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Breaking Free: 3 Tools to Transform Your Relationship Dynamics

Walking on eggshells in your relationship? Here are 3 tools to change everything.

We all want to feel free to trust and love our other half, but sometimes find it difficult if they’re controlling, scrolling on their phones during “quality time” or making us work hard for the scraps of love and attention we crave.

Sometimes we get to a place in our lives where we wonder how much longer we can be living this way. Most of us have lived enough life to know that yesterday might be starting to look permanent, causing us to wonder, “How do we change our tomorrow?”.

These simple tools, when used correctly, can help improve your relationship and point you on a
path to a greater sense of self:

Transform your habit of thinking:

We all have an inner critic that lives inside of us, made up of fearful thoughts that keep us feeling stuck. These thoughts are not who we are, but have been wired into our subconscious to keep us safe. Who we really are knows we deserve more than what we are getting, but somehow we keep moving back into our old habits. To get the relationship we want, we need to get curious about how our inner critic thinks it’s helping us through presenting the negative, fearful thoughts, and retrain our minds to replace them with faith in ourselves. You are not
your thoughts. You are the one who is aware of your thoughts and has the power to change them to create the life and relationship you know you deserve.

Change where you put your energy:

One of the most terrifying feelings we can experience is the feeling of helplessness. This is especially true in our relationships. To avoid this feeling, our human nature is to try to control external factors outside of our control. We sometimes put a lot of energy into trying to change (or control) our partner, leaving us feeling burnt out and resentful. The fastest way to reclaim our inner peace is by gaining clarity on what we do have control over, and what we do not. Once we realize we only have control over our own actions and choices, the magic begins to happen. Redirecting all of the energy that was once used to try and change our partner, we can focus on building the life we want, and if our partner is willing to come along for the ride, they
will rise to our level.

Train people how to treat you:

We all know the true saying “Actions speak louder than words”, but sometimes this idea gets lost when it comes to our relationships. We may tell our partner that we won’t put up with something anymore or we are going to leave… but then we don’t follow through. We may say, “That’s not okay”, but continue to give them what they want. To get the changes we require, we need to reward our partner with their love language when they show behaviors we want or desire. When unwanted behaviors show up, we limit any reinforcement of that behavior. With the help of a therapist to navigate the intricacies of relationships, we can make a healthy plan to limit our presence and/or attention in a specific way. Over time, if they truly are our person, their behaviors will shift into what we have been asking for but haven’t been following up with our actions until now.

Written by Kellie Hatch – Mental Health Graduate Student

Creating Everyday ‘Insta’ Moments with Nature

The old pond
A frog leaps in.
Sound of the water.
– Basho, (1644-1694)

In therapy, one of the things counselors like to share with clients is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is something that everyone, even kids, can learn. It is bringing attention to the experiencing of the moment. The idea is sensual noticing, acknowledging thoughts and accepting feelings. But practicing mindfulness can also be incorporated into daily life, to uplift the moment. For this exercise, we will use the frog haiku poem as mindfulness inspiration.

Basho, a famous Japanese poet, wrote the above haiku in the fifteenth century. It recalls just one single moment of nature. The silence is part of it. The sound of the water is easy to imagine. When you think of it, can you visualize the moment? What do you see, hear, smell?

Here is an exercise in mindfulness that anyone can do. Pay attention to the details and experience of nature like Basho. Think of it like producing mini ‘Insta’ moments for your senses and mind. This can be done anywhere there are elements of nature. When you notice something beautiful or special, breath it
in deeply like you are smelling a beautiful rose.

Here are some ideas:
-Take a nature walk in your neighborhood and focus on the flora and fauna in all the yards, any nature sounds you hear and the state of the sky. Breath it all in.

-Go to a botanical garden and give yourself permission to soak up the beauty of each tree, flower and shrub. Breath it all in.

-Go bird watching. Take in all the splendor of the environment. Enjoy the movement of bird flight. Breath it all in.

-Sit or take a walk on the beach, noticing the sounds of the waves, the colors and shapes of the shells, the rocks, and the composition of the horizon. Watch the sun rise or set. Breath it all in.

-Buy a beautiful bouquet of flowers and take time to study them. Look at their textures and colors and smell each part of them. Breath it all in.

-Listen to the birds in the morning through your windows. Florida is a place with birdsong. Tune in to them like a radio channel. Breath it all in.

-Try kayaking or paddle-boarding and notice all the life under the water. Breath it all in.

