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Maggie Stoner

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The mentally draining clutches of COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 meant that discussions surrounding mental health became universally more pervasive and de-stigmatised. However, as society begins to enter a more COVID-normal life in 2022, it is important that we continue to prioritise their mental health the same way we have had to for the past two years – and this is how.

For many, a new year means new resolutions, new goals, and a seemingly fresh start. Essentially, to use the age-old phrase, many approach January with a mentality of “new year, new me”. This isn’t an inherently damaging ideal. However, these new goals are often centred around the same aspects of life: starting the gym, eating clean or starting a diet, cutting out alcohol, managing finances or losing weight. Evidently, a survey demonstrated that 78% of Australians have set financial goals as their new year’s resolution, 30% have pledged to change eating habits and exercise more, and a further 28% have made resolutions to lose weight.

Conversely, only 8% of Australians made resolutions that prioritised their mental health, like meditation and practicing mindfulness – a significantly lower percentile than that relating to physical and financial goals.

Although 2020 and 2021 brought an emotional whirlwind of lockdowns, confusing vaccine rollouts and a seemingly never ending pandemic cloud floating over our heads, discussions surrounding mental health are more public than ever, with public health officers, professional athletes, celebrities and children collectively trying to break the stigma surrounding mental health – reiterating that it is okay to struggle. After all, 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental health disorder in any given year.

Despite the renewed sense of optimism of 2022, with the promise of no more lengthy lockdowns and drawn-out restrictions – the pandemic is still upon us, and it is likely that many individuals still feel the weight of that on their mental health, despite being back to their “COVID-normal” busy schedules. Here are three ways – or belated resolutions – that will help you keep your mental health as a priority this year.

Lead with compassion rather than criticism

Compassion and self-compassion are some of the greatest ways to be kind to yourself, and in doing so, putting your mental health first. Broadly, being self-compassionate involves acknowledging negative emotions, mistakes and faults with kindness, rather than with criticism and judgement. Essentially, it can be separated into three components: self-kindness, common humanity – in the acknowledgement that suffering and failure are a universal experience – and mindfulness.

Research has shown that individuals who practice self-compassion have a direct correlation with lower levels of mental health symptoms, whereas lower levels of self-compassion resulted in higher levels of psychopathy. Moreover, it has been evidenced by a myriad of studies that self-compassion can have a wide scope of positive results as an extension of improved mental health: increased motivation, happiness, improved body image, enhances self-worth and fosters resilience.

One strategy to increase your self-compassion this year, is implementing self-love affirmations into your daily routines. Whether you have one affirmation that you tell yourself each morning, or a different one for different days, having a few phrases or mantras to counter negative thoughts is a good way to introduce the idea self-compassion into your life and in doing so, make your mental health a priority.

Narrow your focus and “just be”

When there are so many different factors that influence health and wellbeing, it is less overwhelming to focus on just a couple of those. Lisa Henderson, professional counsellor and mental health service provider, spoke to Forbes Health about her focus on “meaning making” to prioritise her mental health. She notes that it is easy to get consumed and overwhelmed by busy work, and in doing so lacking productivity, impact, and progress.

She notes that when she takes a step back, breathes deeply and prioritises the work that lead to the most impact and productivity – despite how busy it might make her, she feels fulfilled.

The New York Times reflected on this concept in May 2021, referring to this meaningful and impactful living as “flourishing”. After “languishing” was used to define the universal sense stagnation people were feeling during the pandemic, the term “flourishing” began to emerge as the opposite – a contentment and fulfilment with life that everyone hopes to achieve.

As part of one’s journey to flourishing, finding a sense of meaning and purpose among life’s busy tasks is a key strategy. In line with Henderson’s perspective, reframing the way you think about your busy schedule can improve the level of satisfaction and meaning associated with completing work. Some ways to do this include deepening workplace relationships and reminding yourself about what your job does to help others.

By changing the way you think about your tasks, you can alter the way they make you feel and in turn, help elevate your mental health – without trying to find a spare hour in your busy schedule to practice mindfulness, meditation or exercise.

Know that you’re not alone

Many individuals who are struggling with mental health, are known to suppress these emotions and attempt to carry on with their lives as normal – despite their potentially reduced capacity to operate effectively. Professionals note that this can often lead to other ways of coping that are unhealthier – like alcohol or drug abuse, emotional eating or shopping.

As mentioned above, 1 in 5 Australians are said to experience a mental health disorder in any given year. This statistic demonstrates that even though you may feel like it – you are not the only one suffering from poor mental health and talking openly about it is not something to be ashamed of.

One way to reinforce this in your lives is to speak openly about your struggles to loved ones – so that it is not something you feel as though you must hide. By letting your family and friends know that you are having a hard time, it relieves some of the pressure to be performing at your best and gives you time to seek help. As mental health issues become more de-stigmatised, many workplaces are also vouching for the normalisation and acceptance of “mental health days”, so as to relieve the shame attached to taking time for oneself and prioritising mental health.

