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March 2012



Recent Posts


9 Tools to Help Kids Cope Creatively with Stress

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

Like adults, kids also get stressed out. They stress over school, bullies and fights with friends. They worry when their parents argue. They experience loneliness and have fears about many things from failing an important test to not fitting in.

In her book The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success, child educational psychologist and UCLA professor Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D, shares nine tools that help kids access their inner world so they can better traverse the trials and tribulations of growing up.

Here’s a brief look at Reznick’s valuable tools.


1. Use the Balloon Breath.

Balloon Breath is a deep, diaphragmatic breathing that helps kids calm down and concentrate. Reznick says that it provides the way in to your child’s private world so they can listen to their inner voice. Have your child put their hands on their belly and breathe in and out slowly.

2. Discover your special place.

According to Reznick, “There are private places within your child’s inner world where he can work out problems or take mini-vacations from the stresses of life, where he can relax, regroup, or just hang out in a healthy way.” This special place acts as a springboard for the other tools, she says, because it provides the calm environment needed to start.

In this special place — which could be anything from a castle to a garden to outer space — your child feels loved and protected. Reznick gives the example of a 5-year-old girl who felt awkward about being more advanced than her friends in class. She used her special place to feel less isolated. She told Reznick: “The way to get there is to climb on the clouds and hop from cloud to cloud. Birds fly all over. Mostly they know when I’m coming. Here I feel accepted.”

3. Meet a wise animal friend.

“An Animal Friend is an imaginary, loving protector who has a child’s best interest at heart, and helps him access inner wisdom,” Reznick writes. She gives the example of a 7-year-old boy who imagined lions at his hospital bedside keeping him safe and giving him the courage to face a tough procedure.

Ruth, a 10-year-old girl who had a hard time with change, used a slew of animals to help her transition into summer vacation. For instance, one horse would stand up for Ruth when her feelings got hurt. Another horse would suggest strategies to reduce stress like journaling her feelings.

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Math Anxiety Has Neurological Basis

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on March 22, 2012

Have you ever known someone who stresses and develops anxiety when they are asked to do math? While experts have recognized the behavioral aspects of math anxiety for over 50 years, research has been limited on the biological underpinnings of the stress.

In a new study, Stanford University School of Medicine researchers have determined that anxiety elicited when confronted with math problems is a biological event similar to other forms of anxiety.

Experts say this is the first study to show how brain function differs in people who have math anxiety from those who don’t.

Investigators performed a series of brain scans while second- and third-grade students did addition and subtraction. They discovered that those who feel panicky about doing math had increased activity in brain regions associated with fear, which caused decreased activity in parts of the brain involved in problem-solving.

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Stress Management Improves Breast Cancer Outcomes

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on March 22, 2012

New research suggests a stress management program can help to offset the trauma of receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer and reduce anxiety accompanying chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Researchers also believe the stress management intervention promotes healing by reducing stress on the immune system thereby altering the tumor process at the molecular level.

The study, led by Michael H. Antoni, Ph.D., is one of the first to link psychological intervention with genetic expression in cancer patients.

Researchers used a group-based 10-week Cognitive-Behavioral Stress Management (CBSM) intervention. The program combines relaxation, imagery and deep breathing, along with cognitive-behavioral therapy. The goal of the intervention is to help patients reduce bodily tension, change the way they deal with intrusive stressful thoughts, decrease negative moods, and improve their interpersonal communication skills.

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Anxiety Boosts Sense of Smell

ScienceDaily (Mar. 22, 2012) — Anxious people have a heightened sense of smell when it comes to sniffing out a threat, according to a new study by Elizabeth Krusemark and Wen Li from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US.

In animals, the sense of smell is an essential tool to detect, locate and identify predators in the surrounding environment. In fact, the olfactory-mediated defense system is so prominent in animals, that the mere presence of predator odors can evoke potent fear and anxiety responses.

Smells also evoke powerful emotional responses in humans. Krusemark and Li hypothesized that in humans, detection of a particular bad smell may signal danger of a noxious airborne substance, or a decaying object that carries disease.

Their work is published online in Springer’s journal Chemosensory Perception. The study is part of a special issue of this journal on neuroimaging the chemical senses.

