Surviving the Era of Unlimited Distraction

A team of scientists is helping teenagers learn to calm and focus their minds

Tuesday, January 28, 2020 – 16:15
Santa Barbara, CA

Stress, distraction, unhealthy use of technology and rising rates of mental illness — life is increasingly tough for teenagers today, and educating them is a challenge at best. But researchers at UC Santa Barbara have found success in a new program to address those four themes, which stand out as struggles for the majority of high school students in the United States.

A new, evidence-based, online course that provides students with personalized attention training is being developed at the Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential (CMHP), part of the university’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. The course teaches students to focus their minds and manage their emotions so they can succeed academically.

Practicing mindfulness are (L-R) UCSB's Alissa Mrazek, Jonathan Schooler and Michael Mrazek. Photo by Matt Perko, UC Santa Barbara.

Practicing mindfulness are (L-R) UCSB’s Alissa Mrazek, Jonathan Schooler and Michael Mrazek. Photo by Matt Perko, UC Santa Barbara.

Twenty-five high schools around the country are currently using the course.

“We are quite encouraged by the enthusiasm that our program has received from both students and teachers. We are also heartened by preliminary findings of benefits for students who participate in the program,” said Jonathan Schooler, CMHP director and a professor of psychology.

In one study, published in the journal Education Sciences, the researchers surveyed 190 high school students before and after they completed the 22-day course. They found that students improved their ability to manage stress and regulate emotions. The study also revealed that students came to view their ability to focus as a trainable skill, and they felt more motivated and confident to train this ability. “We found that among the 82% of students who initially reported paying attention in class less than they felt they should, classroom focus significantly improved following our intervention,” Schooler said.

UCSB Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential (CMHP) app.

“Teachers everywhere are reporting that it’s increasingly hard to get students to actually pay attention,” noted Michael Mrazek, CMHP research director. “We’ve interviewed more than 200 high school teachers and principals over the last two years to understand their biggest challenges as well as their perspective about current challenges for teens. There’s a palpable sense of concern around increasing distraction, stress and mental illness. Individually, those are each distinct and important problems. Yet a lot of research has shown that mindfulness-based attention training is an elegant solution that can help address each of those issues. That’s why we’re so excited about finding the most effective way to bring this training into high school settings.”

Michael Mrazek, CMHP research director. Courtesy photo.

The project is primarily funded by a development and innovation grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. The goal of the grant is to use empirical research to iteratively refine a digital course that can ultimately scale to provide evidence-based training to millions of high school students in the United States. The online course includes not only four 12-minute lessons and daily 4-minute exercises for students, but also a teacher interface that makes it easy for teachers to enroll students and monitor their progress.

“We deliberately designed this resource so that teachers don’t need to become topic experts to be able to share attention training with their students,” Mrazek said. “When a teacher creates an account, they get access to facilitator training as well as their own personalized 22-day course. Time is a precious resource for teachers, so the course is largely plug-and-play.”

Alissa Mrazek, senior postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences, photo by Matt Perko, UC Santa Barbara.

Music plays an important role in most of the daily exercises. As Alissa Mrazek, a senior postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences, explained, the researchers have partnered with dozens of famous musicians to create training exercises for students. Students learn to focus their attention by listening deeply to music that is personalized to their preferred genre. “We ask students to try to keep their attention focused on the sounds they hear,” she explained. “Then when distractions arise, as they inevitably do, it’s an opportunity to practice letting go of that distraction and coming back to the music.”

Music plays an important role in most of the daily exercises.

Keeping the students engaged in the lessons is critical but also challenging, noted Michael Mrazek. “We’re constantly striving to use all of the best practices from educational psychology that optimize learning, and to implement them in fast-paced videos that resonate with a teenage audience,” he said. “It’s a delicate balance, and it’s forced us to develop a unique style that can both captivate and educate.”

Jonathan Schooler, CMHP director and a professor of psychology, photo by Matt Perko, UC Santa Barbara.

“I was skeptical initially, just because I thought that pairing a digital format with mindfulness is kind of antithetical, that digital programs are really one of the largest distractions for our teens,” said Gabriel Villegas, a teacher at Central Coast New Tech High School in Nipomo, which uses the course. The program soon won him over. “I tried it with some of our students, and they loved the music options that were chosen and they loved the lessons.”

