Tag Archive for emotional health

Husbands, Reduce Your Wife’s Stress for a Better Life

Let’s face it, guys. Most of us want our wives to feel less stressed. And, chances are, we’d do almost anything to help alleviate our wives’ stress. It makes for a calmer home. After all, “happy wife, happy life,” right?

You can imagine, then, how pleased I was to discover this simple, enjoyable way to reduce my wife’s stress. Researchers from Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany confirmed the efficacy of this stress reducing activity in a study involving 76 people in romantic relationships. All the participants engaged in a stress-inducing test by keeping one hand in a bath of ice water for 3-minutes while maintaining “eye contact with a camera.”   Half the couples were instructed to embrace one another before the ice water hand soaking. The other half did not embrace one another.

Lo and behold, women who embraced their romantic partner prior to the “stress-inducing experience” had a lower biological stress response than those couples who did not embrace. They had a lower cortisol stress response. Ironically, this did not happen for the men, only for women.

I thought perhaps this was a fluke. So I looked around a little more and found another study that involved women anticipating a “small electric shock.” (I know, who volunteers to receive a “small electric shock”?) Anyway, this study found similar results. When a women held the hand of her husband, she perceived less stress while anticipating the shock than one who held the hand of a stranger. And the happier the marriage, the more stress relief the women felt while holding their husband’s hands. The more love, the happier the marriage, the less stress…a good reason to build a strong, loving marriage. There you have it—less of a biological stress response and less perceived stress. If you want a wife with less stress, a happier wife contributing to a happier family life, give her a hug. Even better give her multiple hugs a day. Hold her hand. Show her physical affection often. It’s simple. It’s enjoyable. And it will lead to a more stress-free wife. What a wonderful expression of love and a wonderful gift to give your wife.

Offended by Family: Forgiveness or Revenge?

If you have a family (and unless you were hatched from some alien species, you do), then you have encountered the need and the opportunity to forgive. Forgiveness is hard. You may have even thought, “Why should I forgive him? He never changes. He never apologizes. Why should I forgive him?” Let me offer an answer by way of a study published in 2022.

In this study, 546 participants wrote about a time in which they had been wronged by another person. Then, they wrote a letter to the person who wronged them. Some were instructed to write a letter forgiving the person and others to get revenge. The letters were not sent, only written.

After writing about the scenario of hurt and a letter of forgiveness or revenge, the participants rated themselves on traits such as warmth & morality—traits measuring their personal sense of humanity. The results revealed some important reasons to forgive.

Those who had written letters of forgiveness rated themselves with a higher level of perceived humanity than those who wrote letters of revenge. In other words, forgiving contributed to a person feeling more human. It made them feel better about themselves as human beings. Those who wrote letters of forgiveness also reported less “inclination toward self-harm” than those who wrote letters of revenge.  

In another experiment, college students either imagined one of two scenarios: a coworker insulting their presentation or a coworker having a positive interaction with them. Those who imagined being insulted experienced a decrease in their feelings of “self-humanity.” They felt “dehumanized.” However, if they imagined forgiving their coworker, their level of self-humanity returned to normal.  If they imagined taking revenge, their perceived level of humanity remained low; they continued to feel dehumanized. Forgiveness led to an increased recognition of one’s own humanity. Interesting, isn’t it? Forgiveness seems to make us feel more human, more humane. So, why should you forgive that family member who hurt you? For one thing, doing so will make you feel more human. It will make you feel better about yourself as a person. That’s great…but it’s only the beginning. Forgiving also presents an opportunity for the other person to grow. It opens the door to restoring the relationship. It reveals the character of God. So, even though it can prove difficult to do at times, forgive. A healthy sense of self and a healthy marriage (with a more satisfying sex life, by the way) awaits you when you do.

How Does Your Family Feel About Emotions?

I’m a behavioral health therapist. You know, a “how-do-you-feel-about-that” kind of guy. But truth be told, I’m not one who exhibits deep displays of emotion. I feel them, but I don’t express them loudly.

