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Few would like to return to the days of the Cold War — an era during the 1950s and 60s when the United States and the Soviet Union competed for military supremacy in a nuclear chess match. But the sense of urgency generated by the geopolitical struggle was the impetus — certainly one of the driving forces — behind America’s push to become the first nation to successfully land a man on the moon.

To accomplish that goal, the United States needed to ensure that its science and technology education was second to none. The Soviet launching of Sputnik in 1957 — the first manmade satellite to orbit the Earth — jolted the United States into action. Science education became a priority in this nation. And dividends were paid with a successful manned space flight in 1969 — nearly a decade after President John F. Kennedy outlined that goal. It left little doubt about the technological superiority of the United States.

blogphotoscienceliteracyBut nearly four and a half decades later, the state of science education in the United States has become much more ambiguous. For example, tests measuring scientific aptitude and knowledge show that American children are not at the top of the list. Not even in the top 5. And many educators have decried a lack of interest in science at the middle and high school levels.

So, what has gone wrong? Like most such complex questions, the answer does not lie in a single cause. But a de-emphasis on science education — and especially science literacy — has played a role in that decline, according to Susan Cusato, chairwoman of the Science Education and Environmental Studies Department at Southern. During the last few decades, education has placed more emphasis on literacy and mathematics — reading, writing and ‘rithmetic – but Cusato contends that it has come at the expense of science education.

“It is generally not until middle school that actual science teachers begin teaching science,” Cusato says. “What happens is that there is a continual catch-up process in the classroom.”

Cusato also feels that science education has done a disservice in focusing too heavily on training scientists, rather than promoting scientific literacy. She says students should have achieved basic literacy skills in all the major disciplines before college, including science.

“No matter what career path or profession our students choose, knowledge and wonder of science is critical,” she says. “By avoiding science you miss out on experiencing incredible things on a different level that can bring you great joy and insight.” She points to driving a car, riding a plane, or going to a concert, as examples of everyday tasks people often take for granted without understanding how science makes those things happen.

She says that scientific literacy is needed, not merely to fulfill an academic requirement, but to gain a better appreciation and understanding for what is happening around us. This would include climate change, pandemics and the search for sustainable energy sources.

So, what can we do to improve our scientific literacy? Cusato recommends several steps we can take that are relatively simple and don’t require a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics.

  • Visit museums, parks and nature centers. Pick out some activities you enjoy, or would like to try, such as maple syrup weekends, bird watching, fishing or nature walks. Science is part of all of them.
  • When reading the paper or listening to the news, try to pay attention to science stories. They may be more interesting than you think initially.
  • Read science magazines and other publications. They don’t have to be dissertations on string theory or Einstein’s theory of relativity. But many science-based magazines are available at local bookstores, and are written for the general public with photos and diagrams that help illustrate the subject matter.
  • Mention a timely scientific topic at a family gathering or when you are with friends. It may actually inspire others to learn more about a subject.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask science-related questions of your teacher, doctor, or anyone involved in the sciences. Many people enjoy talking about their chosen fields of expertise with others.

Speaking of science education, Southern will hold a groundbreaking ceremony Friday on a new academic and science laboratory building. To read more, check out: http://www.southernct.edu/about/construction/new-science-building.html

 

The forces behind a self-fulfilling prophecy can be powerful.

Whether it’s Muhammad Ali or Joe Namath brashly predicting victory, or a winless high school baseball team anticipating a meltdown in the seventh inning after holding a narrow lead, believing in someone or something can sometimes lead to the anticipated consequences.

This phenomenon occurs in sports, to be sure. But it also takes place in our daily lives – at home, at school and at work. And when it happens at the highest levels of management, it can significantly affect an entire organization – for better or for worse.

Paul Stepanovich, chairman of Southern’s (academic) Management Department, and Pamela Hopkins, professor of management at Southern, say that while there are some very perceptive bosses who understand human and organizational dynamics, there are also bosses who “learn” some faulty logic as it pertains to the operation under their jurisdiction. And this can have a spiraling negative effect on the organization, the employee and ultimately the manager.

As an example, if a supervisor praises an employee, but notices shortly thereafter that the worker’s productivity falls off somewhat, the supervisor over time starts to associate praise with performance drop off. Similarly, if an employee has had a below normal period and is reprimanded by the boss, and suddenly the individual’s performance is on an upswing, the boss starts to assume that the employee is someone who needs to be monitored closely and only performs when the “stick” is used.

