Self-Care During The Holiday Season

The holidays are a time thatcan be filled with excitement, good food, good friends, family, and laughter; It can also be a time that can be a great source of stress and worry. Whether it’s pertaining to long travel commutes, spending time with people you may struggle with emotionally, introducing a new partner to your family, or trying to be conscious about not overeating pumpkin pie, there are many potential anxiety-inducing situations during the holiday season. That’s where the importance of self-care comes into play.

I often like to refer clients to utilizing tools in their metaphorical toolbox for various situations that may present themselves in the outside world. Developing some type of daily practice implementing soothing strategies is a way to navigate these difficult times. Some examples of self-care could be going for a walk, talking a few deep breaths, slipping away for a salt bath, listening to music While each person will have different self-care practices, the goal is similar: to feel calm.

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Holiday Blues






It’s the holiday season! Times of cheer, gift giving, magic in the air and time spent with loves ones. This is “the happiest time of the year”, they say. The people in the commercials look oh so happy. Everyone is wishing each other a great holiday and sharing about their fun plans. However, you find yourself asking why you aren’t feeling the same way. Why you aren’t feeling the way you are told you are supposed to be feeling. Maybe you find yourself putting on a forced smile during the day, but then crawling into your bed and never wanting to come out. As lonely as this may feel, you aren’t alone. Feeling the “Holiday blues” is common, and instead of having to suffer through the holidays wishing they were over, being able to identify your triggers and find healthy coping mechanisms will help you make it through the season.

The holidays can trigger all kinds of painful emotions and if you already suffer from depression or anxiety, these symptoms can be intensified during this time of year. Here are a few stressors that may be impacting you this holiday season:

  • Financial stress: We are surrounded by expectations and pressure to give gifts and host lavish parties or wear new outfits we haven’t been seen in yet. It can feel like a competition over who got their child the newest trendiest toy or electronic, or who’s house is decorated the best.
  • Family dysfunction: Holidays typically bring the family together, which means more opportunity for family conflict. I know when I’m with my family I sometimes feel as if I reverted right back into my adolescents, becoming easily irritated by the way my family operates.
  • Loneliness: Speaking of the holidays bringing family together, for those who aren’t able to be with their family or choose not to be, the holidays can be incredibly lonely and isolating.
  • Grief: If you’ve lost a loved one, this season is likely to bring back feelings of grief as you are reminded that they aren’t here to share these memories with you.
  • Post-holiday blues: If you do have a joyful holiday, returning back to your normal routine and leaving behind the excitement of being surrounded by loves ones can leave you feeling down and searching for meaning.

Here are a few tips to help cope with these feelings this holiday season:

-Be aware of what triggers you and plan accordingly. When we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings we gain awareness of what triggers us. This can help us be better prepared for what life throws at us. For example, if you know money is tight and that the holidays are likely to stress you out financially, then you came prepare your family in advance and set expectations around gift giving. You could also come up with something creative, such as a Secret Santa, where everyone in the group only gives one gift to a randomly selected person rather than everyone giving everyone gifts. If you typically find yourself feeling lonely around the holidays, make plans to be a part of something bigger than yourself, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter.

-Keep boundaries and set limits with your family members. For instance, if you know having your family stay the entire holiday weekend is going to be too overwhelming for you and set you over the edge, plan a shorter visit and stick to it. If you’re left feeling criticized by your parents during their visits, speak up and don’t engage in those conversations. Remember that you can’t please everyone and that the rest of the family might be dealing with difficult emotions too!

-Give yourself compassion. We are told to give to others, but we first need to take care of our own needs and nurture ourselves. Take some time to acknowledge your hard work and the patience you have for your family. Give yourself a gift, whether that simply be some alone time or something more tangible.

-Seek professional help. Speaking to someone outside of your family and friends can be very beneficial no matter what you’re going through. A mental health therapist can provide you a safe space to process your feelings and help you get to the root of the problem and find individualized ways to cope. For instance, as an MFTI, I work with my clients on changing negative thinking patterns and behaviors that may be getting in the way of living the life they strive for, as well as working on being more mindful and self-compassionate.

