gratitude

How Do I Stop Myself? Seven Ways to Cope with Triggers of Addiction

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Andrea is walking through the mall when she hears a familiar sound playing through the speakers.  She can’t quite make it out at first, but she notices a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.  She stops in her tracks and listens, finally making out the melody.  It hits her – this was the song she and one of her previous affair partners had called “their song.”  Flooded with emotions of fear, anxiety, longing, and dread, she turns on her heel and exits the mall at close to a sprint.

What Andrea experienced in that moment is what therapists who specialize in addiction treatment call a “trigger.”  Often sensory memories, such as the taste of a delicious meal, the smell of perfume, or seeing a beautiful view can remind you of fond memories.  However, for addicts, triggers like these can bring back thoughts, memories, or feelings that have to do with the addiction.  These triggers often cause an immediate, visceral response in the addict.  This response can be accompanied by reminders of the drug of choice.  Triggers become particularly impactful when the addict is facing stress.

If you often find yourself in a spot where you’re feeling triggered, what can you do about it?

While the ultimate goal of recovery from addiction involves identifying triggers and planning for them ahead of time, as well as reducing the effects they have, you may come across a time where you are triggered unexpectedly and wondering how to handle the ensuing emotions and memories.  Here are some ideas of what to do:

Stop and ask yourself the question: “Do I want to get well?” 

Marnie Ferree, in her book No Stones, references the story in the Bible recorded in John 5 of a crippled man who had been waiting at the healing pool of Bethesda to wash himself in the waters.  When Jesus approaches him to heal him, He first asks him this question: Do you want to get well? 

Marnie names this as the most important question for recovering addicts, adding, “Your recovery will depend on how you answer this question on a daily basis.  Your yes will simplify many of the choices you’ll have to make.  Let your vision of sobriety and healing motivate and encourage you."

Questioning yourself in this way is a technique that comes from the theory of motivational interviewing, which has been shown in some studies to change a nicotine addict’s response to the trigger of tobacco.  It helps you to connect with the delayed consequences of your actions, rather than just being caught up in the immediate gratification that addictive behavior gives.

Practice quality self-care.

In our driven and self-motivated culture, self-care strategies are very often pushed to the side or forgotten about completely.  In fact, lack of self-care can a contributor to addictive behavior, as cravings are often worsened by stress or a desire to escape from the realities of life.

While self-care can include such activities as exercise and journaling, a self-care strategy that is particularly potent for fighting back against addiction is gratitude.  Practicing gratitude helps to slow the deprivation mentality that accompanies addiction, instead replacing it with joy in response to the good things present in your life.

Practice acceptance.

If you have struggled with addictive behaviors, your brain has been trained to respond to triggers by turning to the addictive behaviors.  Part of the reason this connection is so strong is because often, addictive behaviors met what they promised, even if it was only for a moment. Rather than shaming yourself for that tendency, offer yourself grace and remind yourself that these thoughts are normal for people in recovery.  Remind yourself that you’re re-learning new patterns, and take time to engage in those new patterns right then and there.  Accepting the past and making a choice to live differently puts you in a position one step above the addiction, as you reclaim your power and strength over the behaviors.

Engage with your desires.

Often, the underlying cause of addictive behaviors is a desire to fulfill a legitimate need, but the fulfillment is carried out in a way that is destructive.  The acronym HALT is often used with addiction: that triggers are more likely to affect you if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.  Instead of choosing to run to addiction, take some time to slow down, name the desire (even if it’s just for a delicious meal!), and find ways to meet that desire in a healthy way.  For sex and love addicts, the underlying desire behind addictive behaviors is often intimacy and connection, which is why relationships with others in 12-Step groups or therapy groups can often provide a healthy way to meet that desire.  For Christians, engaging with desire can look like connecting with God in prayer, naming the desires you have, and seeking to trust him with the desires not yet met.

Reach out to your social support.

If you are in recovery, it is important to link yourself up with people who can support you and who know the whole story.  While this support network may begin with just your therapist, your therapist will likely encourage you to join a 12-Step group (like Sex Addicts Anonymous) or support group in order to find others with whom you can empathize and receive help.  If you notice a trigger, call your sponsor or a trusted friend from your support network to be able to talk you through it or be with you in it.  The most effective way to interrupt your addictive cycle is to talk through it with someone.

Take a mindful moment.

Mindfulness helps you to re-center yourself on the present moment, rather than getting caught up in memories of the past or desires for the future.  Practicing mindfulness forces you to slow down, pay attention to your emotions, and acknowledge what you’re experiencing.  It also helps you to identify how your thoughts and actions are being influenced by those emotions.  Take some time to practice this grounding exercise that engages your senses: notice five things you see, four things you hear, three things you can touch, two things you smell, and one thing you taste in the environment around you.

Use affirmations to remind yourself of truth.