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And while there are some employees who actually do perform in this manner, Stepanovich believes that more often than not, the perception is faulty. “There is a statistical phenomenon called regression to the mean,” he says. “That basically means that there is a natural variation – or a range – in the performance of an employee that averages out over time.”

In other words, a period of better-than-average performance will usually be followed by a period that isn’t as remarkable. And a period of below average performance will usually be followed by a better performance. In the long run, it averages out to a certain level within a range.

Stepanovich and Hopkins believe that understanding this concept is crucial to good management, but often is not realized by those in authority. As a result, bosses often develop some faulty beliefs that can undermine their own goals. Workers can become resentful, angry and eventually lose heart, no longer caring about their own performance, let along that of the organization to which they belong. In effect, the bosses have created their own problem when one previously had never existed.

In light of Labor Day, we thought we would share with you some of the more common managerial mistakes as seen by Stepanovich and Hopkins:

• Punishing without cause. As stated earlier, performance tends to ebb and flow within a certain range, regardless of whether the person had been recently rewarded or reprimanded. Workers can sometimes become disheartened and eventually lose their energy and drive, often creating the “deadwood” of an organization.

• Changing outlook toward workers. While a boss may enter an organization with a theory that workers generally want to do well, the manager might associate a company’s decline in performance with the view that workers are not trying hard enough. Over time, that association leads to a change in philosophy – a belief that workers need to be coerced to work effectively. In reality, the decline probably would have improved without managerial intervention.

• Development of a micromanagement approach. A supervisor might believe in empowerment of the staff when they start a job, but if an empowerment program is tried and results do not change favorably right away, the supervisor might be tempted to pull the plug. This person starts to monitor the staff more closely and develops a more centralized power structure, thereby leading to problems associated with micromanagement. That outlook can be brought to a new job, as well.

• Creating an overreliance on financial incentives. Incentives can be beneficial, but when if the boss starts to rely too heavily on this tactic, it can backfire. Workers might start to “game the system,” rather than focus on what truly is beneficial to the organization. It is similar to the criticism of the “teaching to the test” approach in education today.

You could call mathematics the “A-Rod” of high school and college classes.

Most students either love it or hate it, and just like with the Yankees embattled third baseman these days, chances are you fall into the latter camp.

Sure, for some students, writing is the skill they just can’t master. For others, a foreign language will always seem foreign to them. But if you surveyed your high school or college, chances are math would top the list of students’ “least favorite classes.”

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“In the United States, we take it almost as a badge of honor to dislike math or to be ‘bad at math,’” says Adam Goldberg, assistant to the dean of the School of Education at Southern.

“While most people would be embarrassed to admit that they couldn’t read very well, those same people wouldn’t think twice about admitting they aren’t very good at math. In fact, math teachers often hear parents confess at parent conferences that they weren’t very good at math and this is why their son or daughter isn’t doing well. It is this attitude that keeps the negative cycle going.”

But why do so many people fear and loath math?

Goldberg believes much of the negativity begins in middle school or high school, when there is a shift in what students learn. In elementary school, students are taught how to add, subtract, multiply, divide, work with fractions, etc. But the emphasis starts to shift in grades 7 to 12 from practical applications to more abstract concepts.

As an example, he points to subtraction. Students learn how to “borrow” to solve subtraction problems at an early age. But they don’t usually learn why they are borrowing to solve the problem.

“Therefore, they don’t have the conceptual knowledge needed to really understand the material,” Goldberg says. “This is what causes the negative feelings toward math.”

The good news, however, is that there are things that people – especially students – can do to help overcome the fear of math. Here are a few:

• Try to change your attitude toward math. You don’t have to love math. But if you can learn just not to hate it, it will reduce your anxiety and that alone will help you do better.

• Practice every day. Well, maybe not every day. But spending 10 or 15 minutes doing some quick mental mathematical problems at least several days a week can help. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will be with math.

• Make it fun and relevant. Part of the problem for many students is that they find math to be boring and/or irrelevant. So, try to apply math functions to something you find interesting. For example, practice figuring out your batting average. Or, as we noted in a previous post about practical applications for the number pi (~3.14), you can calculate how much extra you have to run around a track if you are running 5 feet away from the inside. For more advanced math students, you can figure out how much interest you can earn on a CD at a particular rate if the interest is compounded continuously, weekly, etc.

