Dr. Shimi Kang – Dr. Shimi Kang MD.

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Stress, Anger, and Violent Protests: How Are They Connected?

fight flight freeze

When it comes to our emotions, there’s no way to avoid feeling them. Some emotions are easier to process than others and have minimal impacts on those around us. Anger is one such emotion that can negatively affect our social connections, our communities, and our health and well-being. Have you found yourself getting more irritated in traffic over the last few months? Perhaps you have less patience with cashiers or children telling you stories with a lot of unnecessary details. Do you feel guilty for cutting people off, yelling, or simply being a grumpy presence lately? All of this could be due to your body’s stress response. 

As with any emotion, certain things can lead to anger other than simply being frustrated or angry. Prolonged stress can lead to irritability, anger, and even outbursts of violence in some situations. Why might this be? Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between stress and anger.


How are stress and anger similar or different?

To identify how stress and anger are similar, we must first turn to the brain. When you feel stressed, your body’s fight, flight or freeze response is triggered. 

Fight – irritability, anger 
Flight – avoidance, distraction 
Freeze = anxiety, indecisiveness 

This response causes you to release a cascade of neurochemicals and hormones. Two essential stress molecules to note are adrenaline and cortisol

Adrenaline is a hormone that sparks your body to prepare for action. It causes an increase in heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, and more rapid breathing. These things prepare the body for fight, flight, or freeze as your muscles and organs receive more blood and oxygen.

Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in your body. It’s responsible for sounding the alarm when your body perceives a potential threat. When we think of stress, both adrenal & cortisol are being released. However, research has shown that when you experience anger, cortisol levels decrease


What does this mean?

Both stress and anger involve adrenaline, but if cortisol decreases when you experience anger and is produced when you’re stressed, can stress and anger be related?

The short answer here is yes.

As stress causes an increase in blood flow and oxygen, our bodies are getting ready for action. This increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen is also typical when we feel anger. When a person is under prolonged stress, anger is a natural response as the experience of this emotion is similar to how our body responds to stress. When someone finally explodes from prolonged stress, they were already primed and ready for anger. 

Let’s look at the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of prolonged stress. We see a lot of irritability, anger, and even violent protests that arise from this prolonged state of tension and confusion — or freeze, fight or flight response. 


How anger rises out of stress:

Stress is our body preparing for action. This action could come in the form of fight, flight, or freeze — and, for some, fawn (or submission). Anger could be categorized as one of these responses (often fight or flight) and is a response to our body’s stress response and stress hormones. When we feel prolonged stress, we need to have some form of response to finish this cycle. This is how we end up in situations where a person or group of people appear to have escalating anger out of nowhere. The prolonged feeling of stress was finally too much, and in an attempt to complete the fight or flight response, they experienced an outburst of anger.


What can you do to avoid an outburst of anger or violence from stress?

No one likes to feel like they’re at the mercy of their emotions. That being said, there’s no way we’re going to rid ourselves of anger. Anger serves a purpose and shouldn’t be considered a “bad” or “negative” emotion. However, when our anger isn’t expressed healthily, it can cause damage.  

To avoid an uncontrolled outburst of anger caused by your stress response, try these things:

1. Avoid sugary foods, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and other stimulants that can make it hard to direct your emotions healthily. If you’re addicted to these, don’t stop suddenly as you could experience withdrawal & more anger. Taper & reduce slowly. 

2. Exercise regularly to help your body healthily regulate stress hormones. Getting your heart rate up with exercise improves your mood! 

3. Learn new communication skills to help you feel heard when stressed rather than turning to bad habits such as yelling. Try the sandwich method, where you sandwich two positives with the “meat,” or potential negative. For example, “Nice to see you! I wasn’t too happy about that last comment you made. It felt hurtful. I am hoping you didn’t mean it that way. After we discuss, let’s go for a walk or get coffee. It’s a beautiful day.” 

4. Meditation and deep, controlled breathing have been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. These will quickly reduce both stress & anger — try them! 
We’re all experiencing stress and confusion right now, and it’s essential to be compassionate towards those who may seem irritable or short-tempered. It can be hard to regulate our emotions when our bodies act like shaken cocktails of stress and anger hormones. If you’re looking for help with an anger issue that you believe is more than what you can manage on your own, please click here and get in touch with me.

Technology In The Classroom: What Educators Need To Know

technology in the classroom

Technology is everywhere. It’s driving space exploration. It is making us more efficient at work. It’s keeping us in touch with distant relatives and friends. And now — it has a prevalent place in our classrooms. 

The question is, is classroom technology a good thing? 


The Benefits of Classroom Technology

Technology has drastically impacted how we teach and how students learn within the classroom. The internet allows students to pull up information about any subject easily and quickly; this has had some noticeably positive effects:


Globalization of Education

Students can connect with the world around them through devices. They can better engage with the Social Studies curriculum and current events in a more engaging way while exploring distant countries and communities through platforms like Google Maps. There are also platforms such as ePals that allow students to have penpals from other countries to practise language learning.


Interactive Learning Opportunities

Technology allows teachers to bring video, animation, games, and historical photos into the classroom like never before. Students are familiar with screens and technology outside of school; using old projectors and printed worksheets will only bore them.