I’m also the father of two daughters. If you happen to have daughters, you know how emotive they can be during their growing years. At times I was simply overwhelmed by their display of excitement, hurt, joy, or sadness. So, I had a couple of choices. How would I respond to their emotions? How would I model treating emotions in my family?

I could teach my daughters that emotions are too much to manage. They aren’t safe to express. I could encourage them through my actions and words to push their emotions down, muffle them, deny them, keep them bottled up. “Stop crying. You have nothing to cry about.” In other words, I could encourage them to repress their emotions. But simply repressing emotions has a way of transforming into hiding emotions under overworking, drinking too much, obsessive scrolling, simply disappearing from the lives of others, or…any number of other negative behaviors. That’s no good.

Or I could teach them that emotional expression is simply “bad.”  In my own sense of being overwhelmed, I could yell at them for being “too loud,” “too much trouble,” or “out-of-control.” I could aggressively shut them down with critical name-calling or threats of harsh punishment. But then they’ll just internalize those harsh criticisms about themselves and others. They’ll follow the example of holding emotions in until they bubble over in aggressive words and actions of their own. No. that is not what I want my daughters to learn.

Or, perhaps the best choice, I could teach my children that emotions are welcome. They present us with information we need to take care of ourselves, even the sad and angry emotions. So, I could make sure that emotions are welcome in our home. I could accept them, all of them. I could listen to them deeply to understand their message…and so teach my children to listen deeply as well. I could hold their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment. In the process, my daughters will learn that they are loved and accepted, even when sad or angry or overwhelmingly excited. That acceptance and love, combined with their parents’ attentive ear, builds the internal resources they need to manage those emotions independently. That sounds like a great place to start.

The choice is made…a “no-brainer” really. I’m going to allow emotions, welcoming and accepting each one. And, in the holding of their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment, my children will learn to express their emotions in a safe way. No. I won’t be perfect. Nobody is. But making this choice provides the best goal, an ideal that’s worth striving for. Will you make the same choice for your children and your family?

“Refurbish” the Empty Nest

It happens. Parents invest time and energy into their children’s lives for years. They set aside their own comfort, and even postpone some personal goals, to invest in their children’s goals and dreams. Then it happens. Our children fly the coop. They grow up, spread their wings, and fly off to live their own lives…just like we raised them to do. Still, their leaving is bittersweet. The “empty nest” can be…well, empty. Some parents experience a heavy sadness or a loss of purpose when their children leave home. Research reveals that the empty nest can even lead to depression or anxiety for some parents. (See Empty Nest Syndrome for more information.) That’s the bad news…but I have some good news, too.

A series of three studies revealed a wonderful way to beat the empty nest. It’s really pretty simple too. Get involved in a class or an activity group. Not just any class or activity group though. Get involved in a class focused on crafting, singing, or creative writing. In this study, each of these three types of classes increased participants’ self-confidence, enhanced their willingness to take on new challenges, and gave them a greater sense of control over their own lives. Even more, the classes “broadened their network of friends” and gave them a greater sense of belonging. And the more a person felt like they were part of the group, the “more their health and well-being improved.”

There’s more. If you want to create new relationships and a sense of belonging quickly, start with the singing class or group. Those in a singing group connected to others in the group most quickly, followed by those in the creative writing group and, lastly, those in the craft group. Still, they all lead to a greater sense of belonging and new relationships.

So, if you’re feeling lonely, sad, or just a little empty sitting at home after your children have flown the coop, join a singing, writing, or crafting class. You’ll have a great time, meet new friends, and fill the nest with new and interesting activities and friends.

Secretly Exercise Your Child’s Patience This Summer

Do you wish your child had more patience? If you’re like me, you probably wish you had more patience too. We could all use a little more patience. Here’s the good news. You can increase your patience and help your child increase their patience at the same time… all while you’re having fun! It won’t even seem like you’re practicing those patience muscles. But you will. And did I say? It’s fun! Here are 6 activities that can help you and your child increase your patience this summer.

