Shimikang – Dr. Shimi Kang MD.


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

Read More

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.

Read More

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

Read More

Stress and the Gender Gap

In honour of April’s Stress Awareness month, I wanted to take this time to touch upon a subject that many women of the 21st century are struggling with in silence, day after day, whether they are aware of it or not. During this month, many experts in all fields of health will come together in hopes of spreading awareness and increasing public understanding of this growing issue that is seemingly harmless and often overlooked. Because for many of us, we may not realize its creeping effects on our health until we fall extremely ill, or it is too late. And in an increasingly complex and competitive world where studies have shown that women are more affected by this today and in bigger numbers than ever before in history, we need to ask ourselves when is enough, enough? And what can we do about it?

Just less than 200 years ago, the biggest trials women were faced with were that of fighting for their fundamental civil rights. The right to vote, attend university, a pension, play contact sports, earn minimum wage, and the list goes on. Today, despite being the closest we have ever been to equality in North American history, women are now fighting an entirely different battle against an often silent killer, whose effects are becoming increasingly prevalent in our gender: stress.

As a society, we have grown accustomed to the idea that being too busy is a symbol of importance, and sleep-deprived one of ambition. According to a 2015 study on stress published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, young and middle-aged women are, in any given year, experiencing more stress than that of their male counterparts, and tend to “report greater stress and stressful life events than men, potentially because of their different roles in family life and work, as compared to men.” Professor Daniel Freeman of Oxford University and author of The Stressed Sex reports that in the “first systematic investigation of national mental health surveys,” psychological disorders, ranging from depression to phobias, were 20 to 40 percent more common in women than in men. This statistic, unfortunately, comes as no surprise, as he so aptly puts, “It’s certainly plausible that women experience higher levels of stress because of the demands of their social role. Increasingly, women are expected to function as carer, homemaker, and breadwinner—all while being perfectly shaped and impeccably dressed: ‘superwoman’ indeed.” As a result, our bodies are releasing stress hormones that are wreaking havoc on our bodies and on our minds.

Not only do women struggle with double-standards, less pay and breaking glass ceilings at the workplace, we are often also expected to be the primary caregivers and parental guides to our children, to be “present” and giving partners to our spouses, to maintain house affairs, to keep up with social activities and on top of all that, and are “bombarded with images of apparent female ‘perfection’” that mainstream society insists we aspire to. With the weight of the world on our shoulders, it’s no wonder that women are more stressed and experiencing higher numbers of psychological disorders to date.

In light of all this, it in increasingly hard for women to maintain a balanced and happy life, let alone our sanity, and we are only beginning to observe the detrimental long-term effects that this sort of lifestyle has on our mental and physical states. As a researcher and expert in human motivation with over ten years of clinical practice, I’ve found that whether you are a married housewife, single working mom, career woman, student, or somewhere in between, the key to achieving long-term success, happiness, harmonious family life and productive work life, is as simple as balance.

Not every cure comes in pill-form, believe it or not. Depending on the patient, I have written lifestyle prescriptions with as few words as, “sleep more,” “eat unprocessed, whole foods,” “exercise daily,” and “breathe deeply once a day.” Living a balanced lifestyle also stems from staying in the moment by being mindful of your feelings, thoughts and surroundings. This can be achieved through meditation, reflecting quietly over a hot cup of tea, or losing yourself in a hobby that you’re genuinely interested in. For the busy 21st century woman, this could also mean waking up a little earlier to collect your thoughts for the day, squeezing in a quick afternoon workout or winding down with that book that’s been collecting dust on your bookshelf. These may all seem easy and obvious to you at first glance, however, like most activities that seem simple—such as breathing deeply, sleeping soundly, and drinking enough water—it is putting those thoughts to actions that is the hardest part. But when we finally do, we are always greatly rewarded with healthy bodies, an abundance of energy and sharp minds, and we’re ready to tackle any tasks thrown our way.

Workplace Bullying: A Real Issue That Needs a Real Solution

Tigertown is a pushing, demanding, and stifling workplace. The hours are long, the management is predatory, the employees are solitary, and there is little community — definitely no mentors, and no time for fun or collegial bonding. Tigertown is an incubator for an insidiously growing problem: workplace bullying.