Self-Paced Learning Opportunities

When a student takes longer than class time to learn a concept, learning technologies can help bridge that gap in various ways. Firstly, learning technologies can help teach these students the concept in a new way through games or videos. Secondly, it can keep the rest of the class engaged while the teacher helps that one student unpack the new concept. Mathletics is a fantastic way to help students learn math or review learning in a gamified, interactive environment. 


An Emphasis on Critical Thinking & Creativity

The Internet has the market cornered on fact recall. Students could never store all the information on the web in their brains and access it quickly, like through a Google search. In this way, education has shifted its emphasis from fact and date memorization to critical thinking and creativity. More emphasis is placed on teaching students how to fact check, think outside the box, problem-solve, and work together to memorize key historical dates. 


Negative impacts of technology in the classroom

Just like anything, there are both harmful and beneficial effects to technology in the classroom. Some of the drawbacks to technology are:


Exposure to False Information & Data

The internet has a lot of information out there, and not all of it is reliably sourced or reported. Students are regularly exposed to false information or opinions masquerading as news. This is why teachers must teach students how to fact-check what they find online and seek out reliable sources. 


Distanced Connection to Friends & Family

Social media can be a great way to connect with people who have similar interests. I’ve made the note before that it’s an excellent way for youth who feel like outsiders to find their tribe. However, when social media replaces authentic social connections, it becomes toxic. Teens and youth are especially at risk of anxiety, depression, addiction, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders linked to social media and the act of comparing themselves to what they see online directly.


Tech Addiction

Many tech usage aspects cause the body to release dopamine — the feel-good neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. We get a hit of dopamine when we receive likes on social media, level up on a game, or get a text message. Dopamine is also what is linked to most addictions. It directly relates to mood functioning and your ability to make decisions. When you feel good receiving that like on your Instagram selfie, you’ll be driven to get more likes. In addition to the mental health impacts listed above, unhealthy tech use can cause some serious issues for students, including disrupted sleep cycles, a lack of healthy exercise or diet, an inability to pay attention in class, lack of basic social connection, and behavioural outbursts when the student can’t get their “fix.”


Cyberbullying & Social Inclusion

Cyberbullying and lack of inclusion are terrifying adverse effects of technology for youth, parents, and educators. Students are navigating uncharted waters in their social hierarchies, both in the school’s hallways and in the privacy of their bedroom. The problem with cyberbullying is that it isn’t always easy to see. You can’t witness it in the same way you can see teasing in the locker bay. Feelings of not being included light up the same areas as fear & starvation in young brains.


These negative and positive effects of technology mean a constant battle of wondering how to proceed for educators and parents. Do we take the phones away from them at the door? Do we allow them in hallways and lunchrooms? How can we alter our teaching to address misinformation, social inclusion, and the negative aspects of social media, video games, and smart devices in the classroom while balancing their positive use? 

These are some of my recommendations for how to handle technology in the classroom:


1. Talk openly and honestly. Students want to be treated like individuals who are empowered to make choices. When kids understand the negative impacts of eating unhealthy diets, they’re better prepared to make healthy choices independently without all of that hand-holding. The same goes for technology usage. 


2. Be firm and flexible with boundaries and expectations. Lay down the rules if phones aren’t allowed in your classroom in general. Be flexible with students who may require them for learning differences (ex my son has ADHD & uses his phone to take pictures of assignments). Setting these boundaries and expectations with students helps them to understand what’s expected of them. These boundaries and expectations also help youth and children to develop healthy habits for later in life. 


3. Understand the importance of technology in education. You can’t ignore technology. It has so many benefits in the classroom and can infuse excitement and vibrance in learning that students need to stay engaged and interested. If you expect them to leave their phones at the door, you have to be willing to incorporate healthy tech into the classroom in other ways. 


Technology is a part of everyday life for most youth globally. Educators need to develop the tools to help students avoid tech’s negative impacts, identify reliable information online, notice what healthy and unhealthy tech is, and create good tech habits for the future. 


If you’re looking to learn more about creating a healthy environment in the classroom with technology, I can help. I offer training and speaking to educational groups on this topic and many more. Get in touch today. I want to help educators feel empowered to help students thrive with tech by their side!

Technology: A Blessing & a Curse During a Pandemic

work from home

Parallels have been drawn between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Spanish Flu that ran from 1918 to 1920. However, there’s one major difference that sets these two pandemics apart: technology. Modern technology has played a significant role during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s had both benefits and drawbacks. 

The question remains: has technology had a more positive or more negative effect?

Communication & Information

Benefits

Technology has allowed organizations like the WHO and The Provincial Health Services Authority of BC to update the public in real-time on advances and new recommendations. This means that communities are better informed and prepared with facts. 

Isolation can be a very dangerous thing for our mental health, so it’s vital that we remain in contact with loved ones and friends for our emotional and mental wellbeing. Loneliness can lead to an increased level of stress hormones, decreased sleep, changes in appetite, and increased anxiety. Technology has made it possible for individuals and families to adhere to social distancing without losing touch completely. 

Drawbacks

The same digital communication platforms that allow reliable organizations to communicate updates to the public can also be used by anyone. We’ve seen how fear can take over our brains and cause us to panic when we remember how grocery stores were full of empty shelves in March. In times of crisis, people will seek out information that comforts them or aligns with their views. This fear-based response means that people will believe or do anything that offers them comfort. This could be binge buying toilet paper or being part of the 23% of Facebook users sharing fake news, knowingly and unknowingly. 