As you begin to walk through recovery, you’ll realize how your self-image and negative core beliefs about yourself have influenced your behavior as well as your response to triggering events.  Find words that you can repeat to yourself in the moments where you feel weakest that are in direct contrast to the negative self-talk you use in moments where you are triggered.  These statements can be something along the lines of “I am strong enough to overcome this” or “I am loved.”  Scripture can be used as affirmations as well, with verses such as Philippians 4:13 (“I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” NLT) or Psalm 23:1 (“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” NLT)

 

Ultimately, you will not be able to avoid or eliminate triggers altogether in your recovery from addiction.  You cannot control the sights, sounds, and smells that are around you on a daily basis.  What you can do instead is learn to cope with those triggers and put supports in place so that when you are facing a trigger, you know how to best handle it.

This article was originally posted on April 20, 2017.

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If you’ve been fighting back against triggers toward sex and love addiction for a long time, or if you are realizing you don’t have the support system in place to handle those triggers that come up, we are here to help.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor based counseling office that specializes in treating sex and love addiction.  We’d love to help you on your journey of recovery to find freedom and healing from addictive behaviors.  To hear more about how we can support you, give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to contact us.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

Eight Hygge Ideas for Your Mental Health

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Imagine sitting in cabin lit only by a roaring fire in the fireplace and a few candles scattered throughout the room.  You’re wrapped in a blanket, holding your favorite book in one hand and a mug of hot tea in the other.  You’re full and satisfied from a delicious meal of soup and bread finished an hour or so earlier.  You take a look around the room to see your loved ones gathered around you, enjoying their quiet, cozy time.  You peek outside to see a blizzard blowing through, coating the trees and ground with a thick layer of snow.  You smile, grateful to be warm and wrapped up indoors and safe from the cold.

I don’t know about you, but this is my personal picture of happiness.  And, incidentally enough, the Danes would agree with me.

Hygge (pronounced HOO-ga) is a Danish word recently popularized through the book The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living* by Meik Wiking.  Danish happiness researcher Wiking wrote from his research on what makes the Danes consistently rate among the happiest people in the world.  His theory centers around practicing what he called “the Danish art of cozy.”

As you consider the major elements of hygge, it’s easy to see why this concept can provide so many benefits to physical and mental health.

Health Benefits of Hygge

Hyggeligt activities include such behaviors as practicing presence, or mindfulness, to the present moment.  Mindfulness can lead to clarity of thinking, a sense of calm, reduction of negative thoughts, and reduced stress.  The sensory nature of hygge can also contribute to being in the present moment, in noticing the warmth from the fire or a hot drink, the smell of a burning candle, or the feel of a soft blanket.

In particular for trauma survivors, relaxation strategies like these are essential in calming the fight-or-flight response of the nervous system.  Hygge is about safety and self-care, which can significantly affect the feelings of lack of safety that propel anxiety.

Social support is another key element of hygge that has major health benefits.  Spending time with loved ones allows you to cope better with stress, improve your motivation, and reduce feelings of depression and negative self-talk.  Spending time with people you love also ups your level of oxytocin, which increases empathy and can be a healthy alternative to destructive, addictive behaviors.

Hygge is about being kind to yourself.
— Meik Wiking

Practicing gratitude for these relationships and the connections you have with others similarly reduces stress and decreases depression.

Embrace Your Hygge

Give yourself a break.

You can use this physical practice as a way of changing your mindset from one of perfectionism and busy-ness to one of slowing down, appreciating the moment, and allowing space.  When you approach your life with this mindset, you’re likely to be more kind in your self-talk, compassionate toward yourself and others, and experience more pockets of joy throughout your day.

Hygge is about giving your responsible, stressed-out achiever adult a break.  Relax.  Just for a little while.  It is about experiencing happiness in simple pleasures and knowing that everything is going to be okay.
— Meik Wiking

Create a hyggekrog.

A hyggekrog is a space set aside in your home where you can experience hygge, like a reading nook or corner that feels particularly cozy.  Set aside some space in your home with the intention to use it for your hygge time.  Include an assortment of hyggelig items in the space, like your favorite books, a cozy blanket, a candle, and a houseplant. 

Turn off your screens.

While you can practice hygge while watching a favorite movie or TV show, reducing screen usage allows you to stay more present in the moment, and it also helps to promote physical activity and improvements to sleep.  Choose to turn off your phone for an hour up to an entire day, or keep it elsewhere so that it doesn’t distract you.

Read a book.

Recent research has found that reading for even a short amount of time daily can drastically reduce stress.  Choose a book that is a personal favorite or a new interest you’d like to explore and set aside some time to read it.  You can read on your own or invite friends to join you for a day of reading your own books together (talk about an introvert’s dream!) 

Host a hygge get-together.