• Consider getting some extra help or tutoring. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that math is not your best subject, or that it is your worst subject. The question becomes: What are you going to do about it? Most math teachers would be willing to help you after school or during a free period during the day. Or, if you would rather put the time in away from school, you can ask a parent, sibling or friend. Or you could even ask a math tutor. College students with a strong math background, especially those interested in becoming teachers, are often willing to help middle, high school and other college students.

• Reduce math test anxiety. Tests of any sort tend to create anxiety, but math tests often spike that anxiety to higher levels. Goldberg suggests checking out the following website to help reduce testing anxiety: http://www.ets.org/s/praxis/pdf/reducing_test_anxiety.pdf

Here are a few other websites recommended by Goldberg that can help you overcome the fear of math:

http://www.mathacademy.com/pr/minitext/anxiety/#strat
http://cfaalearning.etsu.edu/2011/09/16/11-ways-to-reduce-math-anxiety/
http://www.math.com/students/advice/anxiety.html

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith most school systems prepared to open later this month, students are enjoying their final few weeks of summer vacation. But for those who are about to enter their senior year in high school, thoughts of which college they will be attending a year from now are also sprinkled into their psyche.

Alexis Haakonsen, director of admissions at Southern, says the end of summer is a good time to start planning in earnest for the college search/admissions process. Without the pressure of daily classes, as well as sports and club activities, an effective action plan can more easily be put together.

As a guideline, Haakonsen divides the process into four components:

*Academic preparation. “This is, or at least should be, the number one priority for students,” she says. While the first three years of your high school transcript have been written, an impressive senior year can sometimes make the difference between getting into the college of your choice and having to settle for a school that was not among your first few. It may be a good idea to get a jump on the start of the school year by reviewing last year’s notes if you are taking an advanced-level class this year (such as Spanish 3 or Chemistry 2); doing some reading/practicing in advance, if you know which books and the course material you are going to see this year.

*Researching colleges. Find out important information about colleges that you are considering – everything from where they are located to majors and minors offered to scholarship availability to general admissions requirements. It is a good idea to prioritize the schools you are considering, if you haven’t already done so.

*Visiting colleges. “Students really need to get on the campuses they are seriously considering and see how they fit,” Haakonsen says. This process is much easier if you have narrowed your selections to a manageable number, especially if the schools you are considering are hundreds or thousands of miles away. Ideally, some college visits are done during the summer before your senior year, if not earlier. But if you haven’t visited some schools yet, it is a good idea to start planning to do so.

*Preparing the college application portfolio. In addition to standard paperwork and letters of recommendation, this includes the college essay. The essay can play a key role in determining your future school admissions, so be sure to give it your all. It may take multiple drafts before the essay exemplifies your best writing. But consider that an investment in your future. Don’t be afraid to let someone else – a guidance counselor, teacher, parent or even a friend — read your essay before submission. This doesn’t mean letting them write it for you, but rather providing feedback so that you can improve your own essay.

So, how do admissions offices ultimately decide whether you are accepted, placed on a waiting list, or are politely rejected? Haakonsen says each school proceeds in a distinctive manner, but that generally speaking, a “holistic approach” is used. “At Southern, we look at everything during an application review – high school grades, SAT/ACT test scores, essays, letters of recommendation and more,” she says. “The numbers don’t tell us the whole story – we want to know the whole person to help determine if that student will be successful at our particular institution.

“My main advice to students and parents as they are starting the college search process is to have fun! This is an exciting time in their lives and they should enjoy it,” Haakonsen adds. “There are so many great colleges and universities out there, students have many terrific opportunities to explore.”

She recommends the following link as being helpful to students entering their senior year, as well as for their parents:
http://www.collegebound.net/article/v/18956/college-preparationsenior-year-timeline/

And another link for a broader, multi-year approach in selecting a college:
http://www.petersons.com/college-search/planning-list-students-parents.aspx

In keeping with the theme from our last blog post about popular misconceptions associated with the birth of our nation, a new series offered by the Military Channel is must watch TV for U.S. history buffs.

