Is it Spring Yet?

While walking down the puddle strewn sidewalk under gunmetal grey skies today, I wondered if spring would ever start. I find myself at this place each February as I anxiously await the arrival of bright colored primroses at the corner store. Soon, the tulips will force their way up from their slumber and decorate my garden. The hyacinths will bring with them their soft fragrance. Best of all the lengthening of the daylight acts as a wonderful indication that spring will surely show its presence soon.

Spring is a guaranteed activity that happens each year on March 21st. Living in the northwest, the spring rains may be very reminiscent of the winter rains, but it is a harbinger of the glorious summer a short three or four months away.

Yet, there are anxieties in life that do not disappear just because the calendar has changed seasons. Sometimes it seems that life stops because of the anxiety, and facing each new day is difficult. It’s great to know that anxiety doesn’t need to control how you interact with the world.

Learning calming skills can help reduce your anxiety levels and provide a way to begin its management. Here are two simple techniques that can provide some relief from anxiety:

Diaphragm breathing-  Place your hand on your diaphragm (this would be your stomach area), breath in through your nose as you count to 5, hold the breath for a count of 4, and slowly release it as you count to 5. You know you are using your diaphragm when you stomach expands and your hand moves. Repeat for 5 or 6 breaths and practice this 2-3 times a day when you aren’t stressed. You are teaching your mind to manage your brain. Then when you start to feel stressed, bring this tool out to help calm yourself.

Progressive muscle relaxation- So many times people with anxiety have extremely tense bodies and don’t even know it. Helping yourself understand what your body feels like when it’s not tense provides you the ability to notice when you are tense so you can purposefully relax your body. This exercise may take you up to 15 minutes and is best done where you can sit comfortably in a quiet space. The goal is to tighten a muscle group till you can feel the tension and hold it there for about 5 seconds, but don’t tighten it so much you cause pain, and then completely relax that muscle for about 15 seconds.   To start: Squeeze your foot with toes curled downward, next squeeze the lower leg and calf, and finish the leg by tightening the upper leg, lower leg, and foot all at once. (Repeat on other leg) Move to the one arm and clench a fist, then finish the arm by tightening your entire arm while clenching your fist. (Repeat on other arm) The body portion has individual sections that are done independently. Start by clenching your buttocks together. Next, tighten your stomach. Continue up the body by taking a deep breath to expand your chest. Follow this by shrugging your shoulders as high as possible. Move to your face and open your mouth as wide as possible. Then squeeze your eyes closed. Finally, finish this section by raising your eyebrows towards your forehead. While these directions were written with you starting at your feet, you can always begin with your eyebrows and work your way down your body. People have found it helpful to have someone else reading the directions in a soothing voice for them, or record yourself and play it back. This exercise is intended to help you progressively move up your body as you tighten and relax each muscle set. This will also help you enjoy discovering what a non-tense body feels like. At first it may seem strange, but don’t give up, keep practicing so you can respond when your body starts to tense up.

However, during certain times and situations these breathing and relaxation techniques might not be enough for your anxiety. Do you find yourself struggling to turn off your brain, do you have a difficult time making decisions, does the worry seem to be constant, are you frequently on edge or restless, or do experience the inability to concentrate? This is an indication that it might be time to speak to a therapist about your anxiety.

Julie Hjelm, MA, LMFTA



What an amazing word, it brings to mind a world where each partner equally gives of themselves in order to support and sustain the other. Those moments of conversations are done so that you can be soothed and understood. We as a nation have been raised to believe that if our partner soothes us and lowers our anxiety about the current crisis, we have participated in an intimate moment. Yet, these seemingly loving actions only perpetuated the continuance of the existing stuckness between two people. There is no space for growth or personal development. When the next crisis hits, neither person has the fortitude to take appropriate action.

Unfortunately, that version of intimacy doesn’t produce people who develop themselves so that they are able to as Dr. Schnarch says- love regardless of the circumstances of life. True intimacy is when your partner actually knows you because you have examined yourself and explained who you really are (Schnarch, 1991). After spending the past weekend at a training taught by Dr. Schnarch, I have been thinking about how he views intimacy and its effects on people’s relationships.

Intimacy is only possible when you are willing to take risks. Yet risks only happen because a person is able to stay true to themselves as they stay connected to those around them amidst the emotional turmoil of the situation (Kerr & Bowen, 1988; Schnarch, 1991). The ignition of this intimacy pattern will only happen when a person is tired of their current situation and refuses to participate in their role any longer. However, addressing how they have perpetuated the situation is the start to strengthening of their basic self. As a person develops a greater sense of self, they become more willing and able to take risks. This willingness to take risks is what frees them so that they can experience more moments of intimacy with their partner (Schnarch, 1991).

