Is it time for a digital detox?

early ipod
I remember when my kids’ only high tech device was this ipod to listen to music and the computer below that was not hooked up to the internet. They used disks with children’s activities for the Mac.
Bondi Blue Mac from 1998.

I was interviewed by a journalist last week for a survey about the state of American families. She reads my blog and interviewed me for a story a few years ago about parents hiring coaches to improve their parenting. You can read her article called Why some parents — including Prince Harry and his wife — are hiring parenting coaches HERE.

Last week, she asked me about major problems facing families today. I mentioned the rising costs to raise a family and also worries about the digital world, screen time and depression. I’ve read so many articles about how social media and screen time is causing depression and anxiety in our kids. The numbers are skyrocketing. Add that to the pandemic and kids literally had a year of isolation and not being with their peers.

Immediately after the interview, I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal called: Digital Addictions Are Drowning Us in Dopamine. The article gives a scientific explanation for what is happening to our brains. I found it fascinating and thought I’d share it with you, too.

Here’s an excerpt:

Rising rates of depression and anxiety in wealthy countries like the U.S. may be a result of our brains getting hooked on the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure

By Anna Lembke, Wall Street Journal

—Dr. Lembke is a psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University. This essay is adapted from her new book “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence,” which will be published on Aug. 24 by Dutton.

A patient of mine, a bright and thoughtful young man in his early 20s, came to see me for debilitating anxiety and depression. He had dropped out of college and was living with his parents. He was vaguely contemplating suicide. He was also playing videogames most of every day and late into every night.

Twenty years ago the first thing I would have done for a patient like this was prescribe an antidepressant. Today I recommended something altogether different: a dopamine fast. I suggested that he abstain from all screens, including videogames, for one month.

Over the course of my career as a psychiatrist, I have seen more and more patients who suffer from depression and anxiety, including otherwise healthy young people with loving families, elite education and relative wealth. Their problem isn’t trauma, social dislocation or poverty. It’s too much dopamine, a chemical produced in the brain that functions as a neurotransmitter, associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.

The article helped me understand the physical issues with screens that are affecting us — as much as the emotional problems with feeling left out, bullied, comparing yourself to the make-believe social media world. Although these issues with mental health affect mostly young people, I’m sure it’s not limited to their generation entirely.

To answer my own question, “Is it time for a digital detox?” I say yes. I’m trying to find little ways each day to put down the phone or other media and do something healthy. Whether it’s sitting outside listening and watching birds, or taking time to stretch, there are ways to make it a better day and improve mental health.

Here’s another excerpt:

As soon as dopamine is released, the brain adapts to it by reducing or “downregulating” the number of dopamine receptors that are stimulated. This causes the brain to level out by tipping to the side of pain, which is why pleasure is usually followed by a feeling of hangover or comedown. If we can wait long enough, that feeling passes and neutrality is restored. But there’s a natural tendency to counteract it by going back to the source of pleasure for another dose.

If we keep up this pattern for hours every day, over weeks or months, the brain’s set-point for pleasure changes. Now we need to keep playing games, not to feel pleasure but just to feel normal. As soon as we stop, we experience the universal symptoms of withdrawal from any addictive substance: anxiety, irritability, insomnia, dysphoria and mental preoccupation with using, otherwise known as craving.

red cardinal on bird feeder
I like to sit outside and enjoy listening to and watching birds.

What do you view as the major issues facing families today?

What are your thoughts about the physical and chemical changes in the brain causing an addiction to social media, screens, video games, etc.? Have you heard about this before or is it a new concept to you?

How much time do you spend on social media like facebook, pinterest or other news sites?

Why I think I’ll give up Facebook for Lent

images-2One of my daughter’s good friends from her club swim team gives up social media each year for Lent. I’ve been reading all these stories about how Facebook is causing stress and anxiety in young people, and I applaud this friend for taking a break each year.

I mentioned to both my kids that I thought I should give up social media for Lent as well. Their overwhelming response was “Great!” and “Thank goodness!” I have decided to give up Facebook because I am beginning to believe that if social media is causing young people distress, is it that good for us older folks? I’m going to continue to blog and my posts show up automatically on FB, and I will continue with that. But, I’m going to make a conscious effort to really connect with my friends live. I’m going to call and talk, visit in person and hey—one of my favorite things—go out to lunch!

It’s going to be an interesting experiment and I’ll let you know how it goes. Perhaps it will free up more time for my writing! I mentioned to my daughter that I still want to use Twitter because it’s where I get my news. I like to see what’s “trending.” She’s telling me that if I give up social media, I need to go all the way!

I’m a convert to Catholicism and I really knew very little about the faith and I had no clue what Lent was until I took a nine-month course called Right of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). I did this after my son was born and before I had my daughter. My husband and I wanted to raise our kids with religion, but he was Catholic while I was Protestant. We visited several churches to see where we felt at home. I believed we needed to be on the same page if we were going to raise our kids with religion, so I signed up for RCIA. I was totally moved by our former pastor and the church we decided to join.

