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7860 Mission Center Ct, Suite 209
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At The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, our psychologists have years of experience. Unlike many other providers, our clinicians truly specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and related problems. Our mission is to apply only the most effective short-term psychological treatments supported by extensive scientific research. We are located in Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Mission Valley.

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Read our award-winning blogs for useful information and tips about anxiety, stress, and related disorders.

 

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Mental Health Awareness Month: Fitness #4Mind4Body

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Every year, Mental Health America designates a particular theme for the month to highlight an important aspect of mental health. This year’s theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body, and it focuses on acknowledging the connection between mental and physical wellbeing. #4Mind4Body explores the role of nutrition, exercise, the gut-brain connection, sleep, and stress in our overall wellbeing and examines the ways each of these areas impact our functioning. Below is a summary of the topics covered in the Mental Health Toolkit from Mental Health America.

Diet and Nutrition

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Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is an integral part of health. Diets high in processed, fried, and sugary foods can increase the risk not only for developing physical health problems like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer, but are also linked to mental health problems, including increased risk for depression symptoms. A healthy diet consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, nuts, and olive oil. Maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet is linked with a lower risk for depression and even an improvement in depression symptoms.

Exercise

Regular exercise not only helps control weight, increase strength, and reduce the risk of health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers, but it also helps boost endorphins and serotonin, among other important proteins and neurotransmitters that impact mental health. Endorphins serve to mitigate pain in the face of stress and increase pleasure in the body. Serotonin affects appetite, sleep, and mood, and is the target of SSRIs, a class of antidepressant commonly used to treat anxiety and depression. Just thirty minutes of exercise per day can help improve mood and mental health.

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The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut, also known as the “second brain,” communicates directly with the brain via the vagus nerve and via hormones and neurotransmitters. The communication goes both ways, so anxiety, stress, and depression can impact the gut and result in gastrointestinal symptoms, but changes in the gut microbiome can impact the brain and mood, exacerbating or even resulting in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Eating a nutritious diet that includes prebiotics and probiotics is an important part of maintaining a healthy gut and a healthy mind. 

Sleep

Quality of sleep impacts the immune system, metabolism, appetite, the ability to learn and make new memories, and mood. Good sleep for adults means getting between 7-9 hours of mostly uninterrupted sleep per night. Problems with getting good quality sleep can increase the risk of developing mental health symptoms, and symptoms of anxiety and depression can negatively impact sleep, creating a negative cycle. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) can help clients reestablish healthy sleep patterns through addressing negative thoughts and worries as well as behavioral patterns that are impacting sleep habits.

Stress

Stress is a normal part of life, and the body is equipped with a fight or flight response designed to help mobilize internal resources to manage stressors. After the stress has passed, the body can return to its regular equilibrium state. However, when stress becomes chronic, it can cause inflammation, impaired immune system functioning, muscle aches, gastrointestinal problems, sexual dysfunction, changes in appetite, and increased risk for heart disease. Too much stress can also impact mental health.

Mental health involves a complex interplay between numerous factors, including but certainly not limited to the areas listed above. Furthermore, though maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise routine, good sleep habits, and utilizing stress management techniques can help prevent or improve existing mental health symptoms, if you are struggling with mental health issues, it can be difficult to attend to these areas.

If you are struggling with anxiety, stress management, depression, chronic illness, or insomnia, seeking professional assistance can be helpful. Evidence based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help to address problematic thoughts and behaviors that are contributing to emotional distress. Therapy offers a warm, supportive, safe environment to explore painful issues. A therapist can also provide support in helping the client to develop good self-care habits, like those mentioned above.

This year’s mental health awareness theme reminds us of the importance of recognizing the multiple avenues through which we can approach mental health, and the variety of tools we have at our disposal to improve overall wellbeing.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD, insomnia, or chronic illness, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at info@csamsandiego.com

References

Mental Health America. (2018). 2018 Mental Health Month Toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/sites/default/files/Full_2018_MHM_Toolkit_FINAL.pdf

The Importance of Boundaries

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Do you ever feel like you can’t say no?  Do you believe that you are responsible for the emotions of others?  Do you take others’ opinions and needs into account before your own?  Do you find yourself unsure of what you want or need (Eddins, 2015)?  If so, you are certainly not alone.  However, your feelings, thoughts, and needs matter.  By setting some boundaries in your life, you can begin to treat your needs as important.