As for staying in touch with friends and family, not all technology is equal. Research has shown that between 5% and 10% of Americans suffer from social media addiction. Unlike a Zoom call with friends or a phone call with distant relatives, mindlessly scrolling social media feeds can lead to depression. With the pandemic impacting our work, exercise, and social lives, more screen time was expected and with it, the negative side effects. 

Online shopping

Benefits

Online shopping allows families and individuals to purchase supplies without leaving their homes. Those who are most at risk are able to get their groceries, take-out, and supplies delivered to their door.

Drawbacks

The negative to online shopping is how easy it is. Spending in non-essential industries like electronics surged 100% in April in the US. With many professionals losing their jobs, this need to spend for comfort and entertainment could put unnecessary financial pressure on families and individuals in the coming months. 

School & Work From Home

Benefits

Remote schooling became a daily reality for many children. The positive to remote school is that it allows children to take more regular breaks and have a more laid back schedule. A 2016 study illustrated that children were more attentive and engaged when they learned lessons in 10-minute intervals with breaks instead of a 30-minute lesson. This same research also found that students were often more distracted when learning in groups. Technology allows children to learn at their own pace at home while still receiving instruction from their teacher and engagement with their peers. 

Of those surveyed by Buffer in 2019, 99% said they wanted to work remotely. The better work-life balance, flexible schedule, and reduced commute times all seem fantastic. In fact, 2015 research found that those who work from home experienced less work-related stress and exhaustion. And, as it turns out, employee turnover is lower in remote workers as well. Without modern technology, this wouldn’t be possible.

Drawbacks

Many students still benefit from in-class instruction, guidance, and motivation in a school system. A significant advantage of in-class schooling is the social and emotional development that takes place in the classroom with peers. Technology and remote schooling cannot replicate this. For many children, their home life is distressing and schools offer many helpful resources and a sense of security. Seven point four million American children are under emotional distress in their homes, and schools provide resources to help. 

Many don’t think of the drawbacks of working from home. Twenty-two per cent of remote workers find it hard to unplug from work when home has become the office. Recent research directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that work from home can actually cue more stress and burnout. The major downside of remote work is the lack of in-person engagement. This removal from co-workers can cause loneliness and present the same risks as any other kind of isolation

So Is Technology Good or Bad for a Pandemic?

Like everything in nature and life, there are pros and cons of technology in this pandemic. Any kind of technology can have both harmful and helpful effects on the user. As I’ve said before, technology has neither a 100% negative nor positive impact

One thing is clear — modern technology has played a significant role in how we’ve navigated the COVID-19 pandemic thus far. We’ve been able to remain in contact with our community, leaders, and loved ones. It’s also helped us learn best practices to protect ourselves and others and helped us alter our lives to continue learning and working in unprecedented times. 

My new book, The Tech Solution, goes into detail about the many ways that technology can help us to connect, care, and create. The big issue is knowing how to use it wisely. 
To learn more about healthy tech choices and how you can reap the benefits of technology while avoiding the drawbacks, purchase your copy of The Tech Solution now.

Internal Drive: The Art & Science of Human Motivation

Human motivation

We’ve all known that great teacher, boss, or coach. The one that motivated you to study harder, push farther, or perform more than you ever thought possible. These individuals are great motivators, but are they great at teaching you to motivate yourself intrinsically?

For many students and adults, extrinsic motivation is more of a force than their own intrinsic motivation, which could be a bit of an issue. First, let me explain what is meant by the terms intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation

Commonly called external motivation, this is the kind of drive that lives outside of you. This looks like:

– when your boss offers you an extra week of vacation if your pitch goes well or you reach a sales target, or
– when your teacher offers your class a pizza party if you all do well on a test.

Extrinsic motivation can also come from fear of punishment. For example, if you don’t do well on a test, you’ll have extra homework for a week.

Intrinsic Motivation

Also referred to as internal motivation, this comes from within. You’re not motivated or reliant on an outside reward or punishment. Intrinsic motivation is what you feel when you keep pushing yourself to practice a hard new skill or take a class to improve your knowledge even if a raise or promotion isn’t guaranteed from doing so.

What’s Happening in the Brain?

Evidence suggests that dopamine is at the root of intrinsic motivation. We know that dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and rewards. This can be a reward, such as eating food when hungry, which is necessary for survival. However, drug use also artificially creates this effect, thus creating a link between the drug and the dopamine effect that is so addictive because it makes us feel good.

When we only rely on external motivation, we are relying on external sources to release this dopamine. It can be challenging to transition this mindset over and learn to motivate yourself if you do not perceive an external reward. It’s important to remember two things:

We are all born with intrinsic motivation. Something innate and animalistic within us makes us want to walk, and we motivate ourselves to continue trying despite numerous failures.
We need to succeed at something without external rewards to recognize the sense of accomplishment and joy. This sensation will then become our motivating factor rather than us always relying on an external motivator. 

How do you cultivate intrinsic motivation?