If one good thing can be taken from our collective suffering in 2020 and 2021, it is the open discussions and focus on individual’s mental health – and a greater understanding of the amount of people who struggle with mental disorders. Whether our lives continue to be consumed by lockdowns and a pandemic or not, the need to protect our mental health will never be diminished, and by implementing some of these strategies and outlooks outlined here – regardless of if you think you need it – your mental health will thank you.

As always, if you feel as though you need to reach out for help, there are a number of services at your disposal:

Lifeline
24 hour telephone counselling service. Phone: 13 11 14 or Text: 0477 13 11 14 6pm – midnight AEST
www.lifeline.org.au/(link is external)

Kids Help Line
Confidential and anonymous, telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25. Phone: 1800 55 18 00
www.kidshelp.com.au/(link is external)

Beyond Blue Support Service – Support. Advice. Action
Information and referral to relevant services for depression and anxiety related matters. Phone: 1300 22 46 36
www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/get-immediate-support(link is external)

Butterfly Foundation
Butterfly provides support for Australians who suffer from eating disorders and negative body image issues and their carers. Phone: 1800 33 4673
thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/(link is external)

 

From Kim Kardashian to Meghan Fox, to Adele, flourishing female celebrity divorcees have generated a ‘chicness’ around the notion of divorce – reframing it as an opportunity for reinvention rather than desperation.

In an effort to escape stories of new Coronavirus strains, lockdowns and the general impending doom that has saturated the news cycle – many became drawn to the sugary celebrity gossip that 2021 had to offer. At the forefront of this, has been the narrative of celebrity divorce and the reinvention of female divorcees in the eyes of the public.

Every year brings the downfall of several A-list relationships, but during 2021, it seemed there had been more celebrity couples at the clutches of divorce than ever. Household names like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, Bill and Melinda Gates, Elon Musk and Grimes, Meghan Fox, Kourtney Kardashian, Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde, and of course Adele, all flourishing in the media limelight in the wake of their divorces.

However, it seems as though celebrities aren’t the only ones who went down the divorce route in 2021 – the stress of the pandemic and the clutches of lockdown presumably an influencing factor. Statistics have demonstrated that there was a 31% decrease in Australian marriages in 2020, and a 314% increase in couples thinking about separating due to lockdown – with another 4.1% increase in Australian divorce rates for 2021.

Although the acrimonious nature of divorce is not something to be wholly celebrated, with the saddening act of separating a family and dismantling a marriage remaining a tumultuous process, the rise of divorce – namely celebrity divorce – has begun to normalise the fact that separation can ultimately be a healthy thing, reframing the narrative from one of desperation and pity – particularly for women – to an opportunity for healing, growth, and reinvention.

This “Big Divorce Energy” made a resurgence in 2021, due to the myriad of celebrities who have faced the public in the months after a separation with an air of self-assurance, confidence, happiness, and sometimes even a Princess Diana-esque revenge outfit.

https://twitter.com/lavieimiitelart/status/1133451759882592258

Kim Kardashian

The first of these celebs who have encapsulated “big divorce energy” has been pop-culture icon Kim Kardashian, who, after filing for divorce in February 2021, took to her trademark stomping ground, Instagram, with a new glow of confidence and contentment. Being her third divorce after previous separations from Kris Humphries in 2013, and Damon Thomas in 2003, Kim has demonstrated that she isn’t fazed by the sense of shame that traditionally ensconces divorce – let alone multiple divorces – but rather embraces the authority, self-assurance, and peace that it can ultimately bring.

Moreover, her rumoured new romance with comedian, SNL star and ‘serial boyfriend’ Pete Davidson – described as the epitome of a “manic pixie dream boyfriend” – further symbolises Kim’s desire for contentment, freshness and, most importantly, fun in her post-divorce era.

Meghan Fox

Another female celebrity that has thrived in the wake of divorce, is Meghan Fox. Although being separated from her former husband Brian Austin Green since 2019, she officially filed for divorce in November 2020. However, 2021 was when the public actually began to notice Fox’s “big divorce energy”, further exacerbated by the media attention on her impassioned relationship with rapper Machine Gun Kelly – or rather, her “twin flame” as she claims. Not only does Fox seem happier in her post-divorce whirlwind relationship with Kelly, but the relationship plays into this subversion of the divorce narrative that has placed many famous men in a position stereotypically reserved for women – seeing their partners move on with someone younger post-divorce in a very public way.

As we saw with Kardashian and Davidson and Fox and Kelly, there have been an increasing number of female celebrities who have sprung out of divorces into the arms of a younger man. Some of these include Kourtney Kardashian, who after her on-and-off marriage with Scott Disick, has settled down into a very public, very passionate relationship and engagement with Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, and Olivia Wilde, who following her divorce from Jason Sudekis has been touring the USA with her new boyfriend Harry Styles. Whether these pairings are indeed rebounds, or true love, it is refreshing for many to see so many high-profile women owning their post-divorce relationship choices with pride, showing that after the draining process of divorce – a bit of youthful happiness and pleasure is still a valid and supported option.

