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Archive for November, 2008

by American Psychological Association Public Relations Staff

October 23—With the growing financial crisis and the rising costs of gas, food, and healthcare, Americans are clearly experiencing heightened stress. The American Psychological Association’s 2008 national Stress in America survey reveals what Americans are stressed about, what they are doing to manage that stress, and how stress is affecting their health.

The Stress in America annual survey is part of APA’s public education campaign, “Mind/Body Health: For a Healthy Mind and Body, Talk to a Psychologist,” which highlights psychology’s unique role at the intersection of mental and physical health.

Among the 2008 findings:

Women are bearing the brunt of financial stress.

In September, more women than men report being more stressed about money (83 percent vs. 78 percent), the economy (84 percent vs. 75 percent), job stability (57 percent vs. 55 percent) and housing costs (66 percent vs. 58 percent).

The financial downturn is taking a toll on older women, but all are affected.

Women of the Boomer generation (aged 44 to 62) and Matures (aged 63+) are most likely to report the economy as a significant stressor, while women in general say they are more worried about money than their personal health.

Female Boomers report increases in stress associated with their job stability and health problems affecting their families. Mature women are reporting dramatic increases in stress associated with health problems affecting their families (up 17 points to 87 percent between April and September), the economy (up 18 points to 92 percent) and money (up 15 points to 77 percent).

Generation Xers (ages 30 to 43) and Millennials (ages 18 to 29) are not immune from financial worries. Generation Xers are the women most concerned about money (89 percent report money as a source of stress) and Millennials are most concerned about housing costs (75 percent report housing costs as a source of stress).

More people report physical symptoms of stress compared to 2007 survey data.

Over the summer, more people report fatigue (53 percent compared to 51 percent in 2007), feelings of irritability or anger (60 percent compared to 50 percent in 2007) and lying awake at night (52 percent compared to 48 percent in 2007) as a result of stress, in addition to other symptoms including lack of interest or motivation, feeling depressed or sad, headaches and muscular tension.

Women were more likely than men to report physical symptoms of stress like fatigue (57 percent compared to 49 percent), irritability (65 percent compared to 55 percent), headaches (56 percent compared to 36 percent) and feeling depressed or sad (56 percent compared to 39 percent).

Many adopt poor habits to cope with stress.

Almost half of Americans (48 percent) report overeating or eating unhealthy foods to manage stress. Women are more likely than men to report unhealthy behaviors to manage stress like eating poorly (56 versus 40 percent), shopping (25 versus 11 percent), or napping (43 versus 32 percent). Almost one-fifth of Americans report drinking alcohol to manage their stress (18 percent), and 16 percent report smoking.

Methodology

The 2008 Stress in America research was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Psychological Association between June 23, 2008 and August 13, 2008 among 1791 adults aged 18-plus who reside in the United States.

Additional data was collected in September; it was compared to data from April. The April data was collected online within the United States between April 7 and April 15, 2008, among 2,529 U.S. residents aged 18 or older. The September data was collected online within the United States between September 19 and September 23, 2008, among 2,507 U.S. residents 18 or older.

Data for the April and September polls were collected using an omnibus survey; the causes of stress question included a “not applicable” response. Data presented here were calculated excluding those who responded “not applicable.”

No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated; a full methodology is available.

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Associated Press/AP Online 2008-11-03

By CARLA K. JOHNSON

CHICAGO – Preschoolers with a parent away at war were more likely to show aggression than other young children in military families, according to the first published research on how the very young react to wartime deployment.

Hitting, biting and hyperactivity -“the behaviors parents really notice”- were more frequent when a parent was deployed, said lead author Dr. Molinda Chartrand, an active duty pediatrician in the U.S. Air Force.

The study, which was small and included fewer than 200 children, adds to previous evidence of the stress that deployment puts on families. Last year, a study of almost 1,800 Army families worldwide found that reports of child abuse and neglect were 42 percent higher during times when the soldier-parent was deployed.

This time, researchers looked at families living on a large Marine base in 2007. (The base wasn’t identified in the study.) Children, 3 to 5 years old, with a deployed parent scored an average of five points higher for behavior problems on two questionnaires widely used in child psychology than did the children whose Marine-parents weren’t deployed.

About 1 in 5 of the older preschoolers with a parent at war displayed troubling emotional or behavioral signs.

Since the war began in Afghanistan seven years ago and Iraq more than five years ago,”this is the first time any data have been published on these little kids,”said Chartrand, who conducted the study while at Boston University School of Medicine.

The researchers surveyed parents and child care providers of 169 preschool-age children. Parents, mostly mothers, answered questions on their children’s behavior and emotional state. Parents also completed questionnaires on their own stress and depression.

The age of the children made a big difference in the study, which appears in November’s Archives of Pediatrics&Adolescent Medicine.

While older preschoolers had trouble, deployment had the opposite effect on children younger than 3, yielding fewer behavior problems as rated by parents and caregivers.

The researchers speculated that, with fathers away, the younger children had more time to bond with their mothers, a benefit for that age group. But preschoolers 3 and older may be more negatively affected by their fathers’ absence.

In a few families, it was the mother who was away at war, but for most (92 percent), it was the father. The Marine-fathers had been away an average of about four months when the mothers and day care providers were surveyed.

Children with existing conditions such as autism and attention deficit disorder were excluded from the study, and the researchers took into account the at-home parent’s depression and stress.

That made the results especially notable to Michelle Kelley, a psychology professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., who was not involved in the new study but has done similar research with older children in military families.

“You’re pulling out the mom’s depressive symptoms and her stress so the difference in the kids is above and independent of that,”Kelley said.”If these kids are having difficulty, it’s pretty likely that other kids are having difficulty as well.”

