Turn Summer Brain Drain into Brain Gain!

While summer break is a fun time packed with family activities it’s also when a phenomenon strikes that teachers know all too well—the “summer slide” or “Brain Drain” – the loss of knowledge and ability that occurs when formal education stops during the summer.

Research shows that all young people experience learning losses when they don’t engage in educational activities during the summer. In fact, the average student loses approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in math computation skills over the summer months. This learning loss affects children when they begin their new school year in September because teachers typically spend four weeks re-teaching or reviewing material that students have forgotten over summer break. Playing ‘catch-up’ as the school year begins can also negatively effect your child’s self esteem.

While your brain is not a muscle, the adage ‘use it or lose it’ certainly holds true for your brain too. Mental exercise can keep the brain strong, just as physical exercise can keep the body strong.

Here are some ideas to help your child get their brain “exercising” before school starts:

Tips for Grade Schoolers:

20 Questions.  Think of a person or thing and give your child 20 chances to guess what it is by asking yes or no questions. Sharpens memory, logic and reasoning skills.

Rhyme Time.  Have your child choose four rhyming words and use them to create a poem. For younger kids, simply say a word then take turns coming up with words that rhyme with it. Builds auditory analysis, verbal rhythm and memory.

Needle in a Haystack.  Take a page from a newspaper and time your child as she circles all occurrences of a specific letter or word. Improves visual processing speed and sustained attention.

Counting Counts.  Encourage your child to count by 2’s, 3’s, 4’s etc. when they go up stairs, dribble a basketball, swing on a swing set or jump rope.  Builds math fluency, processing speed, divided attention and memory.

Play Time is Gain Time.  Play is crucial to healthy brain development. Prioritize play with your kids to keep their creative juices flowing and minds working.

Pick a Pen Pal.   It doesn’t matter whether it’s a family member or friend, near or far, writing letters  will give kids a chance to rehash and share their summer adventures and practice their writing in the process.

Teach mini-lessons.   Transform everyday activities into learning opportunities. Children can count change, read directions for a trip, write a shopping list, or calculate a recipe’s measurements.

Gather activity books.   Give children their own activity book with crossword puzzles or number games customized for their specific age group.  Set a “due date” to keep them on track, but let them work at their own pace.

Strategize screen time.  Educational computer games or apps can engage students’ minds, but make sure your child is spending enough time away from the screen.  Assign a daily block of time for family members to turn off phones, computers, and the TV, and instead play a board game or read together.

Talk to your child.  So many conversations between parents and kids during the school year are directional: “Get up; get in the car; do your homework.”  Before you are back in the grind make some time to chat. Spend time getting to know how your child feels about going back to school, any concerns they may have.

Have Kids’ Dinner Night.  Once a child is 10 or 11, have him be fully responsible for dinner one night.  That means coming up with the shopping list (Mom or Dad still has to pay), setting the table, preparing the meal, deciding on the dinner conversation topic and cleaning up afterward. It involves math, organizational and, perhaps most importantly, life skills.

Tips for Middle-schoolers:

Middle school is a huge transition and, for many kids, can be fraught with academic and social insecurity.  But it’s also a time when kids are discovering different ways to learn, and that can make summer learning especially important.

Do something new. Middle school is all about exploring new interests. Your child may discover an interest that you never imagined. So expose them to a new sport, a new hobby, a new class.

Be nontraditional. If you want your child to start reading before school starts, great. But don’t force him to do the reading you think he should be doing. Going online to read something and having a discussion about it can be just as educational as reading a novel from a book list.

Help make connections. For middle school kids, relevancy is so important; if they have experienced something, then they can understand it better. So go downtown, visit a museum or an art gallery. Social learning is important for kids this age.

Tips for High-schoolers:

It’s very difficult for adults to understand how stressful high school is. The amount of stress high school kids put on themselves to get into college means that they are thinking about their future constantly. By the time kids are in high school, you want them to understand that learning is a lifelong pursuit.

Start a store.  Use math skills and organization to plan the store and “sell” goods.