Invite a small group of friends over (Weiking writes that the best number for hygge is 4) for a warm meal, good conversation, and some hot drinks.  You could schedule this time around the premiere of a favorite TV show or the release of a movie you’ve been anticipating on Netflix.  Or choose a theme for the evening and create food and activities that support that theme.  Plan a craft night where friends can bring knitting, crocheting, needlework, or any other crafty hobby they have.

Bake or purchase sweets.

It seems the Danish love sweet pastries (see: cheese or fruit Danish).  Weiking talks about the production of dopamine, a feel-good neurochemical, that is released when you eat sweet foods.  Take some time to make a favorite dessert or treat yourself to a pastry from the bakery.

Create a hygge playlist.

What type of music helps you to feel the most cozy and calm?  Are there certain songs or genres of music that remind you of home?  Put together a playlist you can use when you’re practicing hygge by yourself or when you’re having a get-together, or use a pre-made playlist.  Sometimes the music itself can provide a cue to relax and slow down. 

Play!

Nothing puts you more squarely in the present moment than play.  Whether you’re playing a board game, enjoying a sport, or simply doing something you loved when you were a child, you’ll find the joy of stopping your work for a short time to enjoy an activity that is frivolous and light-hearted.  Invite friends into this playful attitude and experience the happiness that a break for fun can bring.

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Are you feeling overstressed and overworked?  Tired from all of the busy that seems to push you through your days?  Are you dealing with feelings of depression or hopelessness?  Anxiety?  Wrestling with the after-effects of trauma?  At Restored Hope, I offer space for you to heal from past trauma and present symptoms of anxiety and depression.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule an appointment and start seeing freedom from your stress and negative thoughts today.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

An Attitude of Gratitude

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A regular practice of gratitude has been shown to inspire health benefits including increased exercise, optimism, and reduced physical pain.  Gratitude has a multitude of mental health benefits as well, such as better sleep, reduced depression, and reduced stress.  Studies by the National Institute of Health indicate that gratitude can increase dopamine in your brain, which serves as a “reward” hormone to make you feel good.

Gratitude also has spiritual benefits.  When we thank God for the gifts He has given us, we are then better able to receive those gifts with gratitude rather than continuing to demand more.  Psalm 23:1 says, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need.”  Meditating on this verse helps me to be aware of all the needs I have that are being met, rather than comparing my current status with what I wish I had.

Oftentimes, if we struggle with depression or anxiety, gratitude isn’t our first response.  Instead, we face hopelessness about our life circumstances.  We can have a thought pattern of only seeing the negative in our lives, without taking the time or energy to appreciate the good things we experience.  I personally can tend to default to a more “glass half empty” frame of mind.

But what if, instead of only looking at the bad, we chose to see all the good in our lives?  Have you heard of the difference between the “scarcity mentality” and the “abundance mentality”? The scarcity mentality says, “I’ll never have enough/what I want,” while the abundance mentality comes from the perspective of “I have all that I need.”  How might it feel if you chose gratitude for the abundance in your life rather than focusing on things you lack? 

Here are some ways you can practice gratitude in your daily life. 

Keep a gratitude journal.

Each night before bed, or each morning when you wake up, take some time to write out a list of things you are grateful for in a journal designated for just that purpose.  You could take Ann Voskamp’s approach and write a list of three different things you’re grateful for on a daily basis, culminating in over 1000 different things to be grateful for in one year.  In the past, I’ve combined this practice with the practice of an examen to reflect on my day and the good and bad that happened throughout.  Looking back over this journal, it is easy to see how full our lives are of good things, and to experience joy at the gifts we have. 

Practice gratitude in your relationships.

We often become so accustomed to loved ones in our lives that we begin to lose sight of the ways they love or serve us.  This is a particular problem in marriages, where the praise and appreciation that are so prevalent at first tend to taper as you spend more and more time together.  Sit down with your partner or with a close friend today and share with them ways that you are grateful for who they are and what influence they’ve had on your life.

Sit in nature and write lists of all the things you see around you for which you are thankful.

Have you ever watched the TV show Planet Earth?  Whenever I flip on an episode of this or any other nature show, I'm fascinated by the creatures and landscapes that exist in this world and their beauty.  When we take the time to sit outside and look at the world around us (even in the winter!), we can connect with a world that is much bigger than we are.  We can also experience more peace and calm as a result.

Pray.

At times in the past, my gratitude journal has taken the form of a prayer journal, where I spend time thanking God for the blessings in my life.  Whether this takes the form of a nightly ritual or an extended conversation with God, it can be a refreshing and renewing practice for my faith and to remind myself that God has provided all that I need.  Sometimes combining prayer with a walk can be helpful, as it allows space to be in nature as well.  Another area we can practice gratitude in prayer is paying attention to answered prayers: what have you been praying for where God has provided an answer? 

Write a thank-you note!

