Is Sugar Making You Stupid?

Your sweet tooth make be affecting more than just your diet. Sugar can actually change your brain—and not in a healthy way. New research shows that certain foods, especially ones high in sugar and glucose, can damage brain health. Your memory, your neurotransmitters, and overall brain structure can be permanently changed with too much of the sweet stuff. » Read more..

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What You Need to Know About Hydration and Brain Health

Help Your Brain By Staying Hydrated

The easiest way to get healthier fast is with good old fashioned water. Sounds easy right? But most of America is chronically dehydrated; leading to more than just a little dry mouth. Water plays a vital role in every aspect of our bodies. Studies have shown that most people are always partially dehydrated. This means that their brain is working considerably below its capacity and potential. Scary, right? » Read more..

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Smaller Brains and Shorter Fuses Found in Traumatized Children

Research shows that chronic neglect and abuse represent a profound threat to a child’s brain development.  Their brains are smaller and their fuses are shorter, emotional wiring doesn’t connect properly. It is biologically necessary to turn to caregivers for food, comfort and other basic needs. When these needs aren’t met, the lack of care sets off a biological stress response. Even before birth a flood of hormones can damage key areas of the brain. The brain is wired to be in a stress response before they even take their first breath. » Read more..

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How Secondhand Stress Effects Your Health

Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Do you ever feel exhausted or anxious after spending time with a stressed-out person? Maybe your friend is dealing with work-related worry or your child is struggling with school work. Whatever the case may be, those around you can cause secondhand stress. Research is proving it’s even more powerful than we once thought; resulting in chronic fatigue, anxiety, and depression. » Read more..

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Happiness Handbooks: 4 Books To Help You Finally Feel Happy

Self-help, happiness, and fixing negative thinking patterns is a big business these days. Chances are you have spent time in the self-help aisle of your bookstore; researched a perfect pill for your symptoms; or a professional who will help you finally achieve that blissful life you’ve been seeking. The problem is that many of your thoughts and behaviors have been hardwired in your brain for years, so it takes both a biological and environmental change in order to get the happy results you desire. » Read more..

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Help Your Child Stay Focused and Confident With Our Summer Special

Congratulations on surviving another academic year! As the school year comes to a close, children face many strong emotions. The transition into summer can be very difficult for them, and anxiety often manifests itself in their behaviors and in their brains. Testing your child’s neurotransmitter levels with our summer special will help them transition into the summer months with ease, and head back to class feeling confident! Focus issues, behavioral problems, and learning challenges can all be due to an imbalanced brain, don’t wait until next year, help them now. » Read more..

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Blame Your “Hangry” Mood on Blood Sugar and Brain Chemistry

hangry

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that being hungry can cause extreme mood swings and greater impulsivity in many people.  The study found that spouses are more likely to have arguments and marital dissatisfaction when they are feeling hangry—a term for the angry feeling that comes on when someone is feeling hungry.

“Hungry people are cranky people,” says the lead author Brad Bushman, Ph.D. “When you’re hungry, your body goes into a fight-or-flight response to help you hunt for food,” he says. “It becomes a vicious cycle: The adrenaline mobilizes the body’s sugar to fuel your search for food, but eventually you feel very depleted and get hungry. Then the whole cycle starts all over again.” This doesn’t just fix itself once you satisfy your grumbling tummy.  The cycle often continues, or people reach for the wrong foods.

Often the first thing people want to do when they’re feeling depleted is to eat something sweet.  Your serotonin is also running low which makes that cookie look more attractive than ever. However, the sugar will cause an insulin spike quickly followed crash, which will leave you feeling frustrated and moody.

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End of School Stress

school stress

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Children and adolescents alike can experience anxiety or discomfort around the end of a school year as they anticipate a change from routine and feel the stress of making the grades.  The anticipatory anxiety around the transition to a new routine and the fear of failing makes the end of the school year a particularly difficult time for many students. For the last nine months your child has had routine, formed relationships with his or her teachers and peers, and has had the safety in knowing what the next day will bring now. But now they have finals, farewells, and anxiety about their academic performance.

Many kids from elementary school, to high school seniors suffer from test anxiety and fear of failure.  The fear may be internal, or come from outside cues, but as parents you can help.