 

Adele

Finally, another female divorcee that has – by the judgement of the public eye – thrived in 2021, is Adele. After going somewhat underground since her album 25, society re-entered an Adele renaissance in the lead up to the release of her 30, her most recent album, that was released on November 19th, 2021. After the public termination of her two-year marriage to producer Simon Konecki, 30 reflects on Adele’s experience during and post-divorce, and illustrates how it sparked a journey of self-discovery.

In her words, the album is completely centric on the ins and outs of “Divorce, babe, divorce.” By choosing to utilise her divorce as the overarching theme for the album, paired with Adele’s significant pop-cultural influence, the pop star aided in both normalising divorce at a younger age, and showing that despite the initial anxiety and sadness associated with the legal separation, it can ultimately be a chance to move forward, find yourself and achieve personal contentment.

This widespread support and admiration for these divorcees who show that happiness, not loneliness, can be the outcome of a relationship breakdown, exemplifies that divorce doesn’t have to be a sad account of a woman’s life falling to shambles. In our increasingly modern era where the concepts of relationships, marriage and monogamy are ever evolving, it is refreshing and potentially helpful to see that maybe divorce isn’t the patriarchal stereotype it has always been framed to be.

Since Facebook became “Meta” and announced its entrance into the “Metaverse”, a lot of people have been left asking what exactly that means, and what are the implications for the next generation of technology-addicted kids?

Clearly, technology, phones and social media have become an indispensable asset in our lives – changing the way that we communicate, learn and speak. For many adults, it’s routine for a smartphone to essentially act as an extension of a limb, books to be read on a Kindle and work meetings to be joined through Zoom. With the rapidly advancing technological options for daily tasks, kids are beginning to form a closer relationship with technology too. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 90% of Australian children are looking at screens for 10 or more hours a week.

Many parents are familiar with the dangers of excess screen time, social media and technology addiction in kids – but with Facebook’s rebranding itself to “Meta”, and its subsequent launch into the “Metaverse”, the implications for children in this new technological space is unclear.

What on earth is the “Metaverse”?

We have all heard the term flying around in the news recently, but less people know what the metaverse actually entails. Broadly, the metaverse is a virtual reality and augmented reality system that creates engrossing, 3D digital experiences, that were previously viewed on a phone in the palm of your hand. Essentially, it is a combination of immersive online spaces that connect to create an entirely online universe – accessed through virtual reality.

The concept of a metaverse is not a new phenomenon. Coined by Neil Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi book Snow Crash, the metaverse was described as a virtual world where the protagonist went to escape his reality in Los Angeles.

After Snow Crash, concepts akin to a “metaverse” were adapted by a myriad of other sci-fi and action productions like Ready Player One and more recently Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds, as well as online games like Second Life, Roblox and Pokemon Go – which all centre around the blurring of the lines between online activity, and reality.

Clearly, there are several companies that have begun to utilise the digital connectedness that the metaverse has to offer. However, with the recent addition of Facebook and Microsoft to this list, as well as the large focus on access via virtual reality– the distinction between what is online and what is reality looks even more unclear.

Here are some of the main features of the “metaverse” to consider:

  • A virtual world and virtual reality: this is, to many, the most important aspect of the metaverse. The idea behind a virtual reality entrance into the metaverse, is that you feel more present in the online space, and less connected to reality.
  • Other people: the presence of other people in the metaverse is a characteristic that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are presumably focusing on – to create a more realistic and ‘natural’ form of online communication. There will be many other avatars and users in the metaverse space to talk to and even do things with – from the comfort of your bedroom.
  • Availability: This virtual world is available whenever an individual wants to enter it – which can do even more to blur the boundaries between online and real life. Users can change the metaverse by adding virtual objects or buildings, and even potentially owning residency within it.
  • Connection to the real world: some people theorise that some aspects of real life will be able to translate into the metaverse. For example, spending money for things that you will only get in the metaverse, or flying a drone in the metaverse to control a drone in real life.

Lack of control on age and content restrictions

Now we have more of a clear understanding of what this online universe will look like – we should talk about the potential impact it will have on the younger generation. Children have already been exposed to several social online games and gaming systems like Roblox, Play Station and Xbox, where they can play a game and communicate with others simultaneously. Therefore, the idea of a metaverse will undoubtedly appeal to them.

While access to the metaverse is limited to those over 13 years old, there is a lack of verification and moderation software to ensure that this age restriction remains enforced. Oculus, Facebook’s virtual reality platform, does not have much information to support the alleged age restrictions for the metaverse. Its safety centre states that the software is “Designed for Age 13+” and therefore those under 13 are not permitted to have an account or use devices. However, the section next to this explains how to share an Oculus device with friends and family, therefore demonstrating that children would be able to access the metaverse by simply using their parent’s account.

Additionally, with Facebook’s recent efforts to include younger children in their social media empire, parents may be cautious on the ability for their children to access the metaverse and become subject to its immersive and addictive nature – without someone monitoring the content they are consuming.

Where do you draw the line between technology and reality?

