Archive of ‘Whole Hearted’ category

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

Kings & Queens: Tips from a Therapist on Coming Out

In honor of October being Coming Out Month, I wanted to write a blog very near and dear to my heart. Easily over half of my clients identify as LGBT, non-traditional, non-monogamous, and have some form of a coming out story. Whether they did not feel attracted to the opposite sex, they did not identify as the sex they were born, or the idea of a traditional monogamous marriage was not attractive to them, over 60% of my clients have had to go through the mystical, terrifying, and liberating experience of coming out. 

If you are questioning your sexuality, myself as well as the folks at Austin Family Counseling want to reassure you that you do not have to go through this alone. Coming out itself is a very isolating experience, and given the current pandemic, we need as little isolation as possible. Per my previous blog, social distancing does not mean emotional distancing. When a human comes out to their friends, family, and coworkers, their need for emotional support is so strong as it is one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. 

Below are helpful suggestions from an out-of-the-closet gay man turned therapist to the LGBT community of Texas who had his own share of struggles coming out in early adulthood. These tips are generalized as every person’s story is unique and beautifully different. 

Know Who Your Cheerleaders Are and Are Not

As the great Dr. Brene Brown talked about in her book “Daring Greatly”, all of us in some way, regardless of if we have a coming out history, are walking into some kind of arena in life. We are showing up and being seen, regardless of where we are. And in this metaphorical arena she has so beautifully drawn, all of us have the Support Section. This is the section closest to the arena where the cheerleaders in our lives belong—the people who get the closest and most intimate perspective of our struggles. And these people we absolutely need in our lives when we come out.  Siblings are often the first people who non-heteronormative people come out to first. They can also be parents, close friends, teachers, counselors, mentors, and close relatives. Consider who is going to be cheering you on and in your corner when you come out. Messages like “This does not change how much I love you”, “We are still your friends regardless”, “We love you no matter what” are messages that ideally should be told to someone who is so vulnerable when coming out. 

Being someone’s cheerleader when they come out does NOT sound like: “Well, just don’t hit on me if you are gay”, “It’s okay, I won’t tell anybody”, or “It’s okay, God will forgive you.” There are sadly still families who disown their children for coming out, and in lieu of the recent banning of Conversion Therapy this is a form of emotional and psychological abuse that has no place in our current climate. 

Be Mindful of What Could Change

Since coming out can be such a freeing and liberating experience, it is almost counterintuitive to say that there can be “consequences”. As mentioned above, some families disown their relatives for coming out (the amount of homeless LGBTQ youth makes up 40% of the entire minor homeless population). Some workplaces still discriminate against LGBTQ employees for coming out at the workplace. Though we should ALL be able to live authentically as our out and proud selves, I know several clients and several close friends who have had an adverse experience when coming out to their friends and family. 

Be Mindful of Mental Health

Bias aside, it is almost always better if you have a therapist to stay with you during the coming out process. As mentioned, coming out can be very isolating and is linked to depression, anxiety, compromised immune systems, suicidal thoughts, and drug and alcohol abuse. In extreme cases, some people never come out of the closet and suffer from very high anxiety and feel obligated to live a double life which can be very harmful for mental and physical health. 

Bullying Sadly Still Exists in 2020

I am filled in by a lot of my queer teens and early adults who sadly experience an enormously high level of bullying both in person and through apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Teens who are forcibly outed are prone to suicidal thoughts, feelings of humiliation and embarrassment, and lower senses of self esteem. Having gone through my own fair share of bullying in high school, I am fully empathetic to how painful and scary repetitive bullying can be. 

Bullying for queer people can also be present in the adult world. As women, racial and cultural minorities, and persons with special needs can empathize with, bullying in the workplace is alarmingly common. Workplace discrimination based on sexual identity is still sadly alive and well. However, if bullying in any capacity (from coworkers, managers, supervisors, bosses, etc) is present, it is NEVER okay and does not need to be tolerated. 

FOR TEENS:

If you are an in-the-closet teen and reading this, please know I am here, I am with you, and I am here to help. I have been through some of the worst parts about coming out (before and after) and I can probably relate to the struggles of coming out in a world that is more straight-friendly. Please let me reassure you that you do not have to go through the process by yourself. One of my favorite kind of client is a teen who is going through the coming-out process as I was there not TOO long ago. 😊 If you are not in a place to tell your parents why you need counseling for coming out, feel free to email me at [email protected] with questions about resources I can give you—and there are plenty in Austin! 

Written by: Ian Hammonds, LPC, LMFT

Looking for more resources? Click here!


The Practice of Gratitude

With December marking the end of the year, it is natural to reflect on what kind of a year you’ve had. I encourage having reflections that include gratitude’s and appreciations; it is imperative reflect on the positive things that have occurred over the past year. Having that perspective on how you have seen growth and change, or maintenance and consistency, in a positive light can reduce stress and anxiety and make it easier to reflect with a positive outlook in the future.

I’ve heard the different perspectives of positive and negative described as a cloudy lens and a sunshine lens. I love the simplicity that provides as a visual because looking at your past year in a cloudy lens could lead to feeling sad, conflicted, and unmotivated. This cloudy lens has the ability to reach in all areas of life and makes it hard to find those sunshine moments. Looking through a sunshine lens doesn’t mean negative and bad things don’t occur, rather a sunshine lens means choosing to find something that you are grateful for, no matter how big or significant that something is. Examples could be feeling grateful that you survived your day, you went to a concert, hanging out with close friends, or ending your day with a nice hot bath.

To start a gratitude practice, set yourself up for success. Choose a time during your day that you can have 5 minutes to reflect. Once you have your daily time scheduled, reflect on one thing of gratitude. Just one. If you think of more, that’s great! But only start with one, so that way you feel encouraged to continue this gratitude practice. Once you feel like your reflection time has become consistent, then move up to listing three to five items of gratitude.

Practicing gratitude is like building strength in a muscle. It takes time and consistency to see growth and change in how your perspective shifts from a cloudy to sunshine. I hope with the reflection of this past year, you are able to find those moments that you truly appreciate and are grateful for!

Julie Smith MA, LMFT-A under the Supervision of Kirby Sandlin Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S Senior Clinician at Austin Family Counseling


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