In Santa Barbara, San Marcos High School teacher Jeffrey Bailey is also a fan. “The feedback that I got from the students was that they felt, especially when they had a stressful day, the program helped them to recalibrate and refocus, as well as to be able to notice their emotions a little bit more without judging themselves.”

Each exercise is designed to help students achieve a mental state of calm and focus. “What we’ve heard from students and seen in some of our data is that these 4-minute exercises give students an immediate way to relax,” Alissa Mrazek said. “We’ve also had teachers say that when they start class with an exercise, students are suddenly more present and receptive to learning because they’ve let go of some of the anxiety that they had before class.

“The exercises help you relax in the moment,” she continued, “but they also train underlying skills that can be used to regulate your focus anytime you start getting worked up about something.”

The program is designed to be a “tier-one universal intervention that can teach preventative techniques to every single student in a high school,” Alissa Mrazek said. “All students experience stress and emotional challenges, and they all need access to evidence-based tools that help them understand and care for their own minds.”

Noted Villegas, “I think there is a movement in schools to be teaching the whole child, kind of a more holistic style instead of just academics. We’re realizing that hasn’t worked very well with all of the anxiety, depression and suicide rates.”

But how would training your focus improve your mental health? “Most people think about attention in terms of how long you can concentrate, but it’s much more than that,” Michael Mrazek explained. “Attention is a fundamental cognitive capacity that works like a spotlight, influencing what you actually experience in any given moment. If you train that fundamental skill, it not only allows you to focus better on a test but also gives you much more influence over how you relate to your entire inner world.

“I’m so excited about this project,” he continued. ‘What we’re trying to accomplish is very challenging, but all of my life I wanted to do something that really makes a difference in the world. When we were awarded this grant it was the first time I felt like we had a genuine opportunity to do it.”

Originally published in The Current (UCSB) on January 28, 2020.

Pretty Persian Pastries

Pretty Persian Pastries, from 805 Living, Winter 2020.

For something sweet and special to share with loved ones this Valentine’s Day, check out Simi Valley–based ZoZo Baking Studio (zozobaking.com), where owner and pastry chef Fariba Nafissi brings international flavors to the 805. The heart-shaped kolompeh is a “traditional pastry that has no added sugar, and it’s naturally sweetened by dates,” says Nafissi. “Guided by an international palate, I use traditional Persian baking techniques to create interesting flavors.”

Each pastry is pressed with a handmade walnut-wood stamp, then carefully crimped. Her kolompeh comes in a strawberry-pistachio flavor, blueberry-almond, and the original, saffron-infused date. All of Nafissi’s treats can be purchased directly from the bakery or ordered online to be shipped. She also offers recipes and baking classes.

Photo courtesy ZoZo Baking Studio.

Photo courtesy ZoZo Baking Studio.

Photo courtesy ZoZo Baking Studio.

Photo courtesy ZoZo Baking Studio.

This story was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of 805 Living Magazine. Click  here  to read the story as it appeared in 805 Living. 805 Living Pulse Winter 2020

High Impact Housing

High Impact Housing from 805 Living Magazine, Winter 2020.

Tragedy can sometimes lead to innovation. One example: Plant Prefab’s (plantprefab.com) new scalable prefabricated home, the Sunset Bud LivingHome, designed by Burdge Architects (buaia.com) and presented in partnership with Sunset magazine.

“As a resident and one of the leading architects in Malibu, Doug Burdge [founder of Burdge Architects] wanted his first LivingHome to be especially capable of meeting the needs of those who lost their homes during the Woolsey fire and who want a way to return to their property as soon as possible,” says Plant Prefab CEO Steve Glenn of the recent addition to his company’s LivingHome line.

Created in response to a City of Malibu program that allows victims of the 2018 fire to install accessory-dwelling units (ADU) as a temporary housing solution, the Sunset Bud LivingHome offers an efficient and flexible model for ADU-compliant properties everywhere.

The modular units can be configured in a range of housing sizes from studio (445 square feet) to two bedrooms plus a studio and garage (1,200 square feet), with prices starting at $315,000.

Originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of 805 Living Magazine. Click  here  to   read the story as it appeared in 805 Living. 805 Living Pulse Winter 2020

StarCycle Puts Indoor Cycling in the Spotlight

StarCycle is one of Santa Barbara’s hottest new fitness studios. Courtesy photo.

