Tag Archive: anxiety

Meditation for Children

In this day and age, with all the research and practical experience, there is no denying the benefit of meditation.  It has been proven to help relieve stress, manage chronic pain, help with depression and anxiety, as well as enhance feelings of compassion, calm, and peacefulness.

Meditation is a practice.  The results get better with time and consistency.  That being the case, it is greatly beneficial to introduce this habit to your children at a young age.  Not only will it help them in their present lives just as it does adults, it will also set them up to reap the benefits of a lifelong practice of meditation.  Many adults who try to adopt a meditation practice encounter some difficulty incorporating it into their daily lives and remaining consistent, especially because at first it is very difficult to settle your mind.  Children who grow up meditating will be at a much better advantage.

Having a regular mindful meditation practice will help your child remain calm and in control of his/her emotions, curb your child’s impulsivity, and help them to be more balanced and compassionate.  In older children, it can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.  Below are some tips for introducing meditation to your child:

  1. Set a Good Example. As with anything you ask your child to do, it’s best if you lead by example.
  2. Help Them to Understand Why. All children want to know why.  Understanding the benefits of meditation will empower them to really try rather than just go through the motions.
  3. Use Guided Meditations. Guided meditation is a great way to start.  It gives your child something to focus on, which is sometimes easier in the beginning than trying to “not think”.
  4. Be Realistic. It’s best to start off slow.  Especially for young children, just 3-5 minutes in the beginning is enough.  If meditation becomes overwhelming, it will cause stress for your child rather than reduce it.
  5. Keep Them Sitting Up. Lying down can be too relaxing and lead to falling asleep.  While naps are great, they do not carry the same benefits as a mindful meditation practice.

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 thousands of years, we humans lived active, social lives set primarily in the great outdoors as hunters and gatherers and, later, farmers.  It is only in the past few generations that we have become an industrialized society that lives a much more sedentary, indoor existence; an increasingly less social existence as we continue to rely more and more on avenues like phone, email, texting and social media to communicate and stay connected with each other.   It is the exact opposite of what our lives used to be.  Today, through experience and scientific research, we are learning that this is not at all good for us; that, in fact, much of our mental and physical health issues, such as depression, chronic stress, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and mood disorders is caused by and exacerbated by this new lifestyle we’ve been leading these past few years.

I am not advocating a return to the Stone Age, trust me.  There is a lot that we have gained as a species in our evolution from then until now that I would loathe to give up, no matter what the benefits.  Rather, the challenge is now to find the balance of both worlds; to reincorporate into our new, industrialized way of living some of the old ways that we have lost to our detriment.

Recent scientific research has shown that cavemen (and women) were protected naturally from many of the conditions and issues we face today by three key elements of their way of living:  1.) the time they spent outside in nature 2.) their physical activity (exercise)  3.  an abundance of social, human to human contact.  The next question is how do we incorporate more of these elements into our lives now?  I know that many of you reading this post lead very busy lives.  Most of us are way too busy, myself included.  But this is too important to shrug off with “I’m too busy.”  Getting sick, either physically, mentally, or both, will surely make a bigger dent in your ability to accomplish your tasks than scheduling some time to exercise, spend time outdoors, and socialize.  The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a ton of time.  A few (4-6) hours a week will go a long way.

A great way to incorporate these key elements is to combine them.  For instance, you could go for a bike ride, a walk, or a run with a group of friends outside.  To be clear, it is important to be in as natural a setting as possible.  If you live in a city, find a park and do the exercise / physical activity there.  There is also a wonderful new trend of outdoor fitness classes.  They are usually group classes, which makes them social, and they often take place in parks and other natural settings.  For those of you who are in our area, Evolution Fitness of Cherry Hill, NJ runs a great outdoor class every Wednesday and Saturday.  Below is a short video of one of the classes.

Another way to incorporate these key elements is to bring them into activities you already do.  For instance, if you are someone who works on the computer a lot, why not bring your laptop to a local park and do your work there?  If you are someone who already exercises a lot, say at a local gym, why not exercise outside on the days you are not strength training?  You could run, walk, bike, or just do a stretch and recover workout.  If you get together with friends and family on a regular basis (which is great), maybe you could try to do more active, outdoorsy things with them like go on a hike and then have a picnic; or just have a picnic and play a game of touch football or volleyball or soccer.