-Grow a seed and observe each stage closely. This one is great for kids. Teach them to breath in the moment.

-Stare at the clouds. Notice subtle colors, the sky in in motion. Look for beauty. Breath it all in.

-Houseplants are also a reliable source of connecting with nature. Study the beauty of an orchid, or the smell of a basil plant.

The exciting news is that you can bring mindfulness to anything. You can do your dishes mindfully. You can play with your children mindfully and interact with your partner mindfully. You can bring it into the shower, and to yardwork. Mindfulness is kind of like magic because it transforms the moment. If you transform enough moments, your life will be transformed.

Written by Megan McKeon – Mental Health Graduate Student at University of the Cumberlands

Therapy Goals

We have all experienced moments in which we felt we were at a loss for handling a situation or a feeling. It is during these times we seek outside assistance, be it from friends, loved ones or with a therapist. Because these are difficult and stressful times, problem solving, positive thinking, or solution finding can seem impossible. However, in therapy this is exactly what we strive for in the midst of these chaotic moments.

This first requires an individual’s awareness they have exhausted their mental and emotional resources and acknowledge the need for professional guidance through this process. Finding a therapist with whom you can share this space continues this process through the sharing of these experiences, feelings, and struggles. It is through this exchange of honest and often difficult information the therapeutic alliance is formed. This alliance between therapist and client is the foundation on which therapy goals are created and refined.

Many individuals do not have clear therapeutic goals at the outset of this journey. Taking the time and making space to sort through uncomfortable situations and emotions brings clarity to one’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and therefore, their goals. Therapeutic goals can and will change throughout the process but having a goal on which to focus allows us to see solutions, successes, and areas of improvement. Therapy goals could be considered the mile markers on the journey to wellness.

Working with a therapist to achieve these goals requires individuals, couples, and families to join together, taking the information and insight acquired in sessions into their everyday lives. This day-to-day application solidifies new skills, new ways to view or assess problems, and ultimately achieve goals. Once the goals for therapy are achieved, the skills and benefits of these changes can be applied to future issues and concerns resulting in lifelong improvements in one’s well-being.

Written by April Daniel MS, NCC, LMHC – National Certified Counselor (NCC) and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

 

Walk + Talk Therapy by the Bay

Walk + talk therapy by the bay is one of my favorite approaches to mental health therapy. As a trauma-informed therapist, I utilize many different therapeutic techniques to best accommodate each client’s needs. I know that sitting on a therapist’s sofa doesn’t feel safe or comfortable for many people. That’s why I offer walk + talk. It’s just like going for a walk with a friend (if your friend was a highly trained mental health professional who knew therapeutic techniques that are clinically proven to improve your mood). ♡

For people who have experienced trauma, the idea of meeting an unknown person in a small office in a new building can feel paralyzing. With walk and talk, we are able to meet in a public park where we are surrounded with other people and beautiful views. While the name implies that we will walk the entire time, there are many seating areas along the route to enjoy the shade and the warm breeze from the bay.

Walk + talk therapy offers an opportunity to reduce stress, relieve body tension, improve circulation, breathe deep and clear the body-mind of intrusive, negative, and ruminative thoughts. These sessions can help you decrease anxiety, regulate mood, enjoy more restful sleep, and more. Additionally, you can receive the feel-good brain chemical benefits of exercise, mindfulness practice and eco-psychology. In session, you can enhance insight, release body trauma, and alter behavior patterns while verbally processing your authentic truth.

In urban planning, there is a concept of integrating waterscapes into cities called “blue spaces.

👫Studies have found that short, frequent walks along waterscapes (blue spaces) are good for your mental health.

👫There is a significant improvement in well-being and mood immediately after a person goes for a walk in a blue space, compared with walking in an urban environment or resting.

👫Waterscapes have healing effects that enhance psychological resilience to promote mental health.

👫Walk + talk therapy by the bay gives clients an opportunity to enjoy some blue spaces while boosting their mental health.

Similarly, when urban architects add nature elements to cities such as trees, plants, and grass, these are called “green spaces.

👫 Green spaces provide fresh, healing air to the body

👫 Some mental health benefits of green spaces include: lowered stress levels, reduced rates of depression & anxiety, reduced cortisol levels, and improved general well-being

👫 Enhance your cognitive functioning, improve your sleep, and increase your levels of physical activity.

👫Walk + talk therapy by the bay gives you an opportunity to spend some time outside connecting to nature while working on your mental health.

If you’re joining me for walk + talk therapy, here are a couple things to keep in mind:

👫We don’t have to walk the whole time!

