Are Parents to Blame for Our Children’s Angst and Anxiety?

I wrote this months before the pandemic hit and we began sheltering in place. Now that I’ve spent 109 days in my home without my normal activities of meeting friends for lunch, traveling, volunteering and hanging out with my swim friends, I’m learning that more and more people are suffering from anxiety and children are being hit the hardest. A friend of mine who is a psychologist for teens said she’s talking to a record number of kids who are talking about suicide. It puts a new perspective on our kids’ angst and anxiety.

randk 3I watched a video posted on Facebook by one of my children’s former swim coaches about millennials in the workforce and the problems they face. It really made me reflect about my own parenting and kids. There’s an increased number of kids in this age group with depression, committing suicide and overdosing. That’s terrifying, don’t you agree? What can be done about it? And why is it happening?

You can watch the aforementioned video here

Here are the four main points of the video:

ONE
Bad Parenting

I hate that bullet point and know I’m guilty of some bad parenting myself. The main idea is that our kids were told they are special at every turn, whether it’s deserved or not. Consequently, millennials often suffer from low self esteem. While we’re trying to make our kids strong, mentally and physically, we’re doing something very wrong. We have highly educated, competent kids who don’t believe in themselves. Maybe everyone shouldn’t get a participation trophy in tee ball. It’s one of the reasons why I like swimming. Every mili-second dropped and ribbon received is truly earned. The clock doesn’t lie.

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We were unplugged as a family every summer at the beach.

TWO
Technology

Checking our number of likes, texts, etc. give us a jolt of dopamine. That’s why we get addicted to our phones. Social media and cell phones are not much different than other highly addictive substances like tobacco or alcohol. When teenage brains are exposed to dopamine, they get hooked and their brains get hardwired. Hearing this part of the video makes me want to look at my own cell phone usage and make some changes—a good thing to think about for New Year’s Resolutions (I’ll write more about this later). Social media is preventing our kids from developing personal relationships and may lead to depression and being unable to handle stress.

THREE
Instant Gratification

Our kids have grown up in the world of instant gratification. If they want to watch a movie, they turn on Netflix. If they want to buy something, they click on Amazon and it’s delivered the next day. I interviewed a psychologist and wrote about instant gratification here. Job satisfaction and relationships aren’t a click away. Instead they are messy and time consuming, but our kids aren’t learning these skills of waiting and working for things.

FOUR
Environment

Maybe our corporate environments aren’t a good fit for young people. Our kids blame themselves when it could partially be the fault of the company they work for. Companies need to work extra hard to build the children’s social skills and work on their lack of confidence. We need to work on interpersonal relationships and one good way to start is to put the phone down.

What are your thoughts about millennials and their angst? Do you think it’s our fault they are suffering from depression and anxiety? Or, does the environment and technology play a bigger role?

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Selfie of Mom and me playing BINGO. She is the best mom and my role model.

Is Anxiety a Side Effect of COVID-19?

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Olive keeps me company.

The past week I’ve been experiencing anxiety. I’m so fortunate in my personal life and I’m grateful to have such a beautiful place to stay sheltered in place. But, being home day in and day out is taking a toll. I don’t think watching the news and surfing the internet for COVID-19 and political news is helping me either. When I felt my heart rate racing and my hands trembling on a drive home from taking groceries to my dad, I turned off the news and found a station playing Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown from 1970. As I listened to familiar songs from my childhood like Carpenters “Close to You” and the Beatles “Long and Winding Road,” I calmed down, sang along and found myself smiling.

Today, I quit looking at the news of spikes in COVID cases and wondered if other people were suffering from anxiety, too. The answer is yes. A quick search led me to so many articles with tips to handle anxiety and links to hotlines and health experts.

Here are a few excerpts from the articles. Please click on the links to read the whole articles. They are well worth it.

