Tag Archive for neurotransmitters

Brain Chemistry and Bad Behavior in Children

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By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

When children act out, misbehave, or engage in an activity that puts them in danger, parents often respond with an impulsive punishment.  They may yell, tell them to go to their room, or even spank their child in the hopes to get them to hear, and feel, that the actions that he or she did were “bad.”  Interestingly enough, most of these consequences don’t work, and the brain is partially to blame.

Recent research from Southern Methodist University discovered that spanking was far more common than parents admit, and that children who were hit, misbehaved within 10 minutes of being punished. Indicating that even with intense pain, their brains rewire back to impulsive decision making.

Why is it that kids misbehave so quickly afterwards? The spanking, the yelling, the removal of rewards and privileges, doesn’t encourage them to behave differently.   In fact, in many cases it scares them.  The brain goes into survival mode, triggering them to act aggressively or impulsively, because their neurological underpinnings are driving the behavior.  Ever heard your child say “I didn’t mean it, I don’t know why I did it.” Many times they are right.  The brain turned on before they even realized their bad action was occurring.

Parents and parenting are not to blame completely either, not at all. The problematic behaviors that get the child punished in the first place are due to their environment and their brain chemistry. Next time your child does something that you have told them 20 times to not do, before acting on impulse yourself, and raising your voice or threatening to take away X, Y, or Z, think about what else could be at play.  Certainly a new approach to communicating and also a look into their noggin.

3 Ways to Change Bad Behaviors in Your Child

brain chemistry1) Balance Brain Chemistry - In many cases where a youngster acts impulsively, lashes out, or doesn’t listen, it isn’t due to just anger or frustration, their brain chemistry is also to blame.  Extensive research and thousands of neurotransmitter tests have revealed, that frequently an imbalance in neurotransmitter levels (brain chemistry), is a key contributing factor to the child’s bad behavior. Often times their excitatory neurotransmitters are running the show, leading to them having difficulty controlling themselves.  Correcting brain chemistry can be a huge piece in healing the bad behavior puzzle. Neurotransmitter testing is easy, can be done in the comfort of your home, and provides an all natural solution to balancing brain chemistry.

brain chemistry2) Change Communication - You are the parent and role model, so get cracking on a more effective approach to communicating concerns and consequences to your child. In the bestselling book If I Have to Tell You One More Time…: The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids To Listen Without Nagging, Reminding, or Yelling parenting expert and Today Show contributor Amy McCready shows you how to. McCready is a “recovering yeller” and the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions. She is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Her Toolbox strategies have empowered tens of thousands of parents.

brain chemistry3) Gain and Teach Skills - It is important for parents to learn how to control their own emotions and be able to teach these skills and techniques to their children. Parenting a Child Who Has Intense Emotions: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Help Your Child Regulate Emotional Outbursts and Aggressive Behaviors by Pat Harvey, is a great book that can help with this. As a world renowned expert in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Harvey uses DBT Skills Training in working with parents whose children (of any age) have intense emotions/emotional dysregulation or mental illness. The nonjudgmental and accepting aspects of DBT have been well received by parents who are often blamed for the problems of their children. Feeling accepted enables parents and others to learn new, more effective skills.

Adjusting your child’s brain chemistry, and possibly your own, will be the glue that holds any parenting method together.  Skills and therapy can be effective, and with a brain that’s onboard with these new approaches, you have benefits that will last a lifetime.

 

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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant.  Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.

 

 

 

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Procrastination – Is Dopamine to Blame?

dopamine

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Could your Candy Crush addiction be due to more than your lack of willpower? Perhaps you put off that project until the last minute or feel lazy instead of motivated at the thought of another monotonous task.  Your brain chemistry, not laziness may be to blame.   Dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure, has been found to be a major component in procrastination, motivation, and impulsivity.

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder published a recent study in The Journal of Psychological Science showing that procrastination and impulsivity is genetic, and link dopamine levels to one’s avoidance or impulsive responses to tasks. Pleasurable activities or pushing away the things that top your to-do list are ways dopamine effects your life. Whether you are addicted to instant gratification activities, such as refreshing your Instagram feed, or avoiding your taxes like the plague, your dopamine and your genes are to blame.

If a task has a higher historical likelihood (or perceived future likelihood) of producing dopamine, our brain becomes addicted to reproducing these activities… and avoiding the others. We’re a society that’s addicted to dopamine.

We also consume too much of addictive stimulants: chocolate, caffeine (coffee, energy drinks, tea), sugar and cigarettes, which further impact the production of this neurotransmitter. Almost all abusive drugs and addictive substances influence it. Alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, even prescription medications such as amphetamines alter our dopamine balance.

