Dr. Shimi Kang – Dr. Shimi Kang MD.

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What to Watch for as We Transition Out of the Pandemic’s Acute Phase (Part Two)

acute phase

Life after a pandemic is new territory for all of us, and it’s essential to recognize the many things that could be coming up for everyone. In this way, we can go forward into this new phase with compassion, understanding, and empathy. Part one of this blog post discussed hyper sociability, social anxiety post-pandemic, and germaphobia. 

Part two will focus on overcoming some of the things we experienced or dealt with during the pandemic, such as grief, addiction, and trauma. 


Post-Traumatic Stress

After a natural disaster, research shows that an estimated 10% of people will have developed a psychological problem such as anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, a follow-up of the 2003 SARS outbreak showed that 44% of survivors developed PTSD. With this in mind, anyone from a front-line worker and healthcare worker to an individual who had COVID could be at risk of PTSD. 


How to cope: The research suggests that two-thirds of people who experience some form of post-pandemic stress disorder will rebound thanks to natural resiliency factors. If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, the best thing you can do is seek professional help. Learn what to look for in this helpful article.


Delayed/Complex Grief Reactions

It’s thought that between 10-20% of those who lose a loved one will experience prolonged grief disorder (PGD). PGD is grief lasting past 18 months and leads to depression or depressive-like symptoms. For those who lost loved ones to COVID-19, a delayed grief response can be expected. 

When we lose a loved one, things often remind us of them that can trigger grief. Life has looked so different that some of these memories or triggers have not been around for the past year. It’s also understandable that while dealing with the ongoing confusion and stress of COVID, many individuals put the processing of their loss or grief on the backburner. 


How to cope: When coping with grief, the best course of action is to acknowledge the pain and be compassionate with yourself or those around you experiencing grief. Seek out support from others. This could be family and friends or a professional. All grieving processes are unique and can be triggered by a death, divorce, job loss, or loss of security in some capacity. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and making time for outdoor activity or play. 


Coping with Reduced Alcohol, Drug, and Online Distractions

Viral videos of people making fun of their not-so-secret wine coping mechanism overtook the internet at the beginning of the pandemic, bringing humour to a dark and confusing situation. However, increased alcohol consumption, drug use, and online distractions, such as pornography or gambling were a reality for many. As we return to normal, this means a bit of disengagement from new habits or addictive coping mechanisms. This withdrawal can range from a bit of frustration and irritability to full-on withdrawal from a substance.


How to cope: If you believe a loved one may be struggling to cope with a new addiction, speak to a professional about offering them help. I have more resources on my blog related to online shopping addictions and how COVID has impacted pornography usage that can help. 


What It All Means and How to Move Forward

It may feel like ages ago, but we all went into our first lockdown not too long ago. It was confusing and scary, but somehow, we came together with the help of technology; we found light in an otherwise dark time. For some, this meant stepping back and enjoying a break from work. Others returned to school or pursued a new hobby. Even if all you did during the pandemic was get caught up on reality TV, it was a time to rest and step back. As we transition out of this acute stage, it’s normal to feel off-balance once more. When our routines are disrupted, even in a good way, it can be unnerving. 

Luckily, we’re an adaptable species. The transitional phase is always a little tricky, but with understanding and compassion, we’ll navigate this together as well. If you’re struggling with any of the hurdles mentioned in this two-part blog, please reach out. I’m still seeing patients in my clinical practice, and I’m here to help.

What to Watch for as We Transition Out of the Pandemic’s Acute Phase (Part One)

Pandemic acute phase

Are you feeling excited about being able to attend school without masks and social bubbles? Perhaps you’re counting the days until you can attend a music festival or go travelling without worry. As we transition out of the acute phase of the pandemic, everything is looking up — right? 

It may feel like all of that is behind us, and in many ways, it is. However, as we return to a world of hugs, group events, and seeing each other’s full faces in the grocery store, other issues may arise. According to Jonny Morris, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC division, 40% of Canadians have experienced mental health issues during the pandemic.

