Tag Archives: stress

Powering Down and Unplugging

I ran across this article the other day, and I agree with the idea that “people have a pathological relationship with their devices.” I know I do. I’m constantly checking the smart phone, the tablet, the iPad, the MacBook, the laptop…and the list goes on.  And I’m a big social media addict, regularly using Facebook, Twitter (multiple accounts), Instagram, LinkedIn…you get the idea. I’m connected–as connected as a person can be probably.

I also agree with this: “Our addiction to screens is affecting our well-being, productivity and creativity…”. And I’m ready for a break.  Today is my last day of work until January 3rd. And I mean that. I am not checking that e-mail account one more time effective immediately. For real. I’m also going to unplug my other devices. Ok–maybe not so much unplug as at least put on Airplane Mode (i.e. disconnect from the Internets). I still want to get phone calls or text from friends, my husband, and in case of emergencies. But I’m saying no to e-mail (all 4 accounts) and no to social media (all…however many accounts) and no to the internet in general.

This isn’t altogether new for me.  For the past two years at this time, I’ve done the same thing. And each time I really enjoyed it. I read books, watched movies, wrote,  relaxed, played with the dogs, went on walks, cooked real meals, and just generally enjoyed the time off.  The difference between those years and this year is simple: for the last two years, we went up into the mountains, where there was no service.  So even if I wanted to, I couldn’t check in. And again, I loved it.  It was so freeing.  This year we’re at home and Verizon works just fine here.  But I’m making a commitment. Effective tomorrow I’m putting these mobile devices on Airplane Mode and disconnecting for a week.  We’re having a real vacation.

“See” you in a week–when I’ll probably tell you all about how awesome my time off has been. Happy holidays!

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Filed under My Life, Ripped from the Headlines

Why I Want to Cry for the Millenials

Don’t get me wrong–sometimes I want to wring their necks.

We talk a lot about millenials in my profession because they’re a big chunk of our constituency. Now, I’m aware and sensitive to the fact that not everyone born between 1982 and 2004 (SN: What’s the generation after 2004 called?) embodies ALL of the characteristics ascribed to the millenial generation. We are, after all, all unique individuals. And, of course, there’s some wiggle room on the start and end years. As a Gen-Xer, I share some characteristics of the millenial generation (i.e. obsessed with social media). And my husband is technically a millenial by birth year, but he probably resembles those kids less than I do (of course, he may or may not also believe he was meant to born 10 years earlier). You need only spend some time in our classrooms, though, to realize that many of them do share some of the traits associated with their generation by the experts. And many of them are not complimentary…and are the kinds of things that make me want to wring their necks. However, sometimes I just want to cry for them. Here’s 5 reasons why:

1. They are so stressed out! And I say this as a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder. Even when we think they’re exhibiting a “devil-may-care” attitude about their studies, a lot of these kids are straight freaking out on the inside. Because of the nature of the courses I teach and my particular teaching style, students often open up to me about more personal things–like their anxiety. This is an example of what I heard or read from students this week:

  • What if I choose the wrong career? What if I’m not good enough?
  • I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail this class just because I can’t get organized! I’m trying not to let anyone down. But I’m letting everyone down!
  • I’m not going to early advising because I won’t be back in the Spring. I already failed at college. And life. [note: it’s only MIDTERM of the first semester]

Wow. Breathe, kids, breathe. It’s college. You’re not supposed to have it all figured out, yet. You’re supposed to have time to mess up a little. It’s how you learn! This is the period in which you find yourself, figure out who you are as an adult. I can’t imagine what this stress is doing to them or how it will affect them long-term. But I do not envy them this level of constant anxiety, this constant fear of failure.

2. The American Dream is (maybe) dead. I’m not talking about the in-debt-up-to-my-eyeballs with a fancy car and McMansion dream (because some of them still seem to be “achieving that,” temporary though it may be). I’m talking about the real American Dream: to be able to move up in social class, to work hard and earn money and own a home and save for retirement. I’m talking about striving and succeeding at achieving a life better than that of your parents. I don’t think that these kids will achieve upward social mobility through hard work. I think they will work hard and scrape by. They will be no better off than their parents. They, in fact, may be worse off than their parents (with whom so many of them are back to living). Maybe there’s still hope. I don’t know. But I do know that they don’t feel that hope today…not in the way we did. Maybe that’s why they’re so stressed–they keep being told to work hard, that if they do, it’ll pay off. And all around them, they see evidence to the contrary. Maybe that makes them feel like they aren’t good enough. I don’t know, but I do know it’s sad.

