As a rising high school senior, I know firsthand how stressed out teenagers can be as we juggle the pressures of grades, sports, a social life and college applications. A recent American Psychological Association survey confirmed this anecdotal evidence, showing that many teens are feeling overwhelmed (31%) and depressed or sad (30%) as a result of stress. More than one-third of teens reported feeling tired (36%) and nearly one-quarter of teens (23%) reported skipping a meal due to stress. This makes sense due to the many pressures we face, including balancing family life, academics, social media, and more.
I am fortunate enough to attend a school that puts an emphasis on ending the stigma around supporting teen mental health, and also to be an intern at Mastermind Meditate, a company that offers science-based mindfulness programming to companies and individuals to support them with stress reduction and overall well-being.
As the conversation about teen mental health grows, I feel compelled to share my own experience with mindfulness for stress reduction to support teenagers who may still be unaware of the scientifically backed benefits of mindfulness and how to practice it.
Mindfulness, or the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us, can help everyone, including us teens, cope with stress and lead healthier lives. Studies show that mental training through mindful practice can reduce stress, increase compassion, increase social intelligence, and more.
Here are some mindfulness tips I’ve learned that will be beneficial to teenagers:
- Incorporate mindfulness into all aspects of life – Whether you are participating in a conversation, working out, or cooking, try incorporating the feeling of being fully present.
- Learn more about your brain – It’s important for us as teenagers to know that there is lots of evidence that mindfulness can improve the functioning of the brain. Mindfulness can improve executive function, which includes skills like problem solving and decision making. It also helps us manage emotions more effectively. This is because mindfulness strengthens the pre-frontal cortex, so it can better process the emotions of the limbic system. This helps the brain respond skill-fully, rather than react rashly when faced with a difficult situation.
- Practice mindful self-care – We teenagers can often feel so overwhelmed that we forget to practice self-care. Self-care actually helps us manage stress – and it does not have to take that long. Some examples of mindful self-care are starting a puzzle, taking time to stretch, or even taking some deep breaths.
- Be grateful – In a 2012 study, group of Chinese researchers looked at the combined effects of gratitude and sleep quality on symptoms of anxiety and depression. They found that higher levels of gratitude were associated with better sleep, and with lower anxiety and depression.To practice gratitude, some suggestions are to keep a gratitude journal, savor the happy surprises in life and write an email to someone who has had a positive impact on you.
- Meditate – I believe the practice of noticing the mind wandering and bringing attention back to the breath is very beneficial, especially since us teenagers are constantly distracted by lots of information online and in person. Meditations can be long or short, and there are many different types. Using apps like Headspace or Calm can help people get started.
- Practice mindfulness consistently – Although it’s easy to practice mindfulness once or twice and be skeptical of its value, it’s important to note that the full benefits of mindfulness come from consistent practice. I would recommend adding mindfulness to your daily routine, by adding it to a calendar or setting an alarm on your phones. It does not have to take long.
Looking to start your own mindfulness practice? A great place to start practicing mindfulness is Mastermind. Our classes are suitable for people ages 13 and up.
About the Author: Sonia Dhingra is a rising high school senior and an intern at Mastermind Meditation. She has spent the last two summers interning with the Stress Solutions team at the Brain Performance Institute (part of the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth). In her free time, she enjoys practicing photography and piano.
Mastermind provides research-driven mindfulness and emotional intelligence learning for corporations, nonprofits and individuals across the U.S., including national brands like American Airlines, United Way, Peloton and FedEx. Mastermind’s science-based approach is designed to support mental wellbeing and build focus, awareness, compassion and connectivity that help us all build stronger, healthier lives and relationships.