This article is not here to scare you. My intention is to bring awareness to the mental health hurdles that some may experience as we return to a less physically distanced world. 

Here are some things you may see in others or experience yourself in the coming weeks and months.


Hyper Sociability

Research has found that young adults and teens have been the hardest hit regarding feelings of social isolation and loneliness during the pandemic. Because of this, many people who’ve experienced this deep sense of loneliness and isolation may be so excited to reconnect that they are excessively social. 


How to cope: Be on the lookout for your friends who choose to prioritize social interaction over other important aspects of life, such as exercise, downtime, sleep, and nutrition. If you notice yourself prioritizing social events over other things, create some rules. Perhaps you only make plans with friends two or three times a week to begin.


Social Anxiety

You can look forward to seeing your friends and still feel anxious in social situations right now. That’s normal. This long break may make returning to social gatherings extremely triggering and challenging for those who already had a bit of social anxiety before the pandemic. Social anxiety can be hard to spot because it can sometimes look like hypersocial behaviour and other times like extreme introversion. If someone is uncomfortable in social situations, they may become overly social in a group setting due to discomfort. They may talk too much or indulge in alcohol beyond the usual limit. On the other end of the spectrum, they may simply never go to social gatherings or engage or talk to anyone when they’re in group settings. 


How to cope: Having some anxiety and discomfort when engaging in group activities again is perfectly normal. If, however, your anxiety about returning to work because of the social aspect causes you to avoid work, or you’re having panic attacks when you think about going to a social gathering, it’s time to seek professional help. Mindfulness practices and exercise can also be beneficial for those struggling with general anxiety related to social situations. You can also learn more about social anxiety and what to do about it on my blog.


Germaphobia

Can you believe that there was once a time when we didn’t wash our hands? This was before we understood what germs were. Advances in medicine and science discovered “germs” and realized how they spread diseases such as tuberculosis. In 2003, we started sneezing or coughing into our arms to prevent the spread of germs during the SARS epidemic.

As we begin to flock back to grocery stores without masks and leave tiny bottles of sanitizer at home, many among us will still be very aware of germs and nervous about the lack of precautions. 


How to cope: If you’re nervous about the spreading of germs, continue wearing a mask and carrying sanitizer. Opt to get your groceries and run around outside of peak traffic times. Talk to your friends and relatives to make sure that those around you know your comfort levels. 

If you know someone dealing with germaphobia, be compassionate and continue to observe distancing when you see them. Don’t push them to take their mask off or hug you. If you notice that their fear negatively impacts their ability to make healthy choices, suggest they speak to a professional.

Break the Online Shopping Addiction Developed During the Pandemic

Shopping addiction

This past year, a lot has been done through the comfort of a screen. School moved online for many students. Employees around the world transitioned into a home office. Even how we bought our groceries and clothes became more digitized.

Speaking of online shopping, how many times have you gone to pick up the mail only to find an Amazon package you didn’t remember buying? Online shopping has made the impulse buy even more accessible thanks to the one-click checkout.

For many, this easy online process of buying things, coupled with the tailored ads online, means that the monthly credit card bill climbs higher and higher. Why is online shopping so addictive, and how can you break the habit? I’ll discuss all that in this article. 


Why is online shopping so addictive?

Like any addiction, we have to look at the brain to discover why online shopping is addictive. 

Online shopping provides a rush of dopamine, much like any form of shopping. It feels good to fulfill our perceived “needs.” 

The problem with online shopping and shopping with a credit card is that the item purchased and the money used to buy it feel separate. This is referred to as “coupling.” When you buy a shirt with cash, the shirt and the cost of it are directly linked. You physically assign a value to the shirt and weigh if the product is worth the value. With one-click purchasing online, the price feels more irrelevant. We don’t see the impact of the purchase until we look at our credit card statement—sometimes, a month later!

When you feel guilty about buying something, many will remember the hit of dopamine (those gratification hormones) they received when they purchased something. In an attempt to feel better about spending all that money, they’ll spend more money. This is because the shame and stress from the bill aren’t linked to the product or service that’s being purchased. 

