11/09/2012 02:26 pm ET Updated Jan 08, 2013

'Let Them Read Books': Stories as Stress-Busters

Stress is everywhere. Most recent estimates are that 1 in 4 teens are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. We've seen these numbers explode in recent years following traumatic weather disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Along with poverty, food insecurity and pollution, stress is a major environmental factor negatively impacting other health conditions like asthma. What has been the medical system's response? Predictably, medication prescriptions for conditions like anxiety, depression and ADHD have risen dramatically in recent years. At times, these drugs can be lifesaving, but they are widely over-prescribed and have significant potential adverse effects. The good news is that we have safer, equally effective and less expensive alternatives readily available.

In my book, Treatment Alternatives for Children, I discuss natural treatments for stress-related conditions like migraine headaches and recurrent abdominal pain. There are so many terrific mind-body approaches to consider, including yoga and meditation. But one of my all-time favorites, useful even in very young children, is storytelling. Who hasn't witnessed the magic reflected in children's faces while they're enraptured by fairytales and folktales? I'd like to believe we've all been mesmerized from time to time by storytellers. Stories are a way many of us pass on tales of our past, our culture, and moral lessons to our children. Native American storytelling, an integral part of American history, teaches children about the ways we interact with nature and about the importance of ancient wisdom. Stories transport us in ways that distract us from the often-stressful realities of day-to-day living. Sadly, in the aftermath of hurricanes like Sandy, libraries have been flooded and millions of books likely lost forever. One of the proudest moments of my parenting life came when my son -- then in third grade -- spearheaded a massive book drive to restock a school library in New Orleans following Katrina. Just the other day, to my delight, his younger sister remembered this event and decided we should do the same for flooded, ruined towns in our home state of New Jersey. And so we will. Let us hope these books and the stories they carry will serve as stress-busters for those that need them most.

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