Birch Tree Psychology

Specializing in Therapy for Children, Adults, and Families


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Practice Learned Optimism!

Posted by Brittany on March 31, 2012 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (3)

What is the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? Research has found that the answer lies in the way people view asetback. Optimistic people tend to view setbacks as “temporary,” “changeable,”and “specific”, while pessimists view problems as “personal,” “permanent,” and“pervasive.” For example, if an optimistic individual is rejected by othersthey will think the event is:

Temporary –This pain will go away quickly

Changeable- I can do something about thissituation

Specific- It is just this one situation!

Conversely, pessimistic individuals think:

Personal- This is all my fault…There is nothingI can do

Permanent- This pain is going to last forever

Pervasive- This will undermine everything…No onewill ever like me.

Interestingly, it should also be noted thatoptimists and pessimists view good events in the exact opposite pattern as theyview negative events. So for positive events, optimistic thinking is, personal,permanent, and pervasive. If an optimistic individual gets a raise at work they think:

Personal- I have been working very hard anddeserve this raise

Permanent- I am always a good worker

Pervasive- I will continue to rise in thiscompany

This is opposed to pessimistic individuals thatview successes as temporary, changeable, and specific.

Temporary- I guess I was just lucky

Changeable- This is too good to betrue…eventually I will mess this up

Specific- I only did well on one project.

It has been found that pessimistic individualsare more likely to suffer from depression and feel helpless than optimists.Research has also found that pessimists typically underachieve in jobs,classrooms, in sports, and their relationships have more problems. Pessimisticpeople also have more problems with their physical health.

So, the question now is, Can optimism be learned? YES! Try this; Next time you face a problem, try to challenge yourselfand view it as temporary, changeable, and specific. It is also equallyimportant to view your successes in an optimistic manner (personal, permanent,and pervasive.)

Turn a Negative Into a Positive

Posted by Brittany on March 21, 2012 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

How do you typically handle life’s little setbacks? Do you dwell on the problem? Do you ignore it? Do you tackle it head on and move past it? I don’t know how many of us enjoy life’s curveballs, but how we handle problems and look back at them at the end of the day can have a significant effect on our moods. There is a tremendous amount of research that has shown how gratitude can have positive effects on us and some new studies have examined Gratitude for Challenges. Research has shown that when people shift their thinking to be grateful for challenges, they not only overcome whatever problem they are facing, but they also live happier lives. This reminds me of the Chinese symbol for Crisis, which is made up from two words, Danger and Opportunity!
Nietzsche declared, "What does not kill me, makes me stronger." When I think of this saying, people that have overcome great adversity comes to my mind. The ability to turn a negative experience into a positive experience can be a great strength and is an extremely beneficial skill for people to have. Research has studied the effects of turning a negative into a positive and has found that people that are able to do this feel happier, think more creatively, and are able to look at their lives more optimistically.
Here is a recent example of how I was able to reframe an event and turn a negative into a positive. I was driving to meet a friend for lunch that I was really looking forward to seeing. I drove out of my way and left early to get to lunch on time because I pride myself on being punctual. After I arrived at the restaurant, my friend texted me and let me know that he was held up at work and would not be able to meet me. I felt disappointed and frustrated. I love a good meal and was hungry so I was definitely staying for lunch. I could spend my lunch focused on my disappointment or try to enjoy my lunch and focus on what I did have in that moment. It was a beautiful day, I was about to enjoy a meal that I was looking forward to, and I have a schedule flexible enough to be out in the middle of the day. After I started to think about the positive aspects of the situation, I began to feel grateful for what I did have. In turn, I felt happier and noticed that the guy sitting next to me was wearing a Surfer shirt. I struck up a conversation with him and we realized that we surf the same break. I spent my lunch talking and by the end I had gained a friend. By shifting from disappointment to gratitude, I was able to change a negative situation into a positive one.
Try this- For the next week, at the end of each day think of something that bothered you and try to reframe it as possibly a positive event. Think about how this event may have been a blessing in disguise. Ask yourself, how could I turn this to my advantage? Which one of my skills or strengths can I use to face this problem? If nothing else, think about what you may have learned from the experience. If you can do this, you can learn to be grateful for life's challenges.

Can Smiling Improve Your Mood?

Posted by Brittany on February 24, 2012 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

I have always been fascinated with the study of emotions, particularly positive emotions. Smiling specifically seems to be the hallmark of someone that is in a good mood. Everyone knows that people smile when they feel happy, but can the sheer act of smiling produce happiness? Recent evidence now suggests that smiling, even if its a "fake" smile, can actually lead to a happier mood. In fact, research has found there are many benefits to smiling, including improved mood, increased social connection, decreasing blood pressure, and it can even boost your immune system.