“It’s a dance party on a bike, like when you’re at a wedding and your jam comes on and you don’t care what anybody thinks — you just get up there and move your body.” That’s how co-owner Dani Stone describes the workout at StarCycle. The La Cumbre Plaza fitness center is part of a new breed of indoor cycling studios that use music and choreography for a physical and mental approach to cycling.

At StarCycle, the lights go off before the 45-minute full-body workout begins.

“The most appealing part to me has been that we work out in the dark, which allows you to really focus on yourself and just ‘do you,’ — modifying as needed,” said Julie Sorenson, who joined the gym on an introductory membership in March 2019 (StarCycle opened on February 28) and recently completed her 170th ride.

“The community there is incredible, and the instructors are super motivating,” she said. “It’s empowering. I can feel the positive energy in the room when I ride. The full-body workout (with weights) has also helped me heal from a shoulder injury.”

Another big appeal for members is that childcare is always available. Moms are the target demographic for the studio, explained co-owner Kayla Johnson-Neal, a personal trainer and fitness professional who’s been working in the industry for 24 years. “With young kids, they are maybe at a phase in life where they aren’t that challenged, so the challenge of doing this workout is like they’ve climbed Mount Everest. It is so fun to watch.”

Themed music rides, ranging from holiday specials to boy bands, Coachella, Stagecoach, and special “naughty rides with explicit lyrics” are also part of the attraction, as is the warm, welcoming atmosphere, where clients are greeted with smiles and hugs.

“I’ve never seen results like this in all of my years of experience. And we’re only a year in now. People have melted,” Johnson-Neal said. “But you know what I love? Weight loss is not what they talk about. Somebody came up to me yesterday and hugged me and started crying and saying, ‘I’m a better wife and a better mom because of StarCycle.’ She’s lost weight, but that’s not where the focus is, and that’s what I think is so cool.”

Tips from Kayla:

  • Find something that you love. “Love” might be an extreme word, but find something that you don’t hate. I’m always telling clients that you need to find a workout that’s going to make you a little bit excited to show up.
  • You don’t have to go all or nothing. It’s just consistency. Maybe it’s kickboxing; maybe it’s Zumba. Just be consistent in that movement.

For more information, visit starcycleride.com/studios/santa-barbara.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on January 21, 2020.

StarCycle co-owner Kayla Johnson-Neal, right, has been in the fitness industry for 24 years, courtesy photo.

Chef Ink

Chef Ink Cover, SB Independent January 2, 2020

Chef Ink Cover, SB Independent January 2, 2020

Talking Tattoos With Decorated Chefs From Los Alamos to Coast Village Road

It was so much fun to interview local culinary wizards and talk tats. Check out this week’s cover story in the Santa Barbara Independent, or click below to see the PDF.

Chef Ink

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on January 2, 2020.

Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide 2019

 

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Uptown Santa Barbara, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Uptown Santa Barbara, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Downtown Santa Barbara, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Downtown Santa Barbara, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Downtown Santa Barbara, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Downtown Santa Barbara, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Santa Barbara Waterfront, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Santa Barbara Waterfront, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Montecito, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Montecito, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Goleta, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Goleta, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Santa Ynez Valley, 2019 Shopping Santa Barbara Gift Guide, SB Independent, December 5, 2019.

Faces in the Crowd: Michael Christie

Faces In the Crowd: Michael Christie, photo by Gary Moss. This story appeared in 805 Living, December 2019.

Faces In the Crowd: Michael Christie, photo by Gary Moss. This story appeared in 805 Living, December 2019.

THE NEW MUSIC DIRECTOR OF NEW WEST SYMPHONY BRINGS HIS GRAMMY AWARD–WINNING TALENT TO THE VENTURA COUNTY ENSEMBLE’S 25TH SEASON.

After winning the 2019 Best Opera Recording Grammy Award for The (R)evolution of Steve JobsNew West Symphony’s (newwestsymphony.org) new music director Michael Christie is bringing his own kind of (r)evolution to the West Coast.

“We threw a lot at the audience,” Christie says of his first concerts in his new role with the Thousand Oaks–based symphony this past October. “Our concert format is slightly tweaked,” he says, “and we had our new venue [Rancho Campana Performing Arts Center in Camarillo], so people had a fair amount to take in.”

Patrons were treated to a Gershwin concerto, Corigliano’s “Salute” with kazoos, and a “Scheherazade” performance that Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed praised as, “supplying far and away the most spectacular playing from what should no longer be considered a regional symphony.”