Another major problem with online shopping is that it’s readily available, private, convenient, and open 24/7. For those using online shopping to feel good, the privacy of being able to shop in their home whenever they need that fix of dopamine can make online shopping so addictive. 

For many, online shopping does not become so severe that we classify it as an addiction. Only about 5% of the population is addicted to shopping. For most, online shopping has simply become a bad habit. 


Signs of a shopping addiction

What are the signs that a bad habit has become an addiction? Much like any addiction, look for shame or someone hiding evidence of the addiction. If someone is defensive when you bring the topic up, this is a red flag. 

If you’re using shopping as a means to soothe yourself and treat anxiety or stress, this is a sign that your online shopping is more than just a bad habit; you’re self-medicating a mental health issue with shopping. 

The other thing to look for is compulsive behaviour related to online shopping. If you or someone you know is compelled to buy an entire set of something regardless of need, this is another sign of a shopping addiction. This is especially true if you’re spending more money than you can afford. 


How do you break a bad online shopping habit or addiction?

If your online shopping has become a full-on addiction, you’ll need to seek out help in the form of a support group, counsellor, or trusted friend. If, however, you’re like the vast majority of people who’ve developed a bad habit of clicking that “add to cart” button a little too frequently, here are some ways to curb the bad habit:


1. Use apps and plug-ins like StayFocused on your browser to block the websites you frequently use to make purchases during certain hours. Many of us make those late-night purchases without even realizing it. Setting time limits and keeping our devices powered off after dinner can help. 


2. Delete your credit card information from your browser. Many have saved payment information to big stores like Amazon on their browser. The best way to avoid mindless purchases is to make it harder to click Buy.


3. Unsubscribe from email newsletters that are only trying to sell you things and cluttering up your inbox.


4. Declutter your home! When you take stock of everything you already have, you’ll end up being more mindful about what you bring into your home. Decluttering and organizing also bring an element of mindfulness into your purchasing process.

5. Make goals and lists for the things you want. Instead of just buying something on the spur of the moment, keep a list of the items you want to buy on your phone. This list will allow you to better prioritize your purchases and take the time to decide if you genuinely need it or not. 


Technology has helped us enormously throughout this pandemic, and it’s become a significant part of our lives in the modern world. However, when we use technology without conscious awareness, it’s very easy to develop a reliance or an addiction. This addiction could be to scrolling through your Instagram feed, watching YouTube videos, playing a game, or even purchasing things on a whim. No matter what bad habits you’ve developed with technology, you can break them! If you need a little help, get your copy of my new book, The Tech Solution, today.

(Yes, the irony of suggesting you purchase a book online in an article about breaking online shopping habits is not lost on me!)

Feeling Anxious Around People? Social Anxiety & What to Do About It

social anxiety

Have you ever arrived at a party only to feel a nervous flutter in your stomach? Maybe you’re worried about saying something silly or not having anything to say at all? For many of us, social gatherings cause a bit of anxiety. This anxiety can range from severe (such as panic attacks or avoidance of social situations) to minor nerves and discomfort. 

As we look ahead to easing restrictions, larger social gatherings, and busier venues, you may be wondering, 

“Do I remember how to be around people?”


What is social anxiety?

At its core, social anxiety happens from “the prospect or presence of interpersonal evaluation in real or imagined social settings” (Schlenker & Leary). Essentially, social anxiety is a feeling of concern related to other people’s evaluations of you. For example, this can be mild stage fright when public speaking to a fear of grocery shopping. 

A small amount of social anxiety is normal. After all, social connection is an essential survival need programmed into our being. We need to feel like we’re part of our community for safety. We’re social beings, and being worried about rejection from the “herd” is a legitimate worry. 


How does social anxiety affect our brains and bodies?

I talk a lot about the fight, flight, freeze, and fawn response. This response is our body trying to protect itself from danger or what it perceives as danger. We refer to this as our stress response. 