When it comes to cultivating intrinsic motivation, you must offer yourself numerous opportunities for success. It’s hard to continue to motivate yourself toward an end goal if it feels unattainable. This is why we must consider Attainability and Time when developing our SMART goals. Celebrating the mini-goals along the way will help you continue to motivate yourself forward. 

Similarly, if you’re trying to motivate a team, make sure you have mile markers along the way to the big goal. These little wins will help continue to motivate your team forward. 

Coaches, teachers, parents, and leaders can cultivate a growth mindset or intrinsic motivation in those around them by reducing external rewards. Try placing the highlight on your team or individuals’ hard work and accomplishment instead of on the reward they’ll get. Place a lot of emphasis on the effort it takes someone to complete a task or accomplish something. When we reflect on the hard work it takes to succeed, hard work becomes less of a deterrent. We become less reliant on external motivators to push us forward. 

Do you want to learn how to cultivate intrinsic motivation within yourself and those around you? I focus on this exact topic on one of my speaking topics: Internal drive is lasting – the art and science of human motivation. Get in touch today to book a speaking event with me. I’m happy to accommodate social distancing and find digital ways to motivate and inspire you and your team.

Adaptability: The Key Ingredient to an Awesome Life

adaptability

Navigating life’s challenges requires one key thing: adaptability.

Stress is an inevitable part of life, but we wouldn’t grow or develop without a certain amount of discomfort. Yet, in our modern world, we’re under such extreme pressure that stress has become a chronic issue. 

I’m sure we can all agree that 2020 has been the kind of stressful year we thought we’d only witness in a post-apocalyptic movie. Nevertheless, we survived a year that we’ll remember as the “COVID-19 pandemic year” — and this pandemic has no clear end in sight. You may be wondering — what do you need to do to manage this stress and these changing times?

I’ve done a lot of research on dealing with stress. Ironically, my research wasn’t ever supposed to be about adaptability. I was looking for the answer to the question, “What is the one skill necessary for an awesome life?” It turns out that the answer is adaptability. 

What Is Adaptability? 

Adaptability is the capacity to adjust to changes in certain circumstances and new conditions. This is essential as there’s one thing that we know about life: things change. Adaptability is crucial to being able to adjust to the ever-changing cycles of our lives without the kind of confusion and resistance that causes unnecessary stress. Humans adapt through what I call nature’s most powerful gift “neuroplasticity.” We ALL have the hardwiring and ability to adapt regardless of age, circumstances, and even mental health issues. 

Why Adaptability Is Crucial

We aren’t the only ones who rely on adaptability. Animals are continually adapting to changing circumstances to survive and thrive. Viruses are modifying, too, which is what’s gotten us to the place we now find ourselves in.

It makes sense, then, that we must also be adaptable to survive.

But adaptability isn’t purely about survival. It’s also about having a high-quality, or awesome, life. 

Adaptability can help us in a few key ways:

  • It can help us remain calm and focused even in confusing and new situations.
  • It allows us to find jobs and careers we’re passionate about and satisfied with, despite stressful or new conditions.
  • It can help us raise our children, even when we feel overwhelmed and underprepared.
  • It can help us innovate and develop individually and collectively.
  • It can aid us in adjusting to changing circumstances during a global pandemic.
  • It can help us adapt and change to become better versions of ourselves.

I believe adaptability is crucial because it comes with a kind of humility. It’s the awareness that no amount of planning or preparation can ready us for the unforeseen. It reminds us that we’re a small part of a bigger picture and also that we are resilient at our core. 

Ways to Be More Adaptable

Humans have an innate drive for neuroplasticity. We have always been good at adjusting to new environments and innovating to push the envelope. On the flip side, we’ve also been very good at neglecting the basics. Nothing illustrates this more than our astounding achievements in technology and consequent technology addictions

Taking care of the basics and not replacing them with unhealthy habits and interests is crucial to our ability to adapt. To be more adaptable in these uncertain and stressful times, remember the basics of neuroplasticity with the acronym POD. 

Think of a dolphin POD. Dolphin’s do these 3 activities every day, making them among the world’s most adaptable creatures. Dolphins are mammals that need oxygen to survive yet live underwater, that is how powerful these 3 activities are. 

  1. Play

    Play activates our brain’s frontal part, stimulating pathways for abstract thinking, emotional regulation, problem-solving, and strategy — all things that help with adaptability. Dolphins play every day even though they live in an ocean surrounded by sharks and other predators like humans
  2. Others

    Social connection is a fundamental part of a balanced life. We’ve seen the negatives of isolation in many instances, this pandemic being one. We must remain connected in safe and responsible ways. Meaningful social bonding lights up the brain and can motivate you to adapt. Dolphins know that the strength of their pod determines their own survival.
  3. Downtime

    Rest and relaxation are crucial as downtime is when we adapt. These resting periods allow our bodies to slow down our thoughts to improve focus, memory, and concentration. It allows for more life satisfaction and reduces stress. Dolphins sleep by alternating their brain hemispheres! 

All these things are what’s needed to be flexible to changes. 