We’re taught as children to write thank you notes for the gifts we get at parties, and we often continue that practice with other special events in our lives, like weddings and baby showers.  While this custom tied to formal events can feel rote and like a chore, what would it feel like for you to write a thank you note to a friend…just because?  Try sending a thank-you card to a friend or family member for no reason other than to practice gratitude for the ways they’ve been present in your life.

Stop comparing yourself to others!

This is a big one, and I can often be the #1 culprit.  When we compare ourselves to others, even if we do so in order to view ourselves more favorably, that is not gratitude.  In fact, when we do it, it often leaves us with kind of an icky feeling.  Gratitude is about finding the things that are positive in your own life, without comparing to anyone else.

What step will you take this week to practice gratitude in your life?

This article was originally posted on March 25, 2017.

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Are you having a hard time finding anything to feel grateful about?  Maybe you relate to the idea of the scarcity mentality, where you feel hopeless and unhappy with your current life circumstances.  Here at Restored Hope, I’d love to help you on your journey to change your circumstances and your outlook to live a happy and fulfilled life.  Contact me at my Ann Arbor therapy office to hear more about how you can find support and help to live more wholeheartedly.  Call me at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to reach me.

Surviving the Holidays With Your Spouse

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Christmas trees are going up, holiday lights are twinkling, and peace and love are filling the air everywhere…well, everywhere except in your home.  The holidays are notorious for being fraught with conflict and stress, which can wreak havoc on our relationships.  Marriages are particularly under fire.  You’ve likely experienced arguments about which family traditions to uphold, where the holidays will be spent, and stress that comes with in-laws and shopping.  Research shows that divorces are shown to increase in the months following the holidays. I believe that relates to the conflict and strife that arises out of this season of the year.

How can you actively work to combat the potential devastation the holidays can bring to your marriage?

Discuss and plan traditions in your family.

As John Gottman likes to say, regardless of where we were born, we each bring our own cultures into the marriage: the culture of our family growing up.  We raised with traditions around the holidays, and you have likely tried to implement some of these within your current marriage.  However, some of these rituals can clash.

Talk with your spouse and ask about their favorite holiday traditions.  Pay attention to traditions they love now, favorite traditions of childhood, and what they wish you’d do together.  Talk about your best and worst experiences of the holidays growing up as a way of identifying common factors to implement and avoid.  Talk about your favorite holiday memories together as a couple and seek to put into practice similar moments.

If you come from families that didn’t have a lot of traditions, it might be helpful to implement some new practices, or rituals of connection, with your family.  Rituals of connection are practices infused with meaning that family members do in order to create connection, intimacy, and security in who you are as a family unit.  These rituals are an important factor in creating a new sense of family within your marriage.

Identify your own triggers and those of your spouse during the holidays.

While the holidays often carry special and joyful memories, they can also be overshadowed by trauma or pain.  If a loved one who has recently passed away played a major role in holiday festivities, the signs of the season may bring on fresh waves of grief.  Sit down with your spouse and children and talk about ways to honor the memory of those who won’t be celebrating with you this year.

Holidays also often involve time with family, which can sometimes be distressing.  Family dynamics can be their worst at the holidays, as stress makes our negative qualities more prominent.  Have a plan ahead of time for how to navigate those triggers together as a couple.

Sometimes even just lowering your expectations for the holidays can help.  It’s often the moments when you’re most trying to make the holiday perfect for someone else that you end up steamrolling over your spouse’s emotions.

Practice damage control when (not if) you fight.

If you know you and your spouse have the same argument every holiday season, take some time to plan ahead and talk through the potential fight earlier.  Use Gottman’s Aftermath of a Fight discussion as a tool to process past fights, identify sensitivities or triggers you may have, and plan for how to approach those arguments in the future.

And when you inevitably find yourself in the argument, try to understand your spouse’s perspective and practice empathy.  Look for an opportunity to come to a place of compromise so that you can have a win-win situation, rather than trying to come out on top.

Inject some fun into your holiday celebrations.

Holidays are stressful.  (Have I said that enough?)  There are a multitude of events and schedules to juggle, between children’s schooling, work parties, and travel to visit family.  Take some time aside with your spouse to slow down and just have fun together.

Go see the Christmas lights at Greenfield Village.  Spend a day cuddled up under the blankets with hot cocoa having a Christmas movie marathon.  Drive around your neighborhood to see the lights and choose a favorite house.  If you have a hard time thinking of something, or you worry about having fun on a budget, Google some ideas and pick one or two that sound fun or inexpensive!

Budget together for Christmas shopping.

Finances are one of the top areas that couples tend to fight over, and the holidays are the season when it's easiest to overspend.  Buying gifts for friends and family, shopping the hot Black Friday deals, or going out for celebratory holiday meals can lead to greater spending than anticipated.

As a couple, set some limits on spending for the holidays.  Talk through how much you’d like to spend on your children, family members, and friends.  If this means you have to have hard conversations with your children or your extended family about your financial limits, seek to do so united as a couple.