The series, “America: Facts vs. Fiction,” was launched last week and is scheduled to run on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. The series explores commonly held beliefs about American history and is billed as a series to debunk fiction and to set the record straight on half-truths. A 30-segment last week pertained to the famous ride of Paul Revere to warn the colonists of an imminent threat by the British army.blogreverephoto

Revere, of course, set out on horseback from Boston and intended to warn our militia stationed in Lexington and Concord about the impending British march toward those locations. But the show pointed out some interesting facts that are bound to surprise many people. Some of them include:

  • William Dawes, a 30-year-old tanner and militiaman, had the same mission as Revere, although he took a different route to Lexington.
  • Both Revere and Dawes — as well as Samuel Prescott, a doctor and a patriot — then sought to go to Concord. But Revere was captured along the way. Dawes never made it either. Historians believe he had been bucked off of his horse. But Samuel Prescott was the person who actually made it to Concord.
  • Yet, the famous poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and first published in 1860, incorrectly states that Revere reached Concord and implies he was the only rider.
  • While Revere did warn colonial town and military leaders en route to Lexington that the British regulars were on the move, historians dispute the notion that he shouted “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Most colonists at the time identified themselves as British and were still under the British crown. “The Redcoats are coming! The Redcoats are coming!” is a more plausible refrain, but we really don’t know for sure.

Marie Basile McDaniel, assistant professor of history at Southern, says the show was essentially correct in its claims. She also said that she is more interested in the “how and why” that inaccurate portrayals of the past are handed down in society, rather than the actual misconceptions themselves.

“As an example, students all over the country had to memorize the ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ poem – an exercise that lasted for decades!” she says. “You can still find people who had to memorize this poem in school.

So, why is it that Paul Revere is so emphasized in American history?

McDaniel notes that Revere was a patriot, and worked as a silversmith and engraver. He was very active in 1760s and 1770s political organizations, according to McDaniel.

“Maybe Longfellow’s poem, while not accurate, was reflecting a deeper truth about Revere’s place in pre-Revolutionary Boston.”

As an aside, McDaniel notes that many people might not realize the image on Samuel Adams beer is actually that of Paul Revere. “Although he was a brewer, Samuel Adams was not very good looking,” she says.

In fact, the homeliness of Adams is one of two prevailing theories as to why Revere’s image is on the beer bottles, rather than that of Sam Adams himself. The second is that the beer was originally going to be called “Revere Beer,” but that it did not fare well in poll testing. Yet, it was too late to change the image without incurring an additional cost.

Happy Birthday, America!

Our nation’s founding is a day to celebrate – often with fireworks, picnics and other early- summer fun. Most of us know the significance of Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence, of course. But there are plenty of interesting facts surrounding these historical milestones that would surprise many of us who are not experts in U.S. history.

blogindependencedayphotoWe wanted to share a few of these lesser-known facts with you. And thanks to background provided by Marie Basile McDaniel, assistant professor of history at Southern and our resident expert on colonial America, we’re able to do so.

First, contrary to popular belief, the United States declared itself an independent nation on July 2, 1776, not July 4, 1776.
The Second Continental Congress approved a resolution to do so on July 2. In fact, John Adams thought July 2 would be the date that would be celebrated as Independence Day. Nevertheless, you probably wouldn’t be successful in explaining to your boss that you should have July 2 off to celebrate Independence Day. Just a wild guess.

So, why do we celebrate the Fourth of July, rather than the Second of July?
The Declaration of Independence document itself was approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 4.

Okay. That means the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, right?
Wrong. Most historians believe that most of the 56 congressional delegates who signed the document did so on Aug. 2, 1776. And the last individuals to sign waited until at least November 1776 (some say it was longer) to put their John Hancock on the document. (Sorry for the pun.) By the way, Hancock really was the first to sign it.

When was the Declaration of Independence written?

Thomas Jefferson, with the help of Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, wrote most of it in June 1776, soon after being appointed to a committee by Congress in that same month. The appointment followed a motion made by Richard Henry Lee, who represented Virginia in Congress, to declare the colonies independent. His motion was eventually voted on and approved July 2.

Were there revisions to the document?
Yes. In fact, Jefferson originally used the word “subjects,” rather than “citizens,” in the Declaration. This might well have been out of habit as the colonists had been considered “British subjects” since the pilgrims landed in the New World. But Jefferson later corrected the term. Congress made some revisions, as well.

Was there widespread support among the populace for the Declaration of Independence at the time it was approved?
Yes. While Americans were divided on whether or not to break away from England, there was considerable support at the grassroots level among those who wanted to be independent. In fact, many colonists were clamoring to issue a declaration even before 1776, but the elites in the Second Continental Congress kept delaying such a move because of potential military and logistical concerns.