Another great way to help incorporate these key elements is to do them “in bulk” so to speak.  This is geared more towards the being in nature and socializing elements, as it is not good to exercise for too long a period of time, and results will be best with shorter, more regular workouts.  But, say you have a “free” day, on Sunday perhaps, and you could spend 3 or 4 hours outside with friends or family, one hour of which could be doing physical activity.  That would do a lot to carry you through to the next week, leaving you able to spend maybe only 10 – 15 minutes each day outside, which might be more manageable in your schedule.

In conclusion, there are many different ways to incorporate these key three elements of nature time, human to human social time, and physical activity into your everyday life.   It is of the utmost importance to do so.  It will increase your health and happiness ten fold, and we could all use a little more of those things.  It’s all about finding the balance that works for you.

Panic Attack Disorder

Panic attacks, also known as anxiety attacks, are sudden surges of overwhelming fear and terror that strike with no apparent warning; that is, the fear seems unrelated and disproportionate to the circumstances at hand.  This overwhelming fear is often accompanied by symptoms such as a racing, pounding heart, feeling dizzy or faint, tingling or numbness in the hands or fingers, feeling sweaty or having chills, chest pains, shortness of breath, and feeling out of control.  Panic attacks usually last around 10 minutes, but can seem longer if you experience a succession of attacks.  It is estimated that one out of every 75 people worldwide will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives, but it is only if you have recurring panic attacks that disrupt your ability to go about your daily life that you would be diagnosed with panic attack disorder.  In many people the symptoms of panic attack disorder develop in association with major life changes, such as getting married, having a child, or starting a first job, as well as major life stressors.  The highest incidence of the onset of panic attack disorder occurs in the 17 – 25 years of age range, but people of all ages can experience anxiety attacks.

The thing about panic attacks that makes them so debilitating is that often after you’ve had a few in succession, you begin to have panic attacks about having panic attacks, especially at times when, or places where, you don’t feel safe such as a crowded public place like a train crammed with people.   Panic attacks are very frightening because you feel completely out of control and often like you might just pass out.  People with panic attack disorders will find themselves avoiding situations they think might lead to a panic attack, or places they are too scared to have a panic attack at.  It is this avoidance that causes the most interference in a person’s ability to live normally.

Panic attack disorders, like anything else, can be treated in a variety of different ways and should be tailored to suit each individual patient.  But, across the board, most clinical therapists will teach patients with this condition some coping mechanisms to help prevent the attacks, as well to help them deal with the attacks when they come.  Some of these coping techniques are outlined below, but it is recommended and advised that if you experience panic attacks with any regularity that you consult with a licensed therapist and not attempt to treat yourself.

It is important to note that many of these techniques and coping/preventative strategies are good practice for all people, whether they experience panic attacks or not.  I don’t know a single person who does not experience anxiety in their life about one thing or another.  Panic attacks / anxiety attacks are just forms of anxiety.  I encourage all of you reading this post to incorporate some of these techniques and strategies into your life as a way to lessen and prevent any anxiety you may experience.

1.  Deep Breathing & Meditation

Practice daily mediation to reduce stress and anxiety.  Also, if you find yourself feeling anxious or having a panic attack, focus on consciously taking deep breaths.  Shallow breathing (also called chest breathing), which usually accompanies a panic attack, disrupts the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body and, in turn, your heart rate increases, you get dizzy, and your muscles tense, thus worsening the symptoms of your anxiety attack.  Clear your mind of everything but your breath.  (Counting will help.  Slowly count to 5 in your head as you breathe in, and again as you breathe out.)  This type of breathing will slow down your heart rate and release tension.

2.  Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique (PMR)

PMR is a technique developed to reduce anxiety.  The thinking behind the technique is that since muscle tension accompanies anxiety, one can lessen the anxiety by consciously releasing tension in the muscles.  The technique works in a sequential pattern, asking you to alternately tense and then release various muscle groups.  It does take practice and will become more effective with time.  There are CDs and MP3 downloads you can purchase that will guide you through PMR.

