Category Archives: Anxiety

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Seasonal Affect Disorder and Post-Holiday Blues

When winter is in full force, even the best of us can get a little down. Realize it or not, weather affects your mood. And for many, the winter blues is beyond one’s self-control.

Brain chemistry is actually altered by cold weather and shorter days. Melatonin and serotonin are hormones that play a part in controlling moods, energy levels, and sleep. Melatonin helps your sleep and serotonin is connected with happiness and wakefulness. Exposure to sunlight causes levels of these hormones to fluctuate.  In the colder months, the brain produces more melatonin making sleep seem more desirable and less serotonin which can make you mildly depressed. For some, cold weather depression is too much to handle and can result in Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD), a seasonal debilitating depression.

[Audio] Listen to Dr. Russell Hyken discuss why some people are depressed in the month of January

For those suffering from SAD, snow can bring about a whole other kind of feelings, such as guilt, loneliness, and feelings of being overwhelmed. The thought of leaving the house, playing with the kids, and putting on their snow clothes is too much too handle. A snow day doesn’t inspire one if they are already feeling down.

Additionally, school snow days can actually cause ‘more’ stress and worry to someone who’s already experiencing a low mood. When the texts messages start inviting the family out to play, build snowmen and have a big social affair, many feel even more depressed. Similar  to other ‘bright occasions’, such as Christmas, New Year’s and birthdays, a snow day can force one to see how lousy they feel in comparison to the cheeriness of  others around them.

And to further complicate one’s mood during this time of year, many also have the post-holiday blues. The gifts have been unwrapped, the songs have been sung, and the cookies have been baked and eaten. It is time to pack up the holiday mementos and move on. Unfortunately, many experience feelings of guilt from overindulgence, feel bad due to unmet expectations, and miss the activity and social aspects of the holiday.

This is not, however, as depressing as it sounds, there’s a lot you can do to both prevent the blues from coming on and to get yourself back to feeling normal.

1.     Exercise and Eating
As if we needed another reason to stay healthy.  Exercise is great for relieving the stresses of life. Plus, the effects of a good workout can last for several hours after you hit the showers. And what you eat has a great impact on your mood. Foods that are devoid of nutrients (refined sugars, fatty foods, etc.) will zap your energy levels.

2.     Act on or make some Resolutions/Goals
This is a great time of year to set some new healthy goals. There is strong link between healthy behaviors and elevated moods. Those who continually engaged in healthy behaviors (like exercising, not smoking, eating better, regulating sleep, etc.) are less sad and depressed than those whose behaviors are less than healthy.

3.     Get Social Support
Don’t underestimate the power of friends, family, mentors, co-workers, and neighbors. Who can you turn to when you’re down and need a pick-me-up? Keep a mental list of these special people and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Something as simple as a phone call, a chat over coffee, or a nice email can brighten your mood.

4.     Get Some Sun
Sunlight provides us with Vitamin D, which improves your mood. Try to spend some time outdoors keep your shades up during the day, and sit next to widows

Even if you don’t typical have mood concerns.  Winter weather often brings on some mild depression, lack of motivation, and low energy. Don’t despair; rather, recognize your emotions and do something about it.

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Learning Disabilities: Trust Your Instincts

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St. Louis truly is a unique educational marketplace. There are more private schools in St. Louis than most any other city in the United States. Because many of these institutions have small classes and a unique educational niche, students who learn differently thrive in our city. In fact, many of these children and teenagers enroll in honors-level curriculums, take advanced placement classes, or attend the city’s best preparatory schools.

One can have a superior IQ yet still have cognitive challenges. In fact, being learning disabled (LD) does not directly correlate with having a lack of intelligence or low motivation. However, LD students do manage information differently because they have a neurologically based processing challenge that interferes with the ability to master specific concepts when taught in a traditional manner.

Learning differences can take on multiple forms. Some students have difficulties getting content into the brain. These children struggle with information integration such as the ability to organize, sequence, retrieve or infer meaning. Other students have difficulty getting information out of the brain. These children struggle with fine motor skills (handwriting), organizing thoughts on paper, or finding the right words to express ideas.

Knowledge acquisition is unique for each child and difficulties can surface at any age. There are, however, some specific signs that may indicate your child learns differently. During the pre-school years, look for language complications such as acquisition difficulties or word-pronunciation problems. And some young students may have struggles with coordination and finger use, finding simplistic tasking unusually frustrating. If any area of development feels delayed, check with a teacher to determine if an early intervention is needed.

