Sixty parents, educators, and community members rethought anxiety this past Monday, February 22.
Dr. Jeffrey Brown, a Harvard psychiatry professor and clinical psychologist, addressed eight forms of anxiety at Somerville's John F. Kennedy Elementary School in his lecture "Anxiety: The Invisible Bully." He focused on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to address these anxiety disorders, commonly diagnosed in childhood and adolescence.
"Using your brain to beat the anxiety is key," said Brown, who advocates visualization, self-talk, systematic desensitization, relaxation training, and many other mind-over-matter CBT techniques. "It's not something you need to go out and buy - use what you already have. Out-think the anxiety."
According to statistics that Brown cited in his lecture, one in four Americans will experience anxiety at some point in their life.
"It's all-inclusive," said Debby Higgins, SPED PAC Coordinator. "It affects children right on to adults, so we wanted everyone to know about it."
The lecture, co-sponsored by the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SPED PAC) and Somerville Community Partnership for Children (SCPC), was open to the community.
A Cambridge mother, who prefers not to be identified, came to understand her teenage daughter's anxiety condition, and to determine whether a CBT approach had anything new to offer her.
"It clarified some things," she said. Her companion, a mother with her own anxiety issues, hoped that a CBT approach might help alleviate her child's depression.
Argenziano, Kennedy, Capuano elementary schools, Somerville HeadStart, and Somerville High School were represented at the event - but the lecture attracted parents, childcare providers, and anxious adults from Medford, Cambridge, Winchester, Norfolk, and Malden as well.
Rasmi Abdelrazzaq, a care provider at the Roberts AfterSchool Program, has seen a change in children's' anxiety levels over the course of her 19 years as a preschool teacher. "It has changed. They don't like to wait, they're always moving, always nervous," she said.
Tricia Kennedy, Director of the Somerville Childcare Center, deals most frequently with separation anxiety. Kennedy and her staff have already developed several techniques to cope with this - they encourage children to carry around pictures of their families in plastic sandwich bags and construct albums, or have parents leave a scarf or token with the child, to prove that they will return.
Brown discussed general anxiety disorder, specific phobia, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety, and school refusal.
"CBT is an effective way to change your brain," said Brown, who specializes in performance psychology and whose book, The Winner's Brain, is forthcoming in April. "It's a way to maximize what your brain is capable of doing."
This event is the foundation of a "Parents as Partners" initiative, sponsored by the Somerville Public Schools in collaboration with SPED and SCAC, according to SCAC Director Nomi Davidson.
A workshop on bullying, set for March 10, is next in the series.
SPED PAC Coordinator Debby Williams chose Harvard psychiatry professor Jeffrey Brown as a guest lecturer based on solid recommendations from other PAC's in the Boston area.