Recovering from the Emotional Challenges of the Pandemic

Recovering from the Emotional Challenges of the Pandemic

“Children are developing their sense of routine and structure, and when there is a stressor or trauma like a pandemic, all elements of their lives are affected,” the clinical psychologist Dr. Archana Basu says.Source photograph by Jessica Rinaldi / Boston Globe / Getty

With Americans being vaccinated at a rate of more than two million shots per day, attention has begun to turn to life after the pandemic. But public-health officials are increasingly concerned that more than half a million deaths in this country alone and a year of isolation, closed schools, and lost jobs have had traumatic effects on many Americans, especially children. To talk about what those effects might be, and how to insure that people get the care and support they need, I recently spoke by phone with Dr. Archana Basu, a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a research scientist at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed how children and adults deal with trauma, the distinct challenges facing young adults, and how lessons from the pandemic can be used to improve mental-health care going forward.

When it became clear that a pandemic was going to change our lives, what were you most concerned about, in terms of mental health?

As was the case for a majority of Americans, I don’t think I expected what the horizon for the pandemic would be. I doubt that most of my colleagues really anticipated it would last as long as it has. We absolutely expected that there would be an increase in mental-health concerns and some level of distress, because that would be a very typical reaction to an extreme pervasive stressor or trauma, like a pandemic. And we’ve seen this in the past with other mass disasters. There is an increase in mental-health concerns and distress, and then once safety is reëstablished and a sense of routine is reëstablished, we see a decline and a return to baseline for the overwhelming majority of people, including children. What that’s really saying is we are very adaptable, certainly as humans, and as kids. It is with the prolonged period, such as the one we are experiencing now, that we start to worry about more long-term and more pervasive effects.

What effects, specifically?

We are hearing about an increase in rates of severe anxiety and depression-related concerns. We also know that this may have been even more challenging for people who were already struggling with mental-health concerns. There is emerging data to show that rates of self-injuring behaviors have increased as well. The fact is that is what we would expect, and we are seeing a really broad spectrum of mental-health and behavioral concerns. However, I do want to point out that I don’t think this is going to be limited to mental-health concerns. I think there are other parts of our children’s lives where we’re going to see those effects. Some of that might be physical health. Pediatricians have been very concerned about the amount of exercise that children are getting. And there is emerging data to show that sleep- and weight-related issues might be other examples of physical-health concerns.

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How the busiest people get ‘deep work’ done

For busy people, finding time for uninterrupted work may feel utterly unrealistic. But there are methods we can use to optimise what limited ‘deep work’ time we have.

Like many parents, when schools shut down due to Covid-19, Elizabeth Hunter found herself with more caregiving responsibilities as her three children transitioned to 100% remote classes. But her job also ramped up; as co-founder of bespoke science curriculum provider STEMTaught, the California-based Earth scientist had to figure out how her programme could remain hands-on in a virtual environment as well as work across time zones with authors and publishers to push out new editions of study materials faster.

Like many parents, when schools shut down due to Covid-19, Elizabeth Hunter found herself with more caregiving responsibilities as her three children transitioned to 100% remote classes. But her job also ramped up; as co-founder of bespoke science curriculum provider STEMTaught, the California-based Earth scientist had to figure out how her programme could remain hands-on in a virtual environment as well as work across time zones with authors and publishers to push out new editions of study materials faster.

Combining this increased workload – which included logistical components, like assembling and shipping learning kits, and scheduling online laboratory sessions with students – with her children’s schooling left few windows of quiet time in which she could really concentrate. Hunter started getting everyone to bed early and working late into the night to eke out some quiet time for creative work composing her curriculum, while tackling the more practical tasks during the day.

“I set a rule for myself. If the kids are sleeping and it’s not too late, instead of washing the dishes or doing housework; I’m working. I guard those stretches of time like diamonds – they’re so precious for me to be able to do my deep-thinking work,” she says.

It’s a challenge many of us are facing: we’re busier than ever, but still need pockets of uninterrupted time to do the work that requires our deepest focus. Popular theories suggest our most worthwhile work only happens after ‘Kondo-ing’ our distractions – that jettisoning mind clutter nudges us towards a flow state, an idyllic productivity paradise where creativity thrives. Before Covid-19, we might have used dedicated hours at the office or naturally productive peak hours when kids were at school to try and access ‘the zone’ for these concentration-heavy tasks.