Why do smokers eat more when they are trying to quit? Or video game junkies consume soda and sugary snacks when they are not glued to the screen? Because both food and nicotine share similar dopamine reward pathways, their brains are wired to crave pleasure. When less dopamine is stimulated as nicotine or the pleasurable activity is reduced, food and sugar cravings naturally kick in to overcompensate.Unfortunately, stimulating dopamine consistently, with medication, foods, nicotine, or any unnatural substance, can cause a depletion of dopamine over time.

How to Balance Your Dopamine

1.      Test Your Levels of Dopamine. Without testing it is difficult to know which neurotransmitter is out of balance and, making it a guessing game to treat. According to Dr. Oz’s, Alternative Health Expert Bryce Wylde   the best way to know if your dopamine levels are imbalanced is to have your neurotransmitters tested. The way to do this is easy and uses cutting edge science. Urinary neurotransmitter testing – a simple pee-in-a-cup test – is reflective of total-body neurotransmitter activity.

2.     Create a Dopamine-Friendly Environment. Setting small goals, breaking up tasks and rewarding effort can help rewire the brain.  A 5-1o minute Facebook feed session after an hour of doing that dreaded task, can stimulate the reward center.  Turn off distractions – for example television, or put your cell phone ringer on silent while working on a task.

3.      Positive feedback. Allow yourself to experience frequent positive feedback as you work towards goals. Dopamine will flow as a result of your brain’s positive reinforcement every time you complete a step and meet a challenge. People who provide positive reinforcement can help you to push through the blocks that keep you stuck in your behaviors.  A trainer, nutritionist, AA sponsor, therapist, or anyone to help push you along the way.

4.      Embrace a new goal and take small steps toward it every day. That may be saving money or stopping the nicotine. Putting a dollar away every day and watching the jar grow, creates incentive.   The less puffs you take and the less frequent you stop to pick up a new pack the more your brain rewards itself. With dopamine each time you take a step. The repetition can help reinforce new behaviors by assisting in building the dopamine pathway until it’s big enough to compete with the habit you are trying to get rid of.

To learn more about dopamine and balancing your neurotransmitters please visit www.Neurogistics.com

 

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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant.  Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.

 

 

 

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Why Sleep Deprivation Is Killing You & 6 Ways to Solve It

sleep deprivation

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

This is your wake-up call—literally. For years we have known that sleep deprivation is bad for our health, but a new study shows it actually destroys brain cells.  A study published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience found that staying awake kills brain cells in mice, and researchers suggest it may do the same in humans. It’s the first study to show that sleep loss can lead to irreversible damage.

So, what do we do? 7-8 Hours of sleep sounds fantastic, but for many Americans it’s nearly impossible.  Not only is it a time an issue, but getting our brains to shut off can be easier said than done. Stress and hectic schedules make it hard to get the zzz’s one needs. Overtime, cortisol elevations cause shifts in other hormones (such as DHEA, Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone), as well as depletion in neurotransmitter availability.  This often leads to sleep cycle disturbances, which then causes more stress on the body and the cycle continues.

sleep deprivation

We need sleep almost just as much as we need oxygen and food. Recent studies show that sleep may “detox” the brain, flushing out waste products linked to Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Sleep deprivation wears down our normal capacity to deal with daily aggravations and challenges, causing the cycle of stress to wear us down emotionally and physically.  Unfortunately, this can’t be fixed with good vibes alone.

One night alone of disrupted sleep lowers the threshold for “stress perception.” When you’re dead tired, or have had weeks of restless nights, just running an errand or getting stuck in traffic can seem dreadful and daunting.  It is a huge contributor to irritability, mood swings, and interpersonal relationship troubles (as you can imagine).

6 Ways to Solve Sleep Deprivation

1. Testing your neurotransmitters and cortisol levels is a natural way to balance your sleep cycle. It can be helpful to pinpoint what type of support will provide the fastest relief.  Results show what supplementation is needed—and will help work to adjust your sleep cycle. Neurogistics makes this easy with in home testing kits, and customized Brain Wellness Reports.

2. Wind down for 1 hour before bedtime. Ideally this would be unplugged, restorative time (e.g., relaxed reading, bath, or mediation practice). Something to induce the relaxation response. Sleep mediations are all over YouTube and can be listened to as you are lying in bed.