Explore “Going Green.” Your carbon footprint and whether recycling is all it’s cracked up to be: These activities involve not only math skills, but applying research to higher level critical thinking and analysis.

Go to an outdoor movie festival.  It doesn’t feel like learning, but watching ‘Casablanca’ absolutely is.  And so is the shared experience of discussing it afterward.

Be the editor of your family newsletter.  Practice journalistic and writing skills, including interviews, news, pictures, advertisements and even cartoons.

Grow your own food.  Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as gaining knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating.

Do something that opens your world.  Not everyone can study French in Paris. But there are so many opportunities to learn by accident.  And if you’re having fun and you learn something, you’ll remember it forever.

Take some positive steps to ensure the brain is ready, willing and able when school starts!

Is There a Link between Depression, Anxiety and Minor Injuries?

One out of 10 U.S. adults goes to an emergency department every year for injury.  Most injuries are considered relatively minor and providers often don’t look beyond what’s initially required to help that person heal.  But what happens when a person arrives in the emergency department needing help for a minor injury and who also expresses symptoms of depression and anxiety?

Researchers wanted to find out how such patients fared long-term, something relatively well-studied for people with severe injury but uncharted for minor emergency treatment.  They turned to data they had collected from previous work about long-term recovery from minor injuries.

In that initial study, the researchers used standard criteria to identify 1,110 patients who had sustained minor injuries, after excluding those with head trauma, those with a previous psychiatric diagnosis and those hospitalized during the past year for another minor injury.  From this group, 275 men and women were randomly selected and interviewed at intake in the emergency room, as well as at three, six and 12 months after injury.

Along with the larger diagnostic exams that were given, they collected each patient’s symptoms of depression and anxiety using symptom-severity scales called the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale.

They learned that people with more symptoms of depression at the time of their injury still had trouble working a year later and more frequently required bed rest due to health problems. They found connections, though less substantial, for anxiety, too.

Although it’s unclear what’s driving the relationship between psychological symptoms at the time of injury and long-term recovery, they do know there is a range of symptoms which, if identified and evaluated, could change the way we allocate resources or suggest more intensive follow-up for certain people who might be at higher risk for poor recoveries.

It’s an important link between physical and mental well-being for these patients.

The study further validates that health care providers can’t separate people into psych and physical because there’s an interplay between both that’s important to understand.  If the goal is to get patients back to their normal activities, psychological wellness must be incorporated to treatment after injury in order to meet that goal.

The researchers noted that future research should focus on building a better understanding of the pathways through which psychological symptoms influence long-term recovery.

Beating Social Anxiety With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Have you ever had someone tell you… “Wow, you’re a really shy person.” It can be incredibly embarrassing. It’s difficult enough having to deal with social anxiety on a daily basis, it’s even worse when people point it out. The normal reaction to a statement like that for someone with social anxiety is probably to turn red, dart the eyes to the floor pretend to be completely invisible.

Social anxiety may seem silly to those who don’t have it, but for those that do it’s serious business. Social anxiety transforms even the smallest bits of social awkwardness into big mountains of fear and insecurity.

Thankfully, we now have more information and knowledge from psychology research on how to better manage social anxiety and not let it completely ruin people’s lives.

We’re constantly learning more in psychology and neuroscience about how to improve our lives and overcome certain obstacles and mental disorders. Interestingly, a new study has just come out in the journal Transactional Psychiatry with some incredibly promising results for those who suffer from social anxiety and excessive shyness.

After just 9 weeks of  cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), patients showed a significant reduction in social anxiety symptoms. But most surprisingly, the study found that the “fear center” in people’s brains – the amygdala – actually decreased in size by the time they were done with the course.

The shrinking of this “fear center” is neurological evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy can absolutely make a drastic impact on how our brains work.

How To Train your Brain to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Ever wonder how some people are able to handle extremely hectic schedules and still seem calm, relaxed and having fun while at it?  The answer is: They have effectively learned to manage stress and anxiety. We all know that stress can cause us to perform our work poorly and therefore, be less productive. When we have too much on our plate, we often end up not accomplishing what we planned to at the start of each day. You can guess what happens then – this causes more stress and adds anxiety which further compounds the problem!