And so it goes…Now you have some fodder to stump your Fourth of July party guests with a little Independence Day trivia. Does anyone have any other factoids about America’s birth that might surprise folks?

Happy 4th!

It wasn’t so long ago when high school and college graduates could be reasonably confident they would land a job not too long after the echoes of “Pomp and Circumstance” had faded. In fact, not getting some type of professional job a year after obtaining that diploma was the exception, rather than the rule.

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In today’s stagnant economy – especially with unemployment among 20- to 24-year-olds above 24 percent – securing a real job shortly after commencement is anything but assured.

So, what can someone do to increase their chances of employment in the near term?

Pat Whelan, associate director of career services at Southern, and Gerri Prince, the university’s coordinator of employer recruitment programs, offer some advice:

• Network! Hey, it might sound like a cliché, but this is a valuable piece of advice from Gerri and Pat. Let’s face it, the hunt for a job is somewhat of a numbers game. The people you are in contact with have contacts, who, in turn, have contacts, etc.

• Be sure to develop a refined, tailored version of your resume for each position to which you apply. A resume that is too generic can lead employers to think you lack motivation because you didn’t take the time to make it distinctive.

• Practice your interview skills. You can even request an “informational interview” from someone employed in an occupation in which you are trying to land a job. In those situations, it’s probably best to request no more than 20-30 minutes of their time since they might be very busy. And asking for a long period of time will make it less likely they’ll accept your request.

• Practice your pitch. No, not your fastball or curveball, but your commercial pitch. Be ready to talk about who you are and what you have to offer, even in unexpected settings, such as in the grocery store or at a social event. Politicians do this all the time and call it their “stump speech.”

• Professional dress for an interview is generally assumed by the employer. This should be a given, but you would be amazed at how many people think nothing of wearing jeans, T-shirts, tank tops, sneakers and even rather immodest clothing. The interviewer might mentally disqualify you from contention before you even utter a word if are attired in less than professional wear. Consider using graduation gift money toward the purchase of a career wardrobe.

• Join professional organizations in your field and try to build relationships with people. Individuals belonging to these groups often are well connected, and therefore it can help to meet them. If an opening occurs in their office and they know you, you might have an edge.

• Don’t under play your “soft skills” to potential employers, such as motivation, integrity, adaptability, organization, self-confidence and communication skills. These can be difficult to quantify or measure, but employers like team players, self-starters and those with a good work ethic.

• Remember to thank those individuals you encounter during your career search. Handwritten thank you notes, especially, are much appreciated. Even if you did not get a particular job after an interview, a thank you note leaves a good impression. And you never know if another job opening at the same organization is around the corner.

• Keep in mind that finding a job is a full-time job in itself, or at least it should be. Dedicate yourself to the search. The hard work you do now may not pay off immediately in terms of a paycheck, but it will increase your chances for finding a job you want.

Jan Brady has been a poster child for the “middle child” stereotype since the “Brady Bunch” became ingrained in the American culture in the early 1970s. You might recall that Jan sometimes felt overlooked as she struggled to find her own niche and identity – caught between her ever-popular older sister, Marcia, and her younger sister, Cindy.

And while middle children are unfairly stereotyped as going through life with an insatiable craving for attention because of a perceived lack of it growing up, no birth order has been as stigmatized and maligned as much as “only children.”

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The “lonely onlies” may not have a symbolic character to perpetuate their own stereotype – that of spoiled children who become self-centered adults — but one clearly isn’t needed. Say that someone is an only child and many people will instantly associate them with those undesirable traits, even if they don’t say it. And intuitively, it doesn’t sound unreasonable. If you’ve never had to share your toys or clothes, compete for parental attention or negotiate with siblings, it doesn’t sound like such a huge leap.

But Phyllis Gordon, director of Southern’s Family Therapy Clinic, says that an overwhelming amount of research on only children does not support the stereotype. She says the stigma originates from G. Stanley Hall, an American researcher and pioneer of child psychology. After collecting data from various sources in a way that has little resemblance to today’s scientific research methods, Hall actually went so far as to say just before the turn of the 20th century that “being an only child is a disease in itself.”

Whoa! Maybe that kind of comment could fly in the late 1800s, when large families were the norm and only children were rather uncommon. But can you imagine the fallout today if a researcher were to make that “analogy” about only children, or anyone’s children?