Volunteer together.

The old adage about Christmas says that we ought to be more cheerful about giving than receiving.  However, that sentiment can easily get lost in all of the hustle and bustle.  Slowing down to notice opportunities to give back this time of year can help your family to connect to gratitude for the blessings you have and a larger purpose for the season.

Find an activity you can do with just your spouse, or bring your children into it as well.  Donate your time at a food kitchen.  Hand out blankets, food, and hygiene kits to the homeless.  Help out at a children’s Christmas party in an impoverished part of the city.  Ring a bell for the Salvation Army.

 

I believe taking one of the items above and putting in into practice could radically transform your marriage this holiday season.  Give it a try – you never know how one little shift could change your Christmas.

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Are you looking forward to the holiday season with a sense of dread rather than joy?  Do you promise to scale back during next year’s holidays every year, just to forget that promise?  Are you tired of always fighting about money during the Christmas season?  At Restored Hope, I know this time of year can take a major toll on marriages, family, and stress levels.  I’d love to support you through one-on-one or marriage counseling services at my Ann Arbor location.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 today or fill out my form here to find out more about how I can help you thrive during the holidays.

Give Thanks

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You may have an established Thanksgiving tradition of sitting down at the dinner table and naming things for which you are thankful, or you might just associate Thanksgiving with delicious food and days off work.  This year, I challenge you to take five to ten minutes to sit down with a journal or piece of paper and list those things for which you are grateful.  (I’d recommend this even if there weren’t a multitude of mental health benefits for practicing gratitude.)

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Happy Thanksgiving from us at Restored Hope.  We are grateful for you.

I am thankful for the resources I have at Restored Hope to offer support and care for people in need.  If you are struggling with negative thoughts and emotions and looking for a way to live a more satisfying, wholehearted life, give me a call at 734.656.8191 today or fill out my form here to schedule an appointment at my Ann Arbor therapy office.

The Unbearable Tension of Waiting

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In American culture, we aren’t very patient.  We’ve become spoiled by easy access to entertainment and diversion through our smartphones and Netflix and technology within easy reach of us at all times.  We don’t like to be bored, and it’s quite easy to go through each day without having one second of downtime.  (I know this from experience).  Waiting for something seems like a foreign concept to us because we choose to numb out or not engage or feel when we’re faced with having to wait.  We can distract and consume more media to keep our minds off of what we feel.

And it makes sense that we’d want to avoid waiting.  Waiting is hard.

Waiting for the depression to lift.

Waiting as a single woman desperate to be noticed.

Waiting for our spouse to change, to love us more, to connect.

Waiting to feel joy.

Waiting for the anxiety to calm.

Waiting for God to speak, to comfort, to come through.

Waiting for the grief to subside.

Waiting for healing to come.

Waiting is heartbreaking.  We are desperate for the waiting to be over.  And that would feel good.  For a moment.  But what then?  Would we actually be satisfied?  Or would we rush so quickly past the receiving of the goodness that we miss the blessing of accepting the gift of the good thing we desire?  Are we constantly wanting more?

This heartbreak is a picture that our world is not what it was meant to be.  So why does God allow it to happen?  Pain is a necessary part of growth.  I have experienced the most significant periods of growth in my life when I have been the most frustrated by waiting.  I have had to learn patience, contentment, and joy in the present moment.

What would it look like to be content where we are, knowing it is nowhere near where we want to be?

How would it feel to find the joy and blessing in everyday moments without the expectation of receiving something different, something we judge to be better?

What does the Lord have to teach us in this waiting?  In the dry season?  In the winter of our lives?  When we suffer?

Every good story is driven by the tension of the waiting, of the pain, of the not yet getting the thing we desire.  Every film you’ve seen, every book you’ve read, each compelling plot is driven by the tension of the not-yet.  In some stories, even when the not-yet is reached, it is dissatisfying and disappointing.  Or perhaps it is not fully reached at all.

And the agony and beauty of the moment in that story when all seems lost, when the desired outcome seems so out of reach.  The exquisite pain of longing for the desire that we grasp for and yet it slips through our fingers.  This is the most poignant moment of the story, the pinnacle point where our emotions thrum at their highest note, where we connect most intimately with the pain.

It is the moment at which we feel most alive.

As you wrestle with the waiting, don’t become so consumed with the having of the thing that you miss the moments in the present that are passing by swiftly, such that we will never get them back.

Stop.

Look outside.  Not just outside in nature, but outside of yourself.

See the beauty.

Pause.

Drink it in.

Let it be slow.

Let yourself be unfinished and imperfect.

Don’t distract yourself or numb out from the pain.

Embrace the feeling of being fully human and in the middle of your story.

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Perhaps you felt connected to the above words.  Are you in a season of waiting that feels interminable?  Are you struggling to deal with the corresponding pain?  Or perhaps you’ve shut down emotionally to avoid the pain of the wait.  At Restored Hope, I desire to walk alongside you as you cope with the pain of waiting.  I offer counseling services at my Ann Arbor location to give you the resources to cope with the pain.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can support you.