  • Plant a garden. It takes time for a seed to germinate, sprout, grow, blossom, produce fruit, and ripen. Nurturing and watching it go through this process promotes patience. So, plant a vegetable garden, flower garden, or herb garden. Plant a tree. Plant it and watch it grow.
  • Bake together. Baking also takes time and patience. You have to gather the ingredients, mix the ingredients, prepare the pan, bake your cake (bread, pie, or pastry), let it cool, and, best of all, eat it.  Depending on what you bake, you may have to add time for the dough to rise as well. All this provides practice in patience with a reward of a very delicious treat.
  • Play games. Many games promote patience. In board games or card games we practice patience while waiting our turn. Chess involves waiting even longer while your opponent considers options. Games like “Simon Says” promotes patience as well as listening. So play a game and practice those patience muscles.
  • Build a model. I don’t hear about children building models as much as I used to. But, you can imagine the patience needed to sort the pieces and carefully follow the instructions to put them together properly before painting the assembled model. When you’re done, show it off.
  • Complete a puzzle. My wife and children loved doing puzzles. (I didn’t have the patience, lol.)  Puzzles promote patience as you sort the pieces before looking for just the right piece to fill the empty space. You also get to enjoy spending time together as you complete it. Perhaps the one who shows the most patience can fit the final piece into place. 
  • Paint by numbers. You can get a simple paint by number or a more complex paint by number. Both will promote patience as you carefully follow the instructions, using the correct color to match the number and then waiting for one color to dry before using colors that border it. After patiently completing the project, however, you have a beautiful picture to display.

I love ideas that help promote patience in such simple, natural, and fun ways. They allow our children (and us) to learn without even knowing it. And, I have to say it again—it’s fun. So, practice patience and have fun at the same time this summer.

This Vacation Will Improve Your Family’s Mental Health (& You Don’t Even Have to Leave Home)

A team of researchers at the University of Bath published a study in May of 2022 that revealed a way to improve mental health and well-being in just one week. It’s not a cure-all, but it can make a difference. The study included 154 participants between the ages of 18- and 72-years-old. Researchers randomly assigned them to one of two groups. One group was asked to stop using all social media for one week. The other group continued “scrolling through” social media as usual. I don’t know about you, but “scrolling as usual” for me often occurs mindlessly. I go to Facebook or Instagram to check something simple and find myself scrolling for more time than I want. In fact, the average time spent on social media in the United States is about 2 hours and 6 minutes (See Average Time Spent Daily on Social Media (Latest 2022 Data) – BroadbandSearch for more statistics on social media use.)  That means that taking time off social media frees up an average of 2 hours every day. Imagine what you can do with 2 extra hours a day.  But that was not the objective of this study. Check out the results this study discovered.

Questionnaires completed before and after the week of the study showed that those who had taken a time off of social media showed a “significant improvement in well-being, depression, and anxiety.”  In addition, those who took a week off social media self-reported improved mood and less anxiety. Read that again. Those who took a week off of social media exhibited an overall improvement in well-being and a decrease in depression and anxiety.

Social media usage has increased dramatically over the last decade. In fact, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that we spend more time using social media than we do socializing, eating and drinking, or doing housework. (See Time Spent Daily on Social Media (Latest 2022 Data) – BroadbandSearch for more.) Not using social media for a week opens up time for you and your family to engage in many other things that might bring you greater joy and health. For instance, you might enjoy activities ranging from visiting the zoo or aviary to going to an amusement park to taking a raft down the river to having a picnic to enjoying a free concert to spending time with your family to… the list goes on.

So here is a challenge. Sit down with your family (maybe over dinner or a trip to the ice cream parlor) and discuss the findings of this study. As a family, pick a week to take a “social media vacation.” You might combine it with your family vacation; or you might choose a different week. Whichever you choose, be sure everyone agrees to take a week off social media. Plan some activities—fun activities, family activities, individual activities—to do during that week. Put the week and the activities on the schedule. Then do it…and enjoy it. After it’s all said and done, reconvene (another trip to the ice cream parlor perhaps) and discuss your experience. Who knows? You might end up deciding to take a one-week-social-media-vacation twice a year or once a quarter.