Here are some signs that your child may be anxious about their academic performance

  • Doesn’t want to go to school, especially on a test day
  • Cries or has melt-downs during the days leading up to a test
  • Changes eating and sleeping patterns
  • Obsessive thoughts about making good grades
  • Has stomach aches, loose bowel movements, nausea
  • Puts themselves down or calls themselves “stupid”
  • Has an upset stomach or a tension headache while doing homework
  • Performs well on practice tests but not on the real test
  • Angry, either at his or her loved ones, or directed at school, or themselves

How Can You Help?

Be honest with yourself. “Am I the contributor or supporter?” Some parents unwittingly heap stress on their kids by talking frequently about tests and sending the message that they measure their child’s worth in terms of grades and test scores. Some parents think that if they don’t push their kids, they are being irresponsible. But pushing them while they are stressed and anxious, instead of guiding and assisting them, will only create more anxiety.  They need your support, not another teacher or coach.

Practice validation and empathy. Using empathy to try and identify what they are feeling can be a huge relief to a stressed out child. If your son comes in pouting try “hey buddy it looks like you had a rough day, wanna talk about it?” instead of “you have to get to baseball or get started on homework.”  Validate why they may be feeling this way,“ I know it’s the end of the year, and I bet it’s pretty overwhelming, thinking about tests and what we are going to do this summer.” If they are not answering you or you feel stuck try this simple phrase: “Can you help me understand how you are feeling?”

Help them relax. Lori Lite founder of Stress Free Kids, has great tools and free downloads for parents and teachers to reduce anxiety.  She says “A powerful stress buster for test taking is positive self-talk. Anxiety can be lowered and confidence boosted with this simple technique.”  Here are some examples of positive self-talk that can be used before and during tests.

  • When angry or stressed, I take deep slow breaths
  • I am calm, focused, and smart
  • I am relaxed and alert
  • I calmly trust my knowledge
  • I know the answer to this question and I will look at it again in a few minutes
  • I am smart and relaxed

Make sure they are getting enough sleep. As parents, you can help your student stay confident and can create a calm environment, even at night.  Encourage books shut and computer off by a reasonable hour, 1-2 hours before bed. Distract from their studies by doing something as a family (their brains aren’t going to forget the information). Read a book, play a game or watch a TV show together.  Have a bedtime routine and try a guided bedtime relaxation to help get their mind off school and on to dreamland. If sleep is becoming an issue, where they are not getting the recommended hours for their age, it may be time to check in on their protocol and do a neurotransmitter test.  This is imperative to their school performance but more importantly their mood and behavior. For more on the importance of sleep and role it plays in your child’s mood click here.

Make sure they are eating every 3-4 hours. When blood sugar gets out of balance focus and mood follow—fast! They are going to need good snacks and foods that fuel their brain. Aim to have protein with each snack and avoid junk food, dyes, and too many carbohydrates, as it will put your little one into foggy thinking mode.  Coconut oil can be a great way to keep your blood sugar stable, just a spoonful afterschool can help your kiddo stay focused.

Next week we will discuss the trouble with transitioning to summer and how you can help your child manage the change confidently.

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Willpower: Why You Can’t Resist The Donut

willpower

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Do you ever wonder why it’s so hard to have self-control at a morning meeting, when the plate of delicious donuts are practically asking you to eat them? Isn’t it interesting that after the 20th time you have told your child “don’t touch that” they seem to forget and do it anyway?  Saying “no” to the sweet treat or controlling the impulse isn’t just about self-control, it’s more than willpower. You can learn right from wrong, but your brain can be much more powerful than logic.

Think of willpower like a muscle, if it’s not developed fully it can be weak; it can get exhausted by overuse, but just like our other muscles, we can repair it.

“It is as if self-control is a limited resource that ‘runs out’ if it is used too much,” said Chandra Sripada, the lead researcher in a study published last week in The Journal of Psychological Science.

Therefore all the effort in the word can’t keep little Timmy’s hands from reaching to touch the object of his affection or that sweet treat from hitting your lips. Researchers found that increasing levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine can help to reduce urges and increase self-control.

The study, published April 22 in The Journal Psychological Science, indicates that when one has the right balance of these two neurotransmitters it can help prevent the depletion of self-control.  If you overuse the “muscle” the chemicals in your brain are too tired to say no.  Medications or supplementation may be the missing link by giving a boost to specific brain circuits that are often depleted after attempting to maintain self-control for long periods of time.

What is even more interesting and notable is that ones mood plays a vital role in impulsivity and aggression.

Research published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) found that loss of self-control is also due to nutrition. When blood-glucose levels dropped, subjects were more likely to act on an urge.