To truly understand stress and its impact on the body, we need to know about the vagus nerve. This powerhouse of a nerve is a control system in the brain connected to numerous parts of your body, including your heart, gut, lungs, genitals, and more. When we’re stressed, this nerve is what jumps into the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode. It causes our heart to race and our lungs to take quick rapid breaths in preparation for action. The problem with this is that when our vagus nerve is activated in this way, we’re not in social engagement and connection mode. 

Source: American Gastroenterological Association 


However, when we can relax and calm our bodies (which I will give tips for at the end of this post), our vagus nerve can make us better social beings. As an example, the vagus nerve is connected to the muscles in the face and voice, making us sound more approachable and look more authentic and relaxed. Similarly, our hearing actually improves when we’re relaxed. In this peaceful and open state, we can connect, plan for the future, remember details, and problem solve.


What can you do to reduce social anxiety? 

Now that you know about the vagus nerve and its role in stress and social connection, you may be wondering how you can calm your vagus nerve if you’re nervous about a social situation.

When a vagus nerve is prone to stress and bad at relaxing, we refer to this as poor vagal tone. Alternatively, if you’re good at calming your nerves and returning to a relaxed and open place after a normal and healthy stress response, this is referred to as a high vagal tone. The good news: you can train your vagus nerve and get to a high vagal tone.

Here are a few ways to reduce social anxiety and return your vagus nerve to a relaxed state:

1. Deep breathing. Deep, controlled breathing signals to your body that the threat has passed and returns your mind to the present moment.


2. Meditation. Much like deep breathing, meditation allows us to focus on the present and disrupt our busy worrying brains.


3. Humming. The vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords. Studies have found that humming and singing can calm your nervous system and reduce stress. 


4. Get outside. Nature can have a profound calming effect on our nervous system. 


5. Exercise. Movement stimulates gut function and can help reduce gut-related tension and stress, relaxing the vagus nerve. 


6. Keep a healthy diet. Make sure you monitor your gut bacteria. Eating a diet high in sugar can cultivate unhealthy bacteria growth in your digestive tract, and gut health is directly linked to our brain and body health. 


7. Get enough sleep. Sleep allows the body to relax and repair itself. For some people, chronic stress means significant gut and bowel issues. Rest and sleep become the only times when their system can relax and digest their food properly. Get enough sleep to help your system reset and recharge. 


8. Put down your phone! We may think we’re accomplishing our social connection needs through social media and screens, but in many ways, this actually creates more stress and self-judgment. Some forms of technology CAN help us connect in a healthy way, such as FaceTiming a loved one. To learn more about healthy and unhealthy tech solutions, pick up a copy of my new book, The Tech Solution

Remember, having nerves when entering an unfamiliar social situation is perfectly normal. Likewise, having a bit of nervousness when entering familiar social situations is normal. If you’re feeling a little on edge thinking about that first dinner party or music festival, you’re not alone. We’re all a little rusty. However, if your fear of social interaction is causing you extreme stress, it may be time to speak to a professional. Please reach out, and let’s see how we can develop a plan to reduce some of this social anxiety and help you create healthy, lasting social connections. Contact me today.

COVID-19’s Impact on Pornography

addictions to porn

I recently got a call from a colleague. He and his wife are both healthcare workers who have been busy, distracted, stressed, and burnout working in the pandemic. Their fifteen-year-old son, Jake, discovered girls in the last year but was unable to connect with them in real life. He turned to the internet to explore his curiosity and ended up highly addicted to online pornography. Jake withdrew from his friends, sports, and school to make more time for pornography. His grades, sleep, physical, and mental health suffered. Jake eventually became depressed. Filled with confusion and shame he took an overdose of vodka and painkillers he found at home. 

I have been treating Jake for depression and online pornography addiction for about 2 months. Thankfully, he is doing better. I wonder how many more young people like Jake are out there? 


What impact has COVID-19 had on porn consumption?

Pornography was an issue long before COVID-19. However, the global coronavirus outbreak has had a clear impact on the pornography industry. When we look at consumption, we see that traffic has steadily increased from the beginning of the pandemic. According to PornHub, they witnessed an 11.6% increase within the period of February to March 2020. 


What are some of the harmful effects of pornography consumption?