The good news is that there are ways that you can train your brain to handle the stress and anxiety positively, resulting in increased productivity and more joy in your life.

There is exciting new research and positive case studies about a new treatment that has been used  to help treat stress and anxiety disorders in the brain. This treatment is referred to as neurofeedback and has been touted to be the savior when it comes to real-time treatments. This is an exciting development since many people are either unresponsive to brain-enhancing supplements or are simply looking for a safer and healthier alternative to drugs such as antidepressants – especially when treating children.

The mechanism fronted by neurofeedback is aimed at being more precise than previously available therapies. As such, it goes to target the dysfunction in the cognitive and emotional processes in the brain. These are the areas that underlie psychiatric disorders. It is hoped that treatments can be personalized to address the various challenges in the brain, taking to account that each patient has their own unique set of problems. Neurofeedback also studies phobia, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, obsessive compulsive behavior, ADD/ADHD, autism, depression, sleep disorders, chronic pain, learning differences, memory loss and migraines.  The best feature of neurofeedback is that it is safe. It eliminates the need for brain enhancing supplements and medication.

There are other safe, natural and free ways to train the brain to release ‘feel-good’ hormones to help stay relaxed and calm. The most obvious is by engaging in relaxing activities. These help wire the brain to be calm and relaxed as opposed to the normal day to day demands that stress us out.

A great ‘calming exercise’ is meditation. Meditation allows us to slow down all the activities going on in and around ourselves and find peace and serenity within. In so doing, it becomes much easier to notice when your internal balance is off and to how to react accordingly. Focusing on the now allows us to be more present and be sharp at mind.

Another way to reduce stress is to ward off anxiety. In most cases, our bodies overreact to a given threat – causing a rush of anxiety. When threats are overestimated, we find ourselves worrying too much, thus causing more stress. A great tool to manage anxiety is to remember a time when you truly felt strong and could cope with just about anything that was thrown at you. Next, make a list of all the various resources that can help you deal with the uncertainties of life. Then, try to meditate on how good it feels to be strong and safe. This good feeling helps the body come out with renewed energy and focus going into the future.

And finally – and this is sometimes harder than it sounds-  you need to learn to ‘let it go.’ We tend to hang on to the negatives in life. Let go of resentment, regret, pain and unrealistic expectations that you may have had in the past. Letting go allows one to be strong and gives one renewed energy to move on to better. Letting go can start off from something simple as saying goodbye to a friend, taking out the trash, donating some of your old stuff to charity, or just plain sending that email you have been procrastinating. Letting go helps one appreciate the past for what it was and move forward to the future with renewed focus. A simple exercise in ’letting go’ is to write yourself a letter describing how you’re feeling, then reading it aloud.  This ‘literal’ release of negative feelings allows the body to move on to a positive state with renewed feelings of calm and focus.

Is Medication the only answer for ADHD? No….

medsIn the past 10 years, millions of kids have been introduced to amphetamines and other stimulants to address ADHD. The number of prescriptions increased from 34.8 to 48.4 million between 2007 and 2011 alone. This medication comes with high costs both financially and physically – with horrible side effects such as agitation, flattened mood, confusion, mood swings and upset stomach.  Medication alone also doesn’t prevent ADHD, it simply masks the problem. Recent studies suggest cognitive behavioral therapy and neurofeedback could be a much safer alternative because they address the underlying problem without the harsh side effects of medication.  More new studies are being done to find safer, more effective ways to manage and cure ADHD – without overmedicating. Recent findings suggest that plain old physical activity may also be a highly effective treatment for ADHD.

Physical activity is a high-yield investment for all kids, but especially those who are attentive or hyperactive. Physical movement improves mental focus, memory, and cognitive flexibility and new research supports just how critical it is to academic performance.

Pediatrics recently published research that found kids who took part in a regular physical activity program showed important enhancement of cognitive performance and brain function. The findings,”demonstrate a causal effect of a physical program on executive control, and provide support for physical activity for improving childhood cognition and brain health.” Furthermore, the improvements in kids who exercised regularly came in ‘executive control,’ which consists of inhibition (resisting distraction, maintaining focus), working memory, and cognitive flexibility (switching between tasks).