Exactly what is Lent? I found an article called “When does Lent 2018 start? Key dates, how long it lasts and the meaning behind the Christian tradition” that explains it pretty well on the mirror.com. Here are the basic facts:

Here’s everything you need to know about the beginning of Lent, when it ends, Christian prayers and fasting as the tradition is marked between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday

When does Lent begin?

For Western churches Lent begins every year on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday .

This year it begins on February 14.

The date varies from year to year, starting in either late February or early March.

However, for Eastern Orthodox churches it begins on Clean Monday (February 19 this year), two days before Western churches.
What is Lent?
Lent takes place every year in the 40 days leading up to Easter, and is treated as a period of reflection and a time for fasting from food and festivities.

It symbolises the days which lead up to Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, when Christ spent 40 days and nights alone in the Judaean Desert being tempted by Satan.

 

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Hanging out with real live friends at last year’s Masters swim meet.

What are your thoughts about taking a break from social media?

 

 

 

Puppy Love’s One Year Anniversary

 

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Waffles, our 12-week old pug.

A year ago, we adopted the cutest little boy pug Waffles. He was a Christmas present for our daughter, but I fell totally in love with him. I got the tough few months of potty-training, getting up in the middle of the night to get him outside–plus dealt with the constant chewing. Now he’s living life with my daughter and is loved by her Swim Team, has his own Instagram, Wafflezworldwide, and has gotten more than his fair share of attention on the twitter account WeRateDogs.

Here’s what I wrote last year about our new pup:

I think we bit off more than we can chew! We thought it would be nice for our daughter to have a companion in the form of an animal. She’s out of state in college and busy with academics plus D1 swimming, and for some hair-brained reason, we thought a puppy would bring a lot of joy and fun into her daily life.

She asked permission of her landlord, and even though her lease says “no pets,” he agreed to a small dog. We decided the puppy would be a present for Christmas.

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Waffles turns into a pancake when I try to walk him.

Our daughter wanted a pug and thinks they are so cute. They are. I’ll agree to that. We looked into suitable breeds, and besides the two negatives of snoring and shedding, pugs appear to be an easy going breed requiring very little care.

But the puppy thing. I’m on day five and I think puppy is winning the battle. It’s like having an infant again. I have to watch him constantly. He doesn’t sleep through the night, and when he’s crawling on his belly through the yard, I never know what is going to end up in his mouth. I knew we were in for trouble when we drove Waffles home for an hour and a half drive. He was squirming all the way, nipping and licking my neck and fingers. Finally, as we drove into town he fell asleep. That’s what my son would do in his car seat during long drives.

I’m crate training, potty training and my daily life suddenly got very busy and tiring. Why we think our daughter can handle this is beyond me. Of course, she does have youth on her side. And Waffles is so darn cute!

 

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Olive the cat is not sure about any of this. What did we do???

More recent photos of Waffles:

 

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Waffles on “WeRateDogs @dog_rates”

 

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Waffles and the Women’s Swim and Dive Team.

 

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Waffles first birthday.

 

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Waffles at work.

 

 

 

 

To Thine Own Self Be True — Or Facing the Sad Truth that Kids Grow Up

My baby girl's first Christmas photo.

My baby girl’s first Christmas photo made it on the cover of the monthly parenting magazine.

My daughter is coming home for Christmas break tomorrow. I’m excited and a little anxious. Her last final is today for her first semester of college out of state. I’ll admit that I stalk her on Facebook and Twitter. She doesn’t look like the same little girl who left for college in August. When I talk to her on the phone, she doesn’t sound the same, either.

I remember going to orientation with her last July at the University of Utah. There was one talk I especially liked, “Supporting your College Student” presented by Dr. Kari Ellingson, Associate Vice President, Student Development.

Ellingson said that during the freshman year our kids learn to become themselves. They will be grieving and letting go of high school friendships, but will build new and deeper ones. A main developmental issue is finding their identity. Their core stays the same, which has been developing over the past 18 years. But, how they express themselves changes. They may try on new identities by copying new friends to see how it fits or feels.

You may say to yourself, and hopefully not to your child, “Who the hell is this?” Then you meet their new friend, and say to yourself, “Oh, now I see who this is!” Which makes me wonder — who has the ear cartilage piercings (and now my daughter asked about getting one!) Why does she tweet that she wants to dye her gorgeous red hair brown? Is this why she’s best friends with a couple teammates one week and then inseparable with a new one the following week?

Thanks to Ellison, I can see she’s quite normal. I may not like it. But, she’s trying out new things to find out who she is. It’s going to be my job to not make a big deal out of the little things. I can’t keep her my little girl forever.

My daughter and teammates at JOs a while back.

My daughter and teammates at 2006 Junior Olympics.

This is what I have to say about finding out who you are: “To thine own self be true.” Don’t worry about what other people think. Do what you know is right. Be your own person. I’m afraid she’s working too hard to fit in. By being herself, she’ll fit in where she needs to be. 

I am standing back and watching my little girl grow and develop into an independent grown-up woman. It’s not easy.

You can read more about the highlights of Ellison’s talk here and I wrote more about “To thine own self be true” in Three Things to Tell Your Daughter on Graduation Night.

Sailing in Santa Barbara.

Sailing in Santa Barbara.