Adapting is how we thrive in this life — to steer the changes of today. It’s the essential ingredient in managing the stress and uncertainty of parenthood, career changes, and global pandemics. I forgot the power of these activities myself. After the age of 40, I was hit with an underlying genetic condition of low collagen production that I did not know I had. I became very ill with chronic pain in my body and anxiety and depression in my mind. When I hit pause in my own life and stopped making stress and “busy-ness” a symbol of importance, I could take care of myself again and I began to adapt. I began to play again, and I found new ways of dealing with my body. I found new passions in myself. When I connected, I found a new purpose, and when I rested, I found balance. All this helped me adapt to my new life as a parent, and it has continued to help me adjust to changes in my life. I know it can help you, too.

If you’re looking for help adapting to change or educating your team to be more adaptable, I’d love to work with you as a speaker and facilitator. Get in touch today, and let’s start working together.

Goal-Setting: Accomplishing Goals Through Brain Science

goal setting

We’re well into a new year, and that means you’re either feeling good about taking steps to accomplish your goals for the year, or you’ve already defaulted back to your old habits and routines. Setting new year’s resolutions is simple. It’s accomplishing them that’s difficult.

When it comes to setting goals and accomplishing them, there are two key things we need to remember:

1. Goals should be S.M.A.R.T.

SMART goals are ones that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. However, when it comes to accomplishing goals, even the smartest ones sometimes remain out of reach. To make setting these goals, I’ve created a SMART goals worksheet. You can access it HERE.

2. You need to learn how to use your brain to your advantage.

The trick with accomplishing goals is understanding how your brain works and how to motivate yourself for success. Often, personal or professional goals are based on changing habits. Changing a routine or pattern can be extremely difficult to do without recognizing how our brains create new habits and what motivates them. 

Once you’ve re-evaluated your goals to make sure they’re smart, we need to look at ways to use brain science to accomplish them. Here are a few tips on achieving your goals and why these things work.

Prime your brain.

Priming your subconscious can drastically affect your behaviour. To be more successful, create subconscious visuals to motivate yourself. If your goal for the year is to pay off debt, create a tracker that you can fill out each day and visually see your progress. Perhaps your goal is to exercise more. Create a vision board of all the workouts you want to try and the visual representation of success in your mind. Seeing these things, consciously and subconsciously, can prime our brains and create motivation. Learn more about visualization on my YouTube Channel

Focus on creating a new routine.

The thing with the human brain is that it loves routines. When it comes to goal-setting, we’re often trying to change a pre-existing routine. Want to be an early riser? That means changing an established routine and belief that you’re just “not a morning person.” If you turn your goal into a pattern or a habit, it will be far easier to accomplish. To do this, you have to convert a goal into a habit within your brain. This means moving it into a completely new location, from the subconscious lower brain to the conscious orbitofrontal cortex. This can be as simple as changing a few variables like eating popcorn in a movie with your non-dominant hand. With the help of endocannabinoids, who act like little administrative assistants who organize the files within this part of your brain and work the switchboard, you can transfer a goal into a habit. 

Reward yourself.

Make sure you have mini-goals along the way to measure progress. Saying you plan to run a 10km race by the end of June can seem daunting on the days you struggle to run even 1 kilometre in under 30 minutes. Setting smaller goals within your resolutions will help you stay motivated, thanks to all of the mini celebrations that will excite you and motivate you to keep going. This method works because you get a hit of dopamine when you accomplish mini-goals, encouraging your brain to continue to the next milestone for the next reward.

Change your location.

Some say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. When it comes to accomplishing goals, if things aren’t going according to plan, try changing the technique or method of accomplishment. This change could be as simple as a new location. This location change can make it easier for your brain to learn a new habit or change a pre-existing one as it removes the familiar cues that cause the default routines.

When it comes to accomplishing goals and changing our habits, there are many obstacles to overcome. Life always seems to get in the way, doesn’t it? However, when you can begin to learn how your brain works, you can use this knowledge to your advantage and work with yourself rather than against yourself to accomplish your goals and resolutions. 


Do you have a particular habit or routine that you’re finding difficult to overcome? Speaking with a professional can help. Get in touch with me through Healthcode to set up a remote appointment. Perhaps you’re looking for a motivating way to unite your team before accomplishing company goals this year. Get in touch with me, and we can work out a motivating virtual class to get your team excited and motivated for the coming year.

How is Technology Changing Your Brain?

For the first time, humans have the answers to nearly every question in the palm of their hand, limited only by their download speed. The question we need to be asking, however, is how technology is affecting our brains. 

Your brain is the original computer. It’s able to process information, source out relevant memories and files from your past, and answer critical questions in the blink of an eye. Probably faster. But what happens to your brain and your cognition when a new kid enters the playground? I’m talking about technology. 

There are three critical aspects of cognition being affected by technology:

Attention

Attention is our brain’s ability to focus on tasks, objects, conversations, and thoughts. When it comes to technology, many people are vying for your attention at any given time. The problem is, these people have become increasingly good at designing websites, apps, and platforms to influence your brain’s ability to stay focused. 

Notifications are designed to prey on our stress response — that’s why they’re red and not blue. Research at Florida State University has shown that even one notification on your phone can weaken your ability to stay on task.

When you consider that your smartphone is never very far away, it’s no wonder that more and more data shows technology’s harmful effect on our ability to stay focused. Our phones are pulling our attention away from other things in two key ways: endogenously or exogenously

This means that we’re distracted by a task because we internally think of our devices or technology (endogenous). This distraction is caused by perceived boredom or lack of interest in the task at hand and the perceived reward or gamified interaction we expect to have with technology. Distraction can also be caused externally (exogenous) by the chime of a notification or a flashing light on a nearby device. This ongoing distraction causes our cognitive function to suffer as we find it harder and harder to keep our attention focused. 

