We’ve talked before about the importance of gratitude when it comes to helping children with their emotional wellness. Expressing gratitude teaches all of us to concentrate on the positive and, as a result, feel happier and more fulfilled. And it’s so important to teach these life skills to our children as early in life as we can.
One great way to express gratitude is through gratitude journaling.
Why Your Children Should Start Gratitude Journaling
Journaling allows your child to express gratitude by remembering and being thankful for the people and things in their lives. This practice is proven to strengthen relationships, encourage kindness, and help your child maintain a positive outlook on life.
Journaling gives your child an outlet for their thoughts and feelings. And as a bonus, it helps them practice their academic skills such as writing, sentence structure, and spelling.
How to Help Your Child Start a Gratitude Journal
Get Your Supplies. Let your child pick out a special notebook and pen they can use for their gratitude journal. You could even simply find a plain notebook at a discount store and let your child decorate the cover.
Be a Role Model. Talk to your child about gratitude. Tell them what you’re grateful for and why. You should even get your own journal and practice gratitude journaling yourself.
And when you’re out and about with your child, take time to point out acts of kindness and fascinating things you see and feel. A smile from a stranger, a rainbow, someone holding the door open for you, the smell after fresh rain — these are things which should be noted.
Give Some Prompts. There are no real rules for gratitude journaling. Give your child some freedom to choose what works best for them. Some people like to write long sentences and really delve into what they’re grateful for. Others simply prefer to jot down one or a few words per line to summarize.
However, if your child needs a place to start, you may want to give them a prompt or two. You can use the same one every day or mix them up. Some examples of prompts include:
I’m thankful for…
Today was awesome because…
I’m so happy I have…
These people make me smile…
Thank you for…
Make It a Habit. At first, it might be challenging to practice journaling every day. But, it’s important to do it regularly — even if that only means once a week or so. Set aside some time for you and your child, or the whole family, to journal together.
Even 10 minutes at a time is often enough to journal. And you may just see your child want to write in it at random times as well — every time something makes them smile.
Don’t Stress About It. As we said above, there are no real rules when it comes to gratitude journaling. While you may want to aim to think of five things a day, sometimes, you may only be able to come up with three — and that’s ok!
If you miss a day, don’t worry. You can get back to it when you can. This is supposed to make you happy — not stressed!
Contact Dolphin Kids™ For More Great Information
At Dolphin Kids™, we love seeing the positive changes which occur in kids after they start learning how to express gratitude.
We offer a variety of programs and summer camps which provide even more skills to help your child cultivate self-empowerment and to give them essential life skills they need for the future.
Mindfulness – I’m sure you’ve heard the word before and the many number of benefits this practice has tied to it. But, do you practice mindfulness on a regular basis? You might be thinking, “Life is so busy, who has time to be mindful?” And, this is true for a lot of us. It can be hard to stay present, be self-aware, and not think about your next move at work, home, or school. But, according to research, it’s important we try for our social, emotional, and cognitive health!
And, with stress being the #1 health
epidemic of the 21st century, mindfulness is a strategy we need to
practice now more than ever. In fact, the well-known fundamentals of
neuroplasticity (the ability for the brain to adapt in form and
function) require these basics:
Mindfulness – the ability to pay attention to the world around you.
These basics are essential for adults, but they’re even more so for children whose brains and bodies are developing. Below is an excerpt from Dr. Shimi Kang’s #1 best-selling book The Dolphin Parent, which highlights the science behind the positive benefits it has on your child’s social, emotional, and cognitive health, and a few “prescriptions” on how you can implement mindfulness with your child at-home or at-school.
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. In this blog, we will discuss mindfulness as a practice of “paying close attention,” which means being aware of our internal and external environments. It’s the practice of becoming (and being) connected to our external senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching and our internal senses of feeling and thinking. Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as looking around you and noticing what’s there, such as looking at your food and noticing what and how much you’re about to eat.
Sophisticated neuroimaging studies show that mindfulness improves brain anatomy. When we pay close attention, our brain releases something called brain-derived neurotropic factor
(BDNF)—a key chemical needed for neuroplasticity. BDNF isn’t released
when we’re multitasking. So, if you’re not being mindful, you’re missing
out on these incredible benefits:
our bodies and minds are relaxed, we naturally become more mindful of
our internal and external states and take deeper breaths with more
control. Surround your child with places and things that are known to be
relaxing, such as fresh air, nature, and pets. Most children are drawn
to things that naturally relax them, so sometimes all you need to do is
get out of the way and let them relax.