Right now, accessing that kind of deep work zone can feel nearly impossible. If you’re busy with multiple tasks, finding a solid chunk of time for uninterrupted productivity may be utterly unrealistic. Fortunately, there are methods to optimise the limited ‘deep work’ time we have, plan for interruptions and produce meaningful work despite competing demands for our attention.

Separate tasks

There are multiple recommendations for creating an environment that will help you produce your best work.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, suggests that most distractions are ‘controllable’ external stimuli that can be eliminated by grand gestures, such as checking into a hotel room to work, or quitting social media. Popular productivity app Trello recommends finding a place without people in your peripheral vision and investing in noise-cancelling headphones. Steven Kotler, executive director of the Flow Research Collective, a research and training organisation, recommends 90- to 120-minute chunks of uninterrupted focus in order to maximise flow.

When Parents Disagree on How to Raise Their Child with ADHD

When Parents Disagree on How to Raise Their Child with ADHD

“When families face ADHD challenges, tension lurks beneath the surface all the time. We can’t change that. But you can reduce the stress by improving how you communicate with each other. The following tools will help you to tame defensiveness, problem-solve, and approach difficult situations with a positive attitude.” Couple in cafe drinking coffee and talking. Vector flat illustration Many couples come to me to resolve family conflicts about raising their complex kids. For a host of understandable reasons, parents can disagree on almost everything when it comes to managing ADHD — from decisions about schooling and how to respond to unwanted behaviors to whether to use medication. In my early years of parenting, I also struggled with these challenges. I was doing everything for everybody — making lunches, scheduling playdates and carpools, managing everything school-related. I was also researching diagnoses, managing an unending stream of doctors’ appointments, learning to advocate for my three complex children, and trying to make medical decisions. Like many other moms, I was reading every ADHD book I could get my hands on and searching for behavior management treatments other than medication. As a coach, I learned communication techniques that I wish I’d known in my early years of managing ADHD. Once I learned them, they reduced the strain on my own marriage (which survived with a lot of help and effort!) and helped my kids get a handle on their challenges. Family Communication Strategies for Parents of Kids with ADHD As I dragged […]

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How to Heal a Strained Parent-Teenager Relationship

How to Heal a Strained Parent-Teenager Relationship

The teen years are fraught with tension and intensity. As our kids with ADHD navigate the rocky road to adulthood, they inevitably hit potholes as they assume greater school responsibilities, figure out friendships, strive for independence, and plan for the future. This journey can and does impact many areas of life, including the parent-teenage relationship. To protect and strengthen your relationship with your teen , begin by understanding their true needs and how to properly address them. Taking the time to see the world through their eyes can help you fortify your bonds and reinvigorate family relationships, even during the most unprecedented of times. The Parent-Teenager Relationship: 5 Fortifying Strategies 1. Recognize Your Teen’s Bid for Connection – and Say Yes The idea of “bids” comes from the work of John Gottman, Ph.D., author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child (#CommissionsEarned) and other best-selling books. A bid is an overture from one person to another for affection, attention, and connection. Bids vary widely – an offer to go for a walk, a hug, a request to look at a meme or play a game, or the gift of a freshly-drawn picture can all be bids. There is no limit. It is critical to respond to your child’s bids most of the time, as it increases the likelihood of bonding and connecting with them. We don’t always have to respond positively to these bids, but we do have to respond. If we can’t go for a walk or play a […]

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PROOF POINTS: Later school start time gave small boost to grades but big boost to sleep, new study finds

Later school start time gave small boost to grades but big boost to sleep, new study finds

A Minnesota study of 18,000 students whose schools switched to a later start time found kids slept more but posted only slightly higher grades. The physical and mental health benefits of getting a good night’s sleep are indisputable. What’s less clear is whether starting school later in the morning will prompt kids to sleep more and consequently learn more during the school day. Fewer studies have looked at academic achievement after a later morning bell. Some have found improved student performance. Some haven’t. A new study in Minnesota documents what happened to 18,000 students in grades 5 through 11 after four school districts postponed the start of the school day by 20 to 65 minutes. Student grades increased a little, raising students’ grade point averages by an extra 0.1 points, on average. That’s the equivalent of moving from, say, a B average of a 3.1 to a B average of a 3.2. Despite concerns that kids would just stay up later at night if school started later in the morning, many students reported sleeping more. After the switch in start times, students were 16 percent more likely to meet the recommended hours of sleep, which is nine or more hours for students in grades 5 and 8 and at least eight hours for students in grades 9 and 11. Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the Bloomington, Minnesota, public schools characterized the academic benefits as “small” but the sleep increases as “large.” The study was instigated by the […]

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Mental health: the new top priority

Mental health: the new top priority

Kai Humphrey, 9, has been learning from home for more than a year. He badly misses his Washington, D.C., elementary school, along with his friends and the bustle of the classroom.