Despite the lack of control on age and content restrictions, a larger danger that presents itself in virtual reality, is the blurring of the lines between online activity and reality. More specifically, considering the already difficult task of moderating cyberbullying and online abuse in 2D communication, how these forms of bullying will impact teens and children in a more realistic 3D online space that is the metaverse.

When communicating online or playing games through a phone, the artificial nature of the experience is clearer, because you are holding it in your hand. However, the immersive experience of VR – in that it’s manufactured to feel ‘real’ – makes its simulated nature more difficult to distinguish. Research has demonstrated that the psychological and effects of VR register in our bodies the same way as real-life experiences, as the level of “presence” in VR aims to mimic reality.

When this is considered in the context of violent video games, or social media cyberbullying, the ‘coolness’ factor is diminished. For example, current studies have demonstrated that when playing violent video games in VR, and experiencing physical abuse in a realistic VR landscape, the subconscious psychological and post-traumatic effect may be more intense than intended.

Verbal abuse will also feel more real as well. If a child is experiencing cyberbullying in a virtual reality landscape – instead of reading abusive words from someone hiding behind a keyboard, they will be hearing and seeing someone verbally abuse them, as if it was happening in real life.

Even so, because of the developing nature of children’s brains, the increasingly mainstream nature of VR – paired with potential traumatic experiences within – makes the potential consequences to children’s mental and emotional health unknown.

The introduction of the metaverse has catapulted the prospect of VR communication into the mainstream. Albeit scary, this technology has the potential to revolutionise social media and online gaming. However, whether this will have a positive effect on the wellbeing of our children and other future generations is unknown. It is in the hands of controlling companies to establish secure age verification and content moderation systems, to make the metaverse the safest place that it can be.

Gaslighting has been on the rapid rise since 2013, reaching its peak when it was dubbed the “buzz word” of 2018. However, in recent years gaslighting has taken a more insidious turn, with people beginning to question if they might be gaslighting themselves.

No, you aren’t being too sensitive.

Yes, you are qualified enough to ask for a raise at your job.

No, you can’t “change” your partner’s toxic traits.

Yes, you can do better.

Gaslighting has become somewhat of a buzz word in the psychological, relationship and self-development spaces of 2021. It’s often used to characterise a form of manipulative behaviour, commonly from parents, friends, bosses, intimate partners, or even medical professionals. However, a new phenomenon has more recently be discovered: the ability to gaslight yourself.

Psychologists classify gaslighting as a manipulation tactic, whereby the manipulator undermines and questions the victims integrity, leading them to doubt their own reality and memory of the situation. It has become such a forewarned pattern of behaviour due to the subtlety of its harm. If someone is continually gaslit, with their perception of self-belief repeatedly minimised, the seeds of self-doubt planted by the gaslighter can be internalised – thus transferring the cycle of being gaslit, to gaslighting yourself.

In simple terms – repeated abuse can cause one to become their own abuser.

What does self-gaslighting look like?

Simply, self-gaslighting can look like the suppression and ignorance of your emotions, thoughts, and intuitive feelings – thus rendering them as “dramatic” or “unnecessary”. More specifically, the Moon and Manifest Podcast notes that a tell-tale sign of self-gaslighting is when one repeatedly second-guesses and rationalises away their intuition. We’re all familiar with the strong gut-feelings we have when we are hurt by someone, or we know we are unhappy in some aspect of our lives. But if someone becomes susceptible to self-gaslighting tendencies, this “intuitive knowing”, becomes no longer a guidance system, but a voice consciously ignored in favour of more sabotaging thoughts.

A classic and common example of this is often seen when an individual is hurt by someone but dismisses their feelings of sadness or offence in the vein of – “I’m being too sensitive about this, it’s not a big deal.”

Self-gaslighting can also manifest in the workplace – with persistent and public critiques of performance, exclusion, gossip and belittling of efforts being internalised to create the perception that one isn’t deserving of working there. To prevent this self-gaslighting-induced imposter syndrome from emerging in the workplace, two more obvious scenarios that demonstrate gaslighting in a working environment could be:

  • Your boss doesn’t remember you handing him your report last week, even though you are sure it happened, and you did the work. The gaslighter remains adamant they never got it, which leads you to question whether they are right, and you are misremembering – despite your previous certainty.
  • Your boss tells you it isn’t a big deal if you miss the morning briefing, but when you do, they criticise you for it – leading you to question your commitment to the workplace, and worthiness of obtaining the job.

Whether you are experiencing gaslighting in the workplace or in a relationship, the consequences remain the same, and it often results in this internalised behaviour pattern that means the gaslighter no longer needs to do the heavy lifting – but rather you are doing it yourself.

Self-gaslighting in motherhood

Another scenario where self-gaslighting behaviours can manifest, is within mothers who undermine and question their ability to parent. Although gaslighting relationships between parents and children have been widely researched and reported, the ability for a parent to gaslight themselves, is less covered.