One of the original studies on smiling had participants repeat vowel sounds that forced their faces into various expressions. For example, they had people make the long "e" sound, which stretches the corners of the mouth outward to mimic the characteristics of a smile. Their participants rated higher feelings of happiness after making the long "e" sound. Interestingly, people reported feeling worse after making a long "u" sound, which mimics a frown.


There is also research that shows that simply putting a pencil in your mouth while doing an activity such as reading the paper leads to happier mood. Go to a mirror and hold a pencil in your teeth without letting your lips touch the pencil. The muscles that you are using are the same muscles used to make a smile. Also interesting is if you hold the pencil with just your lips without touching your teeth you mimic a frown. Try this one, read a comic strip or watch a comedy while holding a pencil in your teeth. People find that the show that they watch is "funnier" while holding the pencil in their teeth than without the pencil.


One simple homework that I enjoy giving my clients is to smile more. Basically, you can flip a coin and consciously smile more if its "heads" and if its "tails" smile just when you normally would, or if you want to be more methodical, on even days you would smile as much as possible and on odd days you just carry on normally. Most people find that they feel better and more connected with others on the days when they are smiling all day. At the end of the days when people smile I have them look back and see “how do I feel when I smile more"… “how did others react to me?” If the answer is that you feel great at the end of your smiling day, keep doing it! Smiling is one of the easiest things to do and I encourage everyone to have "smile day" every now and then.

Improve Your Relationships Now!

Posted by Brittany on February 8, 2012 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (0)

How often have you had a bad day and noticed that you were more critical towards your loved ones? How often have you stood in line at a store and overheard people criticizing each other? Unfortunately sometimes stress gets the better of all of us and when this happens we can turn to negativity. There is a simple formula that I use with parents and couples to help combat this type of criticism. We can keep track of the ratio of positive to negative statements that you make in a relationship. This ratio is call the Losada ratio. We have figured out that when couples have a 5:1 (positive: to negative) ratio, it can predict a loving and secure marriage. However, research shows that people in relationships with lower Losada ratios tend to struggle. The good news is that anyone can increase their Losada ratio by simply increasing the number of positive statements one makes to his/her partner (for example; through gratitude, or compliments like, you look good today, or thanks for taking out the garbage, I appreciated your help today.) At first people may find it a little weird or uncomfortable to compliment their partner for things they believe they should just do, but after doing it for a while it becomes easier and couples start to feel more connected.


This ratio can also be used with your children to improve their self-esteem and happiness. Parents and children who have happy and loving relationships typically have a Losada ratio of 3:1, where parents say 3 positive statements for every one negative statement they make to their children. It is often a good idea to praise your child for behaviors that you may expect of them. For example, thank you for clearing your plate from the table, thanks for getting along so nicely with your sister today, good job studying for your test, or practicing piano. It should also be noted that research has found that people can go overboard with positivity. If you give above 13:1, positive to negative statements your complements tend to lose their credibility, so try to stick with a 5 positive to 1 negative ratio and start enjoying better relationships today. Good Luck!

Deep Breathing Exercises

Posted by Brittany on February 6, 2012 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (2)

The deep breathing exercises below can help people recover from anxiety, stress, and tension. People who practice deep breathing for 10-15 minutes each day fall asleep better and sleep more deeply. They also think more clearly and are less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety. Research has also found that people who meditate are less likely to become ill.

While breathing deeply, repeat every phrase, silently, in your mind three times. Say the phrase in a quiet, thoughtful way. Pause after and notice how you feel. Focus on your feelings for two or three breaths. Practice each set of exercises until you are quite comfortable with them. Then you can try a different set.


Set 1:

I feel quite quiet.... I am easily relaxed..... My right arm feels heavy and relaxed....My left arm feels heavy and relaxed.. My arms feel heavy and relaxed....My right leg feels heavy and relaxed.... My left feels heavy and relaxed... My arms and legs feels heavy and relaxed...My hips and stomach are quiet and relaxed...My shoulders are heavy and relaxed...My breathing is calm and regular...My face is smooth and quiet...I am beginning to feel quite relaxed.


Set 2:

My right hand is warm...My left hand is warm...Warmth flows into my hands...My hands are warm...My right foot is warm...My left foot is warm.... My hands and feet are warm...Warmth flows into my hands and feet....My eyes are comfortably warm and peaceful...My forehead is cool and my eyes are warm...I am warm and peaceful.