Be a Role Model
your child that you value mindfulness, and deep and controlled
breathing. Practice slowing down or breathing deeply a few times per
day: at breakfast, in the car, during a walk, sitting at your desk,
lying in your bed, or in a lineup at the coffee shop. When you’re
stressed or angry, try taking deep, controlled breaths right in front of
your children. Even have your child help you do it. If your child sees
you making the effort to do it, even though it’s really hard (and you
may give up too early and panic and get angry anyway), they will value
it and also make an effort to do it. Keep in mind that when we operate
in a stressed state, we find it harder to control our breathing, and
that’s all the more reason to do it.
The following simple exercises can help develop mindfulness. Try four or five rounds of these exercises, and notice how your body and mind relax.
Balanced breathing. Inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four—all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath. You can increase your goal for six to eight counts per breath with the same objective in mind: to reduce stress by calming the nervous system and increasing focus. The key is to breathe deeply and slowly (count one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc.). Your child can practice this anytime, anyplace—and this exercise is especially effective before bed, when racing thoughts or anxiety are distracting your child from sleep.
Box breathing. Have your child slowly “draw” the shape of a box with a finger while breathing deeply. Inhale on the left upward line, hold the breath as you “draw” the top line, exhale on the right downward line, and then hold the out breath as you “draw” the bottom line. This exercise allows for a purposeful pause between inhales and exhales. Try this one before an exam, a performance, or any stressful event. Try it, you’ll be amazed!
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
only a few more weeks of summer holidays, what are some important areas
that parents can focus on before their kids head back to school? Dr.
Shimi Kang explains the importance of life skills and how to teach
them. Watch on BT Vancouver.
By teaching children the true meaning of gratitude, we can enhance their emotional wellness.
are you grateful for today?” This question was difficult for
14-year-old “Claire” – a patient of mine whose real name I’m not using
to protect her privacy – to answer when she first started coming to see
me at the clinic. Diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive
disorder and anxiety, she often grappled with finding the silver linings
in her life and had begun to refute positive thinking altogether.
viewed her life in absolutes. If she failed at one thing, she
considered herself to be a complete and utter failure at all things. Her
OCD and anxiety increased for her what are called cognitive
distortions, which manifest in polarized thinking – she was unable to
perceive any middle ground on things. A cognitive distortion is like
wearing a patchy blindfold over your eyes; your vision of reality
becomes darkened, and you can only see the negative parts of a
thinking blindfolded Claire, and aspects of her life or events, such as
school, friendships, family or piano performances, were either perfect
or a complete disaster. The puzzled expression of disbelief Claire made
when I handed her a prescription that read, “Start a gratitude journal –
today,” will forever be etched into my memory. She was completely
skeptical. But I reassured her that research supports looking at the
positive aspects of her life could ultimately help her see situations in
vibrant color, rather than just in “black and white.”
to a national survey on gratitude commissioned by the John Templeton
Foundation, respondents tended to think others’ levels of gratefulness
were going down (though most didn’t feel their own levels of gratitude
were decreasing). Sadly, the national survey also indicates that 18- to
24-year-olds were less likely to express gratitude than any other age
group; and when they did display signs of appreciation, it was usually
for self-serving reasons. A Cisco Connected World Technology Report
found one-third of college students were more grateful for their mobile
devices than their access to food, shelter or safety. When youth value
their iPhones, MacBook Pro computers and GPS systems more than the
necessities for survival, we can understand how this generation came to
be viewed as being so entitled.
are children becoming more entitled and less grateful? Perhaps, it’s
because they’re growing up without really learning what gratitude is. In
the national survey commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation, 8 to
10 percent of respondents indicated that no one has ever taught them
the meaning of gratitude. Research shows that a child’s gratitude has
its roots in a nurturing family environment. Given this, a good question
for parents is whether gratitude is an attitude we’re promoting for our
Let’s think of the perfectionistic
“tiger” parent for a moment. I think it would be difficult to foster
gratitude in an overscheduled, hyper-competitive, be-No. 1-at-all-costs
tiger environment. Tiger parenting tendencies to build a child’s resume
take priority over developing the child’s internal character and values.