Watching online erotica or pornography is highly addictive. According to some experts, the addictive nature of porn and sex is directly linked to stress and anxiety.  

Excessive porn use can have harmful effects on professional and interpersonal relationships, healthy physical intimacy, and physical and emotional health. Studies in 1968 were able to condition fetishes in their subjects 100% of the time. By showing subjects specific content in pornographic videos, these individuals grew to seek out these particular traits or fixated on these conditioned fetishes after the study. This could be anything from a sexual foot fetish to something far more harmful. 

Not only is pornography highly addictive, thanks to the chemical reactions in our brains, but it also acts as a toxic, misguided, and unregulated tool that young people are using to understand human sexuality.

As more young people turn to pornography to learn about sex, we face a concerning outcome: more sexual aggression and a misunderstanding of consent

Source: Nature.com

Pornography has troubling negative impacts on children and youth, and it’s so prevalent in our online world that even the best child-safety locks don’t always stop everything.


What can we do?

Although there are many issues with online pornography, one, in particular, is the difficulty in policing the content. MasterCard is taking a stand by making it hard to use its payment methods on online porn sites. Moves like this from major companies are happening because research proves that 1 in 12 US citizens have been the victim of what’s known as nonconsensual pornographic recordings, or “revenge porn.” In addition, child pornography is a significant issue.

Whenever I discuss the harmful impacts of technology, I’m always thinking of something fundamental that many of us know, yet forget: you are what you consume.  When you eat only junk, you’re going to get sick. When you over-consume harmful technology, you get harmful outcomes. The best thing we can do right now is to talk to kids, offer healthy and informative sexual education, push for more stringent restrictions on pornography, and educate ourselves. 

This education and open discussion will prevent our children from turning to the internet to answer their questions about their bodies and sex. Understanding the negative impact of pornography on relationships and self-identity will benefit our children as well as ourselves. It can help us make healthier choices and avoid pornography as an educational tool or a source of misguided comfort. 

As a psychiatrist and speaker, I look forward to working with teams to educate them on these topics. Many educators benefit from learning about the impact internet erotica has on teenagers and how they can provide better sexual health education. Organizations can also benefit from learning about the pandemic of pornography to better help employees who may be silently struggling with an addiction. I discuss all of this in my book, The Tech Solution: Creating Healthy Habits for Kids Growing Up in A Digital World. If you’re interested in learning more, please get in touch or check out my speaker’s page for more information.

Understanding Flow States & How to Achieve Them

vitality training

Have you ever been so absorbed in an activity that you were able to tune out all distractions and lose track of time? Did your body and mind feel like you were in a special rhythm? Maybe you were running a race, and you were focused completely on your body. Or when you were writing or painting, all your creativity seemed to come out of nowhere.

This magical feeling is called a “flow state.” But as incredible as this sounds, you can’t achieve this by snapping your fingers, but with a bit of practice, anyone can achieve this state of mind regularly.

What Is a Flow State?

Put simply, a flow state is that feeling you get when your mind and body are completely focused on what you’re doing. Your senses are heightened, and it’s hard to get distracted. You’ll experience such high levels of clarity and intensity in your activity that time will fly by. You’ll feel a sense of happiness and fulfillment which will last long after your activity is finished.

While most of us have achieved this type of vitality at some time or another, some people have never experienced a flow state before. Even those who have often find it difficult to get back into this mode.

A Few Tips to Finding Your Flow

It’s impossible to force yourself into a flow state, but there are a few things you can do to help you achieve this amazing state.

Do what you enjoy. It’s important to do something you feel passionate about and enjoy doing if you want to get into a flow state. If your task feels monotonous or you dread doing it, you’re likely not going to feel flow naturally.

Avoid distractions. Even though you’ll start to tune out any interruptions once you’re flowing, try to avoid them while you’re still working. If you’re on the cusp of entering a flow state, distractions certainly won’t help.

Challenge yourself. If you’re working towards a goal that you’re passionate about, that makes it easier to achieve this high level of vitality. You want a task that will challenge you but not so much that it’s difficult.

