What role do parents have in our kids’ anxiety?

child's birthday part at a swimming pool

My son’s second grade birthday party at the city pool.

I read that 65% of young adults are suffering from anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 crisis and 25% are contemplating suicide. Those are frightening statistics, which are worse than ever before.

Last year, in more normal times, I 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 this was before the shut downs. Why was 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.

blond mom and son at the beach

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

This year the environment takes on a whole new meaning. With shut downs, lay offs, more and more young adults out of work, of course the environment is gong to cause problems. Without COVID-19, many of our corporate environments weren’t a good fit for young people. Many companies were working on allowing more flexibility and developing new employees with training. Now worries about working from home, isolation, or no work at all is a bigger worry than ever. 

What are your thoughts about millennials and their angst? How much of their suffering from depression and anxiety can be blamed on parenting? 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.

How to stay focused when overwhelmed

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The pool where I swim Masters.

Do you ever wonder why sometimes life is slow and easy and then bam! We get overwhelmed with everything? I’ve been feeling that way all week. There’s a lot of stuff going on in this crappy year called 2020. I’m having trouble dealing with all the emotions hitting me.

Here’s how I try to cope when I’m feeling overwhelmed:

ROUTINE

I try not to mess with my established routine. For going on six years, I have followed Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and it’s served me well. I start the day with three pages of journaling, a long walk and prayer. Even when I’ve got a crazy schedule or upheaval in my life, there’s no way I’ll cheat myself of this time to get my head and body refreshed and ready for the day.

SWIM

Exercise is so important to staying stress free and to keep your mind clear. Unfortunately I have a tendency to let go of swim practice when I’m too busy. It’s my hope to be consistent with three practices a week. I’ve got a good start until this week and I took a few days off and it’s not helping me.

PRIORITIZE and ORGANIZE

Figure out exactly what you need to get done and let go of the other stuff. When I’m juggling a bunch of projects at once, I figure out what is most important. If I do the harder tasks or work I don’t want to do first, the rest is easy. Getting the clutter out of the way helps, too. My daughter is big on color coding her work and putting it on a white board or calendar. I’m going to try color folders for each of my projects so I’m not searching through papers on my desk.

WORK AHEAD

When I have a few minutes of free time, I work ahead. Last week I was waiting on work, so instead of surfing the internet and reading news online, I made a list of everything I needed to get done for this week — and jumped in on it. Lists are my saving grace. I start each day with a list of to dos and work my way through the day. Then, I make a list for the next day, and start in on that, too. One of my friends told me she crosses things off her daily lists with a red pen. I’ve adopted that and it’s so satisfying!

beautiful view of mountain and park

Views from my morning walk.

What are your methods to stay on track and focused when things seem out of control?

When is social media too much for teens?

In today’s COVID-19 world, social media is more important to our children than ever. We need to understand that they need it to keep in contact with friends they can’t see in person. But, we don’t want it to become harmful either.

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My daughter seeking a social media pic.

I’ve wondered for years how social media is affecting our teens, and I’m thankful we never had Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat when I was a kid. I’m also glad it wasn’t a thing when my kids were young. I remember MySpace was introduced when my kids were around middle school aged and a few kids in their Catholic school posted provocative pictures. It didn’t go over well, needless to say.

An article in The Baltimore Sun by Andrea K. Mcdaniels called, Parents’ concern: Is social media bad for teenagers? has quite a few experts and studies weighing in. They’ve found good and bad outcomes, but it seems to me the bad ones outweigh the good.

The list of problems with social media includes sleeping problems, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide. Does anyone see a problem with this trend? I’ve written about my concerns about social media and how it affects on kids here.

Have you ever had a relaxing day at the beach and watched young teens posing for that perfect Instagram pic? It’s quite funny to watch from a distance. I mean who goes to the beach with perfect hair and makeup? Not me! I prefer a big hat, a ponytail and a good book, thank you very much.

 

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Mirage

Where I live, we had a phenomenon called Desert X, a series of outdoor art installations that appeared in the Spring. One I call “The Selfie House” in reality is called “Mirage.” It’s a house installed with mirrors inside and out. It attracts young women dressed in bizarre outfits with friends with the sole purpose of getting a huge volume of social media clicks. The Los Angeles Times wrote about Mirage here.

Here’s a snippet from the article “Parents’ concern: Is social media bad for teenagers?”

“A study published earlier this year by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine with support from the National Institutes of Health found that the more time young adults spent on social media, the more likely they were to have problems sleeping and to experience symptoms of depression.

“Another study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that the incidence of major depressive incidents has increased dramatically among teens, particularly among girls, and that cyber-bullying may be playing a role.

“At American University, researchers found a link between social media use and negative body image, which can lead to eating disorders.”

 

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Mirage, the selfie house. designed for Desert X.

As parents, what can we do to keep tabs on how social media is affecting our kids?

ONE
Delay when your kids get smartphones.

TWO
Keep an eye on what they’re posting.

THREE
Talk to your kids about how social media is creating issues for many kids.

FOUR
Be involved in your kids’ lives and pick up on cues if things seem off. Maybe social media is behind it.

What suggestions do you have to keep our kids safe from the bad effects of too much social media?

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 do I get rid of an unwanted guest?

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A surprise left in our yard.

He’s not really a guest. In fact, he’s a homeless intruder who thinks he lives at our house. We called the cops on him in October. I wrote about him here.

Today, my husband came home from work and said, “What’s a barbecue doing in our front yard?”

“What?” I asked.

After seeing the barbecue inside our gate, I went straight to the computer to review my security video. Unfortunately, the homeless guy returned while we were enjoying Arizona sunsets over the long weekend.

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Arizona sunset.

I am now waiting for the police to show up, for the third time, to report the intruder. I have him on video over the weekend trespassing, peeking in our bedroom window, and trying to break through the garage door. I don’t know what else to do.

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Here’s the homeless man who thinks he owns our house.

Do you have any suggestions on how to get rid of unwanted guests?

 

How to survive in an uncivil world

I wrote this four years ago in November. I hate to say it, but things have not improved much. I hope and pray each day that we can leave our differences behind, get along, and not get so worked up over every little tiny thing! Here’s what I had to say about it before:

Olive in an uncivil mood.

Olive in an uncivil mood.

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 Halloween costumes. 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 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 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’s sounds old fashioned and is not practiced much.

I wasn’t quite sure of the exact meaning so I looked it up online at Merriam Webster:

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

I’m going to incorporate it in 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.

Here’s a song to listen to: Bobby McFerrin — Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Relax and smile.

How do you deal with unhappy or rude people you see in person or online?