Are meditation & mindfulness effective tools for improved mental health?
What is resilience? Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.
Being a teenage girl can be a very stressful time with many physical and emotional changes and pressures in an uncertain world. With more than one in three teenage girls suffering from anxiety and depression it is vital to provide practical tools so they can deal effectively with setbacks experienced along the way.
Eight out of 10 school leaders say fear of academic failure has lead to an increase in mental health issues around exam time – with some suffering from sleeplessness and panic attacks. A survey of 1,200 teachers by the Key, a national school support service, found that in general cases of stress, anxiety and panic attacks had increased in more than three-quarters (78%) of primary schools over the past two years. In addition school leaders reported an increase in fear of academic failure (76%) and depression (55%) among their pupils in the period since 2014.
Unfortunately findings on more than 1,000 teens and almost 2,000 adults suggest that unhealthy behaviors associated with stress may start early and continue through adulthood. With 21% of adults reporting “extreme” stress levels, the survey says that with teens “mirroring adults’ high-stress lives” they are “potentially setting themselves up for a future of chronic stress and chronic illness.”
With an estimated 10% of children suffering a diagnosable mental health condition, mental illness is costing about £105bn each year. Sadly, this crisis is largely going untreated with only one in three of those with mental illness receiving treatment. If we are to reduce the burden of mental ill health and encourage the flourishing and well-being of a healthy nation we need to take prevention strategies seriously.
The government is currently researching and trialling different methods of mental health support; the Youth Aware of Mental Health (Yam), The Guide and “preventive programmes”. The Guide, based on a Canadian model, will involve specially trained teachers giving 13- to 15-year-olds 60-minute classes on the different types of mental illnesses and how to combat them. Yam, which mirrors schemes elsewhere in Europe, will give sessions by a trained instructor, lasting 45 to 60 minutes, focusing on collecting pupils’ attitudes. The two will be rolled out to 135 secondary schools.
MIndfulness is another very powerful and simple tool that has been shown to reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Studies have demonstrated that mindfulness builds resilience, helps deal with stress and can provide a key to navigating the difficult challenges and pressures that teenage life can bring.
Mindfulness is one of the most promising prevention strategies and is regarded as popular and non-stigmatising, unlike some other mental health intervention.
What is mindfulness? It is the process of starting to become aware of your thoughts and emotions. If you spend time paying attention to your thoughts it might surprise you how often you pass judgment about things, people and situations and even yourself.
Mindfulness is simply learning to be consciously aware of your thoughts and emotions. It is a simple practice that means learning to be aware of what is happening in the moment with an attitude of openness. Learning to acknowledge and accept without judgement, learning to focus your attention to be more present in the here and now so you have space to live and more balanced, connected and fulfilled life.
It enables us to watch our thoughts without judgement. This allows us us to release any critical self-talk, projections of the future or anxiety over the past. Instead there are simple and practical methods that allow us to sit with our thoughts and be present without judgement.
We would all have been mindfully aware with some moments in our life – a sunset, a birth, a kiss etc. However mindfulness is not simply being aware of the good times – it is embracing all experiences and remaining curious to all of our emotions, not placing one emotion above the other. This develops resilience and enables us to work through challenges with a heightened self-awareness.
Off the Record (OTR) who provide mental health services for young people in Bristol and South Gloucestershire area now see over 3000 young people a year for their one-to-one counselling services alone. However they are now also putting more of an emphasis on providing tools which build personal resilience such as their Resilience lab and Creative drop-ins.
The Catalyst Bootcamp – a summer sustainability school being run by Catalyse Change CIC in Bristol for young women – is placing as much emphasis on building personal resilience skills as practical sustainability knowledge and skills.
Organiser Traci Lewis explains; “In order to be effective change-makers young women need to have personal resilience to provide them with the confidence and self-belief that they can get their voice heard. Also with the increase in anxiety and depression amongst teenage girls, it is more important than ever to give them efffective support to manage this. Which is why we are providing practical tools and training at the Catalyst Bootcamp.”
Is Mindfulness the same as Meditation?
Gemma David of the Quiet Heart, a natural health practitioner and school PSHE consultant, who is running an Emotional Resilience session at the Catalyst Bootcamp explains, “I know that mindfulness can sometimes feel like a buzzword, but there is a good reason so many people are talking about it – it’s ace! Let’s clarify the difference between mindfulness and meditation. On many levels they are the same, but my view is that mindfulness is how we are mindful or present moment-to-moment, whereas meditation is the art of breathing consciously while performing a task or in a specific position. The latter has always felt more structured for me and I’ve needed guidance to achieve a few minutes of actual meditation. I’ve also felt a sense of achievement when I’ve structured a time for meditation in my day, whereas I notice I’m simply happier overall when more ‘mindful’ throughout the day.” Read more about Gemma’s Career path
Research in neuroscience and attention provides evidence that meditation strengthens the neural systems of the brain that are responsible for concentration and generating empathy. Becoming more mindful helps children and adolescents better regulate how life circumstances impact their mental health. The book, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life For Teens: A Guide to Living an Extraordinary Life, provides excellent insights for young people and why mediation for teenagers is helpful. Written by psychology professionals Joseph Ciarrochi PhD, Louise Hayes PhD, and Ann Bailey, it introduces teens to the concept of becoming mindful warriors.
Mindful warriors are BOLD. This is an acronym used in the book to describe the skills required to help young people deal with their emotions and stay committed to the kind of life they want to create.
B – Breathing deeply and slowing down.
O – Observing.
L – Listening to your values.
D – Deciding on actions and doing them.
Mindful Eating Tips
-Choose a meal or snack to eat with mindful awareness. Ensure that you will not be distracted by social media, television or radio
– Sit down at the table and observe what you are about to eat – notice the presentation including the colours and textures of the food
– Consider the journey that your food has taken to arrive on your plate – the farmers the preparation, the land, the weather etc.
– Take a moment to feel gratitude for the food
– Notice how you feel before you eat
– Become aware of the smell – does the smell trigger thoughts or memories?
– Pay attention to the process of cutting the food and taking it to your mouth.
Tips for Practising Mindfulness
Whatever your experience, just bring awareness to it.
Maintain an attitude of openness and curiosity
Meet each experience with acceptance.
Remind yourself that all experiences pass – even the unpleasant ones.
Maintain a discipline of regular practice with an attitude of self-kindness.
Let go of expectations, thoughts, judgments – they are all in the realm of thought – just let them go.
To Book a Place on the Catalyst Bootcamp on 22nd-24th August visit Catalyst Bootcamp Apply Now or for more information visit www.catalysechange.com
Mindful Warriors: meditation for Teenagers