0

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: Give your brain a rest: unplug for a while

Q: My husband lost his job a year ago. He's been able to pick up a few odd jobs, but my job has become the steady income for our family. Instead of thanking me for working, he almost seems resentful that I'm having success at work. How should I handle this?

Juli: I certainly understand your agitation. You've taken on a burden for your family and feel unappreciated. What is difficult, but critical, for you to understand is how devastated your husband likely is about his job situation. Being unemployed and unable to provide for their family is a very serious blow to most men.

Although your husband may not articulate what he's going through, he is likely struggling with feelings of worthlessness and depression. Even if he loves you and is proud of you, your success at work feels like salt in a wound. In his mind, you're succeeding where he has failed.

Your husband desperately needs your encouragement during this season. Remind him that he is the same man you fell in love with -- that his job situation doesn't change who he is. Tell him how much you appreciate his desire and effort to provide for the family.

Recognize the many other ways he takes care of you, like managing the house, meeting your emotional needs, and being a good father. Help him find unique ways he can use his abilities while he is looking for work.

For example, he can volunteer, get more involved with what your kids are doing, work toward a degree, or complete a project he's never had time for. These activities can help him feel like he's moving forward and contributing rather than being "stuck."

Unemployment can be a serious risk to marital dynamics. The most important element of making it through together is for your husband to always know you believe in him -- that you are on the same team and never competing.

Q: My grandkids spend so much time texting and e-mailing that it boggles my mind. I read an article suggesting that using electronic gadgets too much can impede brain function. Can you shed any light on this?

Jim: Most of us spend too much time with our smart phones and other toys, even with all their benefits. And you're right -- studies show that unplugging from these devices is good for your brain.

Scientists are discovering that being over-stimulated by e-mails, texts and other constant distractions can actually change the way people think and behave.

Humans are designed to respond to immediate stimulation. When that happens, the brain releases dopamine, which causes us to feel excitement. It's a natural reaction, but when we fuel it with several hours a day of texts, tweets, and Web surfing, the feeling can become an addiction. That same overstimulation can also inhibit creativity and deep thought, not to mention interrupting normal work and family life.

Sometimes we make excuses for our electronic interruptions by claiming we're "multitasking." But again, research shows that heavy multitaskers have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information. They also experience more stress.

Even after the multitasking ends, their thinking can remain muddled and unfocused. Researchers compare this electronic overload to an addiction to food or sex. The New York Times quoted one scientist as saying, "Technology is rewiring our brains."

Am I suggesting your grandkids are addicted to their devices? No, but it's clear that unchecked, unrestrained electronic stimulation can have a negative impact on healthy brain activity.

We'd suggest that you point your grandkids toward the published research on this issue, and then encourage them to "unplug" as often as possible. Their parents might also add a time limit of some sort -- one hour per day is a general rule of thumb in my household.

Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, host of the "Focus on the Family" radio program, and a husband and father of two.

Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of "Focus on the Family," author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.