Another recent study found that a 12-week exercise program improved math and reading test scores in all kids, but especially in those with signs of ADHD. (Executive functioning is impaired in ADHD, and tied to performance in math and reading.)

Last year a very similar study in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that just 26 minutes of daily physical activity for eight weeks significantly allayed ADHD symptoms in grade-school kids. The modest conclusion of the study was that “physical activity shows promise for addressing ADHD symptoms in young children.”

John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, suggests that people think of exercise as medication for ADHD. Even very light physical activity improves mood and cognitive performance by triggering the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, similar to the way that stimulant medications like Adderall do. He added, ‘physical exercise “is really for our brains.” He likened it to taking “a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.”

So, encourage your kids to put down those video games and go out and play!  It’s good for our bodies, but it’s even better for our brains – no matter what age we are!

Does childhood ADHD lead to a more difficult life as an adult?

Media attention is often directed at the rigors that children with ADHD must face, but it begs the question “what about adults?” Does childhood ADHD lead to a more difficult and stressful life as an adult?  The Journal Pediatrics will publish a new study this January that addresses this question.  However, as expected, there is no definitive answer.

The study included a sample of 551 children and spanned more than 30 years, following the children as they grew until an average age of 37.  The study shows a correlation between patients who had ADHD as teens and greater risks of stress, work problems, financial troubles, physical and mental health issues, such as anxiety during adulthood.

When you compare people without ADHD to people with ADHD (in their teens and adulthood), the affected group had 82% higher odds of having impaired physical health, were twice as likely to have another mental health problem, and more than three times as likely to have antisocial personality disorder.

It was also noted that those who continued to have ADHD as adults were 2.5 times more likely to have problems with work and high financial stress.  The study volunteers were asked fairly subjective health questions suchHelpful recommendations for people suffering from ADHD(1) as, “Do you seem to get sick a little easier than other people?” They were also asked questions about mental health like, “How much of the time have you been nervous,” and “Do you worry about losing your job because of your current financial situation?”

It makes sense that many common symptoms of ADHD would interfere with one’s ability to perform at the level required by adulthood.  It may also interfere with physical health, as it impacts the decision making needed to follow up on doctor appointments, nutrition, and proper exercise.

Does this mean you are doomed to poor mental / physical health if you were diagnosed with ADHD as a child?  Definitely not! Some people will outgrow ADHD, as the brain continues to develop through emerging adulthood (late 20’s) and becomes more balanced.  Others learn coping techniques that are helpful in school and work, allowing them to focus and achieve success.

One important point to note is that the study originated in the 70’s and that views on mental health as well as medical science has changed.  Children today have more clinically effective treatment programs available, such as brain wave biofeedback, known as neurofeedback and neurotherapy.  There are more alternative medication options available today, including fish oils, nutritional supplements and vitamins.  Also, educational accommodations are becoming available that can have impacts on learning, particularly in higher education.

While this study did find an association between ADHD in adulthood and these problems, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship; correlation does not mean causation! Experts agree on one thing though, that it is important for parents to be attuned to their children and get them evaluated immediately if a problem is suspected.

If you are a child or an adult that struggles with ADHD, consider all the treatment options that are available.  Most importantly, set yourself up for success.  Get organized, learn to manage your time effectively, make priorities, create lists, and limit the interruptions you have every day.  Remember the brain is not set up to multi-task; it works best when it focuses on one purpose and goal at a time.

There are many systems and apps available to help you do this,  it can be confusing.  We wanted to make that easy for you and have listed our top three picks below that can be found by clicking here, https://www.udotherest.com/gettingorganized.aspx.  If you find other apps that you prefer, please share them with us, and post them on our Facebook for others to try.

#1 Evernote – Makes it easy to remember things big and small using your computer, your phone, and the Web.  Use it to capture your thoughts, ideas, inspiration, and things to remember.  It is easy to use, great graphics, very helpful and what a bang for your buck – FREE.