Boundaries and Anxiety

Image source: https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/boundaries-healthy-limits-or-barriers-to-relationships-

Image source: https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/boundaries-healthy-limits-or-barriers-to-relationships-

For people who struggle with anxiety, learning how to create healthy boundaries can be a helpful tool.  Though sometimes people cope with anxiety by creating unnecessary boundaries or avoiding situations that serve as triggers, other times anxiety is experienced as a result of unclear lines between self and other.  When you don’t protect your sense of self, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and take on responsibility for everything and everyone (Eddins, 2015).  This can lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety.  It is not hard for a vicious cycle to ensue, where a lack of boundaries leads to anxiety, and where anxiety leads to a feeling that you cannot set clear and effective limits.

What Are Boundaries

So what exactly are boundaries?  Boundaries help us to define who we are.  They orient us in our relationships, and signify to us and to others where “I end and you begin” (Eddins, 2015).  Boundaries can apply to any area of our lives, and can range from material boundaries to physical, mental, or emotional boundaries to sexual or spiritual boundaries (Lancer, 2015).  Boundaries are very personal, and there is not a right or wrong answer regarding to how to set ones that work for you.  They are based on your beliefs, values, opinions, and needs (“12 Signs,” 2015).

Boundaries as an Act of Love

A common misconception for people who struggle in this area is that setting boundaries is selfish.  However, self-care is not selfish.  Have you ever flown on an airplane, and heard the stewardess tell the passengers in case of an emergency to put their own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs?  This “oxygen-mask” rule is a profound metaphor for the idea that we cannot take care of others if we have neglected to take care of ourselves first. 

Image source:  http://www.thedynamicturnaround.com/healthyboundaries.htm

Image source:  http://www.thedynamicturnaround.com/healthyboundaries.htm

Setting boundaries for ourselves and giving ourselves permission to articulate our needs is an act of self-love (Strgar, 2010).  And in the wise words of Brené Brown, “we can only love others as much as we love ourselves” (2010).  Furthermore, when we set clear limits in our lives, we are better able to be compassionate towards others.  Brown (2010) states that “the heart of compassion is really acceptance,” and when we lack boundaries, we are not accepting our own needs and we may have a difficult time accepting others if we feel they are taking advantage of us. 

So contrary to this idea that boundaries are selfish, they actually help us love ourselves and others better.

How Therapy Can Help

You are the only one who has the ability to set boundaries in your life.  However, therapy can be helpful in navigating this challenging task.  Therapy offers a place where you can explore your values, your feelings, and your relationships.  Your therapist can help support you in the process of determining where you need to establish stronger boundaries or areas in which you might benefit from more flexibility.

Therapy can also be a good place to experience a relationship with very clear boundaries.  Dr. Irvin D. Yalom (2002) describes “therapy as a dress rehearsal for life,” meaning that it is a safe place to encounter challenging aspects of life and relationships before you face them outside of the therapy room.  An important goal of therapy is to take what you have learned and apply it to the rest of your life, but it can be helpful to practice new skills in a safe space first.

Don’t Forget to Be Kind To Yourself

One final thing to note is that boundaries are learned (Lancer, 2015).  If you are not used to setting clear limits in your life, know that it is a skill that takes practice.  The best way to start learning this skill is to cultivate self-awareness and practice asserting yourself (Lancer, 2015).  Remember, it is important to give yourself grace and to seek support throughout this process.  If you feel like you could benefit from some professional support in developing boundaries in your life…

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

References:

12 Signs you lack healthy boundaries (and why you need them). (2015).  Harley Therapy Counselling Blog. Retrieved from http://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/healthy-boundaries.htm

Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.  Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.

Eddins, R. (2015). Keeping Good Boundaries & Getting Your Needs Met. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/keeping-good-boundaries-getting-your-needs-met/

Lancer, D. (2015). What are personal boundaries? How do I get some?. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-are-personal-boundaries-how-do-i-get-some/

Stgar, W. (2010). The importance of boundaries. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-strgar/working-boundaries_b_717339.html

Yalom, I. D. (2002).  The gift of therapy: An open letter to a new generation of therapists and their patients. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

How To Listen When Someone You Love Is Struggling

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Life presents us each with challenges.  While it is often uncomfortable and painful to grapple with adversity, to experience this struggle and to feel pain is to be human.  At some point, we will all find ourselves in this place, as will those we love.  So how can we help each other?  How can we listen when someone we love is struggling, whether it is with a mental health condition or with a painful experience in his/her life?

