Avoiding Relational Apocalypse

Well-known psychologist Dr. John Gottman has done decades of work regarding marital stability and divorce prediction. He has identified what he calls the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” capable of killing any marriage if not stopped. The four horseman are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. These four are not only indicative of marital homicide, but are also very deadly in other relationships be it friendship, parent-child, or at work.Below is a helpful pictorial and a link to a video from Dr. Gottman defining the four horsemen and helpful corrective responses. Take some time to reflect and even ask those closest to you to identify if any of these are present in your communication style specifically when things are not going as you expected. If so, actively begin implementing the antidotes remembering that research has shown that for every one negative response we have we need five positives to make up for it.Active reflection and intentional change will go a long way in decreasing conflict and maintaining stable, happy relationships. 

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Rinse & Repeat - The Beauty of Routine

If sleep is a challenge - falling asleep, staying asleep, waking at a reasonable time, etc. - it's time to consider a routine. We get the idea behind routine because we know it is so important for our babies, but why is that? For people who do not do so well with words just yet, consistency tells society's tiniest members just what is coming next, like when it is time to go to sleep. The same goes for our adult bodies. But wait, I use words! Yes, adults do tend to communicate much better than infants, but our bodies still need those consistent cues to settle in for the night. 

Consider melatonin, a commonly suggested sleep aid. This is a hormone our bodies naturally produce; however, without consistent bedtime cues, your body may not know that it is producing an inadequate amount of melatonin to induce sleep. So, what does your routine look like?

  • Regular bed time?

  • Consistent wake time?

  • Preparing for bed (i.e. changing, brushing teeth, washing face, etc.)

  • Wind down activity? (i.e. reading, prayer, Mindfulness exercise, etc.)

  • Rinse & Repeat!

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Improving the Memory Process

Last time we talked about how are memory can be affected by stress and depression and how there are four main stages to the memory process: attention, encoding, consolidation, and retrieval. Now let’s take a look at things we can do to improve each stage. 

Improving the attention stage: decreasing/eliminating distractions, decreasing mental fatigue by taking breaks, and listen carefully including eye contact and body posture. Before memory difficulties you may have been able to have the TV going while eating a snack with someone talking to you from the side. Now, improve your attention by turning off the TV, putting down the food, turning towards the person, and make an effort to listen very carefully. 

Improving the encoding phase: In this stage you want to try simplify incoming information as much as you can and also reducing the amount of incoming information. Also try and link the information back to something you already know. For example, you can never remember your neighbor’s name Glenda? Let’s say one of your favorite movies is The Wizard of Oz which has the character Glenda the good witch. Now you think of that and it helps you remember her name.

Improving the consolidation phase: This phase is all about repetition. Repeating things over and over can really help things stick. You can gradually increase the amount of time in between repetitions as you improve. 

Improving the retrieval phase: remembering the context of where you were when you heard the information, mentally retrace your steps, and using first letter prompts. Using first letter prompts can be a helpful study too. Make an acronym of what you want to remember and then remember the acronym and the items fall into place. For example, AECR = attention, encoding, consolidation, and retrieval. 

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2 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Making a Life Decision

Staring a life changing decision in the face can be daunting. Weariness can take root in the monotony of a repetitious grind in life, and ruminating dreams can weave questions of whether or not to step out into something new and different. Even when life glides by as smoothly as well oiled machine, out of the blue, new opportunities can present themselves. In every stage of life, fork-in-the-road decisions pop up—decisions that may require you to turn your life upside down. Decision that you have a limited time to make. Decisions that affect where you live, what your standard living will be, and how your schedule and relationships will unfold.  

Regardless of the situation, everyone one of us has faced or will face major life decisions and will likely hit a wall wondering, “What should I do?” Often, these decisions require sacrifice, risk, a mountain of change, and a season of adjustment with no clear end in sight. There is always an element of uncertainty regarding how it could impact your schedule, family, and community relationships, not only in the immediate future, but also decades down the road. 

Making these decisions can be taxing, especially when competing priorities and desires pull us in different directions. There are countless factors to consider when making these decisions. So here are 2 questions to consider as you work through your decision-making process.

  • Are you idealizing a particular future in this decision? If so, how?

Often, we can let our imaginations run away with ideas of what we hope our life will look like in a particular situation. We imagine that this one decision is the last puzzle piece to put into place to complete our picture-perfect scenario of what we want our life to be (think: “If I could just get this dream job, everything will fall into place!). But that ideal is an illusion. Even with all the right pieces in all the right places, there will still be stressors and conflicts and hard seasons and unexpected downsides. So ask yourself, “Where might I be idealizing the outcome of this decision?” Give due attention to all possible positives and negatives on both sides of the equation so that you can make your decision from a balanced perspective. 

  • How much is fear influencing your decision? 