Although school-based bullying in children and youth has achieved much attention over the years, adults bully all the time and in surprising places. Universities, hospitals, schools, corporations, and even the police force are all settings where the real, common, and shockingly increasing problem of workplace bullying is occurring.

A new report by the Conference Board of Canada called Workplace Bullying Primer: What Is It and How to Deal With It describes the growing problem of workplace bullying.

As expected, the most common type of workplace bullying is “top-down” bullying where a superior bullies an employee. However, lateral (peer to peer) and bottom up (employee bullies superior) can certainly also occur. Perhaps one surprising (or not so surprising) finding is that the major means of workplace bullying is email. Email is ubiquitous but it can be a feeding ground for nastiness. Bosses can send demanding emails to their subordinates late at night, colleagues can “forget to CC” and exclude each other from important communication, and worse of all rumours and innuendo can spread behind the anonymity of a computer screen.

Jack and Jill both work at Jellyfish labs where the management style is spineless — lacking rules or expectations about workplace behaviour. Jack and Jill are both bullies but they operate differently. Jane spreads rumours with the intention to corrode away at other’s character and reputation. Jack bullies by constantly criticizing the work of others as being sloppy, boring, and generally unintelligent.

Although numerous studies have shown no difference in rates of bullying towards men and women, there are still key difference in how men and women bully and the impact they both feel. (Some studies do show women are more likely to be bullied in the workplace, especially by a man.) When it comes to forms of bullying, women more often appear to rely on social manipulation, i.e. strategies affecting communication, social relationships and social reputation.

Men’s bullying behaviours are primarily directed at the work of victims. Men will independently bully other men or women or bully as part of a group. Whereas, women may independently bully other women but not men — women tend only to bully men via a group setting. Women are more often bullied by colleagues than men. Men are more often bullied by supervisors and line-managers.

As a psychiatrist and addiction specialist, I see the effects of all types of workplace bullying on all types of people in my own practice. Many of us spend a lot of time at work and our work is often intimately connected to our identity, self-esteem, and mental health. I’ve seen highly intelligent, high functioning, strong-willed, passionate employees succumb to the pressures of workplace bullying. Common outcomes include stress, mental health issues, disability leave, absenteeism, employee turnover, reduced productivity, reduced job satisfaction, and at times soaring legal expenses.

The problem is real. And so is the solution. In general, there are three different types of workplace environments. On one end of the extreme is the authoritarian Tiger workplace. Like Tigertown, these environments are predatory, aggressive, isolating, stifling, and lack a sense of community. On the other end of the extreme is the permissive Jellyfish workplace. Like Jellyfish labs, these environments may initially seem fun and easy, but because of a lack or rules and expectations, problems such as bullying can quickly arise. The balance between these extremes is the authoritative Dolphin workplace.

The Dolphin Workplace is an authoritative yet collaborative workplace built on a balance of clear rules and expectations, while valuing the individual and their autonomy. Dolphin managers develop a community of support for their employees, they are curious — not judgmental, and prioritize effective communication and problem solving. Dolphin workplaces are firm about their no-bullying policies but they are flexible and work with their employees to find respectful, compassionate solutions.

For the Sake of Our Kids’ Mental Health, We Must Teach Them to Innovate

“Sam” – whose real name I’m not using to protect his privacy – was a first-year college student when he was referred to me. He was taking English and music, and he had slashed his arms with the bow of his violin.

He told me it was not a suicide attempt but rather a protest against his childhood.

Sam told me that as a child, he was a star student, excelling in academics and music, as he spent a lot of time in those activities. However, after Sam reached a certain level of technical ability, he started to fall behind. Around grade 11, the emphasis in the classroom shifted more toward comprehension, creative writing, music composition and group projects, and thus, Sam barely made it into college. Once in college, things became much worse, and Sam admitted to me that he slashed his arms after he was caught cheating on an English essay that he just couldn’t “figure out on his own.”

[See: 10 Concerns Parents Have About Their Kids’ Health.]