Happy Holidays,

Brittany Bayles, M.A. MFT Intern

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Transitioning Back to School: Easy or Not

School is well underway for most of us. This transition back to school is not always the easiest. Young people have had the opportunity to stay up late, have free evenings, and spend time doing all the things they have wanted to do. Shifting the routine from going to bed at 11pm to 9 pm is not always the easiest. If you are like most people you just jump in and make the change. Like most people that does not last and is very unsuccessful. Establishing a night time routine with children as young as 1 ½ all the way to 99 is helpful, especially in getting back into the swing of school. This will look very different depending on the age of your child and yourself. Routines create comfort and comfort allows us to relax. Shifting your schedule back to your normal routine may take time and should be gradual. Start by moving up getting ready for bed by 10 to 15 minutes, with the goal of being in bed by the same time or just a bit sooner. Changing one thing at a time will make the adjustment easier. Give it a try and see what happens. Within a couple of weeks you will be in a healthy routine allowing yourself to get to bed, getting a good night sleep, ready to tackle the chaos the morning brings.

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Marriage Happiness – Not What You Think


STOP. Before you read another ‘research’, ‘study’ or ‘survey’ on marriage, ask your self these two questions. How do you define happiness? What does it mean to thrive in marriage?

Recently read another “research” on what makes a great marriage. However, it made an important mistake I have see in every other research I have read on this subject. They neglected to define marriage happiness/success!

Or they define it based on popularity of what the surveyed believe is happiness. For example, of a 1000 people surveyed, say that loyalty or humility are what makes a great marriage. But there is a problem with this. The fact someone says loyalty or humility is number one, suggests to me that their has been a significant amount of betrayal in these areas. This isn’t happiness, its avoiding or managing a fear.

Most individuals say they are happy in a marriage or that a marriage is successful when what they really mean is there is an absence of drama or sadness. This is huge!

Often I will ask something like, “in general how often do you feel happy in your marriage?”

The answers are almost always between 70-80%.

Then I ask it differently, “in general how often do you feel like you thrive in marriage?”

There is usually a blank stare and a little confusion.

After seeking clarification on their definition of happiness. Their version of happiness is almost always described as a lack of drama or bad days!

An absence of bad in a marriage is not happiness. Its a break in the storm. This is not a thriving marriage.

Once clarified. The answer to the question about happiness is usually in the 0-10% range (closer to zero).

This is the confusion in marriage research and surveys. If you fail to define happiness you are only developing interventions, tools and suggestions to maintain tolerance to manage the “bad” in a marriage. That is depressing.

Additionally, many Marriage/Couple therapist make the same mistake. These are those who often focus on “compromise”, “better communication” and “tolerance” in their sessions. This is a form of managing the bad. Although they might see temporary success, resentment usually grows and these couples eventually experience more issues and begin to see therapy as unhelpful. Unfortunately, as a result of a therapist failing to properly define happiness.

Many begin to believe or have convinced themselves that thriving in marriage is a fair-tale and that real marriage is just hard. I agree, even great marriages are hard. But even when its hard, you can be happy and thrive. When you give up this hope you then settle for a marriage of tolerance and management, not joy.

There are few things more wonderful to see then an individual/couple put off these diluted versions of happiness and embrace real happiness and thrive in their marriage.

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Children and their Thoughts

If your child has a screen in their room, remove it.

As a parent of five children, ages 9 – 23, I understand the temptation to occupy a child to allow for “me time.” Additionally, with the prolific use of technology in our lives, its second nature to grab a device to occupy our time, or to take a break from the stress. We are overwhelmed as parents, usually both parents working jobs school activities, sports and music lessons. As much as we love our kids and desire the best for them. We are burnt out and tiered, handing over a smart phone to a five year old for a few moments of quiet time.