I Love You AND I Like You: Cultivate Fondness and Admiration in Your Marriage

Eric and Kristen have never argued over the course of their marriage.  They don’t have any major complaints against each other, and they seem to get along just fine.  But neither of them are really satisfied.  They can’t put a finger on it, but it often feels like they’re just roommates, or living parallel lives.  They can’t remember the last time their spouse paid them a compliment or showed them affection.

Their neighbors Ashley and Ray, on the other hand, feel like every conversation they have ends in an argument, even if it starts on a neutral playing field.  Each of them feels disrespected and invalidated by the other, and they feel worn down by the constant criticism present in their relationship.

While these couples might seem like either end of an extreme, one thing they both lack is what John Gottman calls a “fondness and admiration system.”  Gottman speaks about the importance of fondness and admiration as a foundational building block of a couple’s friendship in the Sound Relationship House.  He came to this conclusion based on research he did noticing what he calls his “magic ratio”: for every 1 negative or critical comment made, 5 positive or affirming comments must be made to make up for it.

Practicing gratitude and appreciation in your marriage not only fights against this 1:5 ratio, it also is linked to higher quality marriages and a reduced chance of divorce, according to a University of Georgia study.  One reason for this correlation may be linked to Gottman’s claim that fondness and admiration is the antidote to contempt, the single greatest indicator of impending divorce.  Contempt is characterized by harsh criticism coming from a place of superiority, and includes such things as sarcasm, eye-rolling, and name-calling.  To avoid this pitfall, Gottman encourages building the fondness and admiration system by shifting from an attitude of searching for flaws in your partner, to instead embody an attitude of looking for the good in them.

Here are some ideas on how to give attention to this area of your marriage:

First, assess yourself.

If you connect with the stories of either couple above, take the assessment here to find out if you might need to grow in this area of fondness and admiration.  If you get a high score, then great!  Continue doing what you’re doing and maybe sprinkle in one or two of the following ideas.  If you get a low score, there is still hope!  Use the ideas below to give attention to these areas and turn your marriage around.

Make a list of character qualities about your partner you admire.

In Gottman’s book Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he encourages couples who struggle to feel appreciated and respected by their partner to complete an exercise to grow their fondness and admiration system.  This exercise includes looking at a list of positive character traits, identifying which of those qualities you see in your partner, and sharing a specific story to illustrate that characteristic.  This exercise can be done as a one-time event, or it can be done daily as a check-in to increase this skill. 

Notice daily tasks you’ve taken for granted and express appreciation.

Early in your marriage, tasks like making a home-cooked meal for the family or shoveling the sidewalks on a cold and snowy day were likely met with praise and gratitude.  Over time, however, those simple tasks become so routine that they are often taken for granted.  This week, pay attention to an activity that your spouse does often to which you’ve become accustomed, and make a point to share gratitude with them for completing that task.

Share something that impresses you about your spouse.

We typically are attracted to our love interests in the early days of relationships because of some unique characteristic or strength they have that we admire.  Perhaps he runs marathons, or she is able to remember details and manage priorities well, or he has a knack for coming up with creative dates.   Take stock of some of these gifts and skills that impress you about your spouse, and compliment them about how you see that specific trait in them.

Prioritize a date night where you reminisce about your early relationship.

Especially once you have children together as a couple, time alone together becomes low on the priority list.  However, this is the time where it is most important to be building and fostering that relationship between the two of you.  Find a babysitter or call grandma to watch the kids for an evening and go out on a date night where you spend time reminiscing about the early days of your relationship.  Reminding yourselves about the past can help you reflect positively on present day experiences and the future of your relationship.

Do a “random act of kindness” for your spouse.

I’ve heard talk about random acts of kindness in the context of strangers – but what makes strangers any more deserving than the people we interact with on a daily basis?  Find a way to serve and love your spouse through one of these random acts of kindness.  Do you know she has a big project coming up at work?  Picking up dinner on the way home and putting the kids to bed early might ease her mind.  Is he feeling overwhelmed by maintenance projects he’s been meaning to do in the house and backyard?  Try asking him which of those projects you could do on your own, or volunteering to help on the weekend. 

Keep a marriage gratitude journal.

We’ve talked on this blog before about how gratitude journaling is a great self-care practice.  But what about taking that concept and extending it to your marriage?  There are plenty of different ways to do a marriage gratitude journal, but here’s one possibility: write down one thing each day you are grateful for about your spouse, and then share them with each other at the end of the week.  You can keep them in a separate journal or the same journal, but it can be helpful to keep them written down so you can look back on them later.

Which of these practices would you like to test out this week?