3. Don’t use electronics, even the Nook, an hour before bed.  Avoid TV, phone, tablet, emails, Netflix, Hulu, videogames in bed.  The light, and the activity stimulates excitatory neurotransmitter activity

4. Decrease Caffeine – it exacerbates anxiety and can create disturbances in your sleep patterns. If you drink coffee, tea or soda and you have anxiety, consider getting off caffeine or stopping before 12PM.

If your aim is to get off the caffeine kick, do this gradually:

  • Go from 2 coffees per day to 1.
  • Go from having a large coffee to having a small.
  • Go from a small coffee to a small half-caf.
  • Go from half-caf to black tea.
  • Go from black tea to green tea.
  • Go from green tea to no caffeine. You can have herbal or decaf tea.

5. Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible. Even on the weekends, try and wake up within 90 minutes of when you do on weekdays.

6. Keep your bedroom dark and cold; even nightlights can keep you awake. Make sure your dreaming den is chilly, this helps you stay under the covers and hit hibernation mode.

Other ways to get your sleep back on track involve taking control of your stress during the day.  Delegate tasks, make time for mindfulness and meditation, and practice deep breathing.  Grab the good pillows, comfy sheets and get ready for a good night’s sleep.  Your body and brain depend on it.

 

 

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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant.  Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.

 

 

 

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10 Tips for a Healthy Brain

We all want optimal health, one of the best ways to achieve this is through taking care of your most valuable body part: the brain.  By making good choices to maximize your health, the brain and your overall well being benefit.

Try a few of the suggestions below.  If you can add them all, great but start slow, so these changes can be habitual, and become part of your daily routine.

» Read more..

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Tuesday’s Tips: Commuication Enhancers for Parents

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Have you ever been talking to a friend about something important, and you are really spilling your guts, while she appears to be half-heartedly listening?  Maybe she is checking her email, responding to a text, or folding the kids laundry; she may really hear you, but her body language tells a different story.  Does yours?

With good communication, family bonds grow stronger, your children open up more, family members hear one another, and trust is maintained.  Many children I speak to have confessed that they believe that their parents “don’t hear them”.  Interestingly enough, parents are telling me the same thing.  So what’s the problem?  Often times the way we listen that can be the problem.  We also teach our children to model our listening behaviors, if you give off the impression that you are somewhat listening, this closes the door for future communication with them.  Kids are smart, and they remember when they have been shut down, even if it just feels that way.

As a therapist, I have been trained to learn to listen.  There are techniques that I was taught to make sure that I convey a listening ear, they have worked wonders across the couch and even within my outside relationships. Here are a few tips to show your kids (and others in your life) that you are actually hearing what they say.

Eye Contact & Body Language

Do:  Look at them when they are talking to you. Make sure it is natural, not in a creepy bug-eyed, like you are trying too hard kind of way. Naturally looking at them, getting on their level physically and seeing their face conveys that you are hearing them, and you likely are as distractions dimish when you focus on their face.  Also nod.  Nodding is a subtle cue that you are following the story; think about when someone is listening to you, how do you know from their body language that they are paying attention? Do this.

Do: If it’s a bad time, stop what your doing for just a minute, get down on their level and look them in the eye, ask if its an emergency and if not then ask them if they would mind waiting ___amount of time.  Say “It will make me a better listener”.  Make sure to stick to the allocated time.  Respect them just like you would a good friend.

 Don’t: Look at your phone, the computer, TV, or even the chore you are in the middle of completing. Your child, not to mention anyone you are speaking with, gets the impression that you really aren’t fully here due to your body language.  You likely are not looking at them or facing them, which makes it harder to listen fully and hear what they are saying; plus, you are missing out on body language cues.

Take a Technology Break

Do: Put the phone down.  I have talked with hundreds of elementary and adolescent aged children. One of the biggest  complaints I hear is “When my mom/dad picks me up from school (dance, soccer, ect) and they are on the phone it puts me in a bad mood, I don’t want to talk to them afterwards.”  First of all, it’s illegal in most states to talk on the phone in a school zone, so hang up for that reason.  Secondly, it makes kids feel unimportant; as though they are a chore or burden (I had a third grade girl use the word burden in this situation). Use your car travel time as an opportunity to have uninterrupted time with your kids. Catch up on the day, play a game, talk about the music on the radio, stay connected.  

Do:  Talk about talking on the phone: Have you ever been stuck in the car with someone on the phone?  It’s annoying.  If you have to make a call, make it brief and let your child know in advance, as well as the party you are calling “Honey, I have to make a call to let Dad know we are running a few minutes late. Can you do me a favor and be quite for just two minutes?”  Also let the receiving end know you are in the car with the kids “I only have a second I’m in the car…” Keep it short.  If you want them to respect you when they get a phone, you have to do the technology teaching now.