What Can You Do?

Start leaving your devices in another room and on silent when you need to focus. Having the device removed from our field of vision and out of ear-shot will better allow our cognitive ability to focus on the immediate task at hand without distraction. This could mean:

  • No phones at the dinner table.
  • Silent phones when out with friends.
  • No technology in the bedroom.
  • Application limiting apps.

Memory

There was a time when remembering countless phone numbers was commonplace. Now, you can’t even remember your own phone number half the time. Technology is a valuable resource for storing and organizing essential information to free up that space in our memory and reduce stress. However, technology could be having a few harmful effects on your ability to remember. 

A six-day Internet search training paradigm revealed that those who participated showed decreased functional connectivity in the brain’s areas responsible for long-term memory formation and retrieval. This essentially means that reliance on the Internet for memory could reduce the ability to retrieve long-term memory due to a lack of functional connectivity to this region in the brain.  

Our memories have shifted from being a place where we store facts to a place where we remember to search and find these facts in an external source: the Internet. There are benefits and drawbacks to this. The advantage is that we no longer need to remember every mundane detail. The disadvantage is that we’re no longer relying on ourselves to remember things that could be valuable. As well, the very act of using the Internet as a form of external memory could be reducing our ability to store and access long-term memories.

What Can You Do?

To increase your memory, try a few of these tips:

  • Try brain exercise games such as Memory, crosswords, and trivia without the use of devices.
  • Use technology for good, and start exercising your memory with memory games.
  • Whenever possible, research using books, write down notes by hand, and quiz yourself to work on fact recall.
  • Practice gratitude journaling to start accessing long-term memories to write them down. This will further solidify the memories as well as push your brain to recall things from farther back. 

Executive Function

Executive function is the part of cognition that’s responsible for anything from anticipation and problem-solving to emotional self-regulation and social awareness. This is the most troubling area to be affected by technology, in my opinion.

When we look at how technology affects cognition, you can’t ignore the social and emotional repercussions. Social media is increasing both depression and anxiety rates and has created a new form of emotional trauma and risk for youth: cyberbullying. 

Many people have friend groups online that are far larger than a reasonable social circle offline. However, research suggests that the way friendship is structured isn’t dramatically different in the online and offline world. This research suggests that most of us have a maximum number of close friends that we see in a kind of hierarchy. Those higher up on the hierarchy are the ones we see the most and as we move down the list, we see these friends less often. If we look at the number of “close friends” a person has on Facebook — the ones engaged with most often— we see that this is about the same number as in-person friendships. Because this number remains relatively consistent across the board, it suggests that a limit in the amount of close friends we have exists both online and offline. 

If social media isn’t creating an overdose of superficial connections, is it really doing any harm to the quality of friendships we do have? As it turns out, it is in some ways. Mobile device use can become distracting and take away from quality interaction with friends. High technology and internet use are also linked to reduced emotional intelligence and social skills. This same study suggests that high internet usage leads to individuals feeling a greater sense of loneliness despite being “connected” to so many. So if you’re connected to everyone, why feel so disconnected? 

The artificial social environment created on social platforms allows us to compare ourselves to others directly. This upward comparison isn’t unique to technology. It’s something that we see in offline social circles as well. However, technology and social media have created a perfect storm. In these comparisons, individuals are comparing themselves to the idealized versions of others. More commonly than not, this comparison can lead to negative self-evaluation and a sense of them vs. me.

What Are the Solutions? 

The answer to this question is similar to the two solutions above: put the devices away. Allowing yourself to connect to a few quality friends and relatives will increase your social connection, help you develop better emotional intelligence, and create stronger support networks crucial to a healthy life. Create rules for yourself and your friends. Turn the phones off when out together and talk on the phone more than you use a social feed to stay up to date. 

Technology can be a valuable tool. It can help us organize our time, set reminders, keep in contact with influential people, and connect with facts and friends worldwide. However, when we overindulge in technology, we can see the harmful effects technology has on our cognition. Healthy technology use requires awareness and habits. This is what I speak about in greater detail in my new book, The Tech Solution. Pick up your copy online today.

The Science of Giving

giving back

The holidays are a time of giving. We not only give thanks but give our time as well as gifts. Giving back is a foundational part of being human, and it provides a sense of closeness and goodwill within a friendship, a family, or even a community. The science of giving shows that it’s not just those that receive benefit, either. Here are the ways giving to someone else could be beneficial for you. 

The Giving Brain

When we give, our brain releases oxytocin, endorphin, and dopamine. Oxytocin promotes bonding, trust, and empathy. Endorphin is our bodies’ internal morphine or painkiller and gives us a sense of peace and bliss. Both oxytocin and endorphin have been shown to reduce stress. As for dopamine, it’s responsible for feelings of pleasure. Dopamine can be addictive if released alone—it can have you seeking short bursts of pleasure, like chocolate cake or a video game score. When we give, we receive all three of these powerful neurochemicals, and we get pleasure, bliss, and bonding as a reward. 