If your marriage is characterized by feelings of contempt from which you don’t feel you can escape, or if one of the anecdotes at the beginning of the post resonates with your story, I’d love to talk with you about some ways a therapist could help change the script in your marriage.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor based therapy office where I use Gottman Method Couples Therapy to foster healthy and thriving marriages that are safeguarded against divorce.  Give Restored Hope a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear about how I can help.

Self-Care Saturdays: An Attitude of Gratitude

Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

Why is it that November is the only month of the year that we place an emphasis on being thankful or grateful?  Practicing authentic gratitude throughout the year can have a profound effect on your mental health and well-being.  

A regular practice of gratitude has been shown to inspire health benefits including increased exercise, optimism, and reduced physical pain.  Gratitude is a practice that has a multitude of mental health benefits, such as better sleep, reduced depression, and reduced stress.  Studies by the National Institute of Health indicate that gratitude can increase dopamine in your brain, which serves as a “reward” hormone to make you feel good.

Gratitude also has spiritual benefits.  When we thank God for the gifts He has given us, we are then better able to receive those gifts with gratitude rather than continuing to demand more.  Psalm 23:1 says, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need.”  Meditating on this verse helps me to be aware of all the needs I have that are being met, rather than comparing my current status with what I wish I had.

Oftentimes, if we struggle with depression or anxiety, gratitude isn’t our first response.  Instead, we face hopelessness about our life circumstances.  We can have a thought pattern of only seeing the negative in our lives, without taking the time or energy to appreciate the good things we experience.  I personally can tend to default to a more “glass half empty” frame of mind.

But what if, instead of only looking at the bad, we chose to see all the good in our lives?  Have you heard of the difference between the “scarcity mentality” and the “abundance mentality”? The scarcity mentality says, “I’ll never have enough/what I want,” while the abundance mentality comes from the perspective of “I have all that I need.”  How might it feel if you chose gratitude for the abundance in your life rather than focusing on things you lack? 

Here are some ways you can practice gratitude in your daily life. 

Keep a gratitude journal.

Each night before bed, or each morning when you wake up, take some time to write out a list of things you are grateful for in a journal designated for just that purpose.  You could take Ann Voskamp’s approach and write a list of three different things you’re grateful for on a daily basis, culminating in over 1000 different things to be grateful for in one year.  In the past, I’ve combined this practice with the practice of an examen to reflect on my day and the good and bad that happened throughout.  Looking back over this journal, it is easy to see how full our lives are of good things, and to experience joy at the gifts we have. 

Practice gratitude in your relationships.

We often become so accustomed to loved ones in our lives that we begin to lose sight of the ways they love or serve us.  This is a particular problem in marriages, where the praise and appreciation that are so prevalent at first tend to taper as you spend more and more time together.  Sit down with your partner or with a close friend today and share with them ways that you are grateful for who they are and what influence they’ve had on your life.

Sit in nature and write lists of all the things you see around you for which you are thankful.

Have you ever watched the TV show Planet Earth?  Whenever I flip on an episode of this or any other nature show, I'm fascinated by the creatures and landscapes that exist in this world and their beauty.  When we take the time to sit outside and look at the world around us (even in the winter!), we can connect with a world that is much bigger than we are.  We can also experience more peace and calm as a result.

Pray.

At times in the past, my gratitude journal has taken the form of a prayer journal, where I spend time thanking God for the blessings in my life.  Whether this takes the form of a nightly ritual or an extended conversation with God, it can be a refreshing and renewing practice for my faith and to remind myself that God has provided all that I need.  Sometimes combining prayer with a walk can be helpful, as it allows space to be in nature as well.  Another area we can practice gratitude in prayer is paying attention to answered prayers: what have you been praying for where God has provided an answer? 

Write a thank-you note!

We’re taught as children to write thank you notes for the gifts we get at parties, and we often continue that practice with other special events in our lives, like weddings and baby showers.  While this custom tied to formal events can feel rote and like a chore, what would it feel like for you to write a thank you note to a friend…just because?  Try sending a thank-you card to a friend or family member for no reason other than to practice gratitude for the ways they’ve been present in your life.

Stop comparing yourself to others!

This is a big one, and I can often be the #1 culprit.  When we compare ourselves to others, even if we do so in order to view ourselves more favorably, that is not gratitude.  In fact, when we do it, it often leaves us with kind of an icky feeling.  Gratitude is about finding the things that are positive in your own life, without comparing to anyone else.

What step will you take this week to practice gratitude in your life?

 

Are you having a hard time finding anything to feel grateful about?  Maybe you relate to the idea of the scarcity mentality, where you feel hopeless and unhappy with your current life circumstances.  Here at Restored Hope, I’d love to help you on your journey to change your circumstances and your outlook to live a happy and fulfilled life.  Contact me at my Ann Arbor therapy office to hear more about how you can find support and help to live more wholeheartedly.  Call me at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to reach me.