Can you imagine the tiger parent telling their child not to focus on
results, like winning a game, for example, but to have gratitude for the
opportunity to learn to play?
an adolescent psychiatrist, I’ve treated countless patients who have
achieved their cherished external goals, such as acceptance into a dance
academy, making a sports team or getting to go to the college of “their
choice,” but whose lives are utterly devoid of internal joy. They tell
me they feel that they’re just going through the motions of life for a
fixed result, rather than relishing the journey.
research is clear: Gratitude leads to better sleep, less depression,
less perceived stress, better coping skills, improved relationships and
increased happiness. Here are some things you and your kids can do to
Create a gratitude journal. A
gratitude journal is a wonderful and scientifically proven way to guide
your child toward health, happiness and internal motivation. I used to
be skeptical of prescribing a gratitude journal to angry or anxious
teenagers, because I thought they would reject the idea. However, my
patients have proven me wrong, and over the years, I’ve seen firsthand
how a gratitude journal has been a consistent, highly effective tool to
shift my patients’ thinking from negative to positive.
Be a role model,
and guide your kids toward gratefulness. At Thanksgiving, it’s always
nice to talk about what you’re grateful for with your children around
the dinner table. In addition, doing things like writing thank-you
cards, phoning friends on their birthday and modeling other small acts
of kindness in front of your children will demonstrate some ways
gratitude can be expressed personally and toward others.
Serve others. Making
a contribution to one’s community is a powerful tool for health,
happiness and self-motivation; and it’s something I “prescribe” for all
my patients. There is a reason why it feels so good to give. Connecting,
sharing and giving all stimulate powerful reward centers in the brain.
The wisdom of ancient sages and saints is now verified by science.
role as a parent has a major impact on your child’s understanding of
the word gratitude. Take the time to reflect on your own “attitude of
gratitude” and how you project your views onto your children.
Claire’s OCD and anxiety didn’t magically go away after she began journaling about what she was grateful for. But she did start to see the cup as half full and generally display more of an optimistic attitude when things didn’t go as planned. She stopped taking things for granted. By asking herself, “What are you grateful for today?” on a daily basis, the blindfold slowly started coming off, and she began to create her own silver linings.
“Adam” was a 14-year-old boy who I was asked to see
for symptoms of anxiety and depression. His parents were concerned about
him and asked if he needed vitamin supplements or an antidepressant.
During my assessment, I discovered that Adam, whose real name I’m not
using to protect his privacy, was having trouble sleeping, had low
energy and poor focus, and was experiencing anxiety and irritability
about simple things (like a change in his routine).
Adam’s symptoms were still in the “mild” category, he would likely
experience a significant benefit from a change in his lifestyle, and my
recommendation was to try that before any medication. Although Adam did
not have a serious mental health issue (yet), he did have a serious
lifestyle issue. When I asked him how much fresh air and sunlight he
received per week, he asked me if being in his car with the windows open
counted! I said no, so he told me that between his hockey practice,
homework and playing video games, he spent less than two hours outside a
week – and that was essentially only when he walked to and from
wherever his mom parked her car when she picked him up.
first prescription for Adam was to get out into the great outdoors. For
99 percent of human history, we’ve lived in the natural environment and
our brains have adapted to find balance and health in that setting. But
more recently, we have become increasingly disconnected from nature
with profound negative consequences on the growing brain of children
Here is how nature can help with symptoms like those Adam experienced:
can improve sleep. Regular daily doses of bright natural sunlight help
children stay more alert during the day and make it easier to sleep at
night. A known treatment for trouble sleeping at night is exposure to
sunlight early in the morning, since this helps regulate our body’s
natural sleep-wake cycle and internal rhythms.
can boost energy levels. Even though it may take some time to kick in,
most of us can relate to feeling more energetic while in nature. A 2010
study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being in
nature increased one’s sense of vitality, happiness and energy. In
addition, playing outside encourages activities such as climbing,
jumping, running and tumbling that promote muscle fitness and
flexibility. Research shows that moderate to vigorous physical
activity in child care settings increased from 1 percent indoors to as
much as 11 percent outdoors. When outdoor play was child-led, the amount
of moderate to vigorous physical activity further increased to 17
percent. Cardiovascular exercise itself is a natural antidepressant as
it releases soothing endorphins into the bloodstream and can help with
the production of sleep-inducing melatonin.