As children enter the elementary years, subject-area concerns often become more prominent. LD students may be able to master many skills but have difficulty grasping certain concepts. Frequent reading errors, constant misspellings, or atypical troubles with basic math computations can be markers of a learning issue. Additionally, some may experience social struggles and communication problems, which also impact knowledge acquisition.

Further confusing the identification of LD students is that these problems can go unnoticed during the elementary years because these intelligent kids often develop self-compensating strategies for their learning deficits. Additionally, grade school teachers are particularly talented at supporting individuals of all abilities. Maturing students, however, face new challenges as they juggle the demands of a busier scholastic schedule, attempt more demanding academic tasks and negotiate increased independence. Grades may decline and unknown learning issues can surface during the high school years.

It can, however, be difficult to sort out typical teen distraction from true learning issues. Some older students struggle with classroom attention, avoid homework, and fail literature tests because they have no desire to read Jane Austin. Others, unfortunately, put forth appropriate or even excessive effort, but still experience low grades. Review homework and look for unusual sequencing, overly sloppy work or excessively long completion times. Also, check on your child’s emotional state. School anxiety or a confidence crisis often can be the result of an unknown learning issue.

Trust your parental instincts and pursue assistance if you think there is a problem. Start by talking to your child’s teachers. Next, consult with your pediatrician and rule out any medical concerns. Finally, and perhaps most important, work with a qualified educational specialist who will review academic records, interview the family and consult with the school. These professionals also can administer a comprehensive set of intelligence tests and academic assessments to develop a detailed learning profile and determine if a problem exists.

It can be upsetting for a parent to consider the possibility that their child may learn differently. It is, however, important for families to own the problem, understand how their child thinks and learns, and seek the services they need. Don’t adapt a wait-and-see approach; attack the problem. With intervention, advocacy and support, LD students succeed in school, college and life.

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Are you a Procrastinator?

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What is Procrastination?

Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference of more urgent tasks or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable things.

Why Do People Procrastinate?

People procrastinate for different reasons, but, for the most part, there are three basic types of procrastinators.

  • Thrill Seekers – Those who wait until the last minute so they can get that euphoric rush that goes with completing the job right before the deadline.
  • Avoiders – Those who avoid tasks due to fear of failure or due to a fear of success. In either case, these individuals would rather have others believe they lack effort than lack ability.
  • Decisional Procrastinators – Those who choose to avoid making decisions so they can be absolved of the responsibility or the outcome of an event.

What are the costs of being a procrastinator?

  • For yourself, procrastination causes stress and anxiety. This physiological response can compromise the immune system and make one more susceptible to colds, the flu, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • For the spouse of a procrastinator, resentment often builds because it shifts many of life’s responsibilities onto to them.
  • For the child of a procrastinator, a procrastinating parent models bad work habits and may create a procrastinating child.

Tips to Avoid Procrastination.

  • Make a good to do list– Focus on items you typically avoid and then set a deadline to do those evasive tasks.
  • Break down big tasks into little ones – Devote short chunks of time to a big project. Once you make some progress, the momentum builds and most will want to keep moving forward.
  • Choose appropriate surroundings -Make sure your work environment works for you and not against you.  Placing yourself in situations where you don’t get much done such as “studying” in bed or working at a café can actually be a method of avoiding work.
  • Stop checking your email, Facebook, Youtube, etc. – Digital distractions are the arch enemy of the procrastinator. It is too easy to get sucked in to the electronic vortex and waste hours of valuable time.

Procrastination is one of the most sure-fire methods to avoid success in life. Procrastinators sabotage themselves by placing obstacles in their own path and also choosing paths that hurt their performance. Procrastinators can, however, change their behavior but doing so consumes a lot of psychic energy. Commit to change and find a therapist or life coach if you can’t do it on your own.

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Kids and Stress

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One thing that parents and kids have in common is stress. While the sources may differ and reactions may vary, everyone, at some point, experiences undue anxiety. Stress is an inevitable part of life created by a physiological reaction to an uncomfortable situation. In fact, if one never experiences any anxiety, that is actually a bigger problem than having anxiety.

Interestingly, stress also can be a positive emotion. Good stress motivates and energizes kids, often pushing them to do better, and a little ‘fear’ can cause kids to work harder and study more. To understand how stress is impacting your child, it is important to recognize the different types of reactions that one may have.

Acute stress is a short-lived response to a particular event such as a big test. It is a very common feeling and, in some cases, can be interpreted as bodily excitement such as the nerves associated with starring in the school play. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is ongoing anxiety that continually taxes one’s body and mind. It is not exciting or motivating; rather, it wears on the body and can cause a mental meltdown. If a child is experiencing a high number of acute episodes or is in a persistent, chronic state, it is a problem that needs professional assistance.