Sam’s story is not unique. I’ve seen this type of scenario play out countless times: A micromanaged child who performed well with linear, technical tasks begins to unravel when required to do more complex, creative or group-oriented assignments.

A 2014 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology showed the relationship between the time children spend in less-structured and structured activities and the development of vital skills that are becoming ever more important in our 21st century world. Scientists call these skills self-directed executive functioning. As researchers involved in the study noted, these skills help kids in all kinds of ways throughout their daily lives, ranging from allowing them to flexibly switch between different activities rather than getting stuck on one thing to being able to delay gratification or stop themselves from yelling when angry. Executive functioning during childhood predicts important outcomes, such as academic performance, health and wealth as well as criminal behavior years and even decades later. The study results concluded that children who spent more time in structured activities had less self-directed executive functioning, while those who spent more time participating in free-flowing, open-ended activities had greater self-directed executive functioning.

The key identified 21st century skills are creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration. Over-instruction of kids that leaves no time or space for trial and error, mistakes and just figuring things out on one’s own can stand in the way of children developing all of these skills.

[Read: How Parents Can Identify Mental Health Problems in Their College Kids.]

Of course, some level of structure is good for children. But with seemingly never-ending structured activities consuming more and more of our kids’ time, their lives have been thrown off balance. This is leaving kids with an inability to think on their feet and outside of the box.

Today’s well-meaning parents who are overscheduling and over-directing their kids in an effort to help them stay competitive with their peers are not fully preparing those children for our rapidly changing modern world that increasingly demands complex cognitive skills which can’t be outsourced or automated. The days of awards and promotions for those who know the right answer are quickly disappearing (we have Google for that). We are in the era of conceptualization, where those who can ask the right questions, find the answers and apply that knowledge within diverse groups and environments will succeed. Those who discover, communicate, innovate and connect will flourish.

What many parents don’t realize is that these 21st century skills allow our children to excel in both their professional and personal lives. After all, creativity and resilience are two sides of the same coin. One cannot be resilient unless he or she is creative. When kids can’t figure out new and different of solutions to their problems, they remain stuck.

[See: 6 Ways to Help Kids Combat Materialism.]

The mental health crisis across our campuses and classrooms is serious. It’s clear we need more counselors, therapists and psychiatrists to help the countless children and families who are suffering. However, we also need to get serious about changing how we parent and educate our children – moving from instruction to guidance, from direction to empowerment and from perfectionism to resilience. I know there are many more students with a story similar to Sam’s. It’s not too late to make the change.

Why We Need Social and Emotional Learning in Schools

When “Tyler” was a child, he was anxious.

He may have inherited his tendency to worry from his mom, who was obsessed with “what ifs” and what others thought. Or maybe it was his father, who pushed him hard in school and extracurricular activities. Whatever the case, his parents often tried to solve his problems for him, which greatly diminished his ability to cope with adversity as an adolescent.

By age 19, Tyler – a patient of mine whose name I changed to protect his privacy – was failing his college courses and became withdrawn from family and friends. His parents urged him to seek help, which led to his diagnosis of depression. Personal counseling sessions helped Tyler learn positive coping strategies and how to better deal with uncertainty, independently problem-solve, regulate his emotions and live a balanced life.

[See: 10 Concerns Parents Have About Their Kids’ Health.]

The Child Mind Institute reports that half of all mental illness occurs before the age of 14 and 75 percent by the age of 24. Many suffer from anxiety and depression.

Although Tyler found help and learned how to cope with his depression, other youth are not so fortunate. Of those children diagnosed with a mental illness, around 70 percent of them will not receive professional help, according to the Child Mind Institute. The World Health Organization notes that 1.2 million teens die worldwide each year and that most of those deaths are preventable, with suicide being the third leading cause of death among adolescents; it emphasizes the dire need to take action to improve adolescent health services, education and social support. But in many cases, as WHO outlines in its report on teen deaths, adolescents who suffer from mental health disorders cannot obtain prevention or care services because they either do not exist or because they do not know about them.

So, how can we encourage children to get the help they need, when that help is hard to find? For one thing, if we teach children and youth coping skills early, this alarming situation doesn’t have to become our new normal.

[Read: What Parents Should Know About Teen Depression.]