A Surprising Factor in Your Child’s Academic Success

Prosocial skills—”the propensity to act kindly or generously toward peers and other people.”  Kindness and generosity. Don’t we all want our children to become kind, generous adults? In fact, we want them to practice kindness and generosity even as children. And for good reasons. Children who demonstrate more prosocial behaviors develop fewer emotional and behavioral problems than their less prosocial peers, especially in poorer neighborhoods and schools. Kindness and generosity “protect against risk of emotional problems in low socioeconomic neighborhoods.” But here is a surprise. A recent study suggests that a child’s kindness and generosity (their prosocial behavior) may actually improve their academic success.

For this study, researchers followed 1,175 children from 4-years-old through 7-years-old in Bradford, England. In general, the results suggested that children’s prosocial behavior positively impacts their early learning goals, phonic skills, and academic test performance. Significantly, prosocial behavior impacted each of these areas over and above the neighborhood and family socioeconomic status. However, there was another, rather interesting finding.

  • If a child came from a poorer neighborhood and exhibited less prosocial behavior, they also had lower levels of academic achievement. But this was not true in wealthier neighborhoods. In fact, in wealthier neighborhoods, children who exhibited less prosocial behavior still exhibited high levels of academic success.
  • Children who exhibited higher levels of prosocial behavior, however, did not differ in levels of academic success, whether they came from poorer neighborhoods or wealthier neighborhoods. This suggests that kindness and generosity (prosocial behaviors) may protect against the impact of living in neighborhoods with limited resources or educational resources and opportunities.

What does this have to do with families? The family is a training ground for kindness and generosity, for teaching prosocial skills. Your family can become a training ground for promoting prosocial skills in your children. Here are

  1. Parents can model kindness and generosity. Make kindness a hallmark of your family. Intentionally show kindness to your spouse and children. Offer to help your spouse and children, even without being asked. Also, let your children witness your kindness and generosity toward others. Speak kindly of others. Act kindly toward others. Help others. Model kindness and generosity. At least one study even suggests that a father’s prosocial behavior, specifically, increases their children’s prosocial behavior.
  2. Model kindness toward your children. Be responsive and empathetic toward your children. Children are much more likely to treat other people in ways that their parents of treated them.
  3. Provide opportunities for practicing kindness and generosity. Let your children be involved in activities of kindness as varied as setting the table for a family meal, helping to buy presents for friends or family, making cookies for a shut-in, or writing thank-you cards for gifts received…to name a few. The days are chock-full of opportunities to practice kindness and generosity. Coach your children in taking advantage of those opportunities.
  4. Notice and acknowledge when your children engage in acts of kindness. “Thank you for being helpful.” “That was kind of you to share.” Noticing and acknowledging kind behaviors in your children will increase the likelihood they will engage in more of it. After all, attention is one of the greatest parenting discipline tools we have.
  5. Take note of opportunities to talk about kindness. Acknowledge acts of kindness you see in others. Point out acts of kindness and generosity in the news. (Here is a great example from Good News Network about the exceptional kindness of a 13-year-old.) Utilize stories and movies to discuss examples of kindness in the story. You can also discuss missed opportunities for showing kindness and how a kindness might have changed the storyline. These provide excellent opportunities to teach about kindness and keep kindness in the “forefront of their mind.” 

Practicing these 5 ideas for promoting kindness in your children will not only encourage them to practice kindness, but they will also buffer your children against “emotional problems” and promote better academic success. Kinder children, fewer emotional difficulties, and greater academic success…sounds like a great outcome to me.

Help Calm Your Stressed Child

When our children get upset, we often encourage them to “slow down” and “take a breath.” Intuitively, we know that “taking a breath” can help our children calm down, sooth themselves, just like it does for us. An experiment conducted by Jelena Obradovic, director of the Stanford SPARK Lab, revealed that teaching children to breathe deeply in an everyday setting, like a children’s museum, a public playground, or a full-day summer camp, effectively reduce their stress. One important feature of this study was the 1-minute-18-second video used to guide the children through four calming breathes and so teach them to use breathing to manage their stress.