On the surface this process seems very cyclical, one must take risks to develop their basic self which enables them to take risk. Yet, it makes a lot of sense. Let’s take an example of a wife who is tired of her partner not participating in the household chores. She manages her own full-time job, the childcare needs and her family’s general care. Her anxiety tells her that she is taking a risk in speaking to her partner about the situation. She thinks that he may not like what she has to say and may decide to stay later at work each night, he may become frustrated with her for what he might term as her “nagging”, or he may just dismiss her frustration out of hand and ignore her. At this point she has two choices; she can stay frustrated in the current situation or address the fact that she dislikes bearing a disproportionate weight of the family responsibility. Tolerating her anxiety, she speaks to her partner about her dissatisfaction. In speaking to her partner she has begun her personal growth and started to develop a stronger sense of self. It is in that moment of discussing her true self that she creates intimacy since he now knows her better because she was willing to express herself.  This interaction has also given the relationship a new opportunity to develop as they discuss the management of household chores.

While this example is very simple and somewhat stereotypical, the ideals are solid. Each person within a relationship is responsible for their own personal development and for creating the moments in which they can be intimate with their partner. As relationships develop the risks become greater so that stepping out and speaking up becomes even more angst driven, but the rewards are that you develop a relationship where your partner is one with which to walk beside throughout a lifetime (Schnarch, 1991).  A partner with which to walk beside throughout a lifetime, that is the kind of partner that is deserving of intimacy.

These are not new nor unobtainable concepts, but they do require taking that first step and deciding that you are no longer willing to tolerate the situation in which your relationship exists. With that realization, you are now ready to move forward into intimacy.



Kerr, M.E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation. New York, NY: W.W. Norton

Schnarch, D. M., (1991). Constructing the sexual crucible: An integration of sexual and marital    

        therapy. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Finding the Keys

I love stumbling across secret places.

That moment of discovery ignites a spark in me, I realize that once I cross the threshold into the new area, my life will change in some unexpected way.

After spending a day exploring a new, massive city without a map, I discovered that the rows and rows of apartments diminished into a tidy little square. A lush, well cared for park emerged from behind this beautiful wrought iron gate. The stillness of the landscape and fragrances of the flowers drew me closer, but the absence of the proper keys inhibited my entering and enjoying the space.

Standing there, longing to sit on a bench and enjoy what others experience, made me realize that this was not the first time I had felt this way. In life, without the right keys to understand how to change what is happening in our lives, we end up standing on the outside looking in.

Making New Keys

One of the times that parents want to craft new keys of understanding is when they are experiencing a family crisis. Life has not turned out as they had planned. “This is not the life I wanted.” Their jobs are stressful, the kids are struggling, and the parents are not functioning as a cohesive unit.

Each family member hurts as the tension and frustration mounts. When the kid’s behavior escalates, the parents match it with more extreme punishments. Soon, the child is grounded for a month, with no T.V., computer, or phone. Yet, that only backfires because the kids lashes out more. These are not cruel parents, they are loving and concerned, they know what it takes to make it in the real world. They only want to see their children succeed, but they don’t know where to turn next.

Developing new keys for families starts with the parent’s skills. Building a systematic method of approaching children’s behavior allows parents to plan for situations instead of quick-fire reactions.

Children have a basic need to belong. Using four methods to misbehave, they are attempting to find that belonging since they do not believe that they fit in. Their might seek an occupied parent’s attention, attempt to gain control of the home or a given situation, say hurtful things such as “you’re the worst mom ever, I hate you” as a form of revenge, or prove to the parent that they are inadequate at school, chores or other expectations (Dinkmeyer, McKay, & Dinkmeyer, 1997).


Learning how children use these four misbehaviors and the parent’s response is the basis of the STEP (Systematic Training for Parenting) program. STEP for the 6-12 year olds, focuses on seven areas: 1) Understanding Yourself and Your child, 2) Understanding Beliefs and Feelings, 3) Encouraging Your Child and Yourself, 4) Listening and Talking to Your Child, 5) Helping Children Cooperate, 6) Discipline that Makes Sense, 7) Choosing Your Approach.

Family Renewal Center is hosting a STEP class starting Oct 6, 7:00 pm.

There will also be a PRESCHOOL STEP offered starting Oct 5, 7:00 pm.

Join us and learn the proven techniques used by over 4 million people.

Start rekeying your family.



Dinkmeyer, D. D., Sr., McKay, G. D., & Dinkmeyer, D. D., Jr., (1997). The parent’s handbook systematic

                    training for effective parenting. U.S.A.: Step Publishers, L.L.C.