Suffering from COVID-19 anxiety? Here’s what you can do

By Jennifer KongSteven Chan

Jennifer—a postdoc—had been working from home for 4 weeks. Anxious about the COVID-19 pandemic, she was having trouble focusing on her research. She knew her mental health had deteriorated and that she needed advice to stay motivated. So she reached out to Steven, a friend who also happens to be a practicing psychiatrist. He didn’t solve all of Jennifer’s problems. But he did provide a new lens to view them through—as well as concrete steps she could take to improve her mental health. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

JENNIFER: In academia, we are often encouraged to suck it up when problems arise. I am currently writing two papers. I know others who are writing grants. Should we expect to use this “time away from the lab” to be superproductive?

STEVEN: Working in a COVID-19 world is not normal. You shouldn’t dwell on guilt if you’re not functioning at maximum productivity levels. You need time to process the grief that comes with the loss of your former work life and social life.

J: I occasionally find myself spiraling down a hole of despair, spending hours reading about all the terrible things happening in the world. The news makes me feel sad and helpless, which in turn zaps all the motivation out of my day. What should I do?

S: In these spirals, it is important to recognize that there’s a lot happening right now that you can’t control. Even though it is incredibly hard, shift your attention to things you can control. For example, you cannot control the number of people who are dying from COVID-19. But you can do your part to maintain social distancing.

J: I am worried about members of my family getting sick. I’m also worried about my future in academia because many universities are instituting hiring freezes. How can I get rid of all this worry?  

S: Try compartmentalizing the worry into a time block. Spend 20 minutes each day writing down and acknowledging your feelings. Then, think about reasonable solutions. For example, you could brainstorm how you could secure funding to extend your postdoc, which would give you more time to publish papers and apply for academic jobs next year. You could also learn about jobs that might interest you in other sectors, such as industry.

J: Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. I’m physically tired, but my brain is restless. I end up just lying there, thinking and worrying about everything that’s going on. Is this anxiety?   

S: It could be. Anxiety is a persistent feeling of worry. Sometimes it is constant, while other times it rushes over you all at once. When dealing with anxiety, it’s important to assess your emotions and talk about what you’re going through with trusted friends and family. You should also practice activities that are restorative and relaxing, especially before bedtime. Listen to music, take a hot shower, read a book, or do something else that you enjoy.

From the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website I discovered Top Ten COVID-19 Anxiety Reduction Strategies by Ken Goodman.

Goodman is the author of The Anxiety Solution Series: Your Guide to Overcoming Panic, Worry, Compulsions and Fear, A Step-by-Step Self-help Audio Program., and Break Free from Anxiety, a coloring, self-help book for anxiety sufferers. Ken Goodman is an ADAA board member and Clinical Fellow. Here are the first three of his tips.

During this time of national crisis, we must manage two things simultaneously: 1) Protect ourselves from the Coronavirus, and 2) Protect ourselves from anxiety. If your anxiety, fear, and worry has been overwhelming, put these ten strategies into practice. 

1. Media Distancing: To stop the spread of COVID-19, we’ve had to practice social distancing. But to stop the spread of anxiety, we must distance ourselves from the media. All anxiety stems from uncertainty and an active imagination which produces catastrophic thoughts. The media, which is 24/7 Coronavirus and virtually all negative, is the driver of those thoughts. (The CDC estimates that the flu this season has killed between 24,000 and 62,000 people in the United States. We are not panicking because the flu is familiar and the media does not give it attention). My patients who are the most anxious about the Coronavirus are those who are consuming the most news from social media, online, and traditional outlets. The more anxious you feel, the more you should distance from the media. And if you are extremely fearful, stop watching and reading altogether. Do no Google or research. Stop checking the latest news about the virus (as well as your investments). Any vital information you need to know, you will find out.