“Self-control requires energy, and that energy is provided in part by glucose,” wrote lead study author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.

“Glucose is made from nutritious intake that becomes converted into neurotransmitters that provide energy for brain processes. Low glucose levels can undermine self-control because people have insufficient energy to overcome challenges and unwanted impulses,” wrote Bushman and his colleagues.

willpower

Wish you or your child could resist the urge to act on their impulses? As you can see it’s more than knowing right from wrong, it also takes a bit of a brain workout to build up that muscle.

  • Test the brain.  A simple urine analysis can show which levels are off, and results will suggest what supplementation will help increase self-control Neurotransmitters.
  •  What you eat effects willpower. What you feed your body affects how much energy the prefrontal cortex has to work with, where many of our impulsive decisions are made.  If you are not absorbing nutrients from the food in your gut, your brain is going to be cloudy.  Making sure that your blood sugar stays balanced, requires eating right and often, this means every 3-4 hours. For more self-control, stick to the foods that you know fuel your brain. Click Here for some great backpack snacks that boot brain power!
  • Talk with your health care practitioner about medications or supplementation that may be impacting your willpower. Notice what is difficult for you to resist, or what you wind up regretting later on in the day.  These actions are examples of what a boost of self-control could help you resist.
  • Repetition.  Although you may not get it on the first try, continuing to say no or practicing a new behavior, instead of the problematic one, can help rewire the brain.  That is, if you have enough power to run the system.

At the end of the day it takes gas and mechanics to keep a car running, the same is true for your brain.  Everyone needs help behaviorally and neurologically to make changes stick.

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Toddlers and Technology: How Screen Time is Impairing Brain Development

Toddlers and Technology

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

It can be tempting to hand your toddler or 10 year old a tablet to keep them occupied while out to eat.  Or turn on the TV to help distract your infant while you, take a phone call. Even let your child read on a Kindle before bed.  But what is this technology doing do your child’s brain? According to research, impairing their development.

According to a new study published Monday in The American Journal of Pediatrics, fussy babies and toddlers tend to watch more TV and videos than infants with less irritability.  Kids who have televisions or devices in their rooms have even more challenges ahead.

Problems with emotional regulation isn’t the only downfall, some doctors have now found that tablet use and technology may set back development in toddlers and young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agrees, “a child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people.”  They warn parents that passive screen time under the age of 2, and you are setting your child up for mental health problems for life.  This is due to their brains’ immense growth during the first 3 years of life.

The study published this month was led by author Dr. Jenny Radskey, who noted that “toddlers whose mothers rated them as having self-regulation problems – meaning, problems with calming down, soothing themselves, settling down to sleep, or waiting for food or toys – watched more TV and videos when they were age 2.”

What about those Amazing Tablets?

Toddlers and TechnologyThe Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in the UK warn that rising numbers of children are unable to perform simple tasks such as using building blocks because of overexposure to iPads/tablets, in fact they have little dexterity, holding a pen has become enormously difficult.

Members of the ATL UK reported increased numbers of infants that lack the motor skills needed to play with building blocks because of an “addiction” to tablet computers and smartphones. Claiming “many children aged just 3 or 4 can ‘swipe a screen’ but have little or no dexterity in their fingers after spending hours glued to iPads.”

Disarming the Dopamine Addiction

Video games, interactive screen media, and electronics involve the stimulation of dopamine.  Meaning the reward pathways become self-soothing and overtime addicting.  This is concerning for children who already have focus issues or genetic precursors for dopamine specific disorders such as addiction, and ADHD, among others.  When they are able to focus so heavily on the pleasurable game on the screen, but not their homework or chores it isn’t indicative of a disorder, but rather their brains have become accustomed to prefer the more stimulating activity. They become wired to crave it, as well as other dopamine surging activities.

An entire purge of technology will probably send your 8 year old into a cold sweat—but reducing the amount of time in front of a screen is imperative.  Get them doing interactive things, even if they say it’s boring.  Their brains will eventually feel differently.

Another way to help is through testing neurotransmitter levels.  Not only does this show the unbalanced levels, including dopamine.  It also helps to balance their brain, cutting their cravings for games, and regulating their mood and impulses off the electronics.

The last message on moving away from reliance on technology is to remove any electronics from your child’s room.  Experts suggest that screen time should be off a full 60-90 minutes before bed, as it activates dopamine—an excitatory neurotransmitter.

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