Posts Tagged ‘therapeutic intervention’

Ways to Decrease Anxiety Through Rewiring our Brain:
Mind-Body Connection
By Veronica J. Brodsky, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist Clinical Director of Interactive Discovery

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

During my 15 years of clinical practice in the field of psychology, both as a practitioner and a supervisor of other clinicians, it’s becoming more apparent that there are more and more people, and sadly, more children, who are struggling with anxiety. The questions “why?” and “what’s causing it?” have been raised by many who come into our field of practice. I often pose the question “How can one not be anxious?” considering the type of lives the majority of adults and children live. With the constant need to “run” and “check off” yet another thing on the never ending “to do list” and after-school activity schedule, it’s no wonder that the National Institute for Mental Health reports the prevalence rate for anxiety at 18.1% of the U.S. adult population and 25.1% of 13 to 18 year-olds. Clearly our lives today require a much quicker pace and a particular type of energy that impacts our mind and our body. With today’s technology and rhythm, we want many different things and we want them instantly. This type of arousal in moderation can be beneficial for people to achieve goals, but when frequency and intensity increase, the effects of this overstimulation damages our central nervous system, which can cause considerable damage on our physical and mental health. Teaching people how to relax is a lot more challenging than helping them to manage their “to do list.” For many, relaxing is counterintuitive to productivity. However, for many, this type of productivity is achieved at a very high cost, not only damaging their health, but also their relationships with family and friends.

How we feel has a lot to do with how we perceive and experience the world and the life situations we are exposed to. The nature/nurture model has long been accepted as the major contributor to our mental health. In other words, our biological predisposition and sensitivity, combined with the experiences of one’s environment, contribute to how we deal with daily life and stressors. Some people are more sensitive to how they see events in their lives, while others are able to disconnect from the situation. This question of why some people are capable of managing their emotions better than others, while facing major stressors including experiencing trauma, initiated a wide array of research on resilience.

The National Institute for Mental Health wrote in their press release of October 18, 2007, “In humans, stress can play a major role in the development of several mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. A key question in mental health research is: Why are some people resilient to stress, while others are not? This research indicates that resistance is not simply a passive absence of vulnerability mechanisms, as was previously thought; it is a biologically active process that results in specific adaptations in the brain’s response to stress. Results of the study were published online in Cell, on October 18, by Vaishnav Krishnan, Ming-Hu Han, PhD, Eric J. Nestler, MD, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Harvard University, and Cornell University.” (

For those who are prone to anxiety, being exposed to stressful situations can trigger intense anxiety and even panic attacks. Our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and stress-related hormones become active when faced with stress, telling our brain “Danger!” While sometimes these mechanisms can serve as a healthy sign of avoiding harm, the majority of the time we are overreacting to these situations, causing us to feel restless, irritable, sad, and anxious.

In my experience, more often than not, an anxious child tends to have at least one anxious parent or a grandparent. Thus, suggesting that children can inherit the “anxious gene” and if exposed to an anxious parent, children’s response to stressors are often mirrored. If becoming anxious to situations is not only learned, but is organic, we then need to help our brain to become more resistant to stress. When you exercise your body, you become stronger and healthier – even if you were not born a natural athlete. Similarly, when you exercise your brain it also becomes stronger and healthier even if you were not born with the “resilience gene.” Our brain is a muscle that requires exercise in order to help it during periods when we are more sensitive and susceptible to anxiety. More and more research in neuroscience supports the theory that we can retrain or rewire our brain to respond to stress and events in our lives differently, as well as improve cognition in other areas. (Frederickson 2001; Hanson & Mendius, 2009; Keller, T. A., Adam, M., J. 2009).

Recognizing how our brain affects our body (and vice versa) and emphasizing the importance of mind-body connections is a key in treating anxiety. If you want to use the mind-body connection to decrease your stress, you need to “stimulate the parasympathetic (PNS) wing of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our mental activity has greater direct influence over ANS than any other bodily system. It is not surprising that relaxation is one of the key factors to help our body and our mind to feel calm. Although we know all too well that relaxation is important, actually doing it is a lot harder and yet when you are relaxed, it’s hard to feel stressed or upset (Benson 2000). Therefore, learning and practicing relaxation techniques, not only when you are faced with stressful situations but during “down time”, is quite useful in building a stronger PNS – which, in turn, quiets and rewires our brain.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Richard Mendius, MD., in their book Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, outline various relaxation techniques, including these four quick ones: 1) Relax your tongue, eyes, and jaw muscles 2) Feel tension draining out of your body and sinking down into the earth 3) Run warm water over your hands 4) Scan your body for areas that are tense, and relax them

Breathing is another widespread method used to help people to relax. Deep, slow breaths, while inhaling and exhaling, stimulates the PNS and balances your heartbeat. I learned one of my favorite breathing exercises while attending a talk by Andrew Weil, M.D., considered to be a guru in the area of holistic intervention. It’s called the relaxing breath. I refer to it as a 4: 7: 8 breathing exercise. It is a formal breathing technique for pranayama, the ancient Indian science of breath control, that forms a part of yoga (Weil, 1995). Although you can do it while lying, and even standing or walking, I prefer to do it while sitting with both of my feet planted firmly on the floor. “You place your tongue in the yogic position: touch the tip of the tongue to the backs of the upper front teeth, and then slide it just above the teeth until it rests on the alveolar ridge, the soft tissue between the teeth and the roof of the mouth. Keep it there during the whole exercise…Then close the mouth and inhale quietly through the nose to a silent count of 4. Then hold the breath for a count of 7. Then exhale audibly through the mouth to a count of 8, making an audible sound. Repeat for a total of four cycles, and then breathe normally. If you have difficulty exhaling with your tongue in place, try pursing your lips: you will soon get the knack of how to do it. Note that the speed with which you do the exercise is unimportant. What is important is the ration of 4: 7: 8.” (Weil,1995, pg. 206-207). He believes that even for the most severe forms of anxiety, breathing exercise is the best treatment. Dr. Weil also believes that practicing breathing is important, so you will have it ready to use in case of need. In order to determine what breathing exercises can do for you and your healing capacity, you must practice them regularly.

Therapeutic intervention can certainly aid those individuals who are experiencing ongoing struggles with anxiety. Helping patients to recognize the underlying cause of anxiety, processing some of these feelings in a safe therapeutic environment, reframing and using the mind-body connection, can assist in rewiring our brain and decrease anxiety, not just for us, but for our children.


Frederickson, B.L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American Psychologist 56: 218-226.
Hanson, R. & Mendius, (2009). Buddha’s Brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publication, Inc.
Keller, T. A., Adam, M., J. (2009). Altering Cortical Connectivity: Remediation-Induced Changes in the White Matter of Poor Readers. Neuron, 2009; 64 (5): 624-631 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.10.018
Krishnan, V., Han, Ming-Hu., Nestler, E.J., (2007) Cell –on line October 18
Weil, Andrew (1995). Spontaneous Healing. New York: Fawcett Books; The Random House Publishing Group

Dr. Veronica Brodsky, licensed Child and School Clinical Psychologist, is founder and clinical director of Interactive Discovery Consulting and Psychological Services, P.C. Dr. Brodsky provides individual therapy, family therapy, parent consultations, school consultations, workshops, and group work, with children from preschool-age to adults. She uses an integrative approach, combining psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback and existential therapy. Her clinical interests include working with children and adults who are dealing with different life transitions by helping them to cope with stressors associated with these events. She also conducts neuropsychological and psychoeducational evaluations. – See more at:

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A Parent’s Guide to the Differences Between a Psychoeducational and a Neuropsychological Evaluation, by Lindsay Whitman, Ph.D., Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Parents of children with learning differences are often faced with the decision of which type of evaluation will best meet the needs of their child. This decision is important to ensuring that a child is supplied with the interventions/supports that will provide the greatest potential for success.

A psychoeducational evaluation usually includes an assessment of a child’s social history, intellectual abilities, and basic academic skills (reading, mathematics, spelling) as well as a psychological screening. A psychoeducational evaluation typically includes 2-4 hours of formal testing, depending on the school and/or individual approach of the clinician. The results of this type evaluation usually provide enough information to identify specific learning disabilities/differences as well as to pick up on clear psychological distress that is affecting a child’s functioning. A psychoeducational evaluation does not provide the clinical or psychometric data required to reliably capture cognitive difficulties associated with attention or executive functioning weaknesses (e.g., ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder, or more subtle psychological/social difficulties. This type of evaluation will provide recommendations for very general learning and counseling support.

A neuropsychological evaluation includes a detailed investigation of a child’s developmental, medical, social, and psychological history and an extensive testing battery that examines a child’s intellectual, academic, attention, executive functioning, language, visuospatial, visuoconstructional, memory, and fine motor skills. A detailed investigation of a child’s psychological/social functioning that includes both a clinical interview and a series of standardized parent, teacher, and self-report measures (if appropriate) is completed. This type of evaluation typically includes anywhere from 6 to 12 hours of testing. For many children, the inclusion of a direct classroom observation period is ideal and should be provided. The results of a neuropsychological evaluation are intended to identify not merely any intellectual or learning differences, but also any other cognitive or psychological difficulty that may be contributing to a child’s profile (e.g., language disorder, fine motor difficulties, attention problems). Data obtained in a neuropsychological evaluation will provide the information needed to generate a very comprehensive description of the child’s learning and support needs. This description should be used to identify the specific learning/therapeutic interventions that will work best to support the explicit needs of the child.

Dr. Lindsay Whitman conducts comprehensive neuropsychological assessments with children, adolescents, and young adults (ages 4-21). A neuropsychological evaluation is most helpful to parents who suspect that their child or teen may be struggling with a learning difference, developmental delay, intellectual disability, or is experiencing difficulty with memory, attention, or executive functioning skills (organization, planning). This type of comprehensive evaluation may also be helpful for children who may be struggling with behavioral, social, and/or psychological difficulties (anxiety, depression) that seem to be interfering with cognitive and/or academic functioning. Neuropsychological evaluations may be indicated for a child or adolescent in whom the reason for difficulty is largely unclear.

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