Archive for October, 2013


One out of every eight children in the U.S. suffers from an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.  If your child is one of them, read on to learn some simple nutrition tips that will help reduce your child’s anxiety.

1.  Basic Nutrition 101

Everyone who eats a healthy diet feels better, and so will your child with anxiety.  Before we get into specifics, here are some basic rules regarding the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat.  It is important to have all three represented at each meal or snack.  The body most easily processes food when all three are combined, plus it will help your child feel properly satiated. (Remember, carbohydrates include any fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains.)  So, for instance, while an apple is very healthy for your child, it’s not a great snack on its own because it has no protein or fat.  Instead, pair it with peanut butter or cheese, which would add the protein and fat to the snack.

2.  Keep Blood Sugar Stable

Simple sugars are found in foods that contain refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup such as white bread, desserts, soda and juice.  Simple sugars spike glucose levels in the blood, giving a short burst of energy.  This short burst is immediately followed by a crash which can lead to increased anxiety.  This up and down, roller coaster pattern wreaks havoc on the hormone levels of adrenaline and cortisol, which can also exacerbate feelings of anxiety.  You can avoid this easily by opting for slow-digesting, nutrient rich carbohydrates that come from whole grains, fruits, or vegetables.  These will keep your child’s blood sugar levels nice and steady.

3.  Eat Enough Magnesium

Most Americans don’t eat the daily recommended amount of magnesium (350g).  Recent studies have shown a link between magnesium and anxiety.  Scientists believe magnesium acts as a sort of gatekeeper in the brain, making sure certain receptors don’t get too “worked up”. It also regulates the production of stress hormones.  Thankfully, the same foods you can feed your child to stabilize their blood sugar are often also rich in magnesium.  For example, whole grains like quinoa and buckwheat, leafy green vegetables, and seeds, nuts and legumes.

4.  Reduce Stress Hormones

When someone is stressed, they release cortisol into their body.  While this is beneficial to the body after a traumatic injury or during a life and death situation, chronically elevated levels of cortisol due to anxiety wreak havoc on the body.  It is important to minimize this as much as possible by avoiding foods that can trigger the release of cortisol, mainly processed foods with refined sugar and simple carbohydrates like white bread, rice and pasta.

5.  Don’t Forget the Omega-3’s

Omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of anyone’s diet for a myriad of health reasons, but specifically for the anxiety your child experiences, omega-3’s are known to have a protective effect on the brain.  They have also been shown to be great mood enhancers when consumed on a regular basis. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fatty fish like salmon, cod, sardines, shrimp and scallops, flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans.

For parents of children with ADHD, it may seem pretty obvious as to why time ‘outside’ would benefit their child.  Children with ADHD are served well by physical activity, a release of their extra energy.  But, what may be surprising is that the type of outside environment can greatly affect a child’s symptoms.

The Landscape and Human Health Lab, a multidisciplinary research laboratory at the University of Illinois that is dedicated to studying the connection between mother nature and human health, has recently conducted research studies on children with ADHD.  While the number of studies is small, they have consistently shown that time spent in “greenery”, AKA nature, has a restorative effect on children and adolescents with ADHD, and improves their attention skills.  In one recent study, 17 children diagnosed with ADHD were taken on walks in three different environments over the space of three weeks. After each walk, concentration was measured using the Digit Scan Backwards test.  Results showed that children with ADHD concentrated substantially better after a walk in the park than after walks in the city or a suburban environment.  According to one of the study’s researchers, Dr. Frances Kuo, they were able to concentrate “shockingly better”.

Thus far the lab has only studied nature’s effect on attention because theory suggests that nature helps restore attention fatigue, which would exacerbate symptoms in a child with ADHD.  However, based on their studies with children of the general population, there is reason to believe it may also help reduce impulse control issues as well.

It appears that time spent in Mother Nature may do more for a child with ADHD than simply expend energy.  The following are some ways parents of children with ADHD might be able to utilize this knowledge to help their child:

  • Take walks outside in Mother Nature between tasks that require concentration, such as homework assignments.
  • Spend time outside when your child is displaying exacerbated symptoms.
  • Use regular Mother Nature time in conjunction with any therapies and/or medications to help optimize the results.
  • If you know ahead of time that your child is going to be asked to do something that is normally difficult for them because of their ADHD, try to work in some Mother Nature time directly before.
  • Expend excess energy AND get restorative, Mother Nature time by playing outside with your child in a green space like a park.

