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Mindfulness for Teens and Why it’s Important for Mental Health

May 31, 2019

Every day, teenagers are experiencing a multitude of emotional and mental struggles, particularly as they navigate an increasingly complex world influenced by factors such as social media, academic pressures, family dynamics, and more. Adding to the weight of these constant pressures is the still-in-progress development of your teen’s ability to regulate their emotions, manage stress, and balance responsibilities.

In the face of this array of unique challenges, the ability to practice mindfulness is one of the most impactful and valuable skills any teen or young adult can develop.

What is mindfulness and why is it important?

The concept of mindfulness is centered on the idea of thoughtfully responding to a given situation or emotion rather than impulsively reacting. For teens, who are often easily overwhelmed by intense emotions and seemingly high-pressure situations, mindfulness makes it possible to notice each experience without judgment in an effort to make an effective choice when responding when in the moment.

What does mindfulness help with?

Because mindfulness allows your teen to take a step back and think before acting, it’s helpful for a number of everyday situations, and for all types of temperaments. Teens that may find mindfulness particularly helpful include those dealing with:

  • Mental health symptoms including anxiety and depression
  • Significant responsibilities associated with school, extracurricular activities, and/or family
  • High-pressure expectations from themselves, family, and/or teachers
  • Social and relational situations such as arguments or break-ups

How does mindfulness affect your teen’s mental health?

Mindfulness techniques help teens improve overall mental wellbeing by building awareness as it teaches them to thoughtfully process emotions and situations, rather than ignoring uncomfortable feelings or reacting spontaneously. This skill can promote positive mental health and help your teen build skills to last a lifetime.

What does mindfulness do for students while at school?

Recent literature from Vanderbilt University describes the benefits of mindfulness in a teen’s academic environment, noting that the various strategies can be highly valuable in helping teens balance the effects of everyday distractions. Additionally, when teens are better able to manage their emotions and thoughts in the classroom, they can be more productive and successful academically. Various studies show that mindfulness can provide an impressive boost to students’ attention spans and focus as well.

Can mindfulness help teens with behavioral challenges?

Yes! Because mindfulness encourages teens to take a thoughtful pause before reacting impulsively, many parents find that their teens are able to increase positive behaviors at home and school.  Teens are less likely to react and more able to use skills to respond effectively in the moment.

How can I help my teen improve their ability to be mindful?

You may be surprised to learn that there are a wide variety of easy, everyday exercises that can help your teen strengthen their mindfulness skills. Most of these exercises can be completed in just a few minutes, with many having the added benefit of promoting relaxation and healthy stress management. Try encouraging your teen to try one or more mindfulness exercises a day on a consistent basis, having open conversations about how mindfulness can benefit their everyday life.

Mindfulness: What Science Says

Most people that have incorporated mindfulness exercises into their daily routines will tell you of the positive difference they’ve made in their