In an article for Edutopia, Roger Weissberg, the Chief Knowledge Officer of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, writes that social and emotional learning can enhance a student’s ability to succeed in school, careers and life. SEL can be the most proactive initiative for mental health illness prevention, as research shows that this type of learning can reduce anxiety, substance abuse, suicide, depression and violence, while increasing attendance, test scores and prosocial behavior such as kindness, empathy and personal awareness. If SEL was integrated into Tyler’s school or household earlier in life, he could have learned how to cope, adapt and find balance in high-stress situations.

SEL is powerful programming that we can implement in all of our schools to proactively educate our youth and address the issues we are trying to cope with in our society. Imagine if all schools leveraged SEL to approach student behavior, teaching students to use techniques such as meditation and deep breathing to restore their mental balance? If this approach was the norm in school, many more children would be able to develop the coping skills needed to flourish.

Research-based SEL programs have been developed to enhance students’ social, emotional and mental wellbeing skills. CASEL, a leader in the movement to bring SEL into U.S. schools, wants to make social and emotional learning an integral part of the education system. Partnerships with various school districts and organizations have led CASEL to developing SEL policies and pilot projects to help bring this education to children all across the U.S. I’ve also joined in the effort. I started Dolphin KIDS Achievement Programs, a positive mindset and life skills program aimed to teach children how to develop the emotional wellness, social connectivity, innovation, resiliency and adaptability they need to achieve success in today’s fast-paced world.

Although, the solution of integrating more SEL in schools seems simple, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. But if our children learn coping skills early, and SEL is integrated into more schools on a global scale, more children will be able to maintain balance in today’s unbalanced world.

[See: 11 Simple, Proven Ways to Optimize Your Mental Health.]

As a parent, I’ve learned the foundations for social and emotional learning begin at home. An important tip for guiding your child towards positive SEL skills is to practice empathy. Empathy helps improve your child’s self-esteem, particularly because chances are good your child may be feel alone sometimes in the challenges he or she faces. Since we were all children once, letting your child know that you made mistakes too or had the same feelings when you were young is a great way to express empathy and promote positive social, emotional and cognitive growth.

Why Parents Need to Talk to Their Kids About Porn

As a psychiatrist specializing in teens and young adults, I bear witness to an alarming and insidious toxin that has increased in potency over the 15 years of my practice: online pornography. Though often dismissed as harmless, pornography has had a devastating impact on the well-being of many of my patients, and it can affect a person’s mental, physical and social health.

By age 15, children are more likely than not to have seen online pornography, according to an extensive study of adolescents in the UK by Middlesex University. These young people were as likely to find pornography by accident as to find it deliberately. However, 46 percent of the 1,001 children and young people studied reported searching for it actively.

The Internet provides a degree of anonymity – both real and perceived – accessibility and affordability (with free-to-view websites) that make it particularly powerful as a medium for viewing sexual content. And research finds that educational messages are outnumbered by adult sexual entertainment and pornography.

Physical, Mental and Social Consequences of Porn

Learning about sex from pornography, including potentially degrading and violent depictions, is reason for concern. Viewing pornography is not just a moral issue, but has been shown to be harmful to physical and sexual health and mental well-being and can influence how viewers believe they should behave in a relationship.

Multiple studies have linked porn use or porn addiction to erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, anorgasmia – in which a person has difficulty achieving an orgasm – low libido and less brain activation in response to sexual stimuli. In a 2014 brain-scan study, researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development found several brain changes that correlated with the amount of porn consumed. More time spent viewing porn correlated with a reduction in gray matter in sections of the brain’s reward circuitry, or dorsal striatum, involved in motivation and decision-making. Porn use was also found to be associated with weakened connections at the frontal cortex, suggesting porn may impair willpower.

In the Middlesex study, those who had viewed porn reported a mixture of emotions, including curiosity, shock and confusion. Younger children were more likely to report feeling disturbed and depressed by what they had seen. If a person is consuming more and more pornography, the brain connects being aroused with porn’s graphic and fanciful content. It then becomes more difficult for that individual to be aroused by a real person or a real relationship. These addiction-related brain changes result in many users feeling like something’s wrong with them; they are left feeling empty and depressed.

