Youth and adults can learn to navigate stress through mindfulness

Everyday mindfulness is key to social and emotional health and well-being.

A growing body of reliable, scientific research shows the benefits of social and emotional learning for both youth and adults. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), efforts that promote social and emotional learning improve young people’s academic success and overall health and well-being, while reducing negative behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, violence and bullying.

Learning to navigate distressing emotions and stress are important aspects of emotional growth and development. Kids, like adults, experience daily stressors in their lives that can take an emotional and physical toll. In a national Kids Health poll, young people said the things that caused them stress included grades, school, and homework (36 percent); family (32 percent); and friends, peers, gossip and teasing (21 percent). Too often kids’ reactions to stress are seen as inappropriate negative behaviors that need to be stopped rather than opportunities to teach new skills that help young people learn to calm their minds and bodies.

One way for children and adults to develop self-awareness and the ability to navigate stress is through the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a process of active, open, nonjudgmental awareness. It is paying attention in the present moment with openness, curiosity and flexibility. Neuroscience and psychological research suggests that the intentional practice of mindfulness improves the immune system – as well as increases gray matter in the brain involved with learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, empathy and perspective taking.

Parents, educators, youth workers and others can provide opportunities to practice everyday mindfulness with the young people in their lives. Everyday mindfulness involves paying attention to our experiences in the moment rather than being caught up in our fearful, angry, anxious or worried thoughts. When we’re caught up in these distressing thoughts, we often lose perspective about the best way to respond or act in a painful, difficult or stressful moment.

According to sources like the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital there are many ways for youth and adults to practice everyday mindfulness.

Here are a few examples:

  • Bring your full attention and all of your senses to the process of eating an orange slice, a raisin or a small piece of chocolate candy.
  • Bring your attention to your breathing. Breathe in while counting slowly to five, and breathe out while counting backwards slowly from five.
  • As you move through your day, slow down and bring your full attention to something special to you in your environment – a flower, a song, the clouds in the sky, the sound of the birds or children playing – anything that you enjoy.
  • Notice yourself as you walk, drive or ride to school or work. Notice the feeling of your muscles moving or the sound of the wheels on the pavement. Take some deep breathes and feel your body relaxing.

Research shows that practicing everyday mindfulness is good for our physical, social and emotional health and well-being. Even if our experience in a moment is painful or challenging, we can remain open, aware and curious about it instead of running from it or fighting with it. When we remain mindful and in the present moment, we’re more able to tap our deepest, wisest self and respond to hard situations in ways that reflect our core values and who we want to be in the world.

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