As parenting is already a famously challenging time – mothers who are trapped in patterns of self-inflicted gaslighting can begin to doubt their parenting capabilities and downplay the struggles of raising children under the guise of “other people have it worse”. These self-manipulative behaviours are detrimental to the mental health of whoever is experiencing it, however self-gaslighting in parenthood, if left ignored, can lead to more severe afflictions like parental burnout.

Solutions

There are a myriad of different strategies and processes to try and reverse the entrenchment of gaslighting tendencies in oneself.

Becoming self-aware

The first step to subvert self-gaslighting behaviours, is to become more self-aware. Being self-aware of your surroundings, interactions, thoughts, and feelings can reverse the psychologically distorting effects of self-gaslighting.

Self-awareness is ultimately about being confident in who you are and what you feel – in other words, being assured in your intuition. When one becomes self-aware, they have the ability to recognise the problem – in that they are gaslighting themselves – gain perspective on the origins of problem and begin to understand their feelings objectively.

Affirming your emotions

When one is in the process of understanding their self-sabotaging behaviours, Healthline Australia proposes a process of “affirming emotions” to counteract the aspect of self-gaslighting that tells you your emotions aren’t valid. An example of affirming your emotions when someone gaslights you, can look like this.

  • Gaslighting: “I didn’t mean it like that, you’re exaggerating, you’re crazy”
  • Self-gaslighting: “Maybe I am crazy. I know they love me, and they wouldn’t have meant it like that.”
  • Affirming emotions: “I remember how they worded it and I stand by how it made me feel. They should not have said it.”

CBT

If the clutches of self-gaslighting are too entrenched in you that these self-talk methods aren’t working – psychologists strongly recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which focuses on restructuring the way individuals think and process emotions, hoping to lessen the distortion that self-gaslighting causes. It’s important to note that CBT has been likened to gaslighting when not performed properly, as the psychologists attempts to render clients issues as a product of their mental distortion, can sometimes seem like an “it’s all in your head” approach. However, a psychologist or therapist who is aware of the dangers of gaslighting and self-gaslighting, can utilise CBT as a tool to minimise the self-doubt and re-arrange clients’ thoughts in the correct way – without making them feel as though they are “crazy” or at fault.

You are not alone.

Most importantly, if you have been experiencing self-gaslighting, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Gaslighting and self-gaslighting has become one of the most dangerous behaviour manipulations of the past couple of years, and a phenomenon that has been well researched.

It is imperative that if you think you have been subjected to self-gaslighting, reach out for support – whether that be to a trusted friend, partner or professional – and try to begin by validating your feelings. Everyone deserves to feel confident in themselves, their intuition and their relationships, and with the right approach, self-gaslighting won’t stand in the way of that.

Over 45% of parents feel the effects of parental burnout. The crippling exhaustion, overwhelming stress, and the feeling that everything is just a bit too hard, is a shared experience with nearly half of all parents. Here is what you need to know about this common phenomenon – and the steps to take to feel like yourself again.

Many parents have come to realise that having children is exhausting… And even more exhausting when a pandemic, working from home and recurring lockdowns are thrown into the mix. The overwhelming feelings of stress and exhaustion associated with trying to juggle both life itself and the lives of their children too, can sometimes feel like a bit too much to handle. If you, as a parent, felt this too, don’t worry – you are definitely not alone.

It’s important to realise that these feelings are completely valid and parental burnout is more than just general tiredness or irritability. If left unmanaged, the all-consuming sensations of burnout can have significant consequences on not only parents’ mental health, but the sense of equilibrium within the family itself.

The first diagnoses of parental burnout dates back to 1983, but more extensive research was carried out in 2017, by Belgium researchers Dr Isabelle Roskam and Dr Moïra Mikolajczak – who really delved into the prevalence of parental burnout, especially in the 21st century.

They found that since previous studies, society has placed more pressure on families to raise high-performing, healthy and stable children – as well as a shift in gender norms – especially during COVID – which has generated an increase in more working mothers, and less who stay-at-home full time. These subtle changes can make the act of parenting more difficult and stressful and thus, emerges the patterns of parental burnout.

Beyond the initial feelings of exhaustion, parental burnout can also manifest in:

If these symptoms are left untreated for too long, the damage to parents’ mental health, hormones and relationships with both partners and children, can be significant. Research has found that parents who experience parental burnout, are likely to be more coercive or neglectful towards their children – despite the initial burnout often resulting from putting too much time and energy into your children and neglecting your own needs.