Of course this is going to happen, this is normal, and its important that we as parents have quiet time to recharge so we can be at our best. Handing over that device works. However, it works too well. There is an unfortunate side affect over time. As that five year old gets older, they have learned to connect to a device when mom and dad are stressed. They also learn that if they get stressed, this distraction helps cope and alleviate the difficult thoughts they are having.

As adults we understand the important of stepping away from our stress and sometimes finding entertainment to distract us for a moment. But as adults we also understand that we need to face our fears, address the difficult and uncomfortable thoughts and situations in life. Its in these moments that our personality is defined and our values displayed. We learn who we are in the quiet moments of reflection or meaningfully connecting with others we love and trust. Do we teach our children to do the same?

They also learn that if they get stressed, this distraction helps cope and alleviate the difficult thoughts they are having.

Any type of screen device, remove it and prevent any from entering. Some of the most difficult emotional and mental challenges children are facing, is an inability to be alone with their own thoughts and struggles. Children are already inundated with distractions, as parents we can provide opportunities for our children to face and wrestle with their own thoughts, struggles, loneliness, boredom and pain.

Unfortunately, if we as parents allow devices in their room we are removing the much needed and healthy solitude to discover themselves. Those quiet moment to emotional, rationally and intellectually define themselves. Allowing devices in the room teaches unhealthy coping and avoidance. There is no medication, few therapeutic interventions that are more successful to alleviate anxiety, depression and unhealthy behavior in children then removing devices from their rooms and instituting age appropriate device usage.

Take the challenge to remove and manage screen time for children. It will decrease childhood anxiety, behavioral issues and create more meaningful family connections while also helping that child to discover their true personality.

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How to Train your Spouse

Most likely the person that needs to be reading this isn’t. You feel frustrated and discouraged. You’ve tried over and over to revamp your meals and create a consistent workout routine. Although you’ve made your goals known to your spouse, you seem to be fighting off not only your own unhealthy habits, but theirs too. It takes all you have to mentally fight off old patterns of thinking, eating, and routines, let alone those of your spouse. This is complicated exponentially if you have children. You find yourself making three different meals: one for yourself, one for your spouse, and a separate one for your children, in addition to tending their individual schedules and needs. Healthy life changes become stressful impossibilities.

There is another way. Fitness and healthy eating can be a positive, exciting and passionate experience. Fitness will no longer be a burden but a joy as you learn master your body and see the changes you desire. You may look at those who’ve obtained this life changing perspective and think their genes are unique and their success outside your ability. They are not and it is not, I assure you. I am a product of overcoming limiting perspectives and obstacles in my fitness and health. Unfortunately, sometimes those obstacles not only come from our own perspectives, but from those we love. In my experience I have seen spouses fall into four types of “trainers”; The Ghost Trainer, The Military Trainer, The Addict Trainer, and The Partner.

“Most couples make the mistake of giving each other the ‘remains of the day’—the leftover time after every other relationship and task has been attended to. This is not only backwards, but destructive. Stellar partners give each other prime time and make each other their top priority.” –Rhoberta Shaler PhD

The Ghost Trainer

This is the spouse who seems to be on the same page with your goals, but is absent anytime you need their help, support and motivation. They are the ones who say things like, “I support you in your fitness goals as long as it doesn’t interrupt your family duties” or some form of language to that effect. Even in their absence, you feel the haunting burden to make sure you finish your workout “on your own time”, often cutting your workout short to keep your spouse from having to pick up your “slack”.

There are few things more destructive to your fitness goals than to feel like you have no support. It’s one thing to feel like the universe is working against you, right?! We’ve all had a bad day, that’s fine, it’s hard, it sucks but hey that’s life, and we make it work. It takes effort to fight off the years of unhealthy habits, to rebound from childbirth, to resist the emotional pull of bad food choices, to find the desire to hit the workout again. But when you feel like your most intimate confidant, friend, the one you love — your spouse — doesn’t have your back or is absent in your fitness goals, it can feel defeating and hopeless. It makes you feel like your desire to be healthy and fit is a selfish burden on your spouse and family. It becomes easier to give up continue the family routine.