2. Do Not Engage with Worry. Take Action: Whether you are worried about contracting the virus, your struggling business, or being unemployed, the more your mind focuses on worst-case scenarios, the more anxious you feel. You can’t stop thoughts from entering your mind, but you can choose to stop dwelling and you can choose to take action to solve problems. There is a huge difference between worrying and problem solving. When your mind tries to bait you into worry, don’t take the bait. If you do, like a fish in a lake, you will be caught. Anxiety will try to bait you with many “what if” questions. Don’t answer them. Respond, “Not taking the bait,” turn your attention away, and focus elsewhere. Spinning your wheels with questions that don’t have answers will take you down the rabbit hole of fear. Instead, find creative measures to get you through this storm until you can get back on your feet. None of these measures will be comfortable. Like an umbrella and a raincoat, we use them to get through the storm, not to stop it. Much of anxiety stems from a lack of confidence in our ability to handle challenges. Push yourself to take one uncomfortable step at a time.  With financial stress these steps might include seeking out loans, asking for help, paying portions of bills, cutting back on spending, and finding creative ways to make money including selling items on Ebay. The goal is to stay afloat until the storm passes. 

3. Focus on Present Odds: All deaths are tragic, but we must maintain proper perspective. The vast majority of people infected with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms or no symptoms at all. And the mortality rate if you do contract the virus ranges from 1.4% to 3% (The exact mortality rate is unknown at this time). The number of deaths will continue to climb (and the news will report every one) and yet, the chance of you or a loved-one dying is still remote, especially with everyone’s effort to maintain distance and isolate. But death is possible and that’s why anxious people take the bait and dwell. Possibility becomes probability. Remind yourself of the present odds, which are very good. After all, if you went to Vegas and had a 97% chance of winning, you would be excited to take those odds. If you take care of yourself properly, even if you are in a higher risk category, your risk of death is still low.

After the complete list of ten tips Goodman said this:

This list is a recipe to reduce anxiety. Review it again and put it into practice. Otherwise it’s like reading a cooking recipe in bed – in the end you have produced nothing and have nothing delicious to eat. So…start cooking. 

Walking and backyard bungee swims are not enough to keep the stress away. My dear friend Linda told me that she and her family are doing a workout challenge on Youtube by Chloe Ting. I decided to check it out and the workouts are perfect for me. Ting has a modified low impact version that I can handle. I am doing the 2 Week Shred challenge followed by an ab workout. I’ve done my first two days and although my body is screaming at me, it’s got to be good for me!

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I miss our pool and my team. When will it reopen?

How are you handling COVID-19 uncertainties?

Here are common symptoms of anxiety from the Mayo Clinic

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense.
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
  • Having an increased heart rate.
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling.
  • Feeling weak or tired.
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry.

 

How Michael Phelps Is Fighting Against the Stigma of Depression

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A few years ago, I got to hear Michael Phelps speak at a fundraiser for Barbara Sinatra Center for Abused Children. It was very enthralling and I couldn’t believe the darkness he had gone through on his quest to become the GOAT (Greatest Olympian of All Time). Also, It was special to me because I was present at the groundbreaking for the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center held on Frank’s 75th birthday (yes, that Frank!) during my tenure as a PR account executive for Cliff Brown Associates. Today, Phelps continues to work to help others who are battling depression and other mental illnesses. HBO is releasing “The Weight of Gold” documentary starring Michael Phelps and other Olympic athletes that details the mental health struggles they experience. Here’s my post about my experience hearing Michael Phelps open up about his battle with depression:

I sat with my Piranha Swim Team fellow swim moms and Masters swimmers at a fundraiser where Michael Phelps was the keynote speaker.

He had some really good stuff to say and seems incredibly happy with his life. As he said about his comeback from retirement and Rio Olympics, “I got to show the world who I am.”

He said he wouldn’t trade anything in his life because even the struggles have made him who he is today. What an amazing person he is and has become. Not only was he speaking at the Barbara Sinatra Center for Abused Children, he spent time with our local Piranha swimmers and other high school swimmers before the event. How special will that memory be for those kids? It will definitely be a day they’ll remember forever.

 

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Alex Flanagan interviews Michael Phelps. Photo from Steven Erickson, Piranha Masters swimmer.

Sitting for an interview with NBC’s Alex Flanagan, Michael was relaxed and comfortable. Accompanying him were his wife and baby Boomer, who could be heard crying occasionally in the background.

