Monday, January 27, 2014

Holistic Health-- Physical Compass Point: Soul Food

When we discussed the Physical Compass Point, we talked about the importance of caring for our bodies each day. At the most basic level, this involves food. Food sustains our lives, but it can also connect deeply to our souls and become part of our individual and cultural identities and values. It can be interesting and enlarging to try foods from different regions, such as Asia, India, Africa, Greece, Italy, Sweden, and Mexico, and within our own country, to sample recipes using local ingredients: Southern grits, California granola and fresh fruit, New England clam chowder and Indian pudding, and Minnesota wild rice, as well as beverages like German beers, English tea, and French wines. Many families pass down recipes from one generation to the next, and friends who exchange recipes are sharing something of themselves in the process. Such “pass along recipes” can establish close family and friendship bonds and sustain us in stressful times. Past occasions that featured the special recipes become personal life stories that are meaningful to share. Before she passed away at 94, my mother wanted collard greens and ham hocks and barbecue, special fare during the Great Depression, and my father, a native of South Alabama, liked nothing better than to visit with me over gumbo or oysters on the half shell in the French Quarter. Growing up in the country, he enjoyed cooking “soul food” throughout his life. I have served his sweet potato soufflĂ©, corn bread, and gumbo with friends from everywhere. These compliment my own special memories of French Market freshly roasted coffee and chicory served au lait with powdered beignets in the French Quarter. Do you have special recipes? Write them down, along with the stories and memories that go along with them. You may be compiling an important story of your life, your family, and friendships. Even more, you may learn something important about the values you cherish. Like churches who use bread and wine as spiritual nourishment, your own special “comfort” foods can sustain your body and soul. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Valentine's Card for You!

Valentine’s Day is upon us. Are you down in the dumps with relationship troubles and find yourself vegging out and over-eating as a means of self-comfort? Do Valentine's Day your own way by getting out of this cycle using these strategies to nurture your 4 Compass Points from my book

1. Get exercise, whether working out at the gym or walking in a safe mall or other enclosed area. Exercise has proven antidepressant effects.
2. Increase protein, decrease carbohydrates, which can leave you hungrier than you were before. Food nourishes our souls as well as our bodies, and the next blog will talk more about this connection. If you don’t enjoy foods that are non-starch and non-sugar, now is the time to explore new options. Look to Asian, Indian, Mexican, Cajun, or other ethnic recipes for delicious dishes that will enliven your senses but won’t sabotage your weight. Enjoy them with music and a friend for maximum pleasure.

Call a friend or get together for a walk or coffee if you can. Being alone can make things worse emotionally.

1. Do you have hobbies that you enjoy? Focus on them for mental distraction and emotional sustenance. If not, explore some possibilities.
2. Mentally people often “go behind enemy lines” obsessively punishing themselves for situations they did not cause and cannot control. If this rings a bell, teach yourself the three C’s:

• I didn’t Cause it.
• I can’t Control it.
• I can’t Change it.

No one has control in life. This is why we need a strong spiritual core to sustain us. Turn problems over to your Higher Power every day, and you will be comforted, and seek companionship of those who believe as you do. See the lesson on the Spiritual Quadrant.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Between Friends: Need Help with My Son with ADD

Hello Barbara,
Writing with a question about my 12 year old son with ADHD and oppositional tendencies. Recently, my son was assessed by the school psychologist and the results indicated that my son was really not aware of his level of oppositionality. This was very frustrating to my husband and myself because we make a lot of effort to discuss my son's issues with him and help him to see his behavior and his choices and alternative choices that would have been better.  He struggles with going to bed at night and homework after school. He often can be manipulative and aggressive about what he wants and still gets highly emotional when he doesn't get his way. 

When we try to talk with him about these things, he does a great deal to deflect attention away from himself and seems to expect everyone else to behave perfectly in order for him to exhibit cooperation. If I display the slightest frustration, this, in his mind, is license to oppose. He is very resistant to our efforts to teach him and discuss things with him. We have difficulty keeping him present when we try to talk with him about his behavior.  I do not make a habit of giving in to him. We have fairly firm and reasonable boundaries. But, yet, even without positive reinforcement, his opposition continues. 

We do not medicate him and are resistant to doing so because of history of addiction on his father's side, among other medical and existential concerns. How can we help Thomas to be more aware of his behavior and issues and help him to be more cooperative? His teachers report that he is similarly oppositional at school. What we need is some insight and some creative ideas to get through to him. I have been considering seeking out therapy at Brain Balance, a national company with a local office nearby. Their website seems promising, but I am concerned it could be a scam.  Wondering if you are familiar with them and their approach and if you had any thoughts about it. My concern is that it may be expensive and perhaps unnecessary therapy. There are a lot of companies that seek out and exploit scared, frustrated parents that ultimately just take your money. However, I do not want to miss out on the possibility of help either. Any and all thoughts on this would be much appreciated.