Exposure to pornography has implications for adolescent sexual relationships, including an increase in having multiple partners and substance use during sex. Adolescents who frequently visit erotic and sexually explicit websites are more likely to hold sexually permissive attitudes and accepting views on casual sex. In addition, some youth use pornography as an instructional resource – or a way to learn how to have sex – imitate what they view, or ask a partner to perform what they saw.

What Parents Can Do

The Internet is a key part of adolescents’ lives, and therefore parents, educators and practitioners must make it a topic in their discussions about sexual health. Comprehensive sex education programs that contain accurate, evidence-based information can help youth delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners and increase condom and contraceptive use. One helpful resource is Advocates for Youth, which promotes policies and champions programs that recognize young people’s rights to honest sexual health information.

Technologies and setting the right preferences can also assist in preventing pornography from reaching young eyes. Inappropriate TV programming can be restricted through devices like the V-Chip. And Google has a SafeSearch mode that can be turned on to block Internet pornography. Most devices also have a family safety tool within the operating system.

The best tools, though, remain close adult supervision and thoughtful conversations. Since children are known to begin looking up sexually explicit material around puberty, it is a good idea to start having these conversations before they reach puberty. An effective household rule is not allowing media devices in children’s bedrooms, so parents can keep closer tabs on the material their children are viewing. However, spying on your child’s Internet activity could alienate them and spur them to become even more secretive, whereas asking them about it can lead to a more productive and honest dialogue.

Fortunately for those that do view porn frequently, there is evidence that eliminating porn consumption can cure sexual dysfunctions. However, it’s important that parents take steps to be proactive and prevent the negative health consequences that can result from children viewing online pornography.

We need to act to restrict youth’s access to harmful sexual material, but also ensure that they have spaces in which to discuss and learn about sex. We should recognize that online porn is alluring for many people and has the potential to rewire brains. If we avoid talking about this taboo issue, we are ignoring the suffering it’s causing and delaying any action to reduce the disruptive impact it has on people’s lives.

[Original Article]

Anxiety and the Importance of Play

First off, please tell us a little bit about you – your background, your family, your personal mission and what led you to it.

My personal mission is to spread the message that a balanced lifestyle with enough play, social connection, and downtime is vital for human health. My work as a psychiatrist and research in addiction and motivation combined with my experiences as a mom of three kids – ages six, nine, and 11 – led me to this goal. I’m the current medical director of child and youth mental health for the city of Vancouver, and clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia.

Did you ever attend camp? Have any of your children attended camp?

I went to camp as part of my public school program. It was something that I really loved. As the daughter of hardworking immigrants, my parents couldn’t afford camp and didn’t know how to go camping, but I spent a lot of time outside just playing. I grew up on the prairies — our summers were dry and I spent them walking through the fields and exploring nature. In winter, I spent hours and hours in the snow.

My children now go to camp every year. My son was in Beavers (a Boy Scout program for boys too young to be Cubs), and they go camping through their school. It’s the most exciting time of their year. I’m hoping they’ll be interested in doing a fullyear outdoor education program when they are older.

I know we’re speaking in generalizations here, but why do so many of today’s children and youth seem riddled with anxiety?

Anxiety is rooted in our genetics but is also what we would consider a chronic lifestyle- related condition. Our kids are living unhealthy lifestyles. That’s probably the biggest factor. Forty percent of our children are sleep deprived because they are too busy, which is linked to anxiety and depression. Most of their schedule is highly structured activity that takes place indoors. Then, when they’re not in scheduled activities, there’s lots of academic pressure. Stress is everywhere and one of kids’ main coping skills is using technology, which means staying inside.

So camp encouraging more time outside really is a good thing?

We know that nature has tremendous positive effects. Just basic sunlight is a treatment for depression. We know early morning sunlight specifically helps our body rhythm. I often prescribe a light box; we know that it can be as effective as antidepressants.

We know that walking in nature can lead to less perceived stress. It isn’t going to change the actual stress in your life, but your perception of that stress will be lessened. People who walk through parks in urban settings have a greater sense of calm than those walking down a busy street.