Fear is a nasty manipulator when it comes to making life decisions. It can cause us to rush into poor decisions out of fear that this may be “the break” we have been waiting for—and if we miss it, it will never come again. Other times, fear can cause us to decline opportunities because we don’t feel we can rise to the occasion. So we hide in the shadows because it is easier than opening ourselves up to failure, criticism, and rejection. Don’t stay captive to fear’s agenda. Ask yourself, “What fears are driving my decision or holding me back?” There may be multiple little fears building on one another or one huge fear that has you sunk. Either way, push yourself to process through the fear until you are able to make a decision from a place of secure confidence. 

Having to make hard life decisions never goes away, but taking time to reflect on these questions can give you extra insight into yourself and the situation, helping you discern which decision is best for yourself. 

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Holiday Boundaries

The holiday season can be a beautiful time for some and a very stressful and heartaching time for others. Whichever side of the spectrum you and your family fall on, it's important to remember that everyone else may not be as excited as you during the holiday season. Be mindful of approaching others with sensitivity and empathy when talking about your holiday plans. Holiday plans are often stressful for all families, so how exactly do we strike the right balance of spending time with others who deserve it or ask for it but also preserving time for ourselves or our immediate family? Good question. Here are a few tips to setting healthy boundaries for you and your immediate family during the holidays.

  1. Spend some time thinking about your personal families' needs. Not the needs of your parents, your aunts, or the comments you'll get when you dont fulfill them but what do YOU and YOUR immediate family need to connect this holiday season? Be honest with yourself and your spouse and communicate until you two are on the same page.

  2. Let go of the expectations of others. Of course it's natural to want to please your extended family by showing up to all three holiday gatherings with food, kids, and presents in tow. However, it's impossible to live up to the expectations of others and also create a thriving immediate family system.

  3. Communicate your expectations to others well in advance. Don't let Chrsitmas eve be the day you break the news to your parents that you wont be there in the morning. Let them know weeks in advance, to give them time to accept the boundaries you are laying down.

  4. Choose the gathering and be fully present while you are there. It's easy to justify being half present when you have many events with the same people over the holiday season. Pick a gathering or two that you and your family can commit to and choose to be fully present and engaged in the conversations and interactions.  

By setting up and communicating healthy boundaries, you may be experience the holiday season doesn't have to be quite as stressful as we've all made it out to be :) 

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The Memory Process

As we all get older we find that our memory is not as good as it used to be. Other things can affect memory like depression, stress, and brain injuries. The memory process can be very complex and include many stages. It can, however, be simplified in to four main stages: Attention, Encoding, Consolidation, and Retrieval.

Attention phase- Some people describe having difficulty with memory also may be having difficulty with attention and concentration. You won’t be able to remember something if you were not paying attention in the first place! To begin the memory process you first have to take in the information whether it be visual, auditory, or other. 

Encoding phase- This is the phase where your brain takes in the information it received and convert it into the language that the brain uses. The brain uses electrical signals and chemicals called neurotransmitters to transmit information to where it needs to go in the brain. 

Consolidation phase- This is the phase were the brain takes that information and directs it to the area of the brain where] memories are stored. Memories are not stored in just one part of the brain but in many areas. The hippocampus is essential for memory function particularly the transference of short-term memory to long-term memory.

Retrieval phase- This phase consists of recalling the information needed to remember. You could even say it involves a decoding phase converting the information in to speech or writing to express the information. 

How can you work on your memory and improve each stage? Keep reading the TCG blog!

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'Tis the Season

The holidays are quickly approaching. For many of us, this brings an odd mix of sweet and sad memories, happy and anxious anticipation, excitement and fear. If these describe your response, you are not alone.  Here are some suggestions for making the holidays more manageable.

 

Prepare to prepare

Does your tradition include devotions, a menorah, or an Advent wreath?  Are you a cookie baker?  Perhaps you enjoy the White Elephant gift exchange.  Whatever it is you enjoy doing to prepare for the upcoming season, decide what you need and make a list now.  Choose when you will shop for those items and schedule the excursion.  Feeling prepared can help to lower anxiety.

Budget  

Another way to reduce those anxious thoughts and feelings is to set a realistic spending amount.  We often overlook resources such as time and talent. Consider giving experiences and creating memories rather than buying expensive gifts that leave you overextended. 

Resist comparison

Stop scrolling.  Pinterest cannot provide the perfect holiday, and Facebook does not capture reality.  Those magazine layouts you see at the grocery check-out were created with lots of money and professionals.  When we reject comparison, we can enjoy and be content with what we have.

Embrace emotions

Take time to frequently check in with yourself.   What are you thinking, feeling, sensing in your body?  Perhaps you are sad as you realize a loved one will not be with you. Maybe you are fearful because your holiday season will be different this year.  Remember that you may be truly joyful while feeling other emotions such as sadness, anger, confusion, or fear.

Alone together

Balance being alone, able to hear yourself think, with being in community, able to connect with others. If you are alone, put away your devices and read a book, write in a journal, or take a bath.  If you are with others, share thoughts and feelings with one another.  Whether you are alone or in community, be fully present.  

