How Gratitude Journaling Can Help Children Feel Happier

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.

Why Mindfulness Matters

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:

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • 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:

Create a Favorable Environment

When 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

Show 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.

Mindfulness Exercises

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.”

– Buddha

Help Your Kids Hit Their Stride By Practicing Gratitude

By teaching children the true meaning of gratitude, we can enhance their emotional wellness.

“What 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.

Claire 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 situation.

Polarized 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.”

According 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.

Why 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 children?

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?

As 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.

The 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 practice gratitude:

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.

Your 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.

Kids Need a Bigger Dose of Nature

“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).

Since 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.

My 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 and adolescents.

Here is how nature can help with symptoms like those Adam experienced:

It 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.

Nature 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.

Being 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.

It 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.

I 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.

Why We Need Social and Emotional Learning in Schools

When “Tyler” was a child, he was anxious.
 

He 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.
 

By 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.
 

Although 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.
 

In 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.
 

SEL 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.
 

Research-based 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.
 

Although, 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.

As 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 growth.

Children With ADHD Are Suffering Because of Lack of Awareness

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.

The 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 with orders.

ACLU’s 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.

Sumner 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.”

This 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?

The 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 symptoms. 

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.

Whereas, 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.

The third type, a combined type, is somewhat of a combination of the previous two. It will show symptoms from both the first two categories.

Therefore, 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?

The 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.

For 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.

Though 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!

You 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.

In 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.

When 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 child.

A 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:

  • Create 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.
  • Try 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 social skills.
  • Avoid 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.
  • Limit 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.
  • Try 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.

ADHD 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.

Benefits of Going On Vacation: Mental Health and Productivity

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 exist.

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.

Because 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.

According 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?

Whether 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 result.

Overwhelmed, Overworked and Unproductive!

As 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.”

The problem is many people don’t realize just how exhausted and stressed they are until given the opportunity to actually take time off.

As 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 productivity.

On 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

Time 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 forfeited benefits.”

That 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

The 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.

If 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 vacation.

Now, 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 really good.

How To Talk To Your Teen About the Way They Dress

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.

This 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.”

The 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 field.

Teenagers 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?”

Since 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 response.

We’re 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.

Now, 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?

Especially 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.

Yes, 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.

Instead 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.

We 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.