outside can reduce stress and negative emotions. Just looking at a
natural scene activates parts of the brain associated with balance and
happiness. A South Korean study found that subjects who saw images of
mountains, forests and other landscapes experienced heightened activity
in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus, which is
linked to optimism and emotional stability, and the basal ganglia, which
is linked to the recollection of happy memories. A Scottish study
showed subjects who walked through a rural area viewed their to-do list
as more manageable than those who walked on city streets.
can improve focus and attention. The Attention Restoration Theory
suggests the brain relaxes in nature, entering a state of contemplation
that is “restorative or refreshing.” In contrast, in urban environments,
the brain’s working memory is “bombarded with distractions and
attention systems are on alert.” A study in the American Journal of
Preventive Medicine found that children who played outdoors gained
creativity and problem-solving skills as well as cooperation skills and
self-discipline, and children with attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder seem to focus better after being outdoors.
Spending time outside can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Norwegian researchers discovered that subjects with moderate to severe depression who participated in a gardening program experienced reduced symptoms after 12 weeks. There are plenty of antidepressants in nature, including sunlight and “negative ions” – particles found near waterfalls, breaking waves and river rapids. A study found that breathing negative ions for an hour lead to subjects’ blood lactate levels dropping by 33 percent, improving their energy levels.
told Adam and his parents that these are just the mental health effects
of nature and that there are loads of physical health benefits as well.
Research suggests that rising rates of allergies and autoimmune
disorders may be linked to less exposure to healthy bacteria found in
nature. In addition, reduced exposure to nature is linked to higher risk
for obesity, cancer and heart disease, and the farther you live from
green space, the likelier you are to be in poorer health. Humans are
biophilic, meaning we have a love of nature, and we are biologically
driven to be there. Nature keeps us healthy.
may have inherited his tendency to worry from his mom, who was obsessed
with “what ifs” and what others thought. Or maybe it was his father,
who pushed him hard in school and extracurricular activities. Whatever
the case, his parents often tried to solve his problems for him, which
greatly diminished his ability to cope with adversity as an adolescent.
age 19, Tyler – a patient of mine whose name I changed to protect his
privacy – was failing his college courses and became withdrawn from
family and friends. His parents urged him to seek help, which led to his
diagnosis of depression. Personal counseling sessions helped Tyler
learn positive coping strategies and how to better deal with
uncertainty, independently problem-solve, regulate his emotions and live
a balanced life.
The Child Mind Institute
reports that half of all mental illness occurs before the age of 14 and
75 percent by the age of 24. Many suffer from anxiety and depression.
Tyler found help and learned how to cope with his depression, other
youth are not so fortunate. Of those children diagnosed with a mental
illness, around 70 percent of them will not receive professional help,
according to the Child Mind Institute. The World Health Organization
notes that 1.2 million teens die worldwide each year and that most of
those deaths are preventable, with suicide being the third leading cause
of death among adolescents; it emphasizes the dire need to take action
to improve adolescent health services, education and social support. But
in many cases, as WHO outlines in its reporton teen deaths, adolescents
who suffer from mental health disorders cannot obtain prevention or
care services because they either do not exist or because they do not
know about them.
So, how can we encourage
children to get the help they need, when that help is hard to find? For
one thing, if we teach children and youth coping skills early, this
alarming situation doesn’t have to become our new normal.
an article for Edutopia, Roger Weissberg, the Chief Knowledge Officer
of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning,
writes that social and emotional learning can enhance a student’s
ability to succeed in school, careers and life. SEL can be the most
proactive initiative for mental health illness prevention, as research
shows that this type of learning can reduce anxiety, substance abuse, suicide, depression and violence, while increasing attendance, test scores and prosocial behavior such as kindness, empathy and
personal awareness. If SEL was integrated into Tyler’s school or
household earlier in life, he could have learned how to cope, adapt and
find balance in high-stress situations.
is powerful programming that we can implement in all of our schools to
proactively educate our youth and address the issues we are trying to
cope with in our society. Imagine if all schools leveraged SEL to
approach student behavior, teaching students to use techniques such as meditation and
deep breathing to restore their mental balance? If this approach was
the norm in school, many more children would be able to develop the
coping skills needed to flourish.