👫There is plenty of seating along the route should we choose to sit by the water and/or stop to talk in the shade.

👫Walking shoes or comfy sandals are recommended.

👫Please bring a water bottle—we’ve got to stay hydrated!

Written by Kalli Portillo, IMH24576 – Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern, EDMRIA-Approved EMDR Therapist, Certified Prepare/Enrich Couple Counselor

To learn more, review the following open access research studies or google “blue and green spaces mental health benefits.”

Benefits of walking psychotherapy:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8892051/

Waterscapes for mental health:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8618438/

Importance of greenspace: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5663018/

Follow the Pattern

As a therapist or even someone on the receiving end of therapy, looking for and following patterns is a concrete way of making sense of ourselves. How we handled or reacted to situations in the past can be a great indicator of how we will approach them in the future, as well as allude to how we learned to get by before. Patterns and tendencies act as a road map of sorts that we subconsciously follow to get us to a place that is comfortable and familiar. This concept can be broken down into two parts: (1) the pattern and (2) the destination. As aforementioned, the pattern is the behaviors and thought processes we follow that are seemingly inherent to us, while the destination is the end goal or result we hope to gain or accomplish. If the pattern is the treasure map, then the destination marks the treasure. Let’s put this into context! Suppose you are in an argument with a friend. If tension tends to make you extremely uncomfortable and you want to get to a place of peace quickly (destination), you might succumb to their demands and agree to whatever you need to in order to restore said peace (pattern). Within the same situation, suppose your aim is to prove that you are right and impose that you have your way (destination), you might interrupt your friend, speak loudly over them, and be unwilling to explore their point of view (pattern). In the final example, suppose you want to maintain your friendship and find ways to reach a mutual understanding of one another (destination), you might ask questions and respond with compassion while also presenting your case (pattern). The takeaway here is that when we are aware of our patterns, through the assistance of therapy and self-reflection, we can better identify ways to change the unhealthy and strengthen the healthy tendencies. Additionally, we can wind up with more satisfying and sustainable destinations.

Written by Cindy-Joy Rosado – Graduate Student in Mental Health Counseling

Guide Your Child Through Life

Figuring out the best way to guide your child through life can be scary. There is no perfect manual that tells parents what to do when your child throws a temper tantrum at the grocery store, when your child refuses to eat anything but cookies and chicken nuggets, when your child becomes curious about life, when your child experiences their “terrible twos or terrible teens.”
Ultimately, parenting is a ‘learn as you go” journey. There are several great books that teach parents some really useful strategies when navigating through different stages in your child’s emotional development. One thing that I suggest to parents is to assess their parenting approach. The beauty of a child’s development is that they are taking in their environment. A parent’s parenting style is a major source of influence on how a child will interact with others in their adult life. Children thrive off of high expectations while being supported and guided in a loving environment. When parents take an authoritative approach, parents recognize that their child and/or teen are still developing emotional maturity and depend on their guidance and limits to navigate through life. Through their guidance and boundaries, parents empower their children to make decisions. A because “I said so approach” is not taken but statements like “what do you think about..” “I do or do not think this is a good idea because…” ‘Which one would you choose…” “Help me understand…” “I can understand you are upset but it has to be this way because…”
Creating healthy parent-children relationships is important in creating healthy and secure adult individuals.
Written by Jessica Sagastume – Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Bilingual and Immigration Counselor

The Backwards Law

The concept of the “Backwards Law” comes from East-Asian Taoist and Zen Buddhist philosophies. The term comes from the works of Alan Watts, a prominent teacher of eastern philosophies in the west. The idea is very simple: the pursuit of something is simultaneously the pleasure and pain of it. On the one hand, humans are historically and philosophically happiest when they are working from scratch. When humans are coming from a place of nothing and striving towards something. The journey toward the goal is what brings humans the pleasure of it; not the goal itself. Once we attain whatever goal we strive toward, we may experience fleeting, momentary happiness, but it quickly dissipates in favor of pursuit of some other goal. We are only happy when the carrot is on the stick, we absolutely hate when we actually get it. Evolutionarily speaking, it is easy to see why we operate this way. An organism that is constantly dissatisfied with its surroundings and works tirelessly to improve everything around it as though its very being depends on it (because it does) will always beat out an organism that does anything less. At the same time it is important to acknowledge that, as human beings who are inherently dissatisfied with their surroundings, we need the carrot to be on the stick. If there is no carrot, no thing to strive toward, humans become lost and depressed. This idea becomes more complex with every magnification of it.

