For adolescents specifically, research shows that practice in mindfulness can be a powerful intervention tool for those whose daily functioning and quality of life are negatively affected by their negative emotions.
After receiving training in mindfulness, adolescents reported that their participation in group training significantly reduced self-reported anxiety, depression, and manifestation of emotional anxiety into physical symptoms, as well as improved self-esteem and sleep quality (Hunsley &Lee, 2007).
By engaging in the process of self-awareness, the adolescents studied built their capacity to manage their emotions and to accept life’s challenges without undue resistance. Research also shows that meditation provides exposure to facing the negative emotions that one has as well as building the cognitive skills to work through them (Hooker and Fodor, 2008).
The non-threatening nature of practicing mindfulness is particularly useful in working with adolescents as they are often resistant to the more traditional models of psychotherapy. Even the word “meditation” minimizes the negative stigma associated with the concept of receiving help for the abovementioned issues.
What kinds of changes occur as a result of mindfulness training?
Mindfulness leads to:
• Cognitive change
Cognitively, becoming aware of one’s thoughts and understanding that thoughts are not necessarily reality causes thinking to change. For example, the thought, “I am a failure” does not make it true (Baer, 2003).
Although relaxation is not the goal of mindfulness, becoming aware of one’s breathing or taking note of racing thoughts causes a decrease in muscle tension, a slowing of breath, and a slowing of the heart rate (Hooker and Fodor, 2008). Therefore, mindfulness practice often causes people to feel relaxed.
An important component of mindfulness training is the acceptance of life and its experiences in the NOW. This includes the acceptance of pain, worries, thoughts, and emotions without trying to escape, avoid, or change them. Research suggests that this awareness leads to greater self-acceptance and positive change (Baer, 2003).
What are some strategies that help build mindfulness in children and adolescents?
Examples of mindfulness practice include:
• Becoming aware of your breathing;
• Feeling the various physical sensations of an emotion;
• Noticing thoughts as they pass through the mind;
• Paying attention to all the sounds in a room;
• Taking note of what happens in the body when there is stress;
• Watching the thoughts that arise when there is boredom;
• Feeling the stomach rise and fall with each breath (www.mindfuleducation.org).
Children and adolescents can practice mindfulness of the environment, mindfulness of the body, and mindfulness meditation. The goal for children and adolescents is to begin to use these techniques to calm themselves and refocus their energy and attention in situations they face day-to-day. This inward shift in attention consequently enhances concentration, memory, and learning, as well as a general sense of well-being (Hooker and Fodor, 2003).
Mindfulness of the environment includes becoming aware of one’s surroundings. Additionally, children and adolescents can be guided to become aware of their own experiences in that environment as well as what they feeling and experiences within the body and mind.
Upon becoming more aware of their environment, adolescents are coached to shift their attention to their internal feelings and thoughts. Through systematic practice, this shift leads to self-awareness. For example, students can practice attending to their senses and counting breaths. By paying attention to each breath, students focus on the present moment of the experience rather than what’s coming next. This exercise leads to a calming of the mind and any anxiety in the body that may be related to short, shallow breathing (Fontana & Slack, 1997).
Mindfulness meditation, which is the focused awareness on one’s thinking process, is taught through attending to the thinking process as well as practicing the monitoring of thoughts, slowing them down, observing them, and releasing them without judgment (Hooker and Fodor, 2003). Becoming the observer of the thought rather than identifying with the thought is a powerful technique that helps children and adolescents manage the emotions that result from their thoughts in a more productive and positive way.
Training in mindfulness can IMPROVE:
• Emotional regulation
• Social skills
• Ability to orient attention
• Working memory, planning and organization
• Self esteem
• Sense of calmness, relaxation, and self-acceptance.
• Quality of sleep
In addition, training in mindfulness can DECREASE:
• Test anxiety
• ADHD behaviors; specifically hyperactivity and impulsivity
• Negative affect/ emotions
• Conduct and anger management problems (www.mindfuleducation.org).
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