SEL programs have been developed to enhance students’ social, emotional
and mental wellbeing skills. CASEL, a leader in the movement to bring
SEL into U.S. schools, wants to make social and emotional learning an
integral part of the education system. Partnerships with various school
districts and organizations have led CASEL to developing SEL policies
and pilot projects to help bring this education to children all across
the U.S. I’ve also joined in the effort. I started Dolphin KIDS Achievement Programs,
a positive mindset and life skills program aimed to teach children how
to develop the emotional wellness, social connectivity, innovation, resiliency and adaptability they need to achieve success in today’s fast-paced world.
the solution of integrating more SEL in schools seems simple, it
doesn’t mean it’s easy. But if our children learn coping skills early,
and SEL is integrated into more schools on a global scale, more children
will be able to maintain balance in today’s unbalanced world.
a parent, I’ve learned the foundations for social and emotional
learning begin at home. An important tip for guiding your child towards
positive SEL skills is to practice empathy. Empathy helps improve your
child’s self-esteem, particularly because chances are good your child
may be feel alone sometimes in the challenges he or she faces. Since we
were all children once, letting your child know that you made mistakes
too or had the same feelings when you were young is a great way to
express empathy and promote positive social, emotional and cognitive
In the light of the recent incident, where a Deputy of Kentucky Sheriff handcuffed an eight-year old boy diagnosed with ADHD, let us talk about children with ADHD.
incident occurred whereby Deputy Kevin Sumner, working as a school
resource officer at Latonia Elementary School in Covington, is been sued
by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for allegedly handcuffing an
eight-year-old boy with ADHD, by his biceps at the back, because the
wrists were too small, as a part of punishment given for not complying
Disability Counsel, Susan Mizner has said that using physical
punishment for the purpose of disciplining students with disabilities
“only serves to traumatize children.” Physical punishment could also
further aggravate their behavioral issues Mizner added.
apparently handcuffed the eight-year-old boy, to “discipline” him and
teach him to comply with teacher’s or elders’ orders. The video footage
captures Sumner telling the little boy, already crying in pain, that he
must “behave” if he wants the handcuffs gone and that he won’t be set
free until he stops “acting up.”
incident raises an important and immediate question about an awareness
regarding ADHD, which is still lacking amongst the general public and
professionals. There are plenty of us who are not aware of this medical
condition and might not know how to react upon meeting kids/adults with
ADHD. So what exactly is ADHD if you may ask?
answer will be this — Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder a.k.a
ADHD is a neurobiological disorder, which was earlier known as ADD or
Attention Deficit Disorder until 1994. It has three subtypes: an
inattentive type, a hyperactive-impulsive type and a combined type. All
three affect attention, but with their own set of variations in
An inattentive type will show signs like having
difficulty in focusing on simple tasks. The child faces difficulty in
terms of paying attention to details or is more prone to making careless
mistakes in mundane tasks, is unable to stay organized, or even listen
to plain instructions. He/She may be forgetful about his/her belongings.
a hyperactive type will have problems with staying calm for even
shorter period of time. For instance, there may have trouble staying
seated in a place for more than a minute or so, and there may be
excessive fidgeting or talking.
third type, a combined type, is somewhat of a combination of the
previous two. It will show symptoms from both the first two categories.
the first step towards understanding someone with ADHD is to realize
that they are not “acting out” when they behave differently. They
genuinely have difficulty with performing simple tasks unlike most of us
and hence, they need more sensitive interaction.
So who can be diagnosed with ADHD?
diagnosis of ADHD often occurs in childhood and the symptoms might
recede with age but the condition can last throughout life. There is no
particular test for detecting ADHD in a child, thus a complete
evaluation by family practitioner or a pediatrician serves best. Though
sometimes, the child may also need psychological or neurological
intervention, apart from medical intervention, for diagnosing any other
possible disability like depression or anxiety.
But don’t just jump to conclusions about considering a diagnosis for your child if he/she is throwing tantrums.
your child to be considered for diagnosis, you must observe him/her and
become assured that he/she shows signs or symptoms of disorder for at
least six months and in at least two areas of life. Remember, the child
might show anxiety signs if there is some discord in family or school;
in which case it may not be ADHD.
research does not show a clear cause for the disorder, there are
certain pre-conditions which have been identified. For instance, studies
highlight that if a close relative has the disorder then there is
a higher risk of having ADHD. Smoking or injuries during pregnancy or
premature delivery has also been linked with ADHD.