“I will be the first person ever to have every single person in the world as my friend,” he said on a recent Zoom call, his sandy-brown hair hanging down to his shoulder blades. From Kai, this kind of proclamation doesn’t feel like bragging, more like exuberant kindness.

But when Kai’s school recently invited him back, he refused. That’s because his worry list is long, topped by his fear of getting COVID-19 and giving it to his 2-year-old sister, Alaina. She was born with a heart condition, Down syndrome and a fragile immune system. To her, the disease poses a mortal threat, and he is her protector, the only one who can make her giggle breathlessly.

Kai also worries about being separated from his mom, Rashida Humphrey-Wall. His biological father died in 2014, and she remains his rock, his mama bear and occasional taekwondo partner. He sometimes visits her bedside in the middle of the night just to check on her.

This pandemic has been stressful for millions of children like Kai. Some have lost a loved one to COVID-19, and many families have lost jobs, their homes and even reliable access to food. If that stress isn’t buffered by caring adults, it can have lifelong consequences.

“Children have had extended exposure to chaos, crisis and uncertainty,” said Dr. Matt Biel, a child psychiatrist at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

But there’s some good news for children like Kai: Educators across the country said their top priority right now isn’t doubling down on math or reading — it’s helping students manage pandemic-driven stress.

“If kids don’t return to school and get a lot of attention paid to security, safety, predictability and reestablishing of strong, secure relationships, (they) are not gonna be able to make up ground academically,” Biel said.

To reestablish relationships in the classroom — and help children cope with the stress and trauma of the past year — mental health experts say educators can start by building in time every day, for every student, in every classroom to share their feelings and learn the basics of naming and managing their emotions. Think morning circle time or, for older students, homeroom.

At Irene C. Hernandez Middle School in Chicago, teacher Lilian Sackett starts off each day by checking in with students, then diving into a short lesson on mindfulness and other social-emotional skills.

“We need to allow the students to share their experiences with the pandemic and to give them that safe space (to) talk about it,” Sackett said.

What’s more, she said, children can benefit a lot from just a few minutes each day of classwide calm. When she found out her students love Bob Ross and his tranquil, televised painting lessons from the 1980s and ’90s, Sackett decided to work him into their morning routine.

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Twenty-six studies point to more play for young children

Twenty-six studies point to more play for young children

What if one of the answers to reducing inequality and addressing mental health concerns among young children is as simple as providing more opportunities to play? A growing body of research and several experts are making the case for play to boost the well-being of young children as the pandemic drags on—even as concerns over lost learning time and the pressure to catch kids up grow stronger.

Play is so powerful, according to a recent report by the LEGO Foundation , that it can be used as a possible intervention to close achievement gaps between children ages 3 to 6. The report looked at 26 studies of play from 18 countries. It found that in disadvantaged communities, including those in Bangladesh, Rwanda and Ethiopia, children showed significantly greater learning gains in literacy, motor and social-emotional development when attending child care centers that used a mix of instruction and free and guided play. That’s compared to children in centers with fewer opportunities to play, especially in child-led activities, or that placed a greater emphasis on rote learning. This is important, the report’s authors noted, as it shows free and guided play opportunities are possible even in settings where resources may be scarce. “Play can exist everywhere,” said Bo Stjerne Thomsen, chair of Learning Through Play at the LEGO Foundation. “It’s the experience. Testing and trying out new ideas…It’s really about the state of mind you’re in while playing.”

The report found that play enabled children to progress in several domains of learning, including language and literacy, social emotional skills and math. The varieties of play include games, open play where children can freely explore and use their imaginations and play where teachers provide materials and some parameters. The findings suggest that rather than focusing primarily on academic outcomes and school readiness, play should be used as a strategy to “tackle inequality and improve the outcomes of children from different socio-economic groups.” That also means opportunities to play should be considered a marker of quality in early childhood programs, the authors concluded. Stjerne Thomsen said the authors have not defined an ideal amount of play as they believe it can be embedded throughout the day. More importantly, he added, is that teachers are trained to facilitate free play and guided play opportunities. “Play is often defined as recreation…not serious or practical,” said Stjerne Thomsen. Instead, many schools are focused on academic skills and standardized assessments, he added.