3.  Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety.  Before beginning an exercise program, always get clearance from your doctor.  It is also recommended to seek the advice and knowledge of a certified personal trainer who can design an exercise program specifically tailored to your needs.

4.  Avoid Stimulants

Avoid stimulants like nicotine and caffeine.  Remember, coffee is not the only source of caffeine.  It is also in teas, chocolate, and soda.

5.  Start a Panic Diary

It is important to understand your particular anxiety / panic attack triggers.  A diary will help you discover any patterns your anxiety may have.  While an anxiety attack may seem to come from nowhere, in all likelihood there is some thought pattern or situation triggering it that you are unaware of.  Some thoughts we have, called ANTs (automatic negative thoughts), are so “automatic” that we don’t really consciously register we are having them.  When you find yourself feeling anxious or having an attack, first control the symptoms using deep breathing or PMR.  Once it is under control, immediately go to your diary to write down any thoughts  you are having while they are still fresh.  Also, describe exactly what your were doing and where you were when the anxiety attack occurred.

6.  Have Patience

There is no point in increasing your anxiety levels by being anxious about how your treatment is going.  Do your best, whatever that may be (which will always change depending on the circumstances), and then let it go.







Natural Remedies for PMS

OK, so before the men who read this blog completely check out, I’ll ask that you reconsider.  This post may help you to listen and to understand the women in your life a little better.

PMS has been around a lot longer than the name itself – pretty much since the beginning of the human race, and women in particular.  Experts say that the definitive cause of PMS is unknown, but many think it has something to do with the flux in hormones.  First, lets brush up on some of what happens during a typical menstrual cycle. From the onset of menstruation (when you get your period) until ovulation, your body is essentially ripening an egg.  It is the pre-ovulation stage, the first stage of the menstrual cycle.  Estrogen is a hormone made by your body throughout your entire menstrual cycle, but it peaks right around the time of ovulation, the 2nd and 3rd week respectively, and declines before you menstruate.  Once you ovulate, we move into the luteal phase.  During this phase your body also produces the hormone progesterone.  So, basically, PMS is the time when your body is experiencing a decline in estrogen, as well as the effects of progesterone.  Both these hormones affect certain neurotransmitters that influence mood, by the way.

Some of the common symptoms of PMS include breast swelling and tenderness, headache, cramps, nausea, abdominal bloating, depressed mood, irritability, fatigue, trouble sleeping, food cravings, swelling of the hands, ankles, and face, anger, increased emotional sensitivity, and anxiety, to name a few.  If you have these symptoms and they are severe or debilitating, you might be suffering from PMDD and should seek medical treatment from your gynecologist.  Interestingly, PMS symptoms are often most pronounced for women in their 30s and 40s, so unfortunately if you are PMS-free now, you may not always be.  Also, if you are in your 20s and you do have PMS, it may worsen as you get older.  All the more reason to do what you can now to lessen the symptoms.

There are some key dietary changes you can make that will help control your symptoms of PMS.  Calcium has been shown to reduce the severity of symptoms.  Supplementing with Vitamin E has also shown some effectiveness.  There is some evidence, although less, that supplementation of magnesium and Vitamin B6 can also alleviate symptoms.  (Both magnesium and B6 can have side effects if you consume too much, and magnesium should not be supplemented if you have heart or kidney disease without consulting your doctor first.)

On a whole, it is important to eat well.  Specifically it is helpful to reduce salt and sugar intake, as well as decrease the fat in your diet.  Reduction or elimination of caffeine is also helpful as it can aggravate anxiety, depression, and breast tenderness.  Keep your blood sugar level stable by choosing sturdy, whole grain, complex carbohydrates and by eating small, healthy meals throughout the day.  Keep your fiber intake up.  Adding flaxseed can be helpful for this as it contains both insoluble and soluble fiber.  It also contains plant estrogen, which may help when your body experiences that decline in estrogen.  Eat lots of vegetables and fruits, as well as omega-3 rich foods, as they will help with mood levels.