So can children with ADHD lead a normal life? The answer is — yes!
just have to ensure that the right kind of intervention necessary is
provided to the child. And each child with ADHD, being a unique
individual like all of us needs to be given individualized treatment.
You can consult with your child’s doctor and form an individualized plan
for a healthy and effective treatment.
most cases, ADHD can be best treated with a combination of both
medicine and behaviour therapy. It is not a disease that can be cured
with just medicine and therefore medical intervention needs to provide
for behavioral control too.
one talks about medical intervention, there are several types of
medication that are being used for treating ADHD, like the stimulants,
non-stimulants, antidepressants [LINK]. It is always advisable to seek a
doctor to help you choose the right kind of medication for your child.
But you must not forget that a behavioral therapy needs to be worked out
with a therapist, if you want to achieve the best results for your
behavioral therapy requires involvement on part of both parents and
teachers to support the child in managing his/her behaviors. Involvement
on part of the parent means that they will have to join certain
training and education programs, where they will be taught about how to
handle their child’s behavior during difficult times and otherwise, help
him/her improve behaviors, and also strengthen their bond with the
child. If you are unsure of what a behavior module might include, then
the following list of activities may help:
a routine for your child and help him/her get organized by breaking the
tasks into simple steps, so that your child can actually aim for
finishing them. Once the child starts to finish them, everyday he/she
will grow in self confidence.
to get your child to take part in some social activities making use of
role play, such that the child effectively learns about normal
behavioral patterns in different situations that come up every day in
one’s regular social life. This way you will help him/her improve upon
any sort of distraction like TV or music when your child is busy with
homework as it might lead to him/her losing their concentration.
the choices you provide for your child so as not to overwhelm or
confuse him/her. ADHD kids already face issues with decision making, so
giving them multiple choices will only result in more stress.
to be empathic and patient when your child is having mood swings. This
will help him/her to calm down faster by seeing you breathe easy.
Do help your child in discovering his/her talent, as it can be a great way to boost his/her confidence and self-assurance.
A little bit of sensitivity has never hurt anyone.
is not a recent phenomenon that you and I are witnessing for the first
time, but instead it is something that has been often misunderstood,
neglected, or taken too casually. It is of vital importance to
understand that everyone can contribute towards spreading positive
awareness about ADHD.
Who killed summer vacation? That’s
the million dollar question — literally. Long gone are the days of
casually taking a few weeks off with the family to go on a road trip, or
jetting off to a remote destination where the real world ceases to
This is the problem recently addressed by Jack Dickey in a June issue of TIME Magazine, where he talks about the raising concerns and effects of workers not taking their deserved time off — even when paid to. We’ve all seen it. Most of us have even been this person at one point or another: You know, the one who sits poolside at a resort glued to their smartphone or laptop, and whose entire holiday itinerary revolves around whether or not WiFi will be readily available.
while traditionally vacations were meant to restore and rejuvenate, our
cultural unwillingness to truly “unplug” from everything, especially in
today’s digital age, has proven to be more exhausting and stressful
than just staying in the office — a mindset that is seriously hurting
us mentally, physically and professionally.
to reports, Americans are taking less vacation days now than at any
point in the past four decades. And 61 per cent of the Americans who do
plan on taking their paid vacation days say they will be continuing to
do work, send emails, and make business calls while away.
So, What’s Wrong with Vacation?
When surveyed, the top three reasons cited by people for not taking their vacation days were:
Heavier workload upon returning from holiday
Nobody else can do the work
Can’t afford to take it
What Does This Mean?
we are at home, away, or in the office, many of us are constantly
working. To quote USA Today, “The United States is the only developed
country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day
or holiday”. So naturally with all this work and no play, one would
think that companies and the workplace are becoming more productive,
right? Unfortunately, the answer is no. What is happening however, is
that we are breeding a society of overworked, uninspired, physically
exhausted, and mentally worn out adults whose health, happiness,
motivation, and personal relationships are also deteriorating as a
Overwhelmed, Overworked and Unproductive!