Just in the last 50 years, the percentage of kids under the age of 18 who fall into the category of being an only child has doubled – from 10 percent to 20 percent. So, in a typical classroom of 25 students, 5 of those students are only children, on average. Yet, the popular notion continues that they tend to be spoiled.

“Virtually all subsequent research on onlies has debunked the anecdotal and meaningless findings of Mr. Hall,” Gordon says. “But many parents continue to fear that being an only child will mean a lifetime of being unhappy, selfish, spoiled, lonely and maladjusted.”

Nevertheless, Gordon says there are some distinctive characteristics among only children of which parents should be aware. After all, birth order does play a role in the development of a child’s personality. Therefore, she offers a few suggestions to parents about raising only children, keeping in mind these are based on generalities and that each child is unique.

First, don’t worry! An only child is not from another planet. And studies have shown that only children tend to feel more confident in school; score better in achievement, motivation and personal adjustment; and complete an addition year of education, on average, than their peers. And despite not having to grow up scrapping with siblings – and perhaps because of that — they tend to be more calm and patient with others. They learned early in life that their turn will come because it generally did in their more orderly childhoods.

Be extra careful about pressuring them to succeed. Only children (and first borns) tend to be self-driven and conscientious. They often apply plenty of self-imposed pressure. When they do, outside pressure can be like pouring gasoline on a fire! It could create psychological and emotional problems. Again, each child is unique and some do need a nudge, or several nudges. But be aware of this tendency among only (and first-born) children.

While only children are quite capable of making friends, it is important to give them those opportunities. Children learn some of their social skills from their siblings. So, it’s probably even more important for onlies to have opportunities to interact with other kids, whether they are play dates, after school activities or youth clubs and sports.

And just in case you needed any more assurance, just look at some of the many famous only children. They include:

• Franklin Delano Roosevelt
• Joe Montana
• Elvis Presley
• Nancy Reagan
• Ted Koppel
• Walter Cronkite
• Kareem Abdul-Jabaar
• Sammy Davis Jr.
• Laura Bush
• Maria Sharapova

The list goes on and on.

While studies have shown that hyper-stimulation – caused by stress, nervousness and pressure – can negatively affect an athlete’s performance, the same thing can happen to students while studying or taking an exam.

Whether you’re preparing for your college mid-terms, high school finals or SATs, stress can sometimes cause even the best students to “choke” under pressure. Some top-notch students excel in their Advanced Placement classes, but paradoxically end up with a perplexingly sub-par score on the SATs. Trying to find “the zone” between overstimulation and lack of enthusiasm is the key. And on major exams, especially for dedicated students, the former tends to be more of a problem.

blogphotodestressSo, what kinds of stress-busting techniques can help you ace that final exam? Denise Zack, a counselor in Southern’s University Counseling Office, says there are some general tips that can help most individuals, and also some specific stress reduction suggestions based on how stress affects you.

“Certainly you want to try to stay on a regular and healthy schedule as far as eating, sleeping and studying is concerned,” she says.

But Zack also offers other general tips on de-stressing, such as:

*Don’t forget to breathe. It sounds silly, but you would be amazed at how many people hold their breath for extended periods of time. That prevents optimal amounts of oxygen from getting to the brain and the body. Try deep breathing exercises to help relax further.

*Pet therapy. Studies have shown that just petting your dog or cat can lower your blood pressure, reduce your heart rate and elevate your mood. There is a reason why therapy dogs can be found in hospitals and nursing homes. But dogs don’t discriminate – they will help people of all ages.

*Quiet your mind. No, that doesn’t mean yelling “shut up” to your brain. (That move might create a whole new set of stressors in your life, or indicate a much deeper problem.) Instead, try to focus on the present. Are you comfortable? Is there any imminent danger? The answer is usually no.

Zack also notes that some techniques are more effective at dealing with stress that affects you physically or behaviorally, while other methods are better at helping people cope with the emotional or cognitive. Someone affected physically might be getting stiff necks or increased fatigue, while those affected emotionally might find themselves crying or getting agitated more quickly than normal.

Zack suggests the following to deal with the physical aspects of stress:

*Exercise. Walking, jogging, swimming, or almost anything that gets your blood pumping can be helpful.

*Yoga. Not all of us are capable of bending ourselves into a pretzel, but any sort of stretching — gentle stretches for at least 20-30 seconds at a clip — can reduce physical signs of stress, as well.