The findings of the report, which echo years of related research on the emotional physical and cognitive benefits of play, are notable considering that in America access to play spaces is lacking in many lower-income and rural communities. That became more noticeable during the pandemic when outdoor […]

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Adolescent Brains Are Wired to Want Status and Respect: That’s an Opportunity for Teachers and Parents

Adolescent Brains Are Wired to Want Status and Respect: That’s an Opportunity for Teachers and Parents

Credit: Alison Seiffer Here is a parable for our time: There once was an adult who wanted to encourage eighth graders to eat healthier food. The adult designed a lesson plan full of nutritional information—why fruit and vegetables are good for you, why junk food is bad for you, and so on. A similar approach had worked with younger children. But the eighth graders declared the intervention—and, if we’re being honest, the adult—boring. They carried on eating junk food, some of them in greater quantities than they had before.

Versions of that story play out in real life all the time, although the age of the adolescents varies, and the goal could be anything from reducing bullying or depression to increasing engagement with math. With discouraging regularity, researchers find that what works with younger children is no longer effective with adolescents. Eighth grade seems to be the inflection point.

If we thought more carefully about what it is to be an eighth grader, however, down to the level of changes in the brain, our parable could have a happier ending. Thirteen-year-olds are concerned with status and respect—these kids do not want to feel patronized by adults. In a study published in 2019 in Nature Human Behaviour, instead of nutritional information, researchers showed more than 300 eighth graders in Texas investigative reports revealing that food company executives use unhealthy ingredients, target young adolescents in their marketing, and won’t let their own children eat their products. The students were outraged and began to see healthy eating as a way of taking a stand against being manipulated. For the next three months the students made healthier snack purchases in the cafeteria. And in a follow-up study, the researchers found that the students, especially boys, with higher levels of testosterone (a marker of pubertal maturation in both boys and girls) were most likely to respond well to the intervention. Advertisement Over the past 15 years neuroscience has dramatically changed our understanding of the structural and functional changes in the brain during adolescence, which runs from around the age of 10 all the way into the mid-20s. It is a time of rapid brain growth and neuronal fine-tuning when young people are especially sensitive to social cues and rewards. More recent research has focused on how the adolescent brain interacts with the social environment. It shows that social context and acceptance strongly influence behavior. Adolescence might even constitute a sensitive period for social and emotional learning, a window of time when the brain is uniquely primed by neurochemical changes to make use of social cues for learning.

A growing group of researchers and clinicians see these neuroscientific findings as a chance to do things differently. When a […]

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How to Build a Culture of Inclusivity Starting With Your Kids

How to Build a Culture of Inclusivity Starting With Your Kids

I’m a parent of three children, ages 8, 10, and 13, with mixed identities. We’re Brown first- and second-generation Americans descended from Indian and Pakistani immigrants.

As a result, I’ve been keenly aware of how my kids are relating to their identities as they engage in their own paths of self-discovery.

Each has grappled in their own way with understanding how they “fit” into their surroundings. They code-switch and accentuate aspects of their identity like race, family background, and family culture to better assimilate in their communities.

When we traveled around the world as a family for a year, we all got a lot of practice in code-switching techniques. In each country, we accentuated the aspects of our identity that helped us assimilate, to be included by the community as one of their own instead of transactional tourists.

For example, in the 4-plus months that we traveled through Central and South America, we leaned into our Spanish-speaking skills and brown skin to facilitate friendships with locals.

In Cuba, we were proud when we were mistaken for Cubanos and relished an Indian shopkeeper’s delight when our bargaining language switched from Spanish to Hindi.

We loved feeling like locals but were aware of our differences, a balance that kept us culturally humble and hungry to learn.

The feeling of inclusion is powerful, yet it’s easy to take for granted when you’re used to it. Perhaps the best way to capture the power of inclusivity is to remember the painful feeling of its opposite.

Recall the hurt of realizing you weren’t invited to the birthday party or weren’t welcome to sit at the “cool” lunch spot at school. Remember those moments when you weren’t let in on the secret or didn’t get the “inside joke” that others shared?

Exclusion stings. It makes us feel like we are the “other.” We aren’t extended the acceptance, approval, and empathy afforded to those who are included.

In addition to the feeling of exclusion, we can look to science. Research tells us that social relationships affect a number of health outcomes, including physical and mental health.