One Japanese study showed that forest bathing, actually taking a bath in forest water, increases our immune system and anti-cancer cells.

Nature is a powerful ally for our health and anyone feeling anxiety or stress will experience a lift in their mood. So if this is what’s so powerful about it and our children are not taking part in it, we can connect that to their not feeling great.

You say a lack of balance is “plaguing the everyday lives of our children.” What do you mean by that?

Our children today are missing their daily dose of POD — play, others (social connection), and downtime.

What kind of lasting effects are today’s youth experiencing as a result of prolonged stress and anxiety?

There are prolonged physical and mental effects. Adrenaline is surging through the body and cortisol is the other stress hormone that is released. Cortisol leads to a wide array of negative impacts including on our immune system and heart. Anxiety and stress are not benign. They can even weaken our bones and put us at greater risk for cancer.

It’s not uncommon for anxiety to lead to depression. Anxiety can also stop development. For example, if anxiety is preventing youth from public speaking in the classroom, it may prevent them from getting a good grade, which can impact if they go to college or achieve jobs that may require public speaking in the future.

Many kids self-medicate. This can lead to substance abuse.

Prolonged anxiety can lead to character problems as well. The anxious person might engage in something he or she feels is morally wrong, such as cheating on a test, because of overwhelming anxiety and academic pressure.

It can also impact our social systems in terms of making friends and building a community.

Many of us are familiar with the concepts of IQ and EQ, but you talk about something called CQ. Can you explain what that is and what essential 21st-century skills are involved?

CQ stands for consciousness quotient. This is 21st-century intelligence. IQ is what we’d consider logical, analytical intelligence, very important in the 19th century when we were memorizing facts and getting information from books. EQ is emotional intelligence and very important. But we need both to function with our whole brain, and that is CQ. There are key skills for the 21st century because our world has changed. There’s communication, being able to express your thoughts effectively and communicate across broad mediums; collaboration, which is the ability to work with and inspire others within a team from very diverse backgrounds; critical thinking, which isn’t knowing the right answer but knowing how to ask the right question; creativity, which has been identified by today’s business leaders as the most important competency for the future; and contribution, which is our connection, our meaning, our purpose.

IQ and EQ are no longer enough to capture these five skills because the world is so technologically driven, so fast-paced, connected, and ultra-competitive.

You say our brains have a “positive feedback loop” and that if we pay attention to our intuition, we can maintain balance in our lives, boost our CQ, and enhance our sense of happiness. Can you elaborate?

Our human body, our essence, has both a positive and negative feedback loop. Take the example of hunger. Everybody, when they’re lacking nutrition, experiences feelings of hunger. That’s our signal to eat. Then we feel full so we know we don’t need to eat anymore. But this loop isn’t just for hunger. When you’re tired you sleep, and then you feel better, and so on.

We have become so out of touch with the feedback loop that even something as simple as sleep we don’t understand. Patients will come in to my office and tell me they’re not feeling well, and I’ll ask them how much sleep they get. Then I say, “Do you think you could be feeling unwell because you’ve only had five hours of sleep a night for the last week?” And they’ll say, “Maybe.”

People are disconnected from this feedback loop, from their own bodies speaking to them. I feel we’re disconnected from the very essence of our bodies and how our minds work. We’re meant to live in balance. This is also true of our emotional health. We can apply this feedback loop to other things such as loneliness. If we’re feeling lonely, that’s our signal to connect with friends. We’re social beings; if we don’t do that, those feelings of loneliness and depression will continue. When we do heed that signal, our feeling of loneliness will decrease.

But simple is not easy. Social connection, socializing, meaningful social bonding is what keeps us mentally healthy — but knowing it does not mean doing it.

Building on that, you mention some activities beyond the survival basics of eating, sleeping, and getting exercise that are necessary for our wellbeing and self-motivation — the POD. Can you explain those and their importance?

There is play. All animals play in nature. Dolphins play every day. For humans, play activates the prefrontal cortex of our brains. When we play we develop that area of critical thinking and adaptability. We become comfortable with unpredictability. Play is how we learn to adapt.