I share this information and the teaching video with you because we want our children to learn how to effectively manage their stress and frustration. Learning to breathe deeply by “smelling a flower” before “blowing out a candle” will help. It will be a great help when your child is stressed over some upcoming situation or following some situation like:

  • preparing to get a vaccine
  • getting ready for a performance
  • getting ready for school
  • after having an argument with a friend
  • experiencing anxiety about a test or tryout or game.

In fact, learning to breathe deeply can help our children manage stress anytime it arises. I don’t know about you, but helping my children manage their stress reduces my stress as well. So, I’m going to take a breath and relax while teaching my children to breathe deeply to manage stress as well.

Go Ahead…Take a Nap

Last weekend we changed our clocks, “springing forward” into daylight savings time. In the process, we lost an hour sleep. That, on top of the fact that most of us do not sleep the recommended 7-9 hours a day, makes today the perfect day for a nap…and National Napping Day. Actually, every day is a good day for a nap. According to the Sleep Foundation naps not only reduce sleepiness, they also improve learning, aid in memory retention, and help us regulate emotions.  Napping also strengthens our immune, reduce cardiovascular disease risk, boost work performance, reduces stress, and decrease risk of cognitive dysfunction.  (see Benefits of Napping | Sleep.org ). In addition, napping as a family can help your family “get in sync” and in rhythm with one another. And, according to the “Nap Bishop,” if you’re looking for a way to resist the overworking mentality of our society that leads to burnout and contributes to oppression, napping is the resistance in which you need to engage. So, call the family together, grab your pillows, and resolve to take care of yourself. Take a nap.

Teach Your Child the Dance of Effective Venting

Venting can be a beneficial way to manage feelings…sometimes. After all, not all venting is the same. In fact, some venting will simply escalate your negative emotion. For instance, physically releasing anger or other dark emotions will escalate that emotion. So will acting the negative emotion out verbally. And escalating the emotion without moving toward a resolution can actually destroy your family. In fact, studies suggest that anxiety and grief increase when all we do is release the emotion verbally or over social media. In other words, not all venting is helpful. For venting to be beneficial, we need to do the “two-step.”

  1. The first step involves finding a trusted person who will listen and validate our experience. However, if this is all we have, venting will produce the negative results noted above.
  2. We also need the second step. We need the listener to help us clarify the situation, provide a new or objective perspective, and offer sound advice. This will require that we do more than simply vent, we must listen and accept input as well.

How can we teach our children this delicate dance of effective venting?

  • First, model effective venting. That will require you doing the next steps in your own life as well as teaching them to your child.
  • Teach your child multiple ways to deal with emotions. The more tools we have, the better prepared we are to deal with whatever emotion arises. Teach your child a variety of tools for managing emotions. For instance, you might encourage them to write about their thoughts and feelings, journaling to gain clarity. Teach them to breathe through difficult emotions. They may also utilize other creative ways to express their emotion, such as drawing the emotion, writing a song about the emotion, or thinking of a metaphor for their emotion. Teach your child how to think about the situation in ways that will allow for greater emotional control. For instance, encourage them to consider the evidence, keep a mole hill a mole hill, or considering what they might tell a friend in a similar situation. Having multiple ways of managing emotions can also help make your child’s emotions your friend.
  • Help your child learn a broad emotional vocabulary. Taking time to label an emotion puts space between the emotion and our response. It gives us time to think about the situation and emotion so we can act thoughtfully. We become more objective in our reasoning rather than emotional. Overall, that means we have more power in managing our emotion.
  • Teach your children to choose wisely when considering who they want to vent to. It is not wise to vent to “just anyone.” Teach your child that the person to whom you vent needs to listen well AND have the ability to offer positive insights that broaden your perspective, insights that help you move toward a positive resolution.
  • Teach your child to prompt the listener to offer their perspective. Teach them to recognize when they are simply rehashing an emotional situation so they can stop and ask the person listening for their perspective, a way to think differently about the situation, or a positive way to respond. Teach them to take the initiative in seeking their input and then humbling themselves to listen.

These four tips can help your child learn the dance of effective venting. Of course, you need to practice these steps so you can model the dance yourself. Before long, you’ll all practice the dance well and enjoy the music.

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