A sense of belonging makes us feel that we aren’t alone, increasing our ability to cope more effectively with hardships. In other words, the stronger the connections and ties are to the communities we’re exposed to and identify with, the more resilient and empathetic we are likely to become. Here’s the catch. If we find inclusion and a sense of belonging only in like-minded people, we perpetuate implicit biases and discrimination. Put another way, creating “inclusion” through the act of excluding others falsely empowers a few while harming the larger community. For instance, the concept of patriotism hinges upon whether someone […]

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Breaking down the reality and history of mental health stigmas within America’s AAPI communities

AAPI mental health stigmas have only been exacerbated amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Hannah Xu Throughout the month of May, the U.S. celebrates the history, culture, traditions, diversity and many contributions of the AAPI community with Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The month of May was chosen for two reasons. One is to commemorate the first wave of Japanese immigrants to the U.S. on May 7, 1843.

Between 1886 and 1911, 400,000-plus Japanese women and men immigrated to the states, particularly to Hawaii and the West Coast.

In memory of the arrival of Manjiro , the 14-year-old fisherman who is considered to be America’s first Japanese immigrant, Congress established May as AAPI Heritage month.

May also marks the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869.

The Central Pacific Railroad, the company that built the western portion of the railroad, employed more than 10,000 Chinese laborers, yet their hard work has often been glossed over in history.

Even at a ceremony in 1969, marking the 100th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, centennial officials agreed to set aside part of the ceremony to pay homage to the Chinese workers who helped build the railroad, but they neglected to fulfill this promise — in a way that stung like a scorpion.

Instead, the then-Transportation Secretary, John A. Volpe, attributed the achievement to Americans, saying: “Who else but Americans could drill 10 tunnels in mountains 30 feet deep in snow?”

Volpe mentioned some of the backbreaking and hazardous work that was performed by a labor force consisting of 90% Chinese migrants, who were ineligible to become citizens under federal law, but they received nothing more than a passing mention. The five minutes of recognition that was promised to these migrant workers was never given. Thus, each May that passes, the AAPI community acknowledges this labor effort and reflects on the many ways in which Asian immigrants shaped this country.

For the 31 days of May, mental health advocates, organizations and those living with mental illnesses observe the importance of taking care of one’s mental wellness, and shed light on the issues that permeate the mental health industry, like inaccessibility, injustices within treatment centers, and the stigma that hinders people from seeking help.

The word stigma is defined by the Cambridge English dictionary as “a strong feeling of disapproval that most people in a society have about something.”

Stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness is extremely normalized and can be seen in several sectors of society.

Mainstream media coverage of complex illnesses, such as psychosis and schizophrenia, tend to emphasize portrayals of violence, unpredictability and danger to others, despite the fact that close to 96% of violent crimes are committed by people who […]

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Who is Making Asian American Pacific Islander History in 2021: The GMA Inspiration List

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of one of the fastest-growing groups of people living in the United States. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders contain multitudes. They are a global community with a homegrown and unique perspective on America.

Their diversity expands continents and demographics. The hopes and dreams of the AAPI community are America at its finest, and its people and traditions are those that are tightly stitched into the fabric of the nation. The American dream is alive and well within the AAPI community, and we’ve gathered so many of those dreams here throughout this inspiring list of individuals.

We’re publishing The GMA Inspiration List as the community asserts its voice — speaking out and standing up as anti-Asian violence has spread amid the COVID-19 pandemic; defining itself on its own terms; and increasing awareness of their collective history and future in the United States.

The month of May is a time to remember those who have enriched the community and others with knowledge, pride and respect. We recognize that work, those struggles and the vision for the future of the AAPI community, and reflect on the idea that their history is at the heart of American history.

Welcome to the GMA INSPIRATION LIST: Who’s Making AAPI History Right Now?

Good Morning America and ABC News asked influential AAPI leaders, celebrities, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, athletes and more to nominate fellow members of the community for the list. It’s important to note: the vastness of the AAPI community means it has deep ties in countries of origin, which includes the rich Asian global diaspora. To honor the global community, we’ve provided space for nominators who do not identify as American. Most of the nominations on the list are rising stars on the cusp of becoming household names, whose influence, we believe, will become monumental. They are those who are doing the work, gaining success and sharing their talent … and making history right now.

America, meet the next generation of AAPI excellence. James Hong nominates Chris Naoki Lee

As an actor who has been a part of this business for nearly 70 years, it has been inspiring to see the rise in work from the Asian community, and I am proud to acknowledge Chris Naoki Lee as an up and coming artist. This industry certainly tries to put you in a box, or tries to make you stay in your own lane, but just as I had learned to weave my career into what it is today, I see Chris making similar bold choices as well. Not only does he work as an actor, but he continues to adapt and evolve in the fields of writing, directing, and producing. […]

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