Phelps said all his many accomplishments and discipline were “all in my heart.” He said, “I started with a goal and a dream. I wanted to do something. I wanted to become the first Michael Phelps, not the second Mark Spitz.”

When he talked about his darker days and struggles with depression, Phelps explained that he “said affirmations every time he walked through a doorway.” He said, “If you keep track of how many times you walk through doors in a day, it’s a lot.”

He said it’s important to “not be afraid to ask for help and talk about things. You can’t do everything yourself.”

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A lot of his strength, he attributes to his mom Debbie Phelps, who he called “the most powerful mom. She single-handedly raised us. Growing up, I learned about hard work and dedication from her.”

Abut his coach Bob Bowman, “He has been there all the steps of the way. He taught me how to drive. The two of us get along so well. We’ve been together for 20 years.”

On his return to swimming for Olympic Trials and Rio, Phelps recalled that he called Bowman to tell him he wanted to come back. Bowman was skeptical and said it wasn’t going to happen. Phelps waited and called him back the next day, and Bowman agreed so long as he bought into his program and did it completely his way. It worked out well.

With his parents separating when he was young, Phelps found the pool to be an escape. His coach told him to “leave everything at the door and focus on swimming for the time he was there,” whether it was one and half hours or two. “That stuck with me. If you look at anyone great, they find the time to do their best under any circumstance.”

Phelps is enjoying his time as a husband and father and looks forward to a growing family. He’s focused on his brand MP and his foundation that is saving children’s lives through water safety.

Although Phelps Olympic career is over, as the most decorated Olympian in history with 28 medals and 39 world records, he said “The pool is very relaxing for me. It’s very Zen.”

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Our local USA Swimming and high school swimmers meeting Michel Phelps.                      photo from Piranha Swim Team 

 

 

 

Day 76: Sheltering through Crisis

The world has turned upside down. Again. That’s how I feel this week. After a wonderful weekend were we ventured out of our bubble to the wide open beaches in the Santa Barbara area with family, we returned home to crisis and chaos. I feel so badly and grieve for the Floyd family. I feel badly for others who have been hurt and killed. I feel badly for our entire country.

I haven’t been able to focus or concentrate. I wanted to post something, so I can remember this week years from now: the sadness, agony and distress. 

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Sunset beach walk with my daughter this past weekend.

How do we return to civility?

Olive in an uncivil mood.

Olive in an uncivil mood.

 I wrote the following story in 2015. I can only say that rather than improving since then, things seem far worse. This week shows how bad things can get. I wish I had a solution or could offer suggestions about how to unite our society, but I can’t. I can only be conscious of my own actions and be grateful for what I have and try to set an example for my kids.

I’m trying very hard to not get caught up in all the over-reacting that’s floating around. Have you noticed a lot of intolerance and anger lately? People seem to get upset and outraged over the littlest things. Like waiting in line. Political opinions. Slow drivers.

Read about how I got yelled at by a total stranger here

How we handle little things and disappointments in life in a positive way can help us become better role models for our kids. It can also change our outlook and make a frustrating day, a better one.

imgres-4I think email, texting, twitter and other social media, in general, can lead to misunderstandings and hard feelings. First of all, by emailing rather than having a conversation, a person can unload in ways they wouldn’t in person. He or she isn’t picking up on verbal and non-verbal cues. The conversation is totally one-sided without any give or take. We don’t have to bother with a discussion or to hear another person’s side of the story.

Online, have you read comment sections on a news or political story? If people can leave comments anonymously, look out! A snarky comment looks like an attaboy compared to the filth and nastiness you’ll read. People don’t tolerate differences of opinions and resort to name calling rather than debate issues. The anonymity of hiding behind a computer rather than facing someone is unleashing hostility and words that quite frankly are better left unsaid

imgres-3Have you ever texted someone or sent an email you didn’t mean to? Or, it went to the wrong person? How about thinking you hung up the iPhone, and you didn’t or pocket dialed the person, and they can hear your subsequent conversation?