It’s important to recognize that the Ghost Trainer’s personality varies greatly. It can be the difficult, stubborn, and hardheaded out-spoken spouse. Interestingly though, I have found it to be more frequently the seemingly unassuming, soft-spoken spouse. That’s what’s most difficult about the Ghost Trainer spouse: their perspective makes sense, it appears reasonable. Of course the family’s needs are important, you can’t argue with that logic. The haunting guilt persuades you to give up.

The Military Trainer

The Military Trainer is self-explanatory. The moment you even suggest change, they take control. They are ahead of you 2, 5, 10 steps. They become your expert nutritionist, trainer, doctor, spiritual guru, emotional guide.

This spouse is overly involved, constantly checking up on your routine in military fashion. They refuse to purchase certain foods, enforcing curfews on meals and constantly insisting with “helpful” fitness and diet advice. They track your progress on spreadsheets or a whiteboard and make you weigh in routinely. An indulgence meal is no longer enjoyed as a reward for a job well done but a secret cheat, fearing the consequences of a military fashion tear down and punished with additional reps. Fitness should never be a punishment! The Military Trainer spouse is involved in a way that makes you feel you can’t wait to get out of boot camp. Your weight loss becomes more important than you, and you begin to resent the process. Their expectations become your fitness pursuits and you feel like you are now trying to obtain their ideal (and their approval).

The Addict Trainer

Sometimes it’s not the spouse at all, it’s us. The Addict Trainer is us.

This is in no way to make light of the serious nature of addiction. However, I have noticed similarities between the characteristics of addicts and Addict Trainers. Much like an addict’s primary goal is to obtain their substance of choice at all costs, The Addict Trainer becomes obsessed with their fitness goals — making everything else secondary. These are those who force the entire family to follow their fitness and diet routine. They, like the military trainer, demand from everyone in the family complete compliance and have unreasonably high expectations. They post lists on doors and fridges detailing how everyone should behave during their new fitness routine. Their emotions are tied to family’s level of participation.

Although the family wants to be loving and supportive, they are always on edge, which leads to resentment. The Addict Trainer can be erratic in their fitness goals, changing weekly, or staunchly rigid and immovable. Their spouse avoids saying they look good, pointing out progress or giving any form of encouragement with the fear their comment will be twisted into something it wasn’t. If the Addict Trainer fails, it’s the fault of spouse and family. The level of codependency demanded by the Addict Trainer is suffocating to the spouse and family, and inevitably hurts relationships regardless if they succeed in their goals or not.

Like an addict, it’s their rules and their way. The Addict Trainer at times is very successful at their training goals. But their success comes at great cost to their family. They are the ones who are obsessed with their way of fitness. They are condescending and believe their way is the only way to train. They no longer see people; they see fit or obese. As an Addict Trainer, you are your own worst enemy.

The Partner

I wish that all can experience the bonding, loving, motivating experience of The Partner. Notice the word “trainer” is not in that phrase! That’s because you should never, never, never train your spouse! We can help, encourage, teach and even coach but never train.

There is a phrase I often hear from my clients in Marriage Therapy. “How do I train my spouse to….?” The idea that we train our spouse creates a power dynamic that leads to resentment and resistance. Training creates a responsibility and expectations over the other. In a marriage, it’s condescending and suggests the “trainer” is superior. “How do I train my husband to wash the dishes? He is so sloppy and lazy, how do I get him to be cleaner?” Even in the most positive situations, “training” is condescending: “How do I train my spouse to spend more time with me/children?” We don’t train spouses, we support and encourage them.

Don’t misunderstand me — it’s critical that we have good trainers in our life. To achieve goals, we need someone to help us see outside of ourselves and our potential. But the best trainers are really “Partners” in our experience. There are some spouses that can and know how to lovingly encourage, empower and motivate each other. But I have found it best to find another who can train in the details and technique, it is too easy to slip into another role then a partner. There is a phrase therapists say which I believe applies to fitness too: “You should never be working harder than your client”. When we work harder than our spouse at their progress, we fall into Training mode again and feel like we are pulling the other along.