Other common factors that can lead to the development of parental burnout are:

For parents experiencing this level of burnout – despite how difficult it may seem – there are several ways that this burnout can be alleviated. Here are some common and scientifically proven ways that parental burnout can be reduced:

  • Establish a routine: by creating a set schedule within the family that allows time for everyone’s respective activities and obligations – as well as carving out time to be together as a family – parents can set boundaries between work and home and lessen the expectation to be doing everything at once.
  • Communicate your feelings: whether it is with a partner or a friend, telling someone how you are feeling is the first step to treating parental burnout. As this condition is often provoked by bottling up stress and exhaustion, the first way to fix this is to let someone know you need support.
  • Go to a support group: support groups for parents are a great way to feel like you’re not alone. By talking to other parents who may be sharing the same struggles, feelings of isolation that may be contributing to the burnout can be alleviated.
  • Exercise: it’s a well-known fact that moving your body releases endorphins and, for many, provides an outlet where you can release pent up stress. This doesn’t have to mean killing your body in the gym six days a week. If you are starting to feel stressed or overwhelmed, even a ten-minute walk or stretch can help release the feel-good hormones to make you feel more relaxed.
  • Consult a therapist: regardless of if you think you don’t need it – everyone can benefit in some way from talking to someone professional about your everyday problems, or perhaps past trauma that has led to burnout. There is no shame in getting help, and if you feel you need to talk to someone, a psychologist may be able to provide the informed guidance that you need.

The chance of developing parental burnout doesn’t go away as your kids grow up. As parents, it is likely that you will always put their needs above your own at points in time. But it is the acknowledgement that you are struggling, communication that you need help, and the seeking out of support that will help you on your journey to feel like yourself again.

 

 

 

 

Sydney family GP and TV Personality, Dr Ginni Mansberg, discusses the challenges of parenting teenagers and offers parents advice on how to guide modern adolescents, in her latest book, The New Teen Age, co-authored with Jo Lamble.

The exhaustion that comes with raising infants and toddlers is an age-old tale – but the emotional toll so often experienced by parents of teenagers can be even more challenging, especially now with potential perils around technology.

As kids transition into the world of teenager-dom, they’re exposed to a myriad of new risks like vaping, pornography and sexting – and as parents, it can be difficult to know when and how to step in.

High-profile Sydney family GP and TV personality, Dr Ginni Mansberg, stresses the importance of facing these issues head on and without judgement in her new book, co-authored with clinical psychologist Jo Lamble, The New Teen Age: How to support today’s tweens and teens to become healthy, happy adults .

A compilation of science-backed evidence, anecdotal advice and strategical conversation starters, the book hones-in on contemporary and previously overlooked issues like porn consumption, sexting, screen time, social media and sleep; all whilst promoting a judgement-free and practical space for parents seeking guidance.

Ginni says that many parents were coming to her and Jo’s clinics, overwhelmed by the pressures associated with raising their developing children.

“There was a lot of tension, a lot of love, a lot of fear, a lot of blaming themselves in guilt and a lot of anger from the kids”, Ginni shares.

“It just seemed that quite a few things had changed since more dominant parenting books were around.”

Authors Ginni and Jo combine knowledge, not only from their own practice in raising tweens and adolescents, but their 40 years of medical and psychological experience, providing readers with an updated perspective on how to navigate that turbulent time between childhood and adulthood.

Ginni says the key motivation toward the creation of the book was the desire “to bring everyone up to speed and close the gap to bring parents and kids together.”

‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts’

Like many parents of teens, Ginni understands the tumultuous experience of trying to effectively parent through puberty, and the physical and psychological shifts that come with that. She highlights that the more obvious physical changes, such as body hair and breasts, are not the most significant change these teenagers experience, rather it is the increase in hormones and subsequent changes in the brain that are the most daunting.

She reveals that as early as seven years old, children are “hitting that percentage of body fat that’s required to make sex hormones.”

Ginni also discusses the valuable role of Oxytocin, the “love hormone”, which is released primarily in response to experiences of trust, social bonding and, most obviously, love.

“Teenagers have very sensitive oxytocin receptors,” she explains. She maintains that due to this, teenagers are in fact “primed to be quite intense in their feelings. They are so devoted to each other, the friends are so intense, their first love is so intense – even if it’s a person they’ve just met on Instagram.”

In this, Ginni urges parents to acknowledge the reasons behind their teenager’s mood swings and melodramatic tendencies. Rather than consistently clashing heads, it’s important to understand that it’s in a teens nature to be a bit ‘over the top’ sometimes.

Your teens are not getting enough sleep.

Another question Ginni and Jo probe parents to think about, is the amount of sleep your teens are getting. Evidence show us that teenagers need 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night to function at their highest capacity. Ginni explains that because teenagers continue to go to bed later – then get up early for school – a “conga line of horror” can ensue.

Did you know how many issues can arise from lack of sleep? When teens consistently stay up late (more often than not at the clutches of a smartphone) and rack up large amounts of sleep debt, they become susceptible to “increases in anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, massive amounts of risky behaviour – whether its drugs, sex, sending a dick pic, taking a nude picture or saying something bitchy – decreased academic performance, decreased sport performance, acne and weight gain,” Ginni warns.

The New Teen Age author explains that these potential consequences, albeit scary, can be used to the advantage of parents trying to get through to their teens.

“In some ways,” she says, “the conga line of horror [from lack of sleep] is your ‘line in’ with the kids.”

If staying up late on phones is the issue, explaining the effects that lack of sleep can have, will provide them with an incentive to get more sleep themselves, without having the proverbial fight about leaving their phone downstairs.