Self-Care Saturdays: How a Journaling Practice Can Change Your Life

Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

Journals often evoke memories of the “dear diary” days of elementary and middle school where we would write down (what felt like) the most important parts of our lives.  As we became adults, many of us may have left that practice behind, deeming it as childish.  Or the time we normally would have spent writing is taken up by the demands of daily life.

But I’m here to tell you to bring this practice back!  Keeping up a habit of writing the day's events or another way of recording life has positive psychological benefits.  For individuals who struggle with anxiety or depression, journaling can be a great way to process emotions and cope.  It also provides self-care for anyone looking to understand themselves better.

Here are a few of the benefits for journaling:

Journaling provides stress relief.

When dealing with stress and anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed by the thought that it is all too much, writing down the anxious thoughts your having can be a good way to release them from the hold they may have on your mind.  Keeping track of thoughts that pop into your mind and the level of anxiety that you feel while thinking them can be a great strategy for reducing your stress.

Journaling nurses your creativity.

Journaling leads you to look at your own life through a creative lens by expressing yourself using words and descriptions for your own experiences and emotions.   If you are someone who enjoys writing, a journaling practice can help you break past some of the fears you may have surrounding your writing.

Journaling leads you to slow down and give yourself space to reflect on your emotions and experiences.

For many of us, life tends to go at a pretty frenetic pace, and in the midst of the crazy, we get caught in a loop of reacting impulsively to daily events rather than considering our options.  Slowing down and identifying the emotions you are feeling and the ways they affect your decisions can help you to pay more attention to them and thoughtfully respond to your circumstances.  Reflecting on emotions and cognitions can also help to have a more positive outlook in your life.

Journaling provides an outlet for negative emotions and gives you space to grieve.

If you are feeling angry, we would probably all agree that it’s not the best idea to punch a fist through the wall.  Writing can help you to take a break from the heated situation, slow down, and look at what might be lying behind that negative emotion.  Similarly, when you experience a major loss, grieving can feel like a foreign concept, and you can be left without a clue of how to help yourself process and feel better.  Journaling can be a tool to help move through the grieving process.

Journaling has physical health benefits. 

Writing has been shown to help those who suffer from terminal or life threatening diseases.  Part of this is the effect that writing has on our immune systems.  One theory for this is that writing helps us to keep from bottling up emotions, and suppressed emotions can lead to undue stress.

 

Hopefully I've succeeded in convincing you that journaling is a helpful practice you can take up, but then comes the question: how do I do it?  There are lots of different options out there for journaling, and I’ve used several at different times in my life for different purposes.  Pick one or two of the options below that sounds appealing to you, and get started!

Stream-of-Consciousness Journal

This is often a good place to start.  Write down whatever comes to mind.  This doesn’t have to be an hours-long process, but even if you jump in with 5 minutes or so of writing, you’ll be surprised at how quickly it starts to come.  Many people do this practice as “morning pages”, described as three pages daily of stream-of-consciousness writing.

Gratitude Journal

Taking time to list things for which you are grateful has many positive benefits psychologically.  One particular benefit that feels most impactful to me personally is the effect gratitude can have on your view of your circumstances: rather than feeling worried about the things you don’t have, it can help you to see all the positive aspects that already exist in your life.

Prayer Journal

This is one of my favorite journaling strategies: write out your prayers in a journal as if you have having a conversation with God.  For those of us who are extroverts, this feels more relational than a stream-of-consciousness journal, and it can provide a way for you to connect spiritually and experience emotions with God.

Examen 

Examen (or examen of consciousness) is an Ignatian spiritual practice done at the end of each day to review the day’s events for the presence or absence of God.  I’ve also heard it simplified as listing the positive and negative aspects of the previous day.  You can choose what feels comfortable to you, but this nightly practice can be a good way for you to reflect back on the day and identify patterns of positive experiences to increase or negative patterns to avoid.

Emotions Journal

As mentioned earlier, emotions are often hard to define, or they can be tricky to discern between.  Take some time to use a Feelings Wheel like this one to identify what feeling you’re having, and then answer these questions: “What am I feeling?  How do I know I’m feeling that way?  How intensely do I feel that way?  What do I want to do as a result?  What happened just before I started feeling that way?  How do I wish I were feeling instead?”

Art Journal

You may be someone who expresses themselves not so much in words, but in pictures.  If you’re someone who loves to draw or create pieces of art, do so in a way that expresses your emotions and experiences and allows you the space to process your daily experience.  There are plenty of ideas available with a quick Google search – choose one that feels right to you!

How will you take a step to try journaling this week? 

 

At Restored Hope, I place a priority on self-care and treating your body and mind with kindness.  If you’re struggling to find time or space to practice self-care, or if you find yourself in overwhelmed by struggles of depression or anxiety that make it difficult to be kind to yourself, I want to help you!  Contact me at my Ann Arbor therapy office at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can help you.