Therefore here are seven ways to ensure you and your spouse are Partners in your fitness goals:

1. Trust. Trust your Partner. Without trust in your marriage, everything will feel selfish and obligatory. If you don’t trust your spouse, their comments and actions will always feel critical of your fitness goals, regardless of how loving and supportive your spouse really is. Additionally, spouses need to trust that their partner’s needs are valid and important. This might be the tenth time they attempted their diet plan or workout routine. So what. Be as supportive and committed as you were the first time. Trust the process, don’t question them or put doubts in their head. Learn with them.

Think of how many arguments could be avoided, how many hurt feelings could be spared, and, in a worst-case scenario, how many breakups and divorces could be avoided if we were not so easily provoked, if we thought no evil of one another, and if we not only did not rejoice in iniquity but didn’t rejoice even in little mistakes. Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad.”

―Jeffery R. Holland

2. Partners always Partner. Successful couples Partner in all areas of their lives.

3. Fitness is NOT selfish. The Ghost Trainer often creates the perception that it is neglecting the children and even hurting the marriage when their spouse expresses fitness goals. It’s true that we may not achieve our goals as fast as we would like and are taxed by the level of physical and emotional commitment it requires. As a result, we may begin to believe fitness is selfish and takes away from our family. We admire people who are educated, have successful careers, are spiritual leaders and good parents. But for some reason we think taking time for ourselves to improve our health and fitness is selfish.

4. Fitness time is sacred time. I have never regretted a workout. There are a few things I consider sacred time in my life, nothing gets planned over it. Dates with my wife, family time, church and temple attendance and workouts. Partners work together to ensure these activities occur, are enjoyed, and the most is gained from them.

5. Embrace your spouse’s goals. You don’t have to have the same fitness goals or methods to Partner with your spouse’s fitness ambitions. But those who don’t have the same ambitions need to take extra precautions to ensure you don’t fade into Ghost Training. If one spouse has fitness goals and the other doesn’t, over time it can become easy to be less supportive, especially when life gets busy.

As a husband, father and full-time student and employee, I have battled the very real feelings that my workouts are selfish and take time from my family. After a long day at work and my wife and kids are home, the conflicting feelings of wanting to work out and be with my family collide. Feelings of selfishness increase as I think of stepping away from my family for another hour to workout. In those moments my dear wife, who is in every sense my Partner, has always encouraged me to hit my workout hard. Not just get it done, but hit it hard.

She doesn’t merely accept my goals, she embraces them. But she never forces it either. There have been times I have decided not to workout. She never holds that over my head nor views it as a failure. As such I have never regretted working out and have found it helps me be a happier father and husband.

“A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential.” ―John C. Maxwell

6. Learn your part. Partners learn their part. In addition to your spouse embracing your goals, it is equally important to know which part is yours and which part is your spouse’s. Remember, these are your fitness goals, not your spouse’s. There is a difference between supporting and taking responsibility for your goals. When I went back to school while working full time, my wife and sometimes kids helped with my food prep as I transitioned into this new hectic routine. They were equally busy but we Partnered up and made it work. It was a huge support and help.

As time went on I got better at adjusting to the new routine and was able to prep more of my own meals. It would have been an easy temptation to slip into the role of an Addict Trainer and feel entitled to their ongoing food prep, insisting that my success was determined by their continued support.

“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” ― C.S. Lewis

7. Make it happen. When our children have school performances, sports games, doctor appointments or need a sick day, we stop what we are doing and attend to their needs. Your spouse is just as important as your children (dare I say more important?), make it happen. Whether it’s assisting with meal plans or coming home early from work to help with the kids so they can workout, do it. Partners make it happen. Life throws us curve balls, especially when you or your spouse is starting a new routine. What better way to dispel the feelings of guilt and discouragement that can come with fitness goals than by making their fitness a priority.

“A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.” ― Dave Meurer

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