Dear Mary,
Thanks for your thoughtful question. If you have confirmed that your son has ADD/ADHD through psychological testing by a Board-certified Ph.D. level psychologist, you may already know whether your son has the hyperactive type or mostly the inattention type or a combination of both. His age, 12, adds a complicating factor, as he is entering puberty and adolescence, when oppositional behavior tends to increase in all kids. Parents (and schools) are charged with setting limits on acting out behavior and communicating consequences to the kid for breaking the limits. As described in my book, KeepYour Eye on the Prize! adolescents are forming an identity apart from their parents, but they have to learn how to express their feelings and problems verbally (like adults do) rather than acting them out, and this learning process takes time. Good for you for setting the limits and communicating about it. Keep it going despite the attempts to wear you down, manipulate you, or blame others for his lack of emotional control.

As you know, a major issue with ADD kids is their frustration with trying to learn in school because of the problems organizing themselves and focusing on what teachers are trying to teach. There are many strategies that can help them learn skills in this area. One book, Driven to Distraction, has helped many parents. I am not familiar with the Brain Balance organization.

For ADD kids, extracurricular activities, especially sports, can be a critical way to channel the kid’s energy in constructive ways, build a support group and self-confidence, and cultivate discipline and positive values like sportsmanship, “teamsmanship,” leadership, tolerance of frustration, and physical health. Sports can also be a powerful reinforcer for kids to take their studies at school seriously and avoid getting into trouble. One of my students with ADD told me about how cross-country running helped him learn how to focus mentally while it helped calm the internal mental and physical engine that was always consuming his emotional resources and “messing up” his life. It may take time to find the right fit, so don’t give up if the first sport or activity does not “take.”

For a few kids, dietary changes may help, like eliminating sugar, even though the research has not supported this scientifically. Be sure Thomas is not having caffeinated soda to complicate his sleep problem, which may get worse as he enters teenage, when kids become “phase-shifted,” staying up late and getting up late. The phase-shifting will eventually approach a more normal schedule for most. Melatonin 3 mg. can be a natural way to help induce sleep but check in with his pediatrician about starting this first.

As a sidebar, I know that you are against medications, but for many kids, an empathic Board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, who can work with the three of you to find the right med at the right dose (the smallest possible), together with brief, problem-focused counseling and additional time for tests (available for all kids with documented ADD) can be incredibly helpful. I have seen such doctors transform kids’ lives, and kids tell me that more than any admonishments from frustrated schools and parents, treatment got them out of their abyss by helping them experience something other than the mental chaos of distraction. They were able to feel less frustrated and see school as a place they were eager to attend rather than one they hated. Getting a handle on the focus and behavior at this age can help kids avoid drugs and other serious problems that can destroy their lives. By the way, for a kids with ADD, my psychiatric colleagues assure me that the ADD meds are not addictive, although there are side-effects that have to be weighed with the benefits. Although I mentioned avoiding caffeine to help his sleep problem, know that some caffeine in the morning helps them re-set their biological clocks and increases focus. This can be a more acceptable alternative to meds for some people with ADD.

Lastly, keep positive family time in your life by building in time together. Maybe it is dinner time, or maybe it is grabbing a burger after a sports event, going to religious services or movies, or taking mini-trips to a favorite retreat--whatever you all enjoy that can be a platform for building positive memories. These can begin to get the relationship focus off of the problematic behavior and onto a more positive track. As time goes on and Thomas learns how to discuss rather than act out his feelings, the relationship with you (and a treater if you choose one) can help him learn life strategies to manage his ADD effectively. ADD kids often see problems in unique ways and have creative ways to solve them. We want Thomas to get to that enjoyable place!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Holistic Health-- 4 Compass Points: Spiritual

The Spiritual Compass Point helps us grapple with the ultimate questions of life and our place within it. It is also the basis for the ethical code that will guide our actions. Ethics involve both what we do and what we refrain from doing. Humans have always struggled with these questions, but the Internet has created all new challenges for age-old ethical issues like being honest and not harming others. Here are two real stories.

As a high school student, Nelson downloaded a paper from the Internet and turned it in as his own. His classmates knew about this, but no one said anything, and the teacher never found out. He was accepted into an elite college. 

Rosa, who was mad at her friend, Amber, violated a confidence by mentioning on Facebook that Amber’s father had gone to prison—a fact that Amber, who was deeply ashamed, did not want to reveal. The public posting of this private hurt so devastated Amber that she became physically ill and dropped out of school, because she could not face her classmates. She was so ashamed that later, she transferred to a different school, where slowly she made new friends.