Col. Richard Ricciardi of Walter Reed Army Medical Center called the study important, while noting that the small number of families means no sweeping conclusions can be made. The findings are in line with unpublished military research he’s reviewed and what’s known about child development, he said.

He called for further research on preschoolers in military families.”We need to do more of this,”he said.

During the past year, the Marine Corps has increased its funding of programs to help families, said Kimberly Holmes, who directs a family program at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The Marines are relying less on volunteers, instead hiring staff to give more support to families. Four new child care centers are planned at the base, which will provide care to an additional 1,200 preschoolers.

Deborah Gibbs of the nonprofit RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., who conducted last year’s study of deployment and child abuse, has seen changes in the Army in the past year. She said Army doctors have been ordered to be more alert to problems if a parent is away at war.

Most military families are resilient, she said.

“They deal with a lot of separation and uprooting as a matter of course.”

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S. Elizabeth Kortlander, Ph.D.

Over 31,000 people per year die by suicide, making it the eleventh leading cause of death (Suicide Prevention Action Network.) Yet are there interventions that might help to reduce the rate of suicide, saving not only the lives of its victims, but preventing the agonizing toll suicide takes on those who survive the victim’s death?

Among the many pathways that may lead to suicide, are deficits in cognition that maybe associated with this final, and desperate, act. Specifically, suicidal individuals demonstrate three critical characteristics in their thinking, feeling, and behavior. First they are in a tremendous amount of emotional pain, or “psychache.” Secondly, their thinking is constricted, making it difficult, if not impossible to generate solutions to their predicament. And lastly they have a strong sense that they must take action (so called “purtubation”). (See Shneidman, The Suicidal Mind, 1996, for a complete description).

Taken as a whole, these three factors may be seen as a catastrophic failure in problem solving, resulting in the suicidal individual’s “black and white” mindset that they must either endure unbearable pain or kill themselves. With this in mind, it makes sense to speculate that teaching good problem solving skills, from an early age, might be one means to help buffer the effects of pain producing stress that may result in suicidality for some vulnerable individuals. Indeed, Martin Seligman, Ph.D. (The Optimistic Child, 1995) has proposed the value of developing an “emotional vaccine” to help children learn the tools for more optimistic thinking. Essentially this includes helping them to develop the skills to persistently meet challenges, and develop the patience to solve problems.

Much has been researched and written about problem solving. Essentially there are two broad, critical components: 1) Having the motivation to attempt to solve problems—that is the belief that one’s efforts will have impact. 2) Having the specific skills associated with problem solving. While this may sound daunting, the reality is that with heightened awareness on the part of parents, educators, and others involved in the lives of children is critical. Problem solving skills can be cultivated via modeling, encouragement and education.

Children are born problem solvers and much of development is propelled through figuring out how to face and master challenges, cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. The trick is to raise children’s awareness of the problem, what their choices are for handling the problem, and the consequences of their choices.. Even something as simple as coping with a missing pair of shoes or discovering that a restaurant does not serve a desired food, can be identified and processed as a lesson in problem solving. While these situations may seem far removed from the desperate situations faced by suicidal individuals, a life time of tracking and practicing solving problems, big and small, might help individuals develop the habit of managing difficulties in terms of problems solving. With such a habit, this might allow for more automatic processing of stressful information in terms of problem solving. This automatic component could be critical when emotions are powerful, and can easily drain energy from the task of seeing alternatives and managing powerful impulses to take action.

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other after-effects of emotional trauma have traditionally been among the most stubborn problems that people bring to psychotherapy: at least until recently. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) “clears” troubling emotions and negative thinking linked to trauma and other painful past experiences. Some people have said that EMDR helped them more in one session than other therapies had in years, a statement that is being heard more commonly by patients (and their therapists) with a variety of problems.

How then, does EMDR help people with trauma? Researchers are investigating the process using techniques from EEGs and CAT Scans. One suggestion is that EMDR mimics the action of dream (REM) sleep. Some preliminary research indicates that EMDR increases “communication” between right and left brain hemispheres, with the belief that emotional traumas are actually physically represented in various brain structures and are affected neurochemically, partly via neurotransmitters. As the amount of research on EMDR is increasing rapidly, new information continues to emerge. In the area of PTSD, there has been more EMDR research conducted over the past 10 years than on all other treatment modalities combined.

The unique part of an EMDR session is the combination of focusing on a memory and moving one’s eyes in a characteristic manner, not unlike rapid eye movement during REM sleep. As EMDR proceeds, the unpleasant feelings and negative thoughts fade and are replaced with more positive feelings and thoughts. Another unique aspect of an EMDR session is that the nature of the procedure “triggers” the brain to rapidly process information.

Traumas for which EMDR has been used quite effectively include: accidents, earthquakes, hurricanes, rape, physical and sexual abuse, sudden death of a loved one, severe and/or chronic illness/pain and combat experiences. Regarding the issue of chronic pain, it is believed that any chronic medical condition, or pronounced pain, carries with it a significant emotional trauma to the patient, particularly when there are meaningful life changes associated with the medical condition or pain, i.e., inability to work, limitations in activities of daily living, loss of employment and/or leisure activities, marital/family stresses and strains, etc.

These changes and their emotional impact are essentially no different from many of the other major traumas noted above. Due to the brain’s memory storage of similar past experiences, any past emotional traumas, both major and minor, will be “linked” to the emotional impact and physical symptoms associated with the presenting chronic medical condition and/or pain.

In addition to trauma, EMDR can be applied to phobias, addictions, anxiety, depression, chronic or excessive anger, psychological abuse or neglect, abandonment experiences, marital betrayals, difficult divorces and peak performance. New applications and refinements are constantly evolving. This exciting and effective treatment modality is but one example of remaining in the forefront of treatment of many emotional and/or physical problems.

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