural groups throughout the world. These distressed couples include partners suffering from disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and chronic illness.

In my work with couples, EFT has resonated with them on many levels. No longer are couples focused on fights and long-standing disagreements about specific content or trying to change the other person. When couples go through the process of EFT, perpetual problems are framed as negative disconnections that are about protests by each partner for a more loving connection and emotional safety. EFT takes the blame out of conflict and resentment and moves to fighting together against a common enemy—the negative pattern. As couples progress through the stages and steps of EFT and begin to accesses deeper emotions that underlie their struggle for connection, a new interaction emerges as individual partners see and experience each other differently. When partners experience each other as more accessible, responsive, and engaged, old wounds and negative patterns are healed, and love and emotional safety thrives.

Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Written by Dr. Jeremy Boden

Welcome American Fork couples therapist Tiffany Winegar, MS, LAMFT

 

New to the American Fork Center for Couples and Families team, Tiffany Winegar is taking new clients! She specializes in couples therapy, family therapy, anxiety/depression, self-esteem/self-actualization, perfectionism and teen/adolescent girls. Tiffany received her Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from Brigham Young University, one of the top MFT programs in the world. Prior to, and during her masters program, Tiffany was mentored by world-renowned social relationships psychologist, Dr. Julianne-Holt Lunstand and worked as a member of her research team studying social relationships and health. In addition to her work with Dr. Holt-Lunstad, Tiffany has been involved in additional research in the field of health psychology including the study of stress and emotional regulation. She is passionate about applying the principles from her clinical training and research to improve the lives and relationships of her clients. Tiffany is a member of AAMFT (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy) and NCFR (National Council on Family Relations). Tiffany grew up in Southern California and now resides in Draper, UT with her husband and two boys.

Our Brains, Our Bodies, Our Relationships

As I work with individuals and couples, I like to educate them on how our brains and our bodies impact our relationships. Understanding the correlation between these elements seems easy enough, however, I often get the question, “How do I change my brain?” The answer to this question is a great starting point to create healing and allow new interactions to take place.

Our brains are wired for connection. Each interaction we have either strengthens or weakens the connections in our brains, thus influencing the relationships with those around us. The ability to allow one or two more heartbeats before reacting or responding to one’s partner is the ultimate goal. The better you are able to emotionally regulate (by allowing more heartbeats before reacting), the more positive your interactions with others can be.

There are many ways you can impact emotion regulation and the ability to create new experiences that improve relationship interactions. Some are easier than others, and some have been targeted to help with other areas of life. I’d like to highlight two very important ways to help increase heart rate variability and improve cognitive functioning so you are better prepared the next time you might want to fly off the handle. They are exercise and sleep.

Everyone knows that exercise is good for physical health, but it also has great implications for mental health and relationship health. Increased exercise impacts the way your heart pumps blood. Long-term exercise increases your heart’s efficiency in pumping blood to the body. It doesn’t have to work so hard, and this increases heart rate variability, or the amount of time in between heart beats in a given minute. Increased heart rate variability means more regulation (more parasympathetic, or calming, influences) on the heart, and thus, more flexibility in emotional responses. This means that you have more capacity to keep the breaks on when your fight or flight response is triggered, allowing you more time to thinking critically, solve problems, or socially engage before flying off the handle and reacting to environmental stimuli.

Additionally, exercise increases the volume of the prefrontal cortex—the area in the brain associated with learning and memory. Exercise also stimulates the growth of cells by releasing chemicals in the brain. These new cells are then cleaned, solidified, and bonded together to create new memories for individuals.

We have all heard that sleep is important and should be a priority. Sleep does a lot of thing for us—it helps with creativity, remembering physical tasks, and making decisions. Sleep also does two important things in the brain: creates and consolidates memories and clears out toxins. As neurons fire together (and therefore wire together), sleep helps to connect recent memories with earlier memories. This allows individuals to remember how they reacted in past situations, and react differently next time if they desire a different outcome.

Cleaning out toxins in the brain increases attention and memory, helps individuals think clearly, and even impacts the regulation of insulin. Not getting enough sleep inhibits the ability to clear out the toxins, which can be harmful to the connections that are trying to take place in the brain. Sleeping allows us the opportunity to create new and improved experiences each day.

There are many ways individuals can have more influence on emotional responses. These are only two, but by changing our brains and our physiology in the body, we are prepping ourselves for better interactions. Being mindful of how we can impact the physiology of our bodies allows us more control over how we interact with those around us. We increase our capacity to engage more positively and be more satisfied in our relationships.

Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Written by Dr. Kayla Mennenga

Hold Me Tight Workshop

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Have you felt a lack of emotional connection in your relationship? Do you get stuck in conflict and negative interactions? Do you want to feel more emotionally safe to ask for what you need in your relationship? Would you like to be more accessible, responsive, and engaged in your relationship?

This can help! Spend time with me learning the most successful approach to creating loving relationships!

‘Hold Me Tight’
Marriage Workshop
Friday, February 3, 6:00 pm–9:00 pm
and Saturday, February 4, 9am–5:30pm
Provo Marriott SpringHill Suites

$275 per couple (Early Bird price before January 16)
$325 per couple after January 16

Price includes:
• 10 hours of instruction and practice
• Hold Me Tight book
• Workbook for each partner
• Engaging, professional, and experienced presenter
• Small group for increased access to presenter
• Light refreshments