An experiment with rats studied two groups, one of which wasn’t allowed to play. Then a cat collar was dropped into both groups’ cages. Both groups of rats retreated into a hole, but the group that didn’t play never ventured back out again. They didn’t have adaptability and weren’t willing to take a risk. We are much the same.

Play is a vital activity of childhood and adulthood. Without it we have difficulty developing new ideas and concepts. We become perfectionists who can’t make mistakes because we are uncomfortable with it.

Connection to others is one. Our social connection is eroding partly because of t he b usyness i n o ur l ives a nd a lso because of technology. We’re becoming disconnected from each other and our tribe (families and community). Siblings often don’t really know each other because they’re constantly running between activities, and home has become just a pit stop.

Loneliness is what I see a lot in teenagers. Socializing is not the same thing as social bonding. We don’t take loneliness as being as severe as we should; it’s as much a risk to health as smoking.

Downtime is another. This is simply doing nothing or relaxed wakefulness. It could be looking at the stars, the clouds, closing your eyes — just moments of downtime. These moments are very important. It’s during downtime that we assimilate memories, we process our morality, we increase our attention span, and we contemplate our futures.

When individuals have a problem they can’t figure out, they will sometimes take a walk and then the answer comes to them. We’ve also all reflected on a conversation we’ve had and decided perhaps something we said was a bit rude. Downtime is when our morality speaks to us. When we have no downtime, we’re constantly plugged in, and that negatively impacts all of our mental faculties.

All three of these are powerful and can be facilitated through camp and nature.

Many campers arrive at camp from households run by overly authoritarian or overly permissive parents. What can camps do to mitigate the anxiety children and youth bring with them from those environments to set them up for a positive growth experience at camp?

I would say really lay out at the very beginning the philosophy or structure of the camp. Let them know they are going to have rules and expectations within the camp — “Take care of your sleeping bag, make your bed . . .” — but there is also room for flexibility and you really want them to have fun. There are rules, but there is also openness to individual choices.

Let them know this is a community, and we’re all in this together.

There’s positive role modeling. It’s a highly adaptable environment. If it rains tomorrow and we had an outdoor activity planned, we’ll adapt to the weather.

It’s really an opportunity for adaptability, resilience, and role modeling.

The camp community is a huge proponent of free play, but how exactly does play contribute to a superior CQ in children and youth?

I talked a little about the innovation part of play, our ability to learn from trial and error, but I didn’t mention before that free play is a very powerful social teacher. Children are learning how to negotiate, how to share, how to play together, how to step back when they’ve had enough — and they’re learning it all on their own. Being able to have and negotiate these experiences on their own builds their confidence.

Free play also increases social bonding and, of course, there are physical benefits to it. But there are different kinds of play, some of which are rough-and-tumble play, such as climbing trees; object play, playing with your hands in the dirt or skipping rocks, for example; and imaginative and pretend play, which kids do all the time (“I’m the sorcerer; you are the king.”).

You also emphasize the importance of community and contribution and wrote in The Self-Motivated Kid, “Contributing to the world through our unique gifts is the ultimate motivator.” What can camps do to encourage their campers and counselors to contribute within their camp communities and beyond?

Camp allows children the play, the connection with others, and the downtime that are so important, and it allows them to discover what their unique gifts are. They might think, I’m not really good at swimming in the river, but I’m really good at organizing this game and getting people to join in. When children know themselves, they figure out their unique abilities.

By being in a collective, we understand our individual abilities, and we experience how we can contribute. Then that can be applied to other parts of life. Camp is a microcosm for the rest of the world.

Final thoughts? Any additional words of wisdom on the role camps can play in reducing anxiety in children and youth and providing an environment that fosters lasting happiness?

I think camp could be a place for an even more formal assessment and treatment of anxiety. A camper’s parents may not know their child has anxiety. They may not recognize their child doesn’t know how to do simple things without causing anxiety. So camp may be an opportunity for identifying anxiety and then implementing solutions to reduce it, to say, “Look, a lot of people have this.” Then communicate with parents, providing insight into children in a different environment. And then, if needed, the parents can seek out professional help for their child at home. It can help early identification and referral, if needed.

[Click here to read the original article]