Exercise has also been shown to reduce PMS symptoms.  Exercise is a great stress reliever and mood-improver.  Stress is a big culprit for aggravating PMS symptoms, so it is advisable to adopt regular stress-relieving practices like meditation and yoga.  Some deep breathing at various times throughout the day can also help regulate stress.

As for herbal remedies, women have used evening primrose oil for quite some time to relieve PMS symptoms.  It is generally considered safe, but it is still recommended to check with your doctor before taking it regularly.  Another common herbal remedy is chaste berry, often brewed into teas.

As someone who experiences PMS every month, I can say that in my personal experience I have noticed that as my lifestyle got healthier over these past few years, my PMS symptoms have lessened.  I, myself, plan to try some of the other remedies I found in my research to see if they, too, can help me decrease my symptoms.  Having said that, there is something to be said for the natural cycles and rhythms of our bodies.  I think some of the stress caused by PMS, which then worsens PMS, is because we fight it.  We fight the days when we feel a little more down than usual, a little more sensitive, a little more tired.  If, after incorporating all or most of these remedies, you still find yourself experiencing some mild symptoms of PMS, then I would advise you to surrender to them.  If you fight them, it will just cause extra stress, which will then in turn make your PMS symptoms that much worse.  The menstrual cycle has its natural phases, just as the moon does.  It’s part of who we are as women.  (But, let me reiterate the importance of doing all you can to lessen the symptoms first, especially if you find that your PMS is disruptive in any way to your life or relationships.)

In conclusion, I will leave you with some food for thought.  When I came across this in my research, it sure opened my mind up to a new possibility.  The following is a quote from an article by Dr. Christiane Northrup, noted author and gynecologist.   “The luteal phase, from ovulation until the onset of menstruation, is when women are most in tune with their inner knowing and with what isn’t working in their lives…. In fact, it has been shown experimentally that the right hemisphere of the brain—the part associated with intuitive knowing—becomes more active premenstrually, while the left hemisphere becomes less active. Interestingly enough, communication between the two hemispheres may be increased as well.”[1] Now, doesn’t that put a whole new (and positive) spin on PMS?   Maybe if we stop thinking of PMS as the time of the month when we go a little crazy and instead start regarding it as a time where we may gain insight into our lives, it might then alter our experience of it?  Wouldn’t that be nice?



Ehow.com :  How To Use Flaxseed Oil to Treat PMS

Medicinenet.com : PMS-Free Diet? What You Eat May Effect PMS

Livestrong.com : Natural Ways to Help with PMS

About.com : Natural Remedies for PMS

Drnorthrup.com : Premenstrual Syndrome

[1] Wisdom of the Menstrual Cycle by Dr. Christiane Northrup, drnorthrup.com

I recently read an article in Swimmer magazine by Jim Thornton called “Staying Happy?”.  In it, he describes the benefits of swimming for those who suffer from depression and anxiety.  Research has shown that vigorous, aerobic exercise of any kind will significantly decrease anxiety and depression.  It releases endorphins, the human’s natural high, thus changing your brain chemistry in a positive manner.  Regular aerobic exercise also increases a person’s overall feeling of wellness, which is a contributing factor to how a person feels about their days and their life. Finally, it gives a sense of accomplishment and increases self-esteem.  It takes your mind off your worries, promotes social interaction, and is a healthy coping mechanism to develop.

Swimming, in particular, helps decrease anxiety and depression because of some of its unique properties.  Due to the motion of swimming, the alternating stretch and relaxation of your muscles, as well as the regular, rhythmic deep breathing that goes along with it, swimming is also a relaxing, meditative type of exercise.  So, not only are you getting the benefits from the aerobic aspect of it, but you are also getting the type of meditating, relaxing and stretching you might get from practicing yoga, for instance.  It’s sort of like a 2-for-1.  For those of us stretched for time, it’s a great way to get exercise and relaxation/meditation all rolled into one.

If swimming is not your thing, yoga can also be a kind of 2-for-1.  Some yoga classes are geared more towards the relaxation side, so be sure to find one that challenges you physically as well.  Also, for your cardiovascular health, it is important that you incorporate some aerobic exercise into your weekly routine, whether it’s running or biking or stair climbing.

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