a psychiatrist, I can’t stress enough the importance of downtime,
unplugging, and rest to my patients. In fact, the most effective
prescriptions I write are often lifestyle recommendations such as
sleeping more, making meaningful social connections, routine regular
exercise. Think of it this way, the best athletes know that without
adequate rest, their bodies can’t perform or train as efficiently —
this is no different when it comes to the brain! If we are constantly
tired, how can our brains possibly be working at full capacity? Our
brains need to rest in order to function at optimum capacity. The term
“recreation” comes from the root “to re-create.”
problem is many people don’t realize just how exhausted and stressed
they are until given the opportunity to actually take time off.
marketing expert Donny Deutsch puts it, “I didn’t realize how
unproductive I’d become until I came back from a vacation, where you go,
‘Oh my God, this is what a mind feels like?'”
A study done
by the Tatung University of Taiwan, published in New Scientist
Magazine, has shown that driving even for 80 minutes straight without
frequent rest stops greatly decreases a driver’s rate of reaction,
increasing the risk of accidents. Now compare this to people working day
in and day out without as much as taking two weeks off in the entire
year–with over half of those people not even getting any real rest
during those two weeks–you can just imagine the rate of deterioration
that would happen to their overall mental capacity and work
a positive note, in light of all this information, we now have
progressive companies who are coming forward and updating their paid
vacation policies–even going as far as offering incentives in bonuses
to employees who take all of their vacation days, contingent on the
premise that they are doing absolutely zero work on their days off.
Because these companies understand that they benefit more and observe
higher work productivity from well-rested and balanced individuals who
work less months over the year, versus those who work non-stop 12 months
a year to the point of burnout.
Resting for your Health and Sanity: Paying the Price
is money. Or more specifically, your time is money. According to the
study ‘Project: Time Off’ conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, “The
value of one forgone day, where workers are de facto volunteers for
their employers, totals an average of $504 per employee. Therefore, the
value of those 169 million lost days is significant–$52.4 billion in
is a significant value in benefits that employees are entitled to and
yet choosing to forego every year! Instead, they are putting their
mental, emotional, and physical health at risk, sacrificing personal
relationships, and often end up having to spend their hard-earned money
on healthcare due to all of the stress. Because an overwhelmed brain not
only results in poor decision making skills and lack of creativity, but
also a weakened nervous and immune system. Mental health disorders
begin to arise in the forms of depression, severe anxiety, eating
disorders, just to name a few. Other health problems that may occur due
to lack of rest and stress include: heart disease, autoimmune diseases,
insomnia, allergies, accelerated cell aging, cancer, diabetes, the list
is simply endless.
The Cure: Less Work, More Play
next time you think about skipping that well-deserved paid vacation,
don’t! And the next time you feel tempted to reach out for your
smartphone or laptop while away, focus on being present instead. No
matter what, your work will still be there for you when you get back and
there will always be more to do. Allow yourself to be rewarded for all
your hard work and achievements, and in turn be rewarded with mental
clarity, energy, a fresh perspective and overall improved health. Use
this time to relax, reflect and repair your mind and body. As a result,
your health, relationships and career will absolutely prosper from it.
you’re concerned about the heavy workload upon returning to work, plan
your schedule out ahead of time and figure out a way to complete most of
your tasks prior to leaving, or set up the ground work that makes it
easier for you to pick up where you left off. When you are well-prepared
and show that you are able to maintain (or even increase) productivity
after taking time off, it will only prove your capability and value to
the company, as well as the benefits of encouraging employees to go on
excuse me while I head to the beach with my family and indulge in a few
good books I have been meaning to read. Life, when you allow it, is
In May 2016, I was invited by CBC Radio to speak about a rather controversial topic brewing amongst parents and their teens regarding teenage clothing choices.
subject was recently spotlighted after a 17-year-old high school senior
in Moncton, New Brunswick, made a statement by wearing a full-length
halter dress against school policy, exposing her shoulders (including
both bra straps), to which she was told by the school’s vice principal
to cover up. In response, the subject wrote a three-page letter voicing
her feelings about the hyper-sexualization of females in society and
most notably states that if a boy at her school gets distracted by her
back, he should be “…sent home and practice self-control.”
opinions that flooded in afterwards were divided, to say the least.