Concentrate on the doing, not the finishing. If your mind is thinking forward to the end result of your project, you’ll find it tougher to get into the moment. Focus only on the journey — the drawing, the running, the playing of the sport — and you’re more likely to get into a flow state.

Create rituals. If you find you’re entering flow states more often, think about what you’ve done to get there. Start creating small rituals to achieve the same state each time. You may want to work at a certain time each day, light a candle before you start, or brew yourself a cup of your favourite tea. This will signal to your mind that you’re ready.

Use mindfulness and meditation. If you’re struggling with achieving vitality, try practicing mindfulness or meditate instead. The concepts are similar and can also bring on euphoric, flow-like feelings, and most people can relax and experience mindfulness with just a little bit of practice. Meditation and mindfulness are how you train your brain to getting you in the flow.

The more you practice vitality training, the easier it’ll be to tap into finding your flow more often. You’ll notice your creativity soars, and you’ll feel at peace and more fulfilled. Find out more information on vitality training and other ways you can utilize your mind and body to its fullest through neuroscience here.

Social-Emotional Learning: a New Dimension of Education

“MASON” WAS A HIGH achiever and a dream student in any school.

By grade 10, Mason, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, was consistently on the honor roll and a top athlete. He was known to be driven, hardworking and responsible. So it was shocking to all who knew him when he was caught plagiarizing an essay – submitting a paper he’d found online as his own work.

Since this seriously violated school policy, Mason was suspended. He was flooded with feelings of shame, anxiety, depression and self-hatred. The revelation and suspension resulted in Mason losing his place on a school sports team. This lead to further social isolation, and he became angry with his school for “dumping” him and not recognizing his “worth.” He began to lash out at coaches and team members, inflamed his parents against the school administration and retreated into further uncontrolled internet use.

Digital citizenship is a cornerstone of 21st century education. However, digital citizenship encompasses much more than adept web surfing or social media nimbleness. It transcends simple expertise. In its ideal form, digital citizenship fosters literacy, communication and responsibility. It doesn’t even require the presence of cellphones in the classroom, as exemplified by

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How to Manage Technology Use in Your Home

AS SOCIETY HAS progressed, many of us have swapped physical interaction for online interaction and daylight for artificially emitted blue light – including our children. We’re seeing toddlers with faces glued to smartphones and tablets, and as kids reach school age, they’re often encouraged to spend time on iPads and other devices to do schoolwork.

But what does this mean? What are the potential side effects? How much screen time is too much?

Research findings suggest that blue light can impact sleep patterns, social media use is linked with anxiety, depression and body image symptoms, and internet addiction disorder has become a medical diagnosis in Europe. In addition, there is no arguing that every minute you or your child is staring at a screen is a minute you’re not doing important social and emotional activities such as making eye contact, having real spontaneous conversations, moving your bodies, getting sunlight or playing outside.

To better manage technology use in your home, here are a few of my favorite tips:

Minimize technology during family time.

Earlier this year, University of British Columbia researchers presented very interesting findings at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s annual convention in Atlanta.

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Resiliency A Skill Being Touted As Taught At Youth Summer Camps

Summer camp has always meant facing a certain amount of challenges – mosquitos, making new friends, learning to play new sports and games.

In other words, it’s an opportunity for kids to become more resilient. Over the past several years, resiliency – being able to withstand difficulties and rise to the occasion when necessary – has become one of the qualities parents want most for their children, as most of us have come to believe that the coddled children of helicopter parents won’t make it far in this world.

Books on resiliency have been churned out by the dozens. Research institutes have been founded to study it. Child psychologists actively promote its benefits.No wonder camps across the country have begun to tout their resiliency-building benefits.

It’s a great sales pitch. But how do camps do it? Teaching kids archery or to ride a bike, or most any other classic camp activity for that matter, seems fairly straightforward, whereas teaching resilience can be more difficult to understand. Directors and counsellors at four camps in Canada that promote their resiliency-building benefits share how they go about doing it, helping to make not only happy campers, but ones who come home ready to rise to the

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