*Take a warm shower. It sounds simple, but it can help increase blood flow to the part of the body that may be bothering you. That reduces pain and stress.

She suggests the following to deal with stress that affects you psychologically:

*Talk it out. Chatting with a trusted friend or family member can help lower cognitive stress levels.

*Write it out. In a similar way, writing in a journal can be cathartic and provide stress relief.

*Watch a movie in a warm blanket with some hot chocolate. It may sound like one of those after school TV movies, but it can work effectively. Humor, comfort foods and a relaxed atmosphere make a wonderful trifecta.

(For a look at an example of pet therapy, check out the video below of a de-stress program offered at Southern a few days before the start of final exams. Students were able to interact with dogs of various sizes and breeds.)

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/66676054 w=375&h=661]

Mika Brzezinski’s new book, “Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction—and my Own” has reopened the periodic national conversation about eating disorders.

Mika, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and a former Connecticut broadcast journalist, chronicles her ongoing bout with food addiction and eating disorders. In the book, Diane Smith, a former Connecticut broadcast journalist who is now a producer at the Connecticut Network (CT-N), also talks about her fight against overeating. The two recently discussed the book and their experiences on “Morning Joe.”

When two individuals with successful careers in the media can talk candidly about their personal but painful experiences, the hope is that those battling similar demons will feel a little less isolated, and perhaps will find a path to a healthier lifestyle.

Millions of Americans are estimated to have an eating disorder. Among the disorders are anorexia nervosa (losing weight to the point where it is unhealthy), bulimia nervosa (cycles of binge eating and purging, typically through forced vomiting) and binge eating disorder (pattern of eating in excessive amounts in a short period of time).

blogphotoeatingdisorderWhile eating disorders affect people across society’s demographic spectrum, females in their middle school, high school and college years are typically the most vulnerable, according to Patricia DeBarbieri, a professor of marriage and family therapy at Southern.

“Prevention is the big focus in eating disorder work right now,” DeBarbieri says. “Like the ‘great smoke out,’ it is the best protection.”

DeBarbieri says the development of a healthy sense of self – which includes solid doses of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-respect — is very important in that prevention effort. She notes that a healthy sense of self contributes significantly to a person’s social and emotional development. In turn, social and emotional development builds resiliency, which is kind of a psychological/emotional vaccine against developing eating disorders. Just like flu vaccines, it’s not a guarantee you won’t come down with an eating disorder, but you reduce your chances significantly. And if you do develop a disorder, it is likely to be less virulent.
Of note, she is not talking about the development of an inflated self-esteem or narcissism that many experts see as a growing phenomenon in society today.

DeBarbieri offers the following outlook for girls and young women to follow to build a healthy self-esteem and resiliency:

I am unique. Nobody else on the planet is quite like you, whether it is the way you think, act or proceed in life. It is important to help young people identify their uniqueness and celebrate their special qualities. This does not mean that everything you do is wonderful, nor are you always right, but nobody does it quite like you.

I am connected. A strong support network is important, especially in the formative years. This can be to your family, your school, your hometown or your place of worship. It can also be in a larger context, such as connection to your state or country.

I am comfortable in my body. The “beautiful people” tend to be the stars of TV, movies, advertisements and other forms of media. There is certainly nothing wrong with being beautiful, but the problem is that the images shown tend to be the exceptions, rather than the rule, within the population. Over time, that can negatively influence the way people view their own bodies since the large majority of the public can’t match up. It may be counterintuitive, but rather then encouraging people to eat healthier and exercise more, it can have the opposite effect as despair sets in at not being able to look like them.

I am lovable. Unconditional love is said to be the purest form of love on earth. There are no strings attached. That feeling of being accepted and loved is crucial to a healthy self-esteem.

I am capable. Self-confidence is an important quality to have when dealing with life’s twists and turns. That confidence – genuine self-confidence as opposed to false bravado – generally is developed through taking on age-appropriate responsibilities. (As we discussed in an earlier post, helicopter parenting can create problems, notably in the area of self-confidence.)

I assert my power to make choices. An important factor in developing a healthy self-esteem is being able to assert yourself in making your own choices. Allowing other people to consistently make your decisions can chip away at your self-esteem.

I have role models. Role models can fall into the category of people we know personally, as well as those who we don’t but admire from afar. They can also be fictional. But we have to be careful to choose positive role models whose values are similar.