While on one hand some parents believe that allowing their children to
experiment freely and make mistakes contributes to their development,
many more seem opposed to it. Statements such as, “Save it for the
nightclub,” “School is a place for learning, not a fashion show,” and my
personal favourite — “This psychiatrist doesn’t know what she’s
talking about” — were prevalent throughout several of the comment
sections online. But the truth is, regardless of my 15 years of
experience with youth mental health, and regardless of the numbers of
opinions given by parents of varying backgrounds, when it comes to
dealing with the teenage brain, we are on a completely different playing
are at a developmental phase where they’re in the process of creating
and asserting their own sense of individual and social identity, which
for them is done through experimenting with how they express themselves.
This is evident through their ever-changing opinions, lifestyle
choices, beliefs, morals, and manners in which they present themselves,
with clothing being one of their primary tools of self-expression. All
done in a bid to answer the age-old growing pains questions of “Who am I
as a person? What are my beliefs? Who do I relate to? Who do I want to
become? And how can I express that to the world?”
teenage brains are literally neurobiologically different from adults,
coupled with their fluctuating hormones, the way they process
information also differs greatly from how we may process the very same
things. This creates a situation where, when told not to wear something
deemed inappropriate for that particular environment, while an adult may
understand that it is simply a fashion issue within that specific
circumstance, a teenager may perceive it on a chemical level as a
personal threat to their entire identity and independence. As a result,
they can become fiercely protective and hypersensitive to any potential
threats made to their autonomy and are more likely to push the limits in
already seeing this today with girls challenging gender inequalities
and the sexualization of the female body — the notion of being able to
wear what they want despite anyone else’s reactions. As a result, many
young women are voicing their anger through blogs centered around
bashing “rape culture.” An example of this way of thinking can be found
in our subject’s letter where she writes, “…we can no longer wear the
clothing we feel comfortable in without the accusation and/or assumption
that we are being provocative.” Whether or not society agrees with
these girls, we should applaud their initiative to address an issue that
is so deeply prevalent today.
I feel we are in a conundrum. As our subject also points out in her
letter, we are often teaching our kids to be individualistic, strong,
and opinionated, yet when that happens to conflict with our personal
choices, we tell them they’re wrong, disobedient, spoiled, and to just
listen to the rules because we, the grownups, “say so.” And as you know,
when has that ever gone over well?
in today’s youth culture with their high exposure to blogs, social
media, Google, YouTube, TV shows with often very adult content, they are
beginning to strongly question everything more than the previous
generations. Because we are currently experiencing the largest
generation gap we have ever known, we need to make more of an effort to
evolve our methods of communication.
rules and boundaries are important to have, but it is equally as
paramount that we evolve the way we discuss those rules to form them
with our children, not just for them. In fact, it is evident in her
letter that our subject does understand why the clothing restrictions
exist at her school, but her main issue is that she doesn’t understand
how the rules apply to her — so it is our job as the adults to help
bridge that gap. Not by spouting off a list of reasons that was handed
down to us in a similar fashion and stating that’s the way it is, but by
having an actual discussion that is open to change.
of expecting our children to simply comply to rules without further
explanation, parents should take a balanced approach by showing respect
for their teenager’s decisions, explain why the world may not think like
they do and allow them to join the conversation on the same level. As
highlighted in a study done by Massey University based on theories in A.
Sullivan Palincsar’s review Social Constructivist Perspectives on
Teaching and Learning, peer interactions with others of equal status and
shared perspectives are more likely to “bring about cognitive
development” in youths, than interactions with authority figures. In
other words, when there is cognitive conflict between our children and
those they perceive to be on an equal plane in terms of openness,
understanding and communication, it actually results in a constructive
exchange of ideas and exploration of different viewpoints in a
collaboration rather than backlash.
want to teach our children to have strong opinions and stand up for the
things they believe in, yet it is also our responsibility to teach our
children to understand and respect why rules (and eventually, laws) are
made and how they apply to them. We need to move away from treating our
teens like they are incapable of understanding “adult matters” because
the truth is they are living in a very adult world, whether we like it
or not. Although explaining things to a teen may require a little more
creativity, patience and understanding, doing it the right way will not
only foster closer relationships and higher levels of respect that go
both ways, it’ll increase cognitive development and hopefully, produce a
future society that isn’t afraid of making changes.