It’s hard enough when you’re the one committing the faux pas and even harder when you’re on the receiving end.  Yikes. If this happens to you, take a minute and breathe. Realize you have a choice—how to react. You could get upset. You could make a big deal out of it and be confrontational.  Or, make the choice that it was a mistake and no ill will was intended. 

I believe it’s a choice we can make on a daily basis. Take a deep breath when you’re behind a slow driver. When you’re waiting behind an elderly person trying to work the ATM or checking out at the grocery store. Don’t automatically jump on the uber outrage. We don’t have a choice on what is happening, but we do have a choice on how we react.

Baby Olive.

Baby Olive.

I think the best choice is to be “merciful.” This word popped up on my iPad yesterday. It’s not a word we hear spoken out loud these days—unless we’re sitting in a pew. In the everyday world, it sounds old-fashioned and is not practiced much. I wasn’t quite sure of the exact meaning of “merciful” so I looked it up online at Merriam Webster:

Merciful: treating people with kindness and forgiveness : not cruel or harsh : having or showing mercy: giving relief from suffering

I’m going to incorporate it into my everyday life when I feel the adrenalin or upset feelings start. I think if a lot more of us practiced mercy, our world would be a whole lot better.

We also need to keep in mind that our kids learn from our behavior. How we react to stress is most likely how they will deal with situations as they grow up.

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How about reaching out to those around you?

 

How do you make each day a friendlier and more civil place?

Tips for Parents with Teens Sheltering in Place

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My daughter’s senior prom night a few years ago when things were normal.

I’ve been thinking about how graduating seniors are feeling — stuck at home with mom and dad. Normally, teens are seeking independence from their parents and are ready to fly from the nest — which usually means college. But with COVID-19, some universities aren’t opening in the fall or they are offering classes online only. There may be no end in sight for these teens that they will ever leave the nest. Top that off with missing milestones like graduation and prom, and I wonder how the kids are surviving? They have been away from their peers for a couple months already. I remember how important friends were to me at this age — friends were my world.

In the Los Angeles Times, I read an article called Teens are feeling lonely and anxious in isolation. Here’s how parents can help by Lisa Boone. It offered advice from several mental health experts with tips of how parents can make their kids feel less anxiety during these crazy days of shelter in place. I suggest you read the entire article here.

When my son was a senior in high school, we really had a rough year. He was desperately wanting to be an adult, live his own life, and I was hanging on to motherhood and wanting him to be the child I had loved and known for 18 years. Of course we clashed. I can’t imagine what that year would have been like for us to be stuck at home with each other day and night!

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My son at the podium giving his graduation speech.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

As tens of millions of us continue to shelter in place, the most tractable of teens are feeling frustrated and anxious. They miss their former lives. They are uninterested in online classes and don’t want to follow quarantine guidelines anymore. And who can blame them?

Living in seclusion can produce quarantine fatigue, according to South Pasadena-based psychotherapist Noelle Wittliff, a licensed marriage and family therapist who works with children, families and adolescents. “Many of the teens at my practice are hitting a wall,” Wittliff said. “They are over it. They want to go outside and connect with their friends. The online connection is just not cutting it.”

Normally adolescence, a developmental period marked by impulsivity and feelings of invincibility, is a time in which teenagers separate from their parents and bond with their peers. Now that families are confined at home, parents are in a peculiar position in which they have to balance the seriousness of the novel coronavirus with their teen’s desire for social interaction.

“Many of our teens are experiencing tremendous loss, and grief is an appropriate response to loss,” Wittliff said. “Depending on the age and school year of the teen, these losses can include proms, graduation ceremonies, end-of-year sports events, dances, parties, school activities, yearbook signings and simple proximity to beloved friends, teachers or significant others. The school shutdowns happened so abruptly that many of the teens that I work with did not have the opportunity to gather belongings from their lockers or classrooms, let alone say meaningful goodbyes to teachers and classmates.