So why even discuss this? What is the point of bringing any of this up? Within this concept lies the key to happiness and even, dare I say, a satiation with one’s surroundings. The pursuit of some great goal or reward is in itself the error that we make as humans. Author Mark Manson
argues that the pursuit of a positive is in itself a negative experience. By pursuing happiness, you inadvertently tell yourself that you lack it. The Taoists would argue that you have everything you need to be as happy as you want right now. The thing you must do is accept and appreciate what you already have around you. In other words, deny your programming. Take the carrot and the stick and throw them in the trash.

Desire itself can be seen as one of the basic reasons why humans suffer. According to Zen Buddhist ideology, every desire is an opportunity for suffering. If you desire something, you establish an expectation for it. Once you establish an expectation for something, all of the joy and positivity that could be had vanishes from it. The best example I can give for this can be seen in competition. When you compete, your desire is to win. Therefore, if you win, you won’t be happy, because you expected it to happen. Winning was what was supposed to happen. You prepared for it, you practiced for it, you spent hours, days, months, maybe even years training to achieve it. So when it happens, it isn’t perceived as a big, great thing. It’s perceived as the thing that was supposed to happen. However, when you lose you have violated all expectations. You have fallen short. You have failed. You weren’t good enough to achieve the thing. This is why, when we establish an expectation for something, you set a precedent for a situation in which there is no potential for happiness; only either what you expected, or something far worse. It is either a net 0 or a net negative. There is no chance for a net positive.

Think back to some of the best experiences you’ve ever had in your life. The most interesting experiences, the best stories you have to tell. I would be willing to bet that the majority of these stories involve a situation that did not go according to the plan. That is because we enjoy situations the most when we have no expectations for how we want them to go. When you have no expectation for an event, there is only a pure, genuine, natural version of yourself acting in the moment. You are not trying to do anything, you are not forcing anything. You are just doing. Alan Watts wrote: “when you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float”. The central idea here, is that things are already perfect the way they are. Do not zoom in. Do not try to dissect and pick apart the details. Accept things for what they are, as they are, who they are, and you will have set yourself up to have some very nice times ahead of you.

Written by: Bryce Miller, M.S., Ed.S.
WTB Therapy, LLC.
Lincoln , NE 68516
Phone: (850) 204-7973

Tips for Planning for Self-Care

Reaching the point of burnout is, unfortunately, an all too common experience for many. Given the fast-paced, productivity-based work culture that exists in America today, burnout has essentially become the marker by which we measure success. The message we receive is this: “If you feel like you have exhausted your limits, then you are doing something right!” There is this tendency to equate how much we produce to whether or not our lives are worthwhile, but this could not be more untrue. Similarly, rest is often portrayed as something you earn once you have put in the work, but this is also false. Rest is not something we need to work toward, it is something our bodies and minds require in order for us to make it through life. With this in mind, I have compiled a list of helpful tips to utilize when planning for self-care. While I wish I could tell you I picked this up without error, the only reason I am able to make such a list is because I have tried and failed many times… And this is what I have learned!
1. Identify the difference between things that make you feel rested versus what makes you feel fulfilled. Some activities might fall into both categories, but it is helpful to distinguish between the two. Restful activities often alleviate stress and induce a sense of tranquility. Fulfilling activities are things one enjoys and are often fun. For example, meditating or going on a walk might help one feel rested, whereas painting or gardening might be fulfilling.
2. Identify the people and things that hinder your ability to unwind. For instance, if you are a parent and being around your child is stressful in that you focus solely on their needs, you may need to find someone to care for your child during your self-care time. Similarly, having your work phone on you while you attempt to rest might prevent you from being able to relax as your phone might go off or you might feel compelled to check it regularly.
3. Review your weekly schedule and identify spaces of time in which you are able to engage in self-care. Whether your schedule is wide open or packed with commitments, making time for self-care is something one has to be intentional about planning because it will not always “just happen” or “work itself out.”
4. Once you have decided on a restful or fulfilling activity, have ensured you will not be distracted by certain people or things, and have chosen a date and time for self-care, make sure all of your regular responsibilities are tended to prior. As an example, one might handle all of their house chores, clear out their inbox, and predetermine dinner plans in order to set themselves up for nothing but rest on the day of their self-care. This is important because “past you” is taking care of “future you” in a way that will make you feel even more taken care of.
5. Finally, make sure you plan for self-care at least once a week. While there are ways to find rest and fulfillment in small ways throughout the week, it is imperative that you care for yourself and separate blocks of time. If you are able to give so much to others (i.e. work, school, family, etc.), you need to be able to give yourself much as well.
Written by Cindy-Joy Rosado – Graduate Student in Mental Health Counseling