Sexting and Porn – How Do I Bring it Up?

A newer conversation in the parenting world – and a necessary one – is how to navigate sexting and pornography consumption in teens. Sexting and sending nude photos, in particular, are a more recent development in teenage behaviour, exacerbated by the increasing reliance on social media to communicate and flirt with potential romantic partners.

“It is incredibly common,” Ginni says. “A lot of these kids aren’t seeing each other in person and especially during the pandemic, they aren’t seeing each other at all, so their way of flirting can be sending a pic, and they are biologically programmed to be into risk taking.”

In response to the influx of risqué photos and sexts being sent between teens, Ginni advises parents to reject protective instincts to ban teens from doing this or confiscate their phones, and instead lead with compassion and understanding, having conversations that say, “if you’re going to sext, at least do it in a safe way.”

Teenage porn consumption follows the same pattern. It is inevitable that your teens will either stumble across, or actively seek out, pornography – but it is the conversations that we have surrounding it that will limit its harm.

“Surveys have shown that what they are looking at is a video that usually preferences male pleasure,” Ginni explains. She maintains that they probably “don’t really understand the difference between what healthy, consensual sex is, and what they’re seeing online.”

Ginni persists that the only way to fix this, and help teenagers understand the implications of the risky behaviour they are attracted to, is “to be having these conversations with our kids.”

However, it doesn’t have to be the uncomfortable, grimace-inducing conversation that parents often imagine. Ginni provides readers with resources to help facilitate difficult conversations, one being ‘It’s Time to Talk’, which exists to encourage conversations about what constitutes healthy and safe relationships – a particularly important topic for teenagers who are forming unrealistic perceptions of relationships that are perpetuated through pornography.

Ultimately, Dr Ginni’s philosophy doesn’t advise controlling or limiting the actions of teenagers, rather influencing their decisions and thoughts through conversation, and in doing so, creating a safe passage for communication between the parent and the child.

“They need to push boundaries and they need to make mistakes, because otherwise they are spectacularly ill-equipped to face what is coming to them,” she says.

“We, as parents, need to use a certain amount of judgement – by knowing our kids and also understanding that they’re going to have to make some mistakes – to slowly take the training wheels off the bike.”

Watch Offspring’s exclusive interview with Dr Ginni Mansberg below or on our YouTube channel.

Harmful health and fitness advice has the habit of infiltrating social media landscapes, and it looks like TikTok is the newest – and potentially most dangerous – vessel for this advice to run rife.

The average TikTok user spends 52 minutes of their day on the app. That’s over 850 minutes a month, and 18,928 minutes a year. With these statistics in mind, it’s no wonder that TikTok has become the cultural phenomenon it is today – with popularity skyrocketing during the peak of widespread lockdowns, and now garnering approximately 1 billion monthly users – 60% of those belonging to Gen z. Clearly, TikTok has become an indispensable asset in the lives of many children and teens across the globe – but as parents, have you ever questioned the kind of harmful messaging this app could be sending your kids?

At the end of 2019, I opened TikTok for the first time. Periodically opening and closing the app every day, I consumed dance videos, funny skits, ‘daily vlogs’, and other light-hearted content that was inundating my feed. At first it seemed harmless, but it wasn’t until 2020, when plunged into the first of many lockdowns here in Melbourne, that I realised how much TikTok content I was subconsciously absorbing.

Face-to-face with reoccurring bouts of ‘lockdown boredom’, I was continually sucked into the TikTok quicksand of mindless scrolling. I wasn’t alone in this. For 4–15-year-olds, the average scrolling time per day is 80 minutes – a significantly longer chunk of the day than our 52 minutes. Although these statistics may seem shocking, the unlimited stream of consecutive, relatively short videos to scroll through – a 3-minute option only recently introduced – makes extended periods of scrolling much harder to consciously limit.

It’s all in the algorithm.

For a relatively new platform, TikTok has managed to generate a large cultural standing, carving out a previously unmatched space for mass influence.

The addictiveness of the app – a reason it is so popular – can be partly attributed to its cutting-edge algorithm – highly developed in its ability to shape users’ ‘For You’ pages to their unique ‘level of interest’. Indicators like finishing a video from beginning to end, user location and the types of videos users interact with, all contribute to the personalisation of user feeds. However, when the algorithm is pervasively feeding health advice, regardless of its validity, to impressionable children and teens – without their explicit consent to do so – this personalisation has the potential to turn sinister.

Health and Fitness advice is well established in the social media ecosystem. Beginning in Youtube communities, it eventually bled into Instagram feeds and now more recently,  TikTok has taken the reigns.

My growing suspicion towards TikTok didn’t begin until I decided to “get back into fitness” – like many did during lockdown – using TikTok’s search bar to source workout ideas and routines. It was then, that the content on my feed slowly began to change. All of a sudden, whenever I opened the app, I was flooded with videos about different workouts, “how to be in a calorie deficit”, and ‘what I eat in a day’ videos, often perpetuated by slim and toned creators, who often didn’t show a realistic amount of food.

 

Through looking at a couple of workout videos, I was unknowingly placing my “interest” in the health and fitness category on TikTok, which the algorithm then held onto, and adapted the content it showed me to reflect that. Eventually, the content on my TikTok feed extended beyond the workout ideas that I initially sought out, and onto advice about my diet, things I should or shouldn’t be eating or drinking, and different workouts to give me a particular desired body type. I was overwhelmed.

What’s wrong with health and fitness advice?

Although these types of videos may not strike some users as outrightly harmful, the pervasive nature of diet culture and the fitness industry when fed consistently to impressionable users, has the potential to garner harmful perceptions of body image and obsessive behaviours, far too young.

This largely stems from the widely engrained behaviour, of associating morality with different diets or lifestyles. Chocolate is seen as “bad” or “junk”, vegetables are “good” and “clean”, and going to the gym everyday will make you “better than” someone who does not.

 

By assigning so much moral value to the foods we choose to eat and exercise we choose to do, the likeliness of guilt when we don’t do these things, is much higher. This moral value is ultimately delineated from the fact that a large part of society continues to subconsciously perpetuate fatphobic narratives and maintain thinness as the gold standard for how a woman should look.

These ideals are further exacerbated on TikTok, due to the feedback economy of the platform, whereby comments and likes denote how videos are generally perceived. A recent example of this was called out by Emma Matthews (@sheismarissamatthewss on TikTok), who concluded that the many comments on TikTok “reinforce thin privilege and fatphobia”. She compared the comments of her ‘what I eat in a day video’ – where she got criticised for eating three eggs and using an “inappropriate amount of olive oil” – to the comments of ‘thin’ creators’ food videos, who were predominantly praised for what they eat – therefore demonstrating how users often idealise and favour those who fit into their preferred body type.

Therefore, if teens and tweens manage to get onto the “side” of TikTok swarmed with health and fitness advice, the persistent messaging of the “perfect” diet and lifestyle, has the potential to generate obsessive or harmful relationships with food and exercise, in an attempt to mirror what they see from their favourite creators.

Amid the more latent presentations of diet culture, although more hidden, are pro-anorexia accounts, particularly dangerous in their encouragement of starvation and extreme restriction around food. It was when one of these videos popped up on my TikTok feed, with the caption “If you ate over 1200 calories today you are fat”, that I recognised the true danger of TikTok’s personalised algorithm. I had never searched for this ‘pro-ana’ content, nor expressed any interest in videos on restrictive eating or diets. But it is accounts like these, despite efforts from TikTok to remove them from the platform, have the potential to be grouped into the health and fitness category, and find their way to the “For You Pages” of teens and tweens.

Body image isn’t a new issue.

Concerns around body image in children and adolescents are already an unfortunately common occurrence, with the Mission Australia 2020 Annual Youth Survey reflecting that 33% of participants saw body image as an area of major concern in their lives. Another survey in 2021 showed that out of 93 students, 45% showed a high level of concern for their body image. It is clear the ubiquity of body image concerns in children and adolescents – an issue that is arguably not improved by the persistent nature of TikTok’s algorithm.

Considering previous research that discovered girls ages 5-8, when simply looking at a Barbie Doll, experienced body dissatisfaction and a desire for thinness, it is important to recognise the capacity for TikTok – and social media in general – to project this bombardment of health and fitness advice onto their audience, without regard for the young and vulnerable nature of the users they are targeting.

If looking at a Barbie doll can cause that much harm, think about what a carefully curated selection of targeted health and fitness videos can do.

How do I talk to my kids about this?

The solution to this doesn’t come with banning your kids from TikTok or confiscating their phones upon hearing this information. Our society is saturated with potentially harmful information around health and fitness, and perpetuations of a thin-ideal – but it is the way that kids perceive this information that defines the harm it can cause.

One way that you can help reinforce positive relationships with health and fitness with your children, is by modelling that positive relationship yourself. Some ways parents can do this are:

  • Engaging in healthy eating habits yourself: consistently participating in fad diets or outwardly expressing guilt for eating certain foods are behaviours children can pick up on, and implement into their own lifestyles at a later point.
  • Making meals a positive and communal experience: research has shown that a frequency in family meals can lead to inverse effects of disordered eating, and better psychological outcomes for children.
  • Teaching kids about critical thinking: by explaining how to practice critical thinking while on social media, it becomes easier for children and teens to recognise the misinformation or unhealthy content that they might be exposed to, and purposely disengage with it. Often, parents are also encouraged to watch TikTok’s with their children, and openly talk about the misrepresentation that they see.

I, like many others, have been exposed to the more sinister side of TikTok health and wellness, but through educating myself and talking to others, I have become aware enough about diet culture and health advice, that I can recognise and ignore misinformation. By navigating TikTok with intention and purpose, seeking out trusted sources and shielding myself from the guilt-shrouded influence of diet culture, I am able to be largely unaffected by the persistent messaging of TikTok’s health and fitness community – and I encourage teens and kids using TikTok to do the same.