Just say no

Reject the idea that you must attend every party, eat and drink more than you desire, and stay up late to cram in every possible bit of holiday celebration.  You will enjoy the season more if you maintain balanced eating, engage in regular exercise, retire at the same time each night, and indulge in holiday cheer responsibly.  

Silver and gold

Hold holiday traditions with an open hand, allowing them to be modified by life transitions.  Choose a couple of family traditions that you desire to honor each year, and create new ones that allow fresh perspective. 

Connect spiritually

Prioritize your faith community.Some now offer special services open to the community that honor the pain holidays can bring, helping to find comfort and joy in the midst of sorrow.Try searching for Blue Christmas Service in your city.

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Building a Satisfying Life

Many of us - at one time or another - find our lives unsatisfying. An important part of building a satisfying life includes developing routines that include predictable and enjoyable relaxation balanced with responsibilities. Creating basic routines in your day can be a simple way to regain balance and enjoyment. Before starting to add a task to your routine, ask yourself if it is something needed or wanted. Routines need balance between what we need and what we want. Find a middle ground between pleasurable activities and responsibilities. Too much of one or the other can create imbalance. If you feel "stuck", adjust your routine. A predictable routine allows us to feel settled and safe!  

A satisfying life must include physical and mental self-care. Taking medication and vitamins, eating a balanced meal, and having a set bedtime are just as important for adults (not just children) in maintaining good physical self-care. Mental self-care can be as simple as encouraging yourself, identifying gratefulness, and planning positive activities. Some positive activities might be as easy as joining a group, breathing mindfully, or baking a cake. If you are ready for a more satisfying life, just try it!  

Get a calendar or appointment book and commit to a routine! Fill out a weekly schedule with everyday self-care and activities that might work for you. A satisfying life is worth the effort!

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Boundaries: Broken Fences and Unscalable Walls

Remember that time someone you trusted hurt you so badly, you swore to yourself you would never let anyone hurt you like that again? Everyone experiences betrayal or abandonment by someone they trusted at some point in their lives, and navigating the waters of relearning how to discern others’ trustworthiness can be tumultuous. 

Sometimes in the aftermath of a falling out, letting new people into your life can feel dangerous, so stone by stone, up go walls of self-protection. A fortress is built around the belief that if the wall is high enough and strong enough, no one will be able to get through—no one will be able to hurt you. 

Other times, in the vacancy of a once-close relationship, loneliness festers. In desperation, anyone and everyone is unquestioningly welcomed, and anything will be done to keep them from leaving, too. 

In the wake of a relational upheaval, it is common for us to lean toward one of the two extremes—building walls to keep people out or opening up the flood gates to reestablish a sense of connection—but both extremes lack a healthy view of boundaries and thus have their shortcomings. For instance, insurmountable walls lend themselves to isolation and loneliness, while diffused boundaries increases exposure to unsafe and manipulative individuals who take advantage of other’s vulnerabilities. Neither of these options are helpful to establishing a healthy relational foundation. 

So what do healthy boundaries look like? Boundaries are barriers established to keep out dangerous people and harmful experiences while letting in trustworthy people and positive experiences.

It’s like the backyard at my childhood home—a little outdoor wonderland, with trees, swings, a fort with a slide and sandbox, and our beloved dogs. I loved to play out there and my parents felt safe leaving me out there alone; they knew the fence would protect me. I could go swing on the swing set, pet my dog, and play in the sandbox. But it didn’t have to be a solitary place of play. In a couple sections of the fence stood a gate which we could lock and unlock at our leisure. From time to time, we invited over friends and family to enjoy a game of whiffle ball or frisbee. We were able to enjoy our little patch of space without fear of danger because our fence kept out strangers, aggressive dogs, and other unwanted guests. 

Boundaries function in this same way. It is important for use to have fencing around our lives to keep us protected against unsafe people, but we must also have a gate through which we choose to let in others who have proven themselves to be genuine.

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Self Care for New Parents

Having a baby can bring on a world of emotions, from excitement and joy to anxiety and fear. Newborns require a lot of care, so it is normal to feel excited, worried, and tired. During this time it is important for new parents to take care of themselves.  

Do you remember the last time you were on an airplane? Do you remember what they say about the oxygen mask? Put your oxygen mask on first and then help others. 

Self-care especially for new parents is essential, but also hard to do. How do I find the time? Is self-care selfish? What does that even look like? 

Self-care is not about beng selfish, but about taking care of ourselves and recognizing that we are humans. We need to rest, relax, and rejuvenate. When we feel those things we are more engaged and productive. Self-care for new parents can be something like positive self talk, taking a relaxing shower, doing a date night with your partner, or even going to get a massage.  

Writing the list below and placing in the nursery or somewhere you spend a lot of time is an example of positive self talk.

  • I am enough

  • I am the parent my baby needs

  • I am capable

  • I am learning every day

  • I can and should ask for help when I need it.

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