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How to Overcome Being Anxious About Being Anxious

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

Do the physical twinges of anxiety make you even more anxious? For instance, for some people, even though the sweaty palms, racing heartbeat and shaky limbs are a result of exercise — and not an impending panic attack — they still experience intense anxiety about their anxiety.

This is called anxiety sensitivity. According to authors and clinical psychologists Margo C. Watt, Ph.D, and Sherry H. Stewart, Ph.D, in their excellent book Overcoming the Fear of Fear: How to Reduce Anxiety Sensitivity, anxiety sensitivity is “the tendency to respond fearfully to bodily sensations associated with fear and anxiety.” Put simply, it’s “the fear of fear.”

People who are prone to anxiety sensitivity tend to catastrophize, or automatically assume that the worst will happen. For instance, you might fear that your trembling might catch the attention of others or a racing heart might mean a heart attack.


In their book, Watt and Stewart outline a cognitive-behavioral approach to reducing anxiety sensitivity. Here are a few tips you might find helpful.

Changing your Thoughts

The stories we tell ourselves can heighten our anxiety. But the good news is that our stories also can diminish our anxiety. According to the authors, we either turn up or turn down the volume on our physical sensations depending on what we say to ourselves when we’re experiencing these sensations. Here’s how to pinpoint negative thoughts and adjust them.

  • *Identify dysfunctional thoughts. Knowing the stories you tell yourself will help you figure out how your thoughts are perpetuating your anxiety. To get at these thoughts, think of a recent experience, and zero in on your thoughts. “What were the major kinds of thoughts going through your mind just before, during, and after the episodes of anxiety or panic? This is an example of a catastrophic thought: “If other people noticed my anxiety and panicky feelings, it would be terrible and I could never face them again.”

  • *Challenge your thinking. Watt and Stewart cite psychologist William James: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” They suggest readers treat their thoughts as guesses, not facts. Examine the evidence for your thoughts, and ask yourself these questions: “What are the true odds of this happening? Has this ever happened before? What’s the evidence it won’t happen?” They also recommend de-catastrophizing. In other words, they say “So what?” They write: “What if the worst-case scenario did happen? What would you do? Could you survive? What would you do if you saw others faint, shake or turn red? What would you say to others if they expressed similar fears?”

  • *Substitute healthy thoughts. The goal is to replace negative thoughts with realistic, reasonable and helpful thoughts. For instance, if your heart starts to race, and you initially think that you might be having a heart attack, you might say: “It’s unlikely that I’m having a heart attack. This is probably anxiety, and the best thing I can do for myself right now is to breathe and try to relax. I shouldn’t fight my body but should work with it. I can just ride it through.”

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Public Changing Rooms Can Cause Body Anxieties For Women

Article Date: 19 Mar 2012 – 0:00 PDT

Sweating in the gym, surrounded by others, pounding to the beat in group exercise class has become the norm for many women. But when it comes to the experience of changing in the locker room, the acts of disrobing, dressing, showering and being naked in front of others, can be very discomfiting. It’s a complex experience as women are faced with an awareness of their bodies different than in any other space.

“I walk into the change room and pace anxiously up and down the rows of lockers. I look for an empty aisle, hoping for some semblance of privacy. I don’t like to change in front of others, it makes me uneasy. Perhaps I’m uptight. Or maybe I have what experts would call ‘body issues.’ But either way changing in public cause me stress.”

So begins a new study looking at women’s experiences of changing in a public change rooms. Author Marianne Clark, a doctoral student in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta, says it was her own experience as a dancer and frequent user of fitness facilities and therefore of public dressing rooms and change rooms that led her to explore how other women felt. “Using these facilities, I’ve always felt an unarticulated discomfort,” says Clark.

The act of undressing and being naked, and particularly where there is the potential to be observed by others, can be daunting, as much of the way we think about ourselves and our self-confidence is wrapped up in our notion of ourselves as fully clothed. Undressing in front of others, can, according to Clark, “disrupt” our experience of ourselves, because it reveals an intimate self we don’t usually freely display.

Clark says in talking to other women about their experiences in these spaces, “They all had a story and it usually involved a time when there was another person involved.”

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