Elevate Your Mood

How can we turn our good mornings into good days, and our good days into good evenings? One simple but potent way to help steer your mental health in the right direction is to be consistent about getting your daily dose of morning sunlight. Research heavily suggests that exposure to
early morning sun elevates mood by producing serotonin, a crucial chemical for the prevention and treatment of depressive symptoms. Being diligent in getting that morning sunshine is also a great way to create a routine that helps set the tone for the day, likely increasing productivity and overall satisfaction. It may be especially helpful to get outside in the sun for some physical activity in the morning, such as walking or running. This will increase endorphins, elevating your mood even further.

Furthermore, exposure to full-spectrum morning sunlight will help reset your circadian rhythm by suppressing melatonin in your system until it is needed later in the day, while increasing your serotonin giving you a boost in both energy and mood. When consistent, evidence suggests you’ll experience more restful, uninterrupted sleep creating a healthy sleep-wake cycle which plays a huge role in overall mental health and wellbeing. This one small change to your daily routine packs a powerful punch.

So grab your cup of coffee, and a good book, or put your walking shoes on and bask in that soft, early morning sunshine as you get ready to face the day ahead!

Written by Nicole Geddie – Graduate Student in Mental Health Counseling

Six Dimensions of Wellness

On the heels of world changing events like a global pandemic, many communities were intensely affected by Hurricane Ian in September. As we adjust to new challenges and situations which have arisen from these, we continue to experience the problems that existed before pandemics or natural disasters. Now, as we approach holidays and other stressful situations it is more important than ever to focus on key concepts for maintaining wellness.

Mental health counseling focuses on striving for wellness in all areas of our lives as foundational to managing stress and other mental health concerns. If you currently feel overwhelmed, lack direction, or simply don’t ‘know where to start try using the six dimensions of wellness listed below daily to gain control over your mental health and wellbeing.

Environment: First, take a look at your daily routines throughout the week and on the weekends. Your environment is your home, your commute, your workplace, etc. As you evaluate your space, you may feel calmer when your space is tidy and organized. This would become an area of focus each day by spending time to clean and organize and then to maintain this space. If your commute is stressful, take a look at areas you can improve. For example, choose calming music, an entertaining audiobook, or podcast to reduce the focus on the stressful aspects of the ride. Or turn the music off and use this time to transition from work to home.

Emotional: A daily focus on emotional wellness may begin with noticing your emotions throughout the day. Are you in control of your emotions? Do you struggle maintaining your level of calm, anxiety, happiness, sadness, or anger? Journaling is a great way to record your thoughts and learn more about the emotions you are experiencing. Therapy is a great place to jump start or explore this focus and to gain insight into how you are feeling and how you are currently managing.

Physical: Physical health is a dimension most of us are aware we need to focus on. A daily focus on physical health means eating foods that are nourishing, establishing a sleep schedule for adequate restorative sleep, going for a walk or taking time to stretch between activities throughout the day. These can be simple, but it requires us to make them a priority consistently to achieve wellness.

Intellectual: Learning something new every day can be the goal here. Or it can mean reading a new book, exploring a subject of interest at the library or online. Learn more about yourself as well by seeking to learn a new skill or hobby. Overlap between the dimensions might be helpful here, so use that long commute to listen to an audiobook or podcast.

Social: Focus on the social dimension might include calling a friend or a loved one just to check in and say hello. It may mean making time to visit a friend or family member. This could also be a time to overlap dimensions with the intellectual and join a group and learn to cook or paint. Volunteering your time is also a good way to develop friendships and make lasting contributions to the community.

Spiritual: This dimension is about your connection to your belief system. Meditation, prayer, or taking time to commune with nature are ways to recharge your batteries in this dimension. This also allows you to explore how you find meaning and the ways in which that meaning is influencing your life.

The six dimensions of wellness focus on our environment, emotional wellbeing, physical health, intellectual pursuits, spiritual involvement, and social interactions. Remember, we are individuals and our needs in each area will vary from person to person. Also, being flexible with how we focus on each dimension daily will help with making these a priority in some way every day. If you are having difficulty finding or maintaining balance in your life, reach out to a qualified mental health professional for assistance.

Written by April Daniel – Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern