Thursday, October 30, 2014

Stress Strategies

With the end of the quarter fast approaching, schoolwork is undoubtedly piling up and causing your student a fair amount of stress. We all get over-extended sometimes, whether it's because of school, work, or just daily life situations. Stress is often unavoidable, but fortunately there are ways to help manage it. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Exercise can be an enormous stress reliever. We all know about the physical benefits, but the mental and emotional benefits are just as important. Regular exercise can reduce the level of stress hormones in your body; it also increases the production of Endorphins in your brain to facilitate a happy, positive, and overall relaxed feeling and improve focus.  Just 20-30 minutes a day of any exercise, even taking a walk, can make a big difference.
  • Listening to your favorite music can be a wonderful way to de-stress. Do this either while doing routine homework, or give yourself mini-breaks every so often and listen to a song or two.  Studies have shown that it is best not to listen to music when studying for a test and trying to retain information.
  • For many of us, there just aren't enough hours in the day. However, scheduling in some regular personal time for yourself is incredibly important when it comes to stress management. Too often we just go, go, go without taking a moment to breathe and check in with ourselves mentally. This personal time is just as important as any of the other things you have going on, so treat it as such and schedule it in accordingly.
  • Few things wear you down faster than not getting enough sleep. Teenagers especially need 8 or 9 hours a night. Undoubtedly your student is busy with a myriad of commitments, both academic and personal, but it is crucial that he factors a solid night's sleep into his schedule. Take into consideration every assignment and extra-curricular activity, then plan a set bedtime and try to stick to it.
  • Nutrition can also play a huge part in your stress-management routine. Fast food might be convenient, but too much can have a detrimental effect on your health, and thus how you feel. Make sure that your student has access to healthy snacks, and even if there is limited time for an evening meal, that doesn't mean you have to head for the drive-thru. Planning and cooking on the weekends is a great time-saver; just pop them in the freezer, and defrost when it's time to eat.
  • Keeping a journal, reading for pleasure, and drawing are excellent ways to process your stress and make down-time more emotionally productive.  
  • Have family meals whenever possible.  Connecting with those close to you, sharing your day and thoughts, and laughing together will help everyone relax.

The remaining stress-management tips were taken from, a non-profit resource site that helps people help themselves, and others:

  • Having the right mindset is easier said than done, but can make all the difference in how you handle stress. For starters, don't try to control the uncontrollable. We can't prevent certain situations, and we can't control our feelings, but we CAN choose how we react to things. Try to look for an upside, and share your thoughts and emotions with someone you trust. Learn to forgive (yourself and others), and free yourself of negative energy.
  • Do something you enjoy everyday. Whatever it is, allow yourself to have this time free of judgement or guilt.
  • If there are animals in your life, spend time with them to relax. Take the dog for a walk, or watch a TV show with the cat in your lap.

Unfortunately, stress is often unavoidable. We all get weighed down from time to time with the pressures of everyday life, but it's important to remember that there are ways to cope. The list of suggestions doesn't end here, either; what are some stress-management strategies that work for you? The more prepared you are to handle stress, the easier it will be to deal with everything when those overwhelming moments arise.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

AP American History Course Has New Curriculum - And Controvery


Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that the College Board’s changes to the AP History curriculum have provoked protests in Golden, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. Conservatives claimed that the changes did not present the U.S. in a positive enough light.  Defenders from the College Board claim that the revisions are accurate and encourage analytical thinking even as they expose some uncomfortable aspects of American history and conflict between social conservatives and liberals.

“The new AP history curriculum adds two periods: life in the Americas from 1491 to 1607, which addresses the conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers, and from 1980 to the present, which includes the rise of social conservatism and the battles over issues such as abortion, as well as the fight against terrorism after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and demographic and economic shifts of the 21st century.”

The changes are a framework, meaning that teachers have a choice of curricular materials and can add topics relevant to their communities.

Jefferson County, Colorado, is not the only county to object to the changes:

"On September 19th, the Texas State Board of Education went on record against allowing the new AP curriculum framework in state classrooms. Legislators and activists in South Carolina and Tennessee are discussing similar moves."

Ironically, one of additions to the curriculum, which includes the rise of social conservatism, is playing out with the current protests. Below is a link to the entire Washington Post article.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Exercise is ADHD Medication

I want to share with you another important article on exercise, which has been proven to help with executive functioning, paying attention, and success in school. This article was recently published in the Atlantic Magazine. I have included excerpts below, but the link to the full article is:

Exercise Is ADHD Medication
Physical movement improves mental focus, memory, and cognitive flexibility; new research shows just how critical it is to academic performance. (James Hamblin, Sept. 29th 2014).
[Recently] the medical journal Pediatrics 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, according to University of Illinois professor Charles Hillman and colleagues, "demonstrate a causal effect of a physical program on executive control, and provide support for physical activity for improving childhood cognition and brain health." If it seems odd that this is something that still needs support, that's because it is odd, yes. Physical activity is clearly a high, high-yield investment for all kids, but especially those inattentive or hyperactive. This brand of research is still published and written about as though it were a novel finding, in part because exercise programs for kids remain underfunded and under-prioritized in many school curricula, even though exercise is clearly integral to maximizing the utility of time spent in class.
The improvements in this case came in executive control, which consists of inhibition (resisting distraction, maintaining focus), working memory, and cognitive flexibility (switching between tasks).

Earlier this month, another 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.)

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is the host of If Our Bodies Could Talk.