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An Attitude of Gratitude

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – Proverb

One of my first jobs was as a waitress at a local seafood grill. There I learned the nuances of customer service and to not take things personally. Our motto was “the customer is always right”; however, sometimes the customer was quite grumpy, carrying in the weight of their day into the restaurant and our interaction. In those interactions, I could choose to internalize the customer’s frustrations or to offer kindness. I call this “choose your ‘tude.” I continue to use this as I strive to choose an attitude of gratitude by cherishing the good and seeing challenges as learning opportunities in my personal and professional life. Research shows that one key element to happiness is appreciating the good that we might be taking for granted, and there is science to support how gratitude supports happiness.

Gratitude; more than being thankful.

Gratitude is a multifaceted source of happiness and well-being. It goes beyond just listing things you are grateful for. The leading researchers on this topic created a definition of gratitude that is twofold; appreciating and attending to the good things in your life and recognizing that these things come from an external source (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Gratitude is described as an “empathetic emotion” whose practice can positively impact our social, physical, and emotional well-being. 

Gratitude is powerful.

Gratitude helps fire neurons in your brain that contribute towards positive thinking and feelings of happiness. When we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for the “feel good” emotions and support a lift in mood (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). A study that incorporated fMRI scans found that the participants who wrote gratitude letters showed greater activation in the area of the brain associated with learning and decision making (Brown & Wong, 2016). This suggests that this activation of the brain has lasting effects and can alter the way the participants see the world. The benefits you get from activating gratitude include (but are not limited to!) reduction in stress, increase in empathy, better sleep, enhanced resilience, increase in motivation, and improved relationships.

Gratitude opens up more room for positivity.

The intent is to help steer the focus on what you have instead of what you feel you lack. When you are thinking about the things, people, and experiences you are grateful for, it becomes harder to ponder the negative (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011). While the idea of practicing gratitude sounds simple, it can be challenged by competing priorities, a flux of emotions, and feeling drained. Some days we just don’t feel that grateful. The cool thing about practicing gratitude is this practice can help shift your mindset, helping you feel more positive emotions, which has a ripple effect and supports resiliency. 

“It is impossible to feel depressed and grateful at the same moment” – Naomi Williams

Gratitude can be unique.

There are various ways to express appreciation and incorporate this practice into your own life. 

  • Take a moment to reflect on fond memories
  • Start a daily gratitude journal
  • Thank someone for their kindness; verbally, through a thank you note, call, or text
  • Incorporate saying what you are thankful for at mealtime or bedtime
  • Meditate; focus on what you can hear, smell, see, and touch
  • Pay it forward to someone else (coffee is on me!)
  • Take time to appreciate small moments
  • Make a vision board
  • Create a gratitude jar, fill it when you feel inspired
  • Volunteer or donate to an organization in need
  • Use a gratitude app like Happyfeed
  • Listen to a Podcast focused on Happiness and Gratitude

I am grateful for the start of a new year and the opportunity to connect with our community. Now it’s your turn; what are you grateful for?

Resources:

Brown, J. J., & Wong, J. J. (2016, June 6). How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377. 

Harvard Health Publishing (2011, November). Giving thanks can make you happier. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

Written by Janet Mize, LMFT-Associate Supervised by Kirby Sandlin Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S

Things I Learned After Getting Married During a Pandemic

As 2020 comes to a close, I cannot help but think how COVID-19 has not only altered so many aspects of our lives, but also the way in which we cope with those changes as individuals, families, and communities. One thing I have been reflecting on the most in relation to the pandemic are the weeks leading up to my wedding and how the pandemic helped me find gratitude and strength in all the uncertainty.

Planning a Wedding During a Pandemic

Planning a wedding during an unprecedented time where everyone is constantly trying to process and adapt to new information about this virus was v e r y stressful. And truth be told, I did not expect COVID would still be here by the time my wedding happened in August, but as you know it was more present than ever. As humans I believe that we have this amazing ability to adapt in all types of situations, which is what we ended up doing. Because most of my family and friends were unable to attend, we lived streamed all three days of the festivities and ceremonies. Everyone in attendance wore face coverings. There were hand sanitizing stations and temperature checks at every corner of the venue. Instead of giving away custom Koozies or other trinkets, we sent our guests home with mini monogrammed hand sanitizers. In short, my wedding was nothing like I imagined it would be and by accepting that I allowed myself to be fully present and happy on my special day. 


After reflecting on my own experience, there are a couple of final thoughts that come up for me that I believe may help others cope with the changes that COVID-19 has brought us all. 