3. They do not know a world in which they’re not constantly “plugged in.” They’re constantly connected. And again, I say this as a person with a social media management system on her phone, Android tablet, and iPad (auto schedule is the best thing ever). But think about this: they live in a world in which work is never just 8 hours a day. It’s 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. And it always has been. It always will be. It’s expected of them at this point. That makes me want to cry because it stresses me out for them.

4. They have never lived in a world in which a war was not on TV–in real-time. Seriously. Think back. And then think about our 24/7 news cycle. It’s just sad. And I have to wonder how that desensitizes them to violence.

5. Speaking of which, school shootings (and other mass murders by automatic weaponry)! Have always been a thing. Remember when school was a safe place? Where getting mowed down by an AR-15 after math class was not something that would EVER cross your mind? Yeah, my students don’t. And that? Makes me want to cry.

They get a lot of flak. And they seriously drive me bananas sometimes (and by “drive me bananas,” I mean “make me want to shake them until common sense settles in”). But I also feel for them in a lot of ways. I try to imagine what it would be like to have grown up like they did. To be in college now. To be job-hunting for the first time now. It’s easy to judge them for their sense of entitlement, for thinking they’re special & the rules don’t apply to them, for having been so sheltered they now seem incapable of functioning in the real world.

We want them to be like us. We want them to do it our way. But doing it our way isn’t going to get them anywhere. They’re going to have to find a way to do it their way.

 

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Filed under Community College, Higher Ed, Social Problems

Check the Back Seat!

I’m not a parent, so I don’t get it: how do you forget your kid is in the car? Our local news paper reports that child deaths in hot cars are on the rise.  In that article, they interview the Kids and Cars founder ( who knew there was such a thing?). She had this to say:

“The worst thing any parent or caregiver can do is think that this could never happen to them, that they are not capable of inadvertently leaving their child behind. This can and does happen to the most loving, responsible and attentive parents.”

She then provides tips for how you can avoid accidentally leaving your kids in the car while you go to work:

  1. “Put something in the back seat, so you have to open the back door to get it.” (Surprise! Your kid is still in there, too. You forgot to drop him at day care!)
  2. Put a stuffed animal in the child seat when it’s not in use and move it to the front seat when your child is in the car. It will serve as a reminder that the child seat is in use.”

I can see how both of these options might help you remember there’s a tiny human in the backseat of your car.  And I know parents are busy and get frazzled and, thus, forget things.  But things and kids are different. I guess babies fall asleep in the car, so since they’re not making any noise you could forget them. But I don’t know. I check my backseat before I get out of the car at work just to make sure I didn’t forget an umbrella or a bag or something (I have accidentally taken my gym bag in to work because I did that). I feel like I’d be even more paranoid if it could potentially be a child (of course, I’m super paranoid anyway–I check to make sure the car is locked at least 3 times before walking away from it–and to do that, I have to look back through the window at least once). But I don’t know–like I said, I don’t have a kid (so I’m not judging–just saying I do not understand it).

If you do, check your backseat! Because I also cannot imagine what it would be like to be responsible–accident though it may be–for your own child’s death. I’m not sure how one might get over that–ever.

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Filed under Ripped from the Headlines

Stress and Child Abuse: Wounds that Time Can’t Heal?

Disclaimer

Probably in large part because I feel so stressed at this precise moment, today’s post is inspired by a post I read this morning by Rohan entitled “Stress Reduction: Close Your Eyes and Visualize.” You should bounce on over there and read the whole thing yourself because it’s interesting stuff. But here are some of the highlights:

“The amygdala can not differentiate between real threat and perceived threat, real pleasure, or perceived pleasure.”

