Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “ paying attention to something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” In other words, it is paying attention to what is going on right here and right now. Sounds easy, now try it! Being mindful in the present takes focus and practice. Research is showing that practicing mindfulness during the school day is helpful for lowering reported stress and anxiety levels for students. It is also linked to improved overall school performance. Much of our anxiety is rooted in worrying about things that have happened or we think may happen in the future. Think of this as the “what if’s”. Worry about the “what if’s” increases stress. Mindful breathing can help us settle and calm our minds. It may be hard to get kids to “buy into” the benefits of mindfulness. Start slowly and encourage regular repetition and practice for short time periods. It can be helpful to get into a comfortable chair or seated position on the floor.
Kids and teens today live in a very distracted world and many things are often competing for their attention. Being able to regulate attention will improve concentration and decrease stress over time. Most of us have convinced ourselves we can focus on many things at one time and do them all well. Honest reflection can tell us this is not true. As parents, we can help our children learn to regulate by role modeling, and through gentle suggestion and encouragement. Multitasking may initially make us feel as if we are being more productive, but in the end we may complete many tasks in a less thorough way. Attending to one task in a more attentive way may actually increase productivity and will decrease stress.
Our brains do have the capacity to rewire and change the brain’s structure. Neuronal pathways do get stronger with practice and repetition. It is often difficult to break the cycle of negative thoughts that result in anxiety and depression. Mindfulness practices can slowly “rewire” the brain to think more positively. Resources for mindfulness activities can be found easily on the internet and social media. Try making one small change. The benefits of just one small change in attentiveness can have a profound effect on our overall health.