Time went by, but neither Nelson nor Rosa paid any attention to the spiritual compass point in life. Here is how things turned out for them. Nelson became a successful attorney but stole client trade secrets and was arrested on felony charges. He spent time in prison and was financially ruined because of multiple lawsuits and disbarment. He developed a drinking problem, which destroyed his marriage and relationships with his children. Meanwhile, Rosa never explored the basis for her behavior with Amber and repeated this mistake in later relationships. In one instance, she became jealous of Anne’s closeness with Joyce and sought to harm their relationship by reporting to Joyce a confidence Anne had shared relating to Joyce’s declining memory. Joyce was upset and discussed the situation with Anne, who apologized, explained the basis for her concern, and asked for forgiveness. By contrast, when Anne confronted Rosa, Rosa because angry and defensive, flatly denying what she had done. Anne and Joyce shared ethics from their shared Christian beliefs, which helped them to mend their relationship and go forward, but both eventually had to leave their relationships with Rosa, who lacked the spiritual tools and emotional integrity to acknowledge her problematical behavior and need to change.

Perhaps you have already established a spiritual base and a sense of ethics, or you may be so busy that you don’t even think about this compass point at all. If so, take a moment to consider it, because life inevitably presents all of us with ethical problems that we have to decide. There are many pathways to an ethical life, including Buddhism, Christianity, and other philosophies. Even Alcoholics Anonymous provides a 12 step system that gives participants a way to turn things over to a higher power, work out problems with others, and manage emotional stress in order to avoid relapses. Whatever ethical system you choose, practice it daily as a means of living a life of integrity with the spiritual tools to build strong relationships with others and good will in your community. Haven’t started this yet? It’s never too late. Give it a try and watch your life open like a beautiful flower.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Between Friends: Why won't my daughter complete her scholarship applications?

Dear Readers: This is the first of what I hope will become a place where we can discuss your concerns "Between Friends." When one is shared, look for this title as a lead-in to the problem. One reader emailed me this question to share with other parents and students:

 "Dear Dr. Barbara,
I am seeking your advice on a matter specific to my 17 year old daughter who is graduating in May. She has applied to several colleges and should be in the scholarship application process now. However, this week she sincerely expressed that she does not want to go to college and has stopped all activity related to scholarship applications and scholarship searches. Frankly, our family needs scholarships to help send her to school.  Her academic profile is stellar - top 10% of her class, good community service, and extracurriculars— and she has had no behavioral problems, except lately she just doesn't seem happy.  Her emotions have fluctuated quite a bit during her senior year, so I'm not sure if what she's experiencing is one of her "down" moods or not.  Meanwhile, application deadlines are approaching and I'm concerned that she is going to lose out on scholarship opportunities. I'm willing to entertain her postponing going to college; however, I want it to be a careful, deliberate decision accompanied with a plan of action.  How do I handle her delicate emotional state without damaging our relationship (which is usually pretty good)?"

Dear Sandra,
Thank you for sharing your concerns about your daughter. While she has expressed to you that she does not want to go to college, she has not shared why she feels this way, and you did not mention whether or not she has been admitted to the college of her choice or if she is still waiting for decisions. Her inability to complete the scholarship applications is a symptom of something else. Go with her to a quiet place where you can talk as long as you need to without interruptions. No phone calls or people to intrude. Reassure her that you and her father want only the best for her in life and will support her decision to defer college, but you also feel that it is important to understand the basis for it. Your listening ear will convey your love; it is indifference that injures relationships. As you listen, reflect back to her what you are hearing her say, so that she can also hear what she is saying. Feel free to ask clarifying questions to be sure you are hearing her correctly. Her decision may come from a variety of emotional places and may have been building over time. As discussed in my book, Hold On To Your Hat!  the entire college application process may have exhausted her emotional resources, and the anxiety may be intense as she waits for decisions--a true emotional marathon race! She may just need a gap year; many students do. They enjoy taking a breather from academics by working or getting involved in a project. However, if she wants to take a gap year, it would be important for her to organize a plan to use this time constructively. As you talk, however, explore further to see how she has been doing overall this year. Has she been feeling depressed but has not disclosed this? Is there a relationship problem that is getting her down? Is she afraid to separate from home and friends? Is she afraid of the social and academic challenges of college? Ask about how she has been sleeping or if anxiety or the "blues" are troubling her. If, in your discussion, she seems to lack energy, appears sad and overwhelmed, is having trouble sleeping or eating, is starting to have trouble functioning generally, or is at a loss to understand what is going on with herself, a visit to a professional can often help her through this time, and postponing college until she feels enthusiastic about the prospect could be a wise idea.
Dr. B