One study found that the act of giving could reduce your risk of early death in some instances. This is because giving decreases stress, thus decreasing the chances of health problems associated with stress. Dopamine and oxytocin are responsible for various beneficial effects, especially improved memory function and increased focus and attention span.

The Community & Social Effects of Giving Back

Giving can have profound effects on our social bonds to others and our community. A 2011 report from the National Marriage Project found that generosity was a significant factor in whether a marriage was considered happy or not. When we give to others, we show that we care. This act of giving creates stronger relationships and better social connections. The incredible thing about giving is that it’s contagious. When you give to a friend or someone in your community, this goodwill will be multiplied. 

Giving is good for each other, our communities, and ourselves. It promotes our health, feels great, and rewards us, which, in turn, drives us to want to give more. 

How to Give This Season

You may find yourself feeling a little “bah humbug” about the holidays this year as we work to respect physical distancing; however, there are other ways to give. Here are just some of the ways to give this season without getting too close:

  • Send a holiday card in the mail.
  • Edit a fun video montage together of all your friends or family to send to someone who may be feeling a little alone.
  • Jump on a zoom call for a face-to-face holiday party.
  • Press play on a holiday movie and speak on the phone like you’re watching together.
  • Share recipe ideas.
  • Send a gift basket from a local business.
  • Make a scrapbook and send it in the mail or wrap it up and deliver it in safe packaging.
  • Donate to a community initiative on someone’s behalf.
  • Donate food, toys, and clothing to local drives and food banks. 

Giving back has been shown to increase feelings of happiness, overall health, and social bonds. It’s part of being human, and it promotes gratitude and empathy. What are some of the ways you’re going to give back this year? Share this post on your social channels and ask your friends and family how they’ll give back.

Looking for ways to give this season using technology but want to avoid its harmful aspects and addictive nature? Pick up my book The Tech Solution. In this book, I dive deep into how technology can be used in a healthy way while avoiding the negative pitfalls.

How to Stay Engaged & Productive While Remote Working/Learning

healthy tech

Staying engaged and productive while working or learning from home can be challenging for many. Microsoft has done research into this and found that the average attention span for most people is now a mere eight seconds. 

With difficulty focusing, even in environments made for work, it’s no surprise that tuning out distractions at home can feel near impossible. This is because the brain processes information and focuses on tasks in two distinct ways.

First, there’s willful focus; this is the focus required to do school work or complete tasks for your job or profession. The other type is more automatic. Willful focus is referred to as a “top-down” signal, and automatic focus is referred to as a “bottom-up” signal. These two signals perform and move differently in the brain and even have different brain frequencies. So, when you’re focusing on a task, your mind can easily be distracted by something else automatically and seemingly at the same time. 

If our brains can sabotage our productivity and efficiency by trying to multi-task and responding to numerous distractions, how do you stay on task while working and learning remotely?

1. Make things interesting.

When students and workers are genuinely engaged in the content they’re learning or working on, it’s much easier to stay productive. Companies with engaged teams reported 22% higher productivity measurements. If the material you’re learning or working on feels boring or unengaging, talk to your manager or teacher about other resources or learning methods that may suit your learning style or interests. Some examples of ways to make things interesting are:

  • utilizing entertaining videos as instructional means;
  • infusing humour in directions;
  • asking for feedback; and
  • switching things up often. Don’t just sit on a zoom call for an hour. Step away for an activity, break out into smaller groups for discussions, or incorporate an interactive quiz. 

2. Manage your stress levels.

Stress acts like a wall for productivity. Stress causes our brains to pull finite resources away from executive control functions (responsible for focus, memory, organization, and self-regulation) to deal with the immediate threat — or the cause of the stress.

For these reasons, you must find healthy ways to manage your stress during these times before you can return to a productive and engaged mindset. Try breathing exercises and techniques, walking, talking to family and friends on the phone, or journaling. 

3. Create more structure and routine.

There are two crucial things to remember when learning or working from home: boundaries and goals. 

It can be hard to leave the classroom or the office when you’re doing everything at home. Studies have found that remote workers end up logging more hours for this reason. Good mental health practices mean setting boundaries and prioritizing downtime. When the office is in the living room, you need to find a way to shut down and ignore it when the workday is done. Creating end-of-day routines to signify that you’re done work for the day can help.  

4. Stay connected.

Oxytocin is our brain’s chemical that enhances human social connection, commonly referred to as “the cuddle hormone.” As it turns out, this hormone could also be an integral part of your ability to be productive as well. Social bonding is a critical component of building trust and security, which releases oxytocin in the brain. Research suggests that oxytocin is also responsible for helping to assist with motivationally relevant stimuli. 

Put simply, this means that oxytocin can help you remain on task and productive as a kind of motivational and reward mechanism within your brain. 

Research by Dr. Paul Zak has also found that oxytocin plays a significant factor in productivity and engagement. Specifically, feeling trust can release oxytocin. Staying connected and feeling cared for by your coworkers, classmates, and teachers can help you remain productive and engaged. 

5. Have healthy tech boundaries.

Working and learning from home has one thing in common for everyone: it involves technology. This means communicating through video, submitting work through email, and even tracking your hours through a project management system. With all this tech, it can be easy to get tech fatigue or distract yourself throughout the day with unhealthy tech.