It can, however, be difficult to decipher between problematic behaviors and developmentally appropriate responses because children of different ages react differently to stressful situations. A preschooler may excessively cry, tremble with fright, or run aimlessly. During the elementary years, an overly anxious child may demonstrate regressive behaviors, develop irrational fears, or have persistent physical illness such as head and stomach aches. An overly angst-ridden teen may become socially withdrawn, act out, or appear frequently confused.

Ignoring stress will most likely cause increased anxiety for your son or daughter. However, knowing when to approach your child and what to say might strain your parental nerves. Observe and learn when your kids might be most willing to talk. Is it before bedtime, after diner, or during car rides? Initiate a conversation but avoid flinging questions. Also consider creating a ‘covert’ activity such as a weekly donut date where conversation is actively encouraged. Availability provides opportunity for your child to speak with you about any topic.

When your child does finally decide it’s time to dialogue—listen. Stop what you are doing and provide your full attention. It can be difficult to avoid strong reactions, but parents should respond with empathy and focus on the emotional content of the conversation. Parents who minimize their offspring’s feelings shut the door to future problem-solving sessions.

Unfortunately, anxious adolescents turn into anxious adults. And while encouraging conversations is an important component of stress reduction, kids need to learn ongoing ways to reduce life’s tension. Distraction is an excellent way to provide regular relief. A physical activity or an engaging hobby will take individuals of any age away from the daily grind. Having fun is a powerful mood enhancer.

For ‘in the moment relief,’ kids, especially younger ones, need to learn how to ‘just’ breathe. An anxious person takes small, shallow breaths using their upper chest. To reduce stress, air needs to flow smoothly from the abdomen. Model this for your children and they will quickly learn this easy to implement strategy.

Kids have a lot to worry about, despite the carefree lifestyles we adults think they may lead. Interestingly, the one thing kids do not worry about is their parental relationship. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association noted that only 8 percent of surveyed children and teens cited mom and dad as a source of their stressful woes. Doing well in school and family finances topped the list of major worries.

Whenever there is change, it is important for parents to understand that situational stress is an appropriate and reasonable reaction. If you feel, however, that your child’s anxiety is too intense, lasts longer than it should, or occurs more frequently than is typical, trust your parental instincts and seek further assistance. Your school’s counselor or family pediatrician is a great place to find guidance and professional recommendations.

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Helping Kids Reduce the Pain of Comparisons

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When kids return to school this fall, they will do what kids have always done—start making comparisons. Unfortunately, some may feel they don’t measure up as they compare vacations, clothes, or their relative popularity. In a recent segment on KTVI-TV in St. Louis, Dr. Russell Hyken discusses what parents can do to better understand why their child may feel inadequate and how to help them cope with that “everyone else is better than me” feeling.

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Facebook, Depression and Children

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The use of Facebook is a prevalent form of communication among young people today. However, does it lead to depression? There is some debate about that, which Dr. Hyken addresses on KTVI-TV Fox 2 in St. Louis, MO.

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Facebook May Be Harmful to Your Health

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According to a published report in the Journal of Pediatrics‘ “Clinical Report-The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families,” there is a growing concern about a new phenomena called “Facebook depression.” Facebook depression is defined by these professionals as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic signs of depression.”

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My son is in the 10th grade. During the past year he has become more impulsive and easily distractible. Can students this old, have ADHD?

Adolescents with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may act impulsively, be easily distracted and have difficulty focusing, but this is not necessarily specific to ADHD. Anxious kids may be hyper and restless, depressed kids may be inattentive and disorganized and typical teens may display all of the above. How is a parent to know if their teen is experiencing turbulent times or engaging in developmentally appropriate activities?

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Wilderness Program

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Our daughter is really out of control. My husband and I are considering sending her to a wilderness program or therapeutic boarding school, but we are very hesitant. We really feel we are out of options. How did this happen and what do we do?

This is a difficult question for any parent to ask, but you are not alone. Many families have faced this same concern; however, wilderness programs and therapeutic schools can change lives.

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Teen Confidence

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Teenager often experience a “crisis in confidence” when something in their world ignites. This can be as simple as trying a new activity or as complicated as navigating social relationships. And while feelings may be involved, confidence is not about emotions; rather, it is about ability and being good at something. Unfortunately, when anyone lacks confidence, it can lead to negative feelings, situational depression, and undue anxiety.

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