Set 3:

My breathing is calm and regular...My heartbeat is calm and regular...I am at peace...Sounds and sights around contribute to peace...Peace goes with me though out the day...There is nothing to bother and nothing to disturb.

Breathe Your Way to a Better Day

Posted by Brittany on November 13, 2011 at 7:55 PM Comments comments (0)

These days most people live frantic and often stressful lives and everyone could probably benefit from some relaxation stratagies. One of the simplest techniques I like to teach people is deep breathing. Deep breathing is an extremely easy and important skill to have. The nice thing about deep breathing is that you can use it anywhere and it is not time consuming. If you are having a particularly stressful day you can use this technique for a couple of minutes and it will help you de-stress and get refocused. I personally enjoy deep breating first thing in the morning to start my day on a positive note and right before bed to get a better nights rest.

Deep breathing involves your diaphragm. When you breath in, your stomache should expand, and when you breath out, your stomache should fall. The key point is that you have to draw air into your lungs in a way that it will expand your stomache and not your chest. When people breath with their chests it is usually short and shallow breaths, which can actully increase stress and anxiety.

Sit or lie in a comfortable position and breath slowly, try to breath in your NOSE and out your MOUTH. Put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach, when you breath in through your nose you should feel your stomach expand with your hand. (When people breath in with their mouths it is the chest that expands and we want to avoid this). Then breath out slowly through your mouth and feel your stomach contract. After you do this a few times you no longer need to put your hands on your chest/stomach but can put them in a relaxed position. I also recommend breathing out for twice as long as you breathe in. For example, if you breathe in for 3 seconds, you should breathe out for 6 seconds. If instead you breathe in for 4 seconds, then try to breathe out for 8. So to break it down, here are the steps to deep breathing:

1. Sit or lie in a comfortable position.

2. Slowly inhale through your nose for 3 seconds.

3. As you inhale, feel your stomach expand with your hand.

4. Slowly exhale through pursed lips (to regulate the release of air) for 6 seconds.

5. Repeat

Deep breathing is a form of relaxation, and when practiced regularly, leads to the relief or prevention of symptoms commonly associated with stress, such as high blood pressure, headaches, stomach problems, depression, and anxiety.

One Simple Letter Can Make You Happier

Posted by Brittany on July 17, 2011 at 2:51 PM Comments comments (0)

Whenever people find out that we do presentations on Ways to Increase Your Happiness they always ask “So, what one thing can I do to be happier?” We always say that although there are many things that you can do, the simplest thing is to write a letter of gratitude to someone who has done something meaningful for you. The magnitude of the resulting happiness may surprise you.

The basic idea behind this exercise is to first think of a person who has had a positive impact on your life. Now we are going to walk you through the outline of this letter. Start out by telling the recipient of the letter how you feel about them. More specifically, you want to identify and describe a particular situation that was meaningful to you and you felt grateful for their help. Following this you will write how their actions have been helpful to you. Last, you should explain how their help has changed you. The following is a basic outline of the letter.

Dear _____,

I have been thinking about you and _____________.

I remember when you _________

And that helped me by _______________

Because of your help I now ____________________

To be most effective, the letter should be one to two pages single-spaced. So it is important that you elaborate by writing how this person has affected you positively and how grateful you are to have them in your life. Once you have written the letter you should prepare it as a gift to the person, perhaps you can laminate it or frame it for them. The final step is actually reading the letter to them and then giving it to them as a gift. Research shows that doing this activity can improve your mood for a whole month and has even been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression!

Gratitude Can Make You Happy

Posted by Brittany on May 5, 2011 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (1)

Positive Psychology has become very popular lately and for good reason. Psychology has traditionally focused on mental health problems, which was necessary. We have gotten to a point were we can knowledgably treat disorders, but what happens after that? People may no longer be overwhelmed with worries that interfere with their life, but are they then happy? Unfortunately, not having symptoms of depression or anxiety does not equal happiness and that is where positive psychology comes in. Positive psychology researchers study positive feelings, such as happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction, and find ways we can increase them. When most people come to therapy, this is really what they are seeking- happiness. After a client’s symptoms have abated, we can start to use the findings from positive psychology to increase positive feelings.

 One simple intervention that everyone can do to increase optimism is to be more grateful. More specifically, identify 3 things that you are grateful for each day, and then think about why it happened. This will help you focus more on positive things that happen to you each day. Focusing on why it happened helps you recognize a) how you contribute to your own happiness and b) how things outside yourself (such as a sunny day or a kind gesture), contribute to your happiness, which helps you learn to see the world as a good place. Practicing this gratitude exercise will help make you more optimistic and happier. Personally I am grateful that you are reading this blog, now it’s your turn :o)