Have you ever been working on something and become distracted by social media only to find you lost 30 minutes? This kind of tech use can end up making you feel awful about yourself, and it means you just lost 30 minutes of productive work time. 

Learning the difference between healthy and unhealthy tech is the first step to being more productive in a home office or classroom to stay on task with healthy tech. My new book, The Tech Solution, goes into extensive detail on healthy and unhealthy tech usage and how you can find the right balance and solution for you and your family. Pick your copy up today.

Technology & Modern Relationships: Helpful or Hindersome?

tech solution

Technology affects our modern society in numerous ways, but none more essential than how we connect with others, both in-person and online. The question is, is technology’s involvement in our relationships helpful — or harmful?

To look at technology’s effect on human relationships, we have to look at various social relationships. 

Family Relationships

Pros:

Technology makes it easy for us to stay connected to distant relatives. A 2012 poll by AARP and Microsoft revealed that 83% of families consider technology helpful in increasing communication. It’s also an excellent way to stay connected to your children as they grow and become more independent. About 50% of parents are “friending” their children on Facebook adding a whole other dimension to parenting!   

Cons:

Parents are feeling increased anxiety regarding their children’s online safety. One in four Canadian children has a cell phone by grade four! Although parents may feel a mobile phone can help keep them in contact, it can also be dangerous. Child predators are getting more sophisticated and learning to use popular games to find children.  

We’re so connected to our devices that we’re rarely more than arms reach away from them. The number of families still enjoying family meals together is declining, and we’re bringing our devices to tables regularly. As it turns out, carrying your phone to the table could harm your relationships with your family and yourself. A recent study found that having a phone at the table causes people to feel distracted and decreases the enjoyment of in-person engagement. 

Friendships

Pros:

The great thing about technology is how it can connect people with similar interests despite distance or limits. According to Keith Hampton, Ph.D., most online interactions lead to in-person interaction and connection building. Hampton also found that users who utilized social media platforms in a healthy way actually had closer connections with people. This is because the platforms helped them to maintain current relationships and form new ones with people they had more in common with. 

Technology can also help manage depression and loneliness. According to Alan Teo, a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University, subjects in a 2018 study were half as likely to be depressed when using video chat to stay connected instead of email, text, and social media.

Cons:

In 2020, 73% of students report having been the victim of cyberbullying. As we expand our perceived social circles, we don’t create deep personal connections with many of the people we interact with online. This kind of connectedness without the emotional bond is what leads to cruelty and cyberbullying. At its core, technology misuse can lead to a growing lack of empathy. 

Romantic Relationships

Pros:

Anyone who’s ever experienced a long-distance relationship understands how difficult it is to maintain. With the help of technology, long-distance romantic relationships suddenly become much more manageable.

Technology has also changed the way we meet potential partners. Of the 35% of teenagers dating, 8% have met a romantic partner online, and 50% of all teenagers have admitted to using social media to show someone they liked them.

Using technology for romantic relationships isn’t just a trend within the younger generations. Online dating has nearly doubled in the boomer generation (ages 55-64), with 36% looking for companionship with the aid of technology.

 Cons:

New research cited in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships has shown that dating apps have actually created a feedback loop of loneliness and compulsive behaviour. Some single individuals report being unable to stop thinking about potential matches. The gamification of dating apps reduces the more serious and personal nature of romantic relationships as well. The process turns dating into a game-like process of accomplishing goals. 

Sexting, the act of sending explicit content to someone via a mobile device, has also increased, with one in five cell users reported receiving a sext. Although not always a bad thing, sexting is often linked to one partner feeling pressured to do it, controlling behaviour, unhealthy relationships, and intimate partner violence. 

Professional Relationships

Pros:

Email has been a significant part of business since 1971. The Internet now allows businesses to connect with employees, customers, and partners from all over the world. 

Professionals can now network to a broader audience within their industry thanks to sites like LinkedIn. In this regard, technology can actually open doors for professional advancement and career changes. I certainly appreciate being able to reach people across the globe through social media — and my TEDx talk on Adaptability has over 3M views!

Cons:

Technology makes it harder than ever for professionals to leave work at the office. A study from the University of Reading reported that 61% of professionals at a managerial level said they struggle to switch off from work, and 54% of them often check work emails while at home. This always-on workforce can lead to burnout and stress — something I can relate to as well! 

What This All Means:

As with anything in life, there are benefits and drawbacks. Technology can help us keep politicians and law enforcement accountable. It allows consumers to take back power over some large brands, keeps us informed at a moment’s notice, and allows us to be globally connected. However, there are darker sides to technology, and they’re often closely linked to its benefits.

Technology has been an irreplaceable aspect of maintaining social relationships and bonds during the pandemic. The critical thing to remember is that when you have the chance to enjoy in-person communication, leave your devices alone. In the meantime, opt for video communication instead of texting or scrolling your social feed.

Ultimately, technology itself neither has a wholly negative or positive impact on relationships, it is how you use it. The influence technology has on your relationships is directly related to your ability to use it. In my upcoming book The Tech Solution, I discuss using technology to connect, care, and create. This means positive social connection, self-care, and creative pursuits of our passions and interests. 

To learn more about healthy tech choices and how technology impacts the many areas of our life, pre-order The Tech Solution now.