“So as you can see the amygdala is not your enemy. Whether your amygdala works for you or against you depends on the kind of stimulus you expose it to and the kinds of thoughts and visualizations that you run through your head on a daily basis.”

“If the amygdala is as easy to trick and as malleable as it seems to be, why not keep it fed with warm, happy thoughts and visualizations instead?”

He then provides steps for reducing stress via visualization techniques.

This got me thinking about research I’ve read about how childhood abuse affects how survivors handle stress. In short, there is much research that indicates the brains of child abuse survivors are different than the brains of their non-abused peers.

The Adults Surviving Child Abuse website provides a full list of ways in which the physiology of the brain is impacted by abuse and will provide an excellent list of resources for anyone interested in further and more complete exploration of this topic.

Do you know what cortisol is? Cortisol is a naturally occurring steroid hormone. It’s often referred to as the “stress hormone.” Remember learning about “fight or flight syndrome?” A lot of people assume that’s based totally on the much more well-known adrenaline; however, cortisol plays an equally important role.  In high stress situations, the brain pumps out extra cortisol; amongst other things, it leads to a quick burst of energy (for survival), it decreases sensitivity to pain, and provides heightened memory senses.

In normal people and normal situations, the “fight or flight” survival response is followed by the body’s relaxation response during which these hormones are brought back down to normal levels. The problem with this for children in abusive situations is that when the body is under chronic stress (I think we can all agree that abused children face a great deal of consistent stress), the relaxation response never occurs.  The body remains in a heightened state of awareness.  Often, children in abusive situations stay hyper-vigilant–because they’re never quite sure when  the next bad or scary thing is going to happen (Will mom come home trashed tonight? Will dad take it out on me?). They’re always prepared–even when things seemed to be going well, they’re prepared for the other foot to fall because they know it’s only a matter of time. They are constantly flooded with stress hormones.

Because children’s brains aren’t fully formed, all this extra hormone takes a toll on their developing brains. And even into adulthood–even when the threat is eliminated, the brain of abuse survivors continues to operate differently. Stress–even to minor stimulus–has much more of an effect on survivors.  The regulation of hormones doesn’t work quite right any more, so the response to stress is overly exaggerated. The long-term effects are staggering.

The limbic system and the amygdala are impacted, with the amygdala eventually becoming immune to the signals being sent to it. So when Rohan explains that the amygdala’s response “depends on the kind of stimulus you expose it to,” he’s right. The problem for survivors of abuse, of course, is that it may not be appropriately responding to stimuli any more, so when we try to “trick” the amygdala by “Reading a happy or positive book, watching a funny or uplifting movie and spending time with people who raise your spirits,” it may have no effect at all–it’s too late.

As a result, Dr. Trotter explains on her blog, adult survivors are “more likely to be highly stressed, have difficulties with anger and emotions, and be prone to self-harm, anxiety, suicide and depression.” I know; I’ve seen it first-hand. Foster children removed from their homes for abuse/neglect experience difficulty dealing effectively with stress. They have a hard time expressing their emotions properly. Or interpreting the emotional responses of others. And this follows them into adulthood.

So…what do we do about it? When we catch child abuse early enough, we need to focus on really helping children learn to appropriately deal with stress–give them specific strategies for reducing stress to try to help regulate the limbic system before any further damage is done, so these children may “get out of a cycle” in which their amygdalas believe “that there’s a tiger chasing [them]when there’s not” (Rohan’s analogy).

Visualization, as proposed by Rohan, may be one such strategy that could be effective. Unfortunately, abuse that occurs prior to the age of 5 has the most significant impact according to research.  But if we can work with children prior to the age of 18 even, we may be able to have some positive effect. We’ll never be able to erase or reverse the effects of their abuse on them (despite the fact that people are always saying “children are so resilient”), but perhaps we can do something to get them out of survival mode, so they have a better chance at leading healthy, productive lives in the future. But the biggest thing we, as a society, can do for these children? Find ways to decrease child abuse in this country. Focus on prevention. Because as Dr. Teicher suggests in his article on the neurobiology of child abuse, there are some wounds that time just won’t heal.

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Filed under Foster Care, My Opinion