Introducing Mindfulness to Teens during COVID-19
When we think about mindfulness, a lot of different things come to mind – yoga poses, sitting cross legged on a pillow or sipping a steamy, organic tea, for instance. But mindfulness is the practice of focusing your awareness on the present moment. Of knowing and accepting your current thoughts, emotions, body, and environment. What matters about mindfulness is being aware of the “now” and noticing your emotions and thoughts that so often drive a problematic personal narrative. Being more present often lends itself to having more perspective and emotional freedom.
Chances are, when teens have a lot on their minds, they aren’t necessarily going to come to parents asking for ways to relax or tune in to their breath. Yet, finding simple methods to integrate mindfulness into the daily activities is a great way to empower young people to find a connection between their bodies and minds, and then take ownership of their emotional reactions to whatever life throws at them.
Mindfulness, when practiced regularly, can have several health benefits. Mindfulness can relieve stress, lower blood pressure, reduce pain, and improve sleep. It can also improve mental health including depression and anxiety while increasing one’s capacity to deal with negative events. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jcpp.12980)
The current state of the world, due to the COVID-19 virus, has many of us stressed and overwhelmed. Young people may be especially affected as social distancing means they are cut off from the things that are most important to them: friends, activities, school, and special events. While families are home more than ever before, it’s the perfect time to learn and practice mindfulness together.
So, what’s the best way to introduce mindfulness to your teen? The Center for Adolescent Studies talks about creating emotional safety by finding a way to connect about a troublesome issue before delving into a calming activity. In some cases, this will require the support of a mental health professional. However, if you’re interested in integrating mindful practices with your teen at home, talk to them about it. Ask about what feels good and comfortable. Not everyone will come to mindfulness in the same way. Starting a mindfulness practice is all about making it feel natural and easy.
“Making mindfulness practice regular and short at first is the best way to build it into a habit. Try not to force your teen or it may become a “task” rather than a joy.” – Josh Lepore, Psy.D. Casa Pacifica Senior Director of Campus Services.
Once short meditations or deep breathing become familiar, teens can reliably turn to them as techniques in moments of panic, fear, or stress.
Perhaps you start by playing music and sitting quietly together. Being relaxed together is the first step. Or, if it’s more natural to have a conversation, speaking with clear intentions is a great way to connect with your teen. Try asking them how they are – and before they answer, have them close their eyes and take a deep breath, decide on a sentence or two (avoiding one-word answers), and look you in the eye while they respond. If a plainly candid response is intimidating, have them respond to you in qualities that feel more intuitive, like colors, the sounds of instruments, or television characters. The key is to use mindful methods to set a precedent for calm, present conversation.
While there is more than one way be mindful, all mindful techniques are a form of meditation. Once you and your youth have established comfort and conversation when dealing with a difficult subject, try some of these practices to further expand the practice of mindfulness into your lives.
- Sit or lay down quietly with eyes open or closed.
- Focus on your breathing – breath in through the nose for a count of 3 and release the breath slowly out the mouth for a count of 5.
- Concentrate on sensations in the body. Notice a tingle or an itch and without judgment, let the feeling pass.
- Accept any emotions that are present. Say current emotions out loud or in the mind without judgment. Accept that these emotions are present and then let them go.
- Don’t get discouraged. Sometimes meditating may feel wonderful, other times it may feel unproductive, that’s ok. Don’t give up. Experiment with times and environment to find the situation that feels best to you.
- Start small and build. Let your fist few tries at meditation be 5-15 minutes long and increase the duration as you feel comfortable.
There are many things in the world today that cause us to feel stressed, anxious, or uneasy. We are currently experiencing an unprecedented time due to COVID-19 and the changes it has forced on our lives. It’s difficult not to let the fear and uncertainty overwhelm you, but living mindfully is a good start. By learning to live in and accept the present through mindful exercises, we can better prepare ourselves and our families to physically, mentally and emotionally handle whatever challenges lay ahead.