#2 Top Three – Changes the way you manage your priorities.  It makes you decide what things are most important, and helps you get them done.  Each day you get three new slots to fill, not ten.  By limiting priorities to just three things each day, and then being able to review history, you can work on being effective one step at a time.  A great bargain for 99 cents.

#3 White Noise – Provides ambient sounds of the environment.  Includes high-quality looping noises such as ocean waves, crickets chirping at night, and the soothing sound of rainfall.  For $1.99 this is a great way to drown out the noises of the day and limit those deadly interruptions.

We wish you a focused, organized, and productive 2013!


Handle your stress – Don’t let it handle you

Stress is part of our everyday life, and some days we handle it better than others. Some days we get stressed about being stressed, starting a vicious cycle that wreaks havoc on our nerves, our work , and personal lives. However, you shouldn’t feel so guilty, as some of these are reactions are completely justified – in fact, it’d be strange if somethings didn’t cause you stress.

New research published in “The Journal of Neuroscience” shows that a stress you can control is very different from a stress that you can’t control. An example of an uncontrollable stress could be a traumatic event, such as the divorce or death of a family member. A controllable stress could be training for and running a 10k race, or preparing for your dream vacation. Not all stress is bad.

Since we’ve already identified that stress is inevitable and unavoidable, we can then agree that it’s how you handle the stress that is most important. After exposure to a controllable stress there is increased activity in the frontal cortex and research suggest that exciting this area can create resilience to stress in general. So just as with anything in life, practice dealing with stress. Set goals for yourself that required a certain amount of controllable stress, be they fitness, professional, or social. The  small amounts of stress that you are able to handle and conquer will help train your mind and body to deal with those unavoidable uncontrollable stressors in life.

But how do you keep the frontal cortex activated when the uncontrollable stress comes into play? The easiest and simplest way to do that is through the use of biofeedback, and slowing your breath rate down to a more optimal functioning level. By changing your breath rate, you change your heart rate. If you can get those two to dance together in sync, moving at the same beat, then you have created physiological balance. Both the autonomic nervous system and the central nervous system will preform better and keep the frontal lobes in an active state.

There are breathing programs that you can purchase for home use such as MY Calm Beat or M Wave, which I have both used and recommend. There are other things that you can do to help keep your brain balanced, depending on the different variables.

Remember, not all stress is bad; it is how we handle it that counts. Handle your stress, don’t let it handle you.

Self Inflicited ADD/ADHD – OUCH!!

Most of us take pride in how well we multi task and juggle multiple things at the same time.  We must, if we expect to meet the expectations of our bosses, teachers, and friends.  That’s not counting the additional work of the spouse or parent and all the normal daily stresses that come along with it.  We live in a world that sends information to us 24/7 in every way imaginable, often simultaneously.

The brain is not set up to process information like this; our brain is not designed to multi task.  Our brain is designed to focus on one thing at a time, whatever it decides is the most important, and that is usually what is most closely related to our basic survival.  When you ask the brain to focus on more than one task at a time, it must switch between tasks.

For example, if you are driving, talking on your cell, looking at your GPS for directions, and consequently you miss the exit, it is because your brain is switching back and forth, attending to each activity.  There is a lag time when switching between different tasks, although he would hardly notice it.

Too much information too quickly can lead to a brain freeze.  The feeling that you have too much information to process is a common occurrence, and the term “information fatigue” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2009.  We are starting to realize that information overload leaves us frustrated and emotionally depleted.  The term “Brain fart” already has its own Wikipedia page.

When we are in this fatigued state, we can make decisions that we might later regret.  By switching between so many stimuli, we leave ourselves depleted and distracted, the exact opposite of  the state in which to make best decisions.  When our brain is being bombarded with information, it tends to favor ease over accuracy.  Do you think a quick decision is the best decision?

There are many things you can do to improve your brain functioning, but here are 3 simple suggestions to think about:  1) Limit the amount of information your brain receives at one time.  2) Focus on one task at a time. 3) Give your brain time and space to integrate information and make the connections.

Take care of your brain.