 LET GO OF THE IMPULSE TO TRY TO FIX

Source URL: https://scott-williams.ca/2013/03/

Source URL: https://scott-williams.ca/2013/03/

It is painful to watch someone we care for struggle or hurt.  And it’s natural to want to take away her pain or try to fix the problem at hand.  However, despite our best intentions, trying to “fix” does not actually help.  It tends to make the person struggling feel as though she cannot share her pain, sadness, or anger.  Trying to “fix” sends this message: “I can’t handle seeing you in pain, so I have to make everything better.”  It also implies that it is not okay to feel sad or angry or anxious, and that these feelings should be avoided at all costs.

AVOID ADVICE

Just like our impulse to fix the pain, we also often believe that the best way to help is to offer advice.  But advice is usually not helpful for several reasons.

  1. If we offer good advice, our loved one will think that anytime he is struggling, he needs our instruction. 
  2. If we offer bad advice or our advice doesn’t work as we hoped, our loved one can place the blame on us instead of owning responsibility.
  3. Advice takes away the gift of helping our loved one to realize that she knows herself best, and ultimately she is capable of navigating difficult situations herself.  (Though, of course, she will always have our love and support).

LIMIT SHARING YOUR OWN SIMILAR EXPERIENCES

Source URL:  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/the-biggest-communication-problem-not-listen-understand.html

Source URL:  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/the-biggest-communication-problem-not-listen-understand.html

If you have had a similar experience or believe that you have felt the same way, you can share this with your loved one.  But don’t make it all about you.  Keep your story brief, and make sure the purpose of the story is to let him know that he is not alone.  Also, be sure to include that you understand that your experience, while maybe parallel in some ways, is yours, and you are not claiming to have experienced the exact same situation or feelings.  This allows him to feel comfort in not being alone, but also gives him space to communicate how his experience may be different.

If we shouldn’t try to fix the pain or offer advice, and we should limit how much we share of our own experience, what can we do to help?

REFLECT OR PARAPHRASE BACK TO YOUR LOVED ONE WHAT YOU HEAR HIM/HER EXPRESSING

This shows that we are listening, and gives us the opportunity to clarify that which we don’t understand fully.  While it may sound too simple to just reflect what our loved one is saying, it actually makes the person feel heard and understood.  It also offers her the opportunity to hear what she is expressing, and to clarify how she feels or what she wants.

USE NONVERBAL SIGNALS TO SHOW YOU ARE ENGAGED

Nodding and using eye contact and engaged body language shows that we are interested and open to what our loved one is sharing.  It gives him the space to express himself, and makes him feel heard.

SHOW EMPATHY

Empathy is: “I see that you are struggling and hurting right now, and I am so sorry.  I can’t fix it for you or take it away, but I will sit here with you and listen to your story.  As much as this hurts, it is okay to feel this way.”

Check out Brene Brown’s brilliant short on empathy.

Sometimes, all our loved ones need when they are in pain is to be heard; to be given a space with someone they trust to express how they are feeling.  Sometimes, however, they may need some extra support or professional help.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

REFERENCES:
Brown, B.  (2013, Dec 10).  Brené Brown on empathy. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

 

Hoarding

Jill Stoddard

by Jan E. Estrellado, Ph.D.

Most of us know someone who has difficulty throwing things away or cannot seem to stop him or herself from buying things at bargain prices, even when he or she doesn’t need them.  Extreme versions of these behaviors (i.e. “clinical hoarding”) affect up to 5% of the U.S. population (Samuels et al., 2008). What might cause an individual to let these situations get out of hand?  And what can that person or a loved one do to help that person change?

What is Hoarding Behavior?

According to the International OCD Foundation (https://iocdf.org/), hoarding consists of three related issues: (1) collecting too many items; (2) difficulty getting rid of items; (3) problems with organization.  Hoarding behavior can result in significantly limited living or work space, strained relationships with others, and in extreme cases, unsanitary or hazardous living conditions.

A person with hoarding behavior may experience severe distress when attempting to get rid of items.  That person may feel he or she need these things or that he or she will eventually use them.  Even if the person’s belongings are of little material value or use, the person feels unable or unwilling to get rid of the items. 

Hoarding behavior negatively impacts relationships.  If one person in a household hoards, others living in the home may resent and/or blame that person for the status of their living conditions.  While it may seem like an “easy solution,” (i.e., “Just throw those things away!”) this is a much more complex process for the person who has difficulty letting go of material things. 

Why Do People Hoard?