“The biggest difference,” says Christie, “is that we are using intermission as an opportunity for people to experience some new things if they choose.” This includes a question-and-answer session with the guest artist and an entr’acte. Up next is the global celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday on January 25 and 26, featuring the Eroica Trio, whom Christie calls, “three very vibrant, genius women who are just amazing [with] the energy that they bring.”

Christie has led top orchestras all over the world and served as music director for Minnesota Opera, The Phoenix Symphony, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic (now defunct). He now lives part-time in Ventura County, while his wife, Alexis, who is a physician, and their two children are in Minneapolis.

Much of the life of a musician-conductor is spent on the road, says Christie, a trumpeter, who first conducted when his middle school band director let him give it a try back in Buffalo, New York. “I was never sure how one became a conductor,” he says. “I just knew I wanted to know more about it. People were very generous with their time and always willing to answer questions.”

In February he’ll pay it forward with a one-month teaching and conducting stint at Indiana University. Christie is eager to communicate with students about the duties of an American music director, which he says, “are very specific to our particular situation of creating artistic vision and raising lots of money. It’s very particular to our country. I feel a great sense of responsibility for helping to convey that information, having lived it for the last 25 years. It’s fun to be asked to help the next generation start to figure that out.

“We [music directors] are the face of the organization in many ways,” Christie says. “We should be viewed by our audience as open, friendly, fun, and adventurous but also sensible, engaging, and concerned for our community, what it’s going through, and what it’s aspiring to be. And none of those words really say Mozart or Gershwin,” he says, laughing. “It’s all kind of wrapped together.”

Leslie Dinaberg

805 Living cover Dec. 2019Click here to read this story as it appeared in 805 Living magazine, December 2019 805 Living Faces in the Crowd Dec 2019

GLAM FOR THE HOLIDAYS (OR ANY DAY)

Showbiz ties run in the family of The Starlet Studio owner Ashley Ann Harris, granddaughter of 1940s–era dancer and background actor Marilyn L. Rieses. This story appeared in 805 Living, December 2019.

Showbiz ties run in the family of The Starlet Studio owner Ashley Ann Harris, granddaughter of 1940s–era dancer and background actor Marilyn L. Riess. This story appeared in 805 Living, December 2019.

The golden age of Hollywood glamour is alive and well at celebrity-makeup artist Ashley Ann Harris’ new The Starlet Studio (thestarletstudio.com) in Westlake Village. Taking inspiration from her grandmother Marilyn L. Riess—a dancer and background actor who appeared in films starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra—Harris says, “The studio was designed to emulate a starlet’s dressing room, but with a modern twist. It is a lush, old Hollywood atmosphere, where you can escape from the everyday and feel like a star with your own personal makeup artist in your private dressing room.”

Harris, who has worked with Brooke Shields, Anna Kendrick, and Hilary Duff, among others, says, “Just like your favorite celebrity getting ready for a red carpet event, you can now enjoy personalized makeup services.” Book early to glam up for the season’s holiday celebrations.

Leslie Dinaberg

Click here to read this story as it appeared in 805 Living magazine, December 2019 805 Living Pulse Dec 2019.

805 Living cover Dec. 2019

Home-Field Appvantage

The West Tenth app is an online showcase for the wares of local home-based businesses, like the luxury paper flower designs of Joyful Creative Events & Production in Simi Valley. Story appeared in 805 Living, December 2019.

The West Tenth app is an online showcase for
the wares of local home-based businesses,
like the luxury paper flower designs of Joyful
Creative Events & Production in Simi Valley. Story appeared in 805 Living, December 2019.

“We know that encouraging women to turn their talents into businesses helps unleash economic potential,” says Lyn Johnson, founder of the Conejo Valley–based company West Tenth (wtenth.com), an app she developed to provide free digital storefronts to women who own and operate home-based businesses.

“We are confident that busy households benefit when access to these women-led businesses is made easier,” Johnson says. “And we believe that figuring out both sides of this digital marketplace will ultimately build a modern Main Street that will provide value to households in the 805, L.A., and beyond.”

Whether the entrepreneur is a baker of designer cookies, a detail-driven event planner, a floral artist, a calligrapher, or a provider of one of myriad other creative home-based services, West Tenth can make her business known via its virtual marketplace.

Leslie Dinaberg

805 Living cover Dec. 2019Click here to read this story as it appeared in 805 Living magazine, December 2019 805 Living Pulse Dec 2019.