Don’t: Text/email/Google and drive, even at a stop light.  Your kids will be drivers eventually and you are the role models for their driving behavior.  I had a young woman who told me her mother made her take the wheel while she was finishing an email, the girl was 14.  Needless to say, not the best role model, not to mention this particular client’s mother was always texting, emailing, or on the phone in front of her, she told me often she felt like work was more important than spending time with her. Sad.

Summarize and stick to the point

 Do:  Listen and summarize. A teenager will come into my office venting about her “horrible day”.  After her rant I may say “Wow, it sounds like you had a rough day!” or “Sorry to hear about that situation in the lunch room, that must have been really hard.  Is there anything I can do to help?” 

Do: Empathize and ask relevant questions. I suggest parents to listen and respond with empathy and feeling words “that must have been hard”, “Wow, tell me more.”  “It sounds like your handling this well, even with the rough day.”  “Really…What did he/she/your teacher say?” Too many questions may annoy them, so stick to relevant questions about the situation at hand. If they say they don’t feel like talking about it, let them know that you are here to listen when they are, don’t push them to talk- huge roadblock in communication.  Questions show others that you are following their story; AKA listening.

Don’t:  Change the topic or make it about you.  There is nothing more frustrating then when someone does this.  One of the biggest complaints I get from kids is when parents will immediately try and give them advice or use this time as an opportunity to recollect on their own childhood. Of course you are doing this as a learning tool, but most kids see it as taking away from their thunder, thus shutting them down, and the shutting the door to communication.  Use your stories about similar situations after they are done venting, and ask them if they want to hear how you handled a similar situation, don’t demand that they hear it.  They will stop listening, I promise.

Bottom line, notice when you don’t feel entirely heard; whether it by friends, spouse, or your children, and ask yourself  “Am I doing this to them?”  You may not be, but it’s always worth an introspective look, your children model much of your behavior.  Teach them to be good listeners, and better communication patterns will be developed. Also keep your word, if you say you will be off in two minutes get off in two minutes!  Kids use your word to gauge respect, and it feels disrespectful when one does not stick to their end of the bargain.

 

 

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The Power of Protein

By: Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Its 3 PM. Your starving, so you reach for that 100 calorie pack of starch to curb your hunger…and your not satisfied?  Well who would be, there is no protein in it, its all carbs.  We all know protein is important for keeping us full and keeping us strong.  However, studies find that most children are not getting enough and many adults fall short on their daily intake as well.  The reason this is so important, is without the rotation of different proteins and the quantity, out bodies will not make the natural amino acids that keep  us focused, stable, and happy. 

The Facts: Amino acids are the building blocks for Neurotransmitters; amino acids are created by our genetic make-up, but also our diet.  Protein and supplementation are the main sources of changing and increasing amino acid availability in ones body. 

Are You Getting Enough?: To calculate how much protein you need on a daily basis take your body weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2, this will give you amount in grams that your body needs at a minimum (unless otherwise noted by your doctor or other health professional).  For example:  140 pound woman needs approximately 64 grams per day.

Where to Get it:Nuts, lean meats, dairy products, soy, legumes, whey protein powder, and seafood are all great sources.  For kids a serving size is approximately 2 oz, depending on their weight. For adults a serving size is 4 to 6 oz.

Protein for Kids:  even for the pickiest eaters daily protein intake can be achieved.  This especially important when school starts and focus is needed.  In the morning try almond or peanut butter and toast, instead of a pop-tart or sugar filled pastry.  For a mid morning snack, freeze a yogurt and put it in their lunch box, it will be cold by the time snack-time rolls around.  For lunch, turkey and cheese roll-ups, rather than pizza. For dinner, adding in tofu or chicken to your child’s meal will increase their amino acid availability and keep them satisfied longer.

***If your child refuses, whey protein powder is easily hidden in smoothies, milk, and oatmeal.

Why Rotate?: If we eat the same thing everyday our body is going to get used to the amino acids in that food, making it difficult to create new strains of amino acids, thus less neurotransmitter availability.  Therefore, making changes in protein increases your availability to create new strains.  Simple fixes are, chose fish instead of chicken on your salad.  Add protein powder to your morning oatmeal instead of just milk, or try adding in a mid morning snack of yogurt and nuts.

So next time your starving, think about this, will that snack fill me up?  Adding in protein keeps you fuller, longer, carbs alone will leave you feeling hungry and tired.  Instead of that bag of chips try a bag of trail mix, or cheese and crackers .  You will find yourself more focused, in a better mood, and best of all SATISFIED.

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