“It’s Not What You Said, It’s How You Said It”

Chances are, you have heard your spouse say this or something similar more than once over the course of your relationship.  Sometimes, he or she has misinterpreted your tone of voice and, in fact, there was no ill-will behind the benign statement you made.  But, often your spouse is fairly accurate in picking up the non-verbal cues that you may have been trying to stuff or hide.  And, while your statement may have been benign, the intention or feeling behind it was not at all, which is what your spouse picked up on.  After all, we all learned how to communicate and to understand each other long before we learned how to speak or understand language.

There is a common exercise utilized by acting teachers that demonstrates this very phenomenon.  The actors are given a 5 or 6 sentence script of open-ended statements that could mean just about anything.  For instance:

“Hello.”

“Hi.  How are you?”

“Fine.  And you?”

“I’ve been to the store.”

“Did you find what you needed?”

“Yes.  I’ll have to get going soon.”

“Alright.”

Then the actors are given a background story and an intention.  If you have ever watched this exercise done in person, the different messages and connotations these few benign sentences can hold are rather astounding.  Each pair of actors’ performance is completely different because their stories and intentions are different.

You and your spouse have your own unique story that is always evolving.  And, if you are a couple in distress, you might be harboring a lot of ill-will towards each other, which is natural.  While communication breakdown is often something that needs to be addressed, along with learning proper communication skills, the fact of the matter is all the skills in the world can’t mask ill-will and negative feelings toward your spouse. They will hear the intention behind the words, and know your real feelings.

So, what to do? How can you begin to address this underlying communication issue?  Goodwill towards your spouse is not a skill to be taught, but rather an attitude or perspective to be consciously cultivated.  Here are some tips:

  1. Consciously choose to focus on the positive in your partner.  Make a list of his/her positive attributes.  If you find yourself focusing on the negative, stop and switch it to the positive.
  2. Learn about your spouse’s emotional needs; what makes him/her feel loved and valued by you.  It may not be what makes you feel loved and valued, so don’t make the mistake of only showing love as you would like to receive it.
  3. Tender touch is a basic human need.  Affectionately and tenderly touch your spouse on a daily basis.  This will increase your feelings of goodwill, as well as your spouse’s.
  4. When your spouse does something that angers or displeases you, channel your internal dialogue into a more positive and healthy avenue.  For example, “This really bothers me and angers me, but I know he means well and does not want me to feel this way.  He is my friend and I need to love him and respect him even in this moment.”
  5. Keep a gratitude journal and make sure you always include things about your spouse for which you are grateful.  It can be certain qualities, something he or she did that day, or simply that your spouse is alive and well that day.

As a parent or guardian, you are constantly making decisions for your child. Some are big, some are small, some you agonize over for weeks and months, and some you make in the blink of an eye.  No matter what the decision, it is pretty safe to assume that if you are taking the time to read this blog, all your decisions are informed by your intense desire to do your best by your child.  Since choosing a therapist for your child is a decision that you could potentially agonize over for quite some time, here are some tips that will help you navigate through the process and feel confident in your choice.

  1. Background Check: First and foremost, you want to be sure that the therapist you choose has the proper credentials and is licensed in the state that you reside in.  The two major licenses you will come across are LCSW and LPC.  An LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and an LPC is a licensed professional counselor.  Both are valid licenses, just different educational routes.  We recommend checking that their license is in good standing through your state government’s website.
  2. Specializations / Experience / Continuing Education: Next, you’ll want to take notice of the therapist’s specializations and corresponding experience and continuing education.  This information can usually be ascertained from their website.  A person can be a great therapist, but if they never work with children, they will not be a good fit for your child.
  3. The Approach: How does the therapist approach therapy?  What is his philosophy?  How does she describe her role in your child’s life?  Some of this information will most likely be found on a therapist’s website, but we recommend digging deeper into the specifics that relate to the needs of your child during the first phone interview.  It is important to understand the approach so you can know whether it will fit with your child’s personality and needs.
  4. TRUST YOUR GUT: Above all, trust your instincts.  We highly recommend doing an initial in-person consultation with the therapist, your child and you.  At the very least, you should have an in-depth phone call where you can really get a ‘feel’ for him or her.  Then, listen to your gut and trust it.  No matter how glowing the referral, or how impressive the credentials, or how extensive the experience, if you don’t get the feeling that the therapist will be a good match for your child and your family, then move on and find a different one.  A therapist is only as effective as his or her relationship to the child.  If it’s not a good fit, it’ll never work and you’ll waste both your time and your money.
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