A person’s beliefs about his or her posessions, as well as the meaning he or she attributes to them, are core parts of why a person hoards (Steketee et al., 2003).  A person may be extremely sentimental about his or her items and feel as if losing the item is “like losing a friend.”  The individual may feel exceptionally protective over his or her belongings and become very defensive or territorial when another person suggests he or she get rid of them.  

Source URL: http://www.dcputnamconsulting.com/hoarding-keepdonatedump/

Source URL: http://www.dcputnamconsulting.com/hoarding-keepdonatedump/

Wheaton et al. (2010) discuss the difficulty some individuals have with tolerating distressing emotions related to hoarding.  The actions a person takes or does not take in order to minimize upsetting feelings is called avoidance.  For example, a person who feels upset when trying to give or throw something away might avoid those feelings by saving the item.  By keeping the item, the person can also avoid feelings of loss that might result from not having the item.  An individual who hoards might also feel a “high” when acquiring new items, so he or she continues to obtain new items, even if the item is not needed.

Getting Help for Hoarding

Seeking mental health treatment for hoarding behavior might be particularly difficult.  By the time the individual shows up at his or her therapist’s door, it is possible he or she has been hoarding for years.  Treatment might not have been the person’s first choice, but was perhaps at the strong encouragement of a concerned family member or friend.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice to address hoarding behavior.  In a recent review of the scientific literature on hoarding treatment, Tolin and colleagues (2015) found that those who received CBT for hoarding had significant reductions in symptoms, especially with regards to a core feature of hoarding behavior, difficulty discarding.  A hoarding-specific version of CBT combines a number of different elements, including resolving the person’s ambivalence towards his or her hoarding behavior, and using exposure therapy to help the person directly confront his or her discomfort regarding discarding items (Tolin, Frost, Steketee, & Murdoff, 2015).

Another significant finding from the same study (Tolin et al., 2015) is that greater improvements with discarding symptoms were associated with greater number of therapy sessions conducted in the person’s home.  In-home sessions are more effective than office sessions because the therapist can be there with the client to help build new discarding and acquiring skills.

CSAM is here to help

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for hoarding, anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

 

References:

International OCD Foundation.  https://hoarding.iocdf.org/

Samuels, J. F., Bienvenu, O. J., Grados, M. A., Cullen, B., Riddle, M. A., & Liang, K. Y. (2008). Prevalence and correlates of hoarding behavior in a community-based sample. Behaviour and Research Therapy, 46, 836 – 844.

Steketee, G., Frost, R. O., & Kyrios, M. (2003). Cognitive aspects of compulsive hoarding. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 27, 463–479.

Tolin, D. F., Frost, R. O., Steketee, G., & Muroff, J. (2015). Cognitive behavioral therapy for hoarding disorder: A meta‐analysis. Depression And Anxiety, 32(3), 158-166. doi:10.1002/da.22327

Holiday Stress

Jill Stoddard

3 tips to staying healthy during the holidays

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"Mommy, My Tummy Hurts": Anxiety and Kids

Jill Stoddard

by Jan Estrellado, M.A.

No one wants to think about children struggling with anxiety.  However, anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric disorder in teens and tend to start around the age of 6 (Merikangas et al., 2010). 

Image source:  http://www.indusladies.com/parenting/10-tips-to-help-your-child-overcome-her-pre-examination-stress/

Image source:  http://www.indusladies.com/parenting/10-tips-to-help-your-child-overcome-her-pre-examination-stress/

What does anxiety look like in children and adolescents?  Does it differ from adults?  To find out these answers, one can look to the research and to mental health clinicians with experience in these areas.  

How Common is Anxiety in Kids?

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric disorder of 13 to 18 year olds (40.2%; Merikangas et al., 2010).  Of the teens with anxiety disorders, 8.3% are severely impaired by their anxiety disorder.  However, 80% of kids with an anxiety disorder do not receive treatment.  Interestingly, kids tend to develop anxiety disorders at the age of 6 (versus age 11 for ADHD and age 13 for mood disorders, like depression).  

Why might it be that the most common psychiatric disorder in young people goes largely untreated?  One reason may be that parents, caregivers, and teachers may not know some common signs of anxiety in kids.

What Does Anxiety Look Like in Kids?

All kids feel anxious at one time or another, as stress is a normal part of life.  In addition, many kids with shy personalities may tend to feel more nervous in general than their peers.  So how does a parent know when their child’s anxiety becomes a problem?

