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Medical experts explain how Transcendental Meditation 'inoculates kids against anxiety'

Ask the Doctors    Translate This Article
12 June 2011

Clinical neurophysiologist William Stixrud, PhD* and psychiatrist Dr Chris Clark, MD** describe how the Transcendental Meditation Technique brings relief to childhood and adolescent disorders including anxiety, depression, and obesity. Their discussion is featured on the website Ask the Doctors.

This article, the first in a series, features Dr Stixrud answering questions about childhood anxiety.

Q: Everyone gets nervous about things, but my daughter's really sensitive. She has anxiety attacks when math tests come up, and almost anything can set her off. Is this normal?

Dr. Stixrud:
Anxiety is very common in children. In fact there are many, many kids with anxiety disorders who are not diagnosed because people don't take anxiety in children sufficiently seriously. They should take it seriously, because anxiety is the gateway to other mental health problems, in the sense that if you look at people who are depressed as adults, almost all of them have histories of anxiety in childhood.

One of the top experts on stress in the world thinks that depression is the result of a worn-out stress response. In other words, if you're anxious a lot as a kid, and your stress response—or fight-or flight response—is constantly trying to protect you and filling your brain and your body with stress hormones, that can work for a while. But eventually, the stress response system gets worn out, and when it gets worn out, you give up.

Most anxiety disorders in children—whether it's a panic disorder, a separation anxiety disorder, or a generalized anxiety disorder—are transient, which means they go away. But in a sizeable proportion of kids with anxiety problems, they return; and again, the best predictor of later mental health problems is anxiety during childhood.

That's why the experts say, ''You've got to treat it.'' If you've got an anxious kid, you've got to treat it, not only to alleviate his suffering, but because if you don't treat it, it's likely to get worse. If you can effectively treat their anxiety problems, you significantly decrease the likelihood that they're going to develop depression, or addictive behaviors, or other kinds of mental health problems. So, treating anxiety is very important.

Q: What kinds of treatments will help my daughter?

Dr. Stixrud:
One of the best-documented ways to address anxiety in children is to teach them to deeply relax themselves. I think that Transcendental Meditation becomes a very important tool, not only in the treatment of children with anxiety problems, but also in the prevention of anxiety disorders. This is because anxiety disorders basically reflect a fight-or-flight response that's hyperactive. And we know from research that over time, the practice of Transcendental Meditation increasingly normalizes—or makes more efficient—that fight-or-flight response.

Click here for more about childhood and adolescent disorders and Transcendental Meditation, including related research showing the effects of the technique in promoting improved intelligence, creativity and learning ability; improved academics; improved school behavior; benefits for special and remedial education; and less anxiety.

*William Stixrud, Ph.D., is a clinical neuropsychologist and director of William Stixrud & Associates in Silver Spring, Maryland, a group practice specializing in learning, attention, and social/emotional disorders. Dr. Stixrud is an adjunct faculty at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

**Christopher Clark, M.D., is a graduate of Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, and a recipient of a child psychology fellowship from the University of Washington. He has practiced medicine for over 20 years and is currently a psychiatrist in Vero Beach, Florida.

© Copyright 2011 American Association of Physicians Practicing the Transcendental Meditation Technique

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