By Joan Marlow —
STOP THE PRESSES!!
The latest research from the American Psychological Association shares that ‘teens report higher levels of stress then adults do (at least during the school year.) And almost half of teens say they’re not doing enough to manage their stress. The two most common ‘strategies’ teens use to cope with stress are playing video games and surfing the internet.’
I’m sure this is not a surprise to you. Other ‘coping’ strategies might be alcohol or drugs, isolation or withdrawal, walking around angry or anxious, acting out negatively, feeling depressed and other actions far worse than video games and being attached to their phones. A better option yet to deal with your stress is the practice of Mindfulness.
Since the title of this column is ‘Mindfulness,’ I decided it might be time to write about the what, where, when, why, and how of Mindfulness as it relates to you.
Research is proving that the practice (and habit) of Mindfulness improves our overall health and well-being physically and emotionally. It’s an easy go-to to help reduce stress, anxiety and overwhelm; it improves our focus because it brings us back to this moment vs having our mind jumping around to everything but this moment. Studies done on mindfulness in schools suggest that it helps teens to focus better, to achieve better results, and to exhibit more positive behaviors in the classroom. Outside the classroom it can help you find calm and a means to respond vs. react when life seems to ‘gang up on you.’
Research continues to indicate that when teens practice Mindfulness, it lowers rates of anxiety and depression, and leads to better sleep, stronger relationships, and increased self-awareness, all of which go a long way to soften the impact of stress.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is ‘present-moment, nonjudgmental awareness.’ Mindfulness is simply ‘being aware’ and focusing the mind on ‘some-thing’ that you choose to focus on vs. allowing your mind to be hijacked into thinking and telling stories about the past, the future or the ‘what ifs.’
It’s noticing and paying attention to thoughts, feelings, behavior and everything else.
A great Mindfulness practice is simply stopping for a few seconds and noticing your breath. Notice how you inhale, how you hold your breath, how you exhale. Feel the air flowing into your nostrils and out.. Notice how your chest rises and falls. Notice the pause between the inhale and the exhale. Notice how your belly fills and empties with each breath.
When you’re practicing in this way, you are choosing what you want your ‘mind to be full of.’ For these few seconds/minutes you are living in the ‘present moment’ and your body is responds by relaxing and releasing the stress that came before when your mind was going in a thousand different directions. Mindfulness can be practiced at any time, wherever we are, whoever we’re with, and whatever we’re doing, by simply ‘showing up and being fully engaged in the here and now.’ That means you don’t think about nor dwell on what might have happened an hour ago, a week ago or a year ago.
STOP THE PRESSES!! (again)
Most of our anxiety and stress is ‘made up in our minds.’ The ‘chatter’ in our brains is really ‘just‘ chatter in our brains. It’s typically not based on reality…we make stuff up!!
Take a moment and notice your thoughts. What are some of the conversations going on in your brain? Since we’re all human, I’m guessing it’s thinking about something that happened an hour ago, a day ago, a week ago, a year ago; or it’s thinking about what’s ahead in your day, your week, next month, next year; or it’s replaying an argument you had; or a promise you made that you don’t think you can fulfill. Guess What? This ‘chatter’ is ‘just chatter’; it’s the stories we tell ourselves to give our brain something to do. We humans are our own worse critics, so it’s very likely that our stories aren’t overly kind or loving and that just creates more stress. When we switch on our new Mindfulness practice of simply focusing on our breath or the sensation of our beating heart or listening to a sound outside or whatever YOU CHOOSE to focus on, your mind and your body are calm. This practice session has you ‘in the moment’ and free of judgment of yourself and others. The outcome of this ‘practice/ exercise’ is to be totally present without distraction. This moment in time is the ONLY REAL thing at this moment in the here and now!! Pretty Powerful!!!
Mindfulness works because it helps you replace your stressful (made up) thoughts and anxiety with something positive.
Trust me, it takes practice. If I tell you not to think about a big green elephant with a pink polka dot hat, what are you thinking about? A big green elephant with a polka dot hat!! But you and only you have the ability to decide to think about a red monkey instead. Your mind will now think about what you are choosing to focus on. The elephant might try to sneak back into your mind, but you continue to focus and think about the monkey, which pushes out the thought of the elephant. That’s mindfulness in a sense. Your mind is full of what you choose to have it full of!! Pretty Powerful!!!
How to get started? There’s an App for that!!!
Here I am asking you to engage your brain to live in this moment and now I’m talking about using technology. Well, you’ve been using technology your entire life, so it’s second nature when you want a distraction OR when you want to learn something new. When I suggest using an app, I’m helping you to experience Mindfulness as a self-taught practice. It will assist you in getting accustomed to quiet your mind and body, get centered, and focus on your breath, which is typically the first step towards choosing Mindfulness. Always go to your breath to just ‘feel’ stillness.
Stop, Breathe & Think: this is a great App because it opens with a short ‘interview’ where you select several words to describe how you are feeling, and then the App recommends guided meditations for that current state of mind.
Smiling Mind: Designed for teens and the ‘guide’ has an Australian or British accent which makes it more fun.
Take a Break!!: Provides short guided meditations for stress relief.
Have fun creating your personal Mindfulness practice. Pay attention to the benefits you experience from your practice. Congratulate yourself for practicing Mindfulness.