When stress starts to get in the way of life’s activities, like withdrawing from friends, avoiding school, having trouble sleeping, experiencing difficulty being away from parents, or lashing out at loved ones, then unmanaged stress can damage the child or teen’s physical and mental health.  Kids who suffer from anxiety tend to see their fears as catastrophic (Miller, 2012), which can be puzzling and confusing to some parents.  Children may get extremely upset when parents or caregivers prepare to leave and may cling very tightly to their parents.  

Anxiety in children may look different than in adults because kids may lack skills to express their fears and stressors.  They may experience symptoms that take place in the body, also known as somatic symptoms.  In young children with anxiety disorders, the most common somatic symptoms are restlessness (74%), stomachaches (70%), blushing (51%), palpitations (48%), muscle tension (45%), sweating (45%), and trembling/shaking (43%) (Ginsburg, Riddle, & Davies, 2006).  Children who experience these somatic symptoms are more likely to have severe anxiety and higher levels of impairment.

What can parents and caregivers do?

Image source: http://www.intentionallife.me/slowmotion/

Image source: http://www.intentionallife.me/slowmotion/

Parents often know if their child is facing high levels of anxiety because they observe the child to be more anxious than his or her peers (Miller, 2012).  In addition, the child’s anxiety gets in the way of everyday functioning, such as school, sleepovers, and swim class. Parents, teachers, and significant caregivers play important roles in a child’s ability to manage anxiety successfully.

The best advice I have for parents is to remain calm and focus on self-care.
— Dr. Starr MacKinnon, CSAM psychologist

Parents whose children present with these symptoms may feel their child is being manipulative or lying in order to get out of school or other activities.  Learning more about your child’s fears, what management strategies you can teach your child, and how you can be supportive are successful keys to helping kids overcome their anxiety.  CSAM’s own child/teen specialist, Dr. Starr MacKinnon shares that it’s important for parents to take care of themselves: “The best advice I have for parents is to remain calm and focus on self-care. The truth is, your children will predominantly learn from the model you provide them and are less impacted by your words.  Children and adolescents are sponges and they will often grow up and engage in the same self-talk, behaviors, and coping that you do. So the more that you can take care of yourself and be the person you want your children to be, the better it will be for all of you.”

There are additional strategies parents and caregivers can use when helping kids cope with anxiety (Miller, 2012):

  • Explain to the child that his or her feelings of worry or dread are caused by a condition called anxiety.
  • Help the child notice the connection between anxiety and shallow, rapid breathing. Teach the child how to breathe slowly and into the belly.
  • Encourage the child to replace anxious “red light” thoughts (“that dog will bite me”) with more helpful and realistic “green light” thoughts (“most dogs don’t bite kids”).”

Another way that Miller encourages parents to support children is through gradual learning and patience.  If a child has intense fears about making a speech in front of his or her class, consider having the child read it in front of one parent first, then the family, followed by a few close friends, and so on, until the child feels confident enough to speak in front of a larger group.

If a child’s anxiety symptoms persist despite their caregivers’ best efforts, seeking professional help is recommended.  Mental health professionals who specialize in anxiety treatment with kids can help train the children to develop coping strategies to manage anxiety, but can also coach caregivers to reinforce these strategies while the child is in school and at home.  

Help is Here!

Parents and caregivers are the most important factor influencing whether kids develop effective coping skills to manage anxiety.  The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management is here to help.  Starr MacKinnon, PhD, is a licensed psychologist with a specialty interest in working with children and teens with anxiety disorders.  Dr. MacKinnon shared what she enjoys about working with kids and teens: “I love working with children and teens because often they are more flexible and open to self-exploration and growth…I love helping kids and adolescents to gain insight into who they want to become so that the barriers to living that life can be addressed."

Click here to speak with Dr. MacKinnon or another professional at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management.  

References:

Ginsburg, G. S., Riddle, M. A., & Davies, M. (2006). Somatic Symptoms in Children and Adolescents With Anxiety Disorders. Journal Of The American Academy Of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(10), 1179-1187. doi:10.1097/01.chi.0000231974.43966.6e

Merikangas, K. R., He, J., Burstein, M., Swanson, S. A., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., & ... Swendsen, J. (2010). Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal Of The American Academy Of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(10), 980-989. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2010.05.017

Miller, L. (2012).  Early screening for anxiety disorders in children helps prevent mental health concerns: UBC study [Press release].  Retrieved from http://news.ubc.ca/2012/04/16/early-screening-for-anxiety-disorders-in-children-helps-prevent-mental-health-concerns-ubc-study/