“As parents, it’s important to hold space for all of these feelings and to recognize that teens don’t always communicate sadness in expected ways,” she said. “Sadness is often masked by frustration, irritability, anger or disconnection. These are protective reactions that mask vulnerability. The goal isn’t to take these defense strategies away but rather to be curious about what other feelings might be hiding underneath.”

For teens struggling with maintaining distance from their friends, Wittliff encourages parents to validate those feelings with empathy while reminding them this quarantine is temporary. Also, as a parent or guardian, manage your teenager’s expectations and don’t make promises that won’t come true.

Wittliff offers this advice: “Tell them, ‘I hear you and I know how hard this is. I know how much you miss your boyfriend or girlfriend and your friends but this is what is going on. The entire world is going through this. We are all taking precautions to stay safe.’”

Among the advice offered by experts in this article is to establish a routine — that you let your teen help develop. Try to have a fun activity every day plus get exercise outside. There’s many more tips in the article that are so helpful like practicing mindfulness, cooking, drawing, etc.

Although my daughter has left her teen years behind, she came home to shelter in place and work remotely rather than being in a tiny apartment with two other people.  For the 60 plus days she’s been here, I’ve learned to give her space. I no longer walk into her room unannounced like I would have when she was a five-year-old. I let her come to me instead. Also, we’re enjoying an outdoor activity each day. She plays tennis with me a few mornings a week or we walk or play smashball in the backyard pool. She also rides bikes with her dad in the evening. More than that and she’d probably be sick of us

Structure and predictability will help with the passing of time and give teens something to look forward to. “Every day and week that they get through sheltering in place brings them that much closer to getting back to their lives,” Wittliff said. “This is hard, but our kids are resilient. And they will get through it.”

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My son’s senior prom. They had a catered dinner in our back yard before the dance.

How are you helping your kids with COVID-19 fears and isolation from friends?

 

If only I could jump in again!

Five years ago, I joined US Masters swimming. I swam with the team I’d been a part of for 15 years as a swim mom. I wanted to try Masters for years, but I was too chicken. Finally, I jumped in. I wrote about my first day of practice five years ago this week:

 

Palm Springs Aquatic Center where my kids spent their youth.

The home town pool.

I tried something new this week. I’ve been thinking about it for months. In fact, it made my New Year’s Resolution list. Yet, it took me until April to get started.

I joined masters! Yes, I got in the water with a group of strangers and a coach. This is the first time I’ve been in a pool with a swim coach since I was 10 years old. It brought back a few scary memories from my childhood. Like, not being able to breathe during a 200 meter freestyle test, where I had to swim four long laps in a row. I think I was around 7 years old and I thought I’d never make it. I was pretty good at the sidestroke though, so I switched to that, and the coach let me get away with it.

oldswimI gasped for air on Tuesday, my first day. I began breath-holding and I thought I’d sink. I also was sure I’d be kicked out of the pool, I was that bad. Or, that I’d drown. The coach assured me he’s never kicked anyone out of masters, nor has he lost a swimmer. It appears my fears were unfounded.

It got better. The coach gave me a drill to work on my breathing and I worked through it. I went back again on Thursday and will try again today. One of the satisfying things about swimming is you can make progress pretty quickly. Hopefully, my strength will come, too. I feel like a weakling—which I am. If I stick with it, I’m bound to get stronger. I’m talking a friend into joining me, too.

My daughter with her first swim instructor.

My daughter with her first swim instructor.

Another benefit of swimming is that it makes you so tired! I’m definitely sleeping through the night, after I swim.

Sometimes it’s fun to try something completely new. Get out of your comfort zone and you’ll find out it’s not that scary out there after all.

Make a list of things you’ve always wanted to do. Take a painting or dance class. Go to a movie alone. Hike. Whatever it is on your list, give some new things a try. It’s not too late and you might have fun.477145_10200347112424226_867714522_o

Jump in with both feet and get wet!

To swim or not to swim.

To swim or not to swim.

I cannot wait for the pool to open and for my Masters group. I want to see my swim friends, coaches, and experience the wonderful feeling of floating and moving through the water.

What do you miss most during the shelter in place?