Social connection

Social connections are important and while we may not be able to create them as easily during this pandemic, we can still continue to strive for it. Connecting with others may have changed from grabbing an impromptu coffee to having a scheduled Zoom date, but nonetheless when we make time to meet with others it makes us feel better. According to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Dr. Dana Avey, “having a social network of friends with whom one can spend time is noted to have significant mental health benefits” such as lowering anxiety and depression, regulating emotions, and increasing overall sense of wellbeing. 

Support System

Creating a support system that we can rely on can help us get through this challenging time by having a few people we can turn to for everyday advice, managing stress, or help in a crisis. Support systems will look differently to everyone and that is okay, just as long as the people who make up this system are genuine sources of comfort and guidance.  Research continually shows that people who have a network of supportive relationships live longer, have better health, and are more resilient in times of stress. And when you have people in your corner, they can also help you identify when you’re experiencing stress or even notice it before you do. 

Find Your New Normal

This pandemic is changing how we live, work, and go about our daily lives. After we wrap our mind around how we are all living in an unprecedented time, then only can we work towards trying to find our new normal. It won’t be easy and we may fail, but we can continue trying to live each day with grace and forgiveness for ourselves and others.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

When we try to avoid or ignore important thoughts and feelings, they always have a way of manifesting  either through our behaviors, words, emotions etc. If you realize that certain things keep coming up for you, take a breath and acknowledge them. Being attuned to your own state of being without labeling it as good or bad is a concept that is largely rooted in mindfulness. Being mindful or aware of your body, mind, or feelings does not only have health benefits such as stress reduction, reduced blood pressure, and self regulation, but it can also increase your own awareness and understanding of yourself. Here are some ways you can build your self-awareness. If you’re interested in mindfulness check out this website, which breaks down mindfulness and how to practice it using step by step instructions.

Written by: Geetha Pokala, LPC-Associate Supervised by Kirby Schroeder LPC-S, LMFT-S


How Lifestyle Choices Impact Genes

For a long time, people believed that they could not do anything about their genetic makeup, but the science of epigenetics (genetics) has developed a few exciting theories which may disprove those old beliefs.The Boston University School of Medicine suspects that lifestyle choices directly impact different sequences of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Genetics has three major components: 46 chromosomes arranged in pairs, genes are the parts of the DNA that contain particular proteins that contain information that make cells throughout the body function properly.

The Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle

You have probably heard people say that sitting all day every day is worse for your health than smoking cigarettes.

Aston University School of Medical Sciences proved that women with high cholesterol were 64 percent more likely to develop breast cancer.

These statistics are potentially connected to the changes developed inside of the genes as the body responds to their body’s high cholesterol and may even alter genes that can be passed down to children and even grandchildren.

Advances in the Applications for Epigenetic Sciences

The Human Genome Project took 13 years to complete with multiple nations collaborating by mapping out the building blocks of our bodies in 2003. 

But the benefits of their research have helped multiple industries, mostly the medical community in massive technological advancements.

Epigenetics is trying to understand the expression and suppression of genes inherited at birth and those that change with lifestyle choices, environments, and situations. The field of epigenetics is exploring the connections between an individual’s habits, family structure, and how these variables impact carcinogenesis and the other processes that activate or turn off the cancer genes. 

Exercise

Humans are meant to be active animals. Our biology evolved by running away from predators and constantly being on alert for them. As human life has created conveniences and we have created a world where the majority of people no longer have to run for their lives from hungry beasts.

Instead, we sit all day in front of computers and then spend the evenings watching Netflix. The negative effects of being a couch potato at night and tied to a desk chair during the day are injuring our genes. 

Physically active individuals are less likely to develop a variety of cancers and other diseases. The very best way to protect your health is to eat well and exercise.

The process of methylation is when there is a change at the molecular level that responds to environmental factors like exposure to chemicals, asbestos, diet, exercise, and how viruses impact and mutate the genes.

Diet and Environmental Factors

Eating well with nutrition in mind versus eating for the way it tastes is a delicate situation to maintain. Many people in the western world struggle with obesity due to cheap fast food and sugar-intense treats that are readily available on almost every street corner.

Living near power plants, exposure to diseases, bacteria, and viruses all play a part in how our genes behave. Not all DNA tests are created with the same care, nor are the laboratories as diligent with evaluating these genetic screenings. That is why it is vital to consult an objective resource that will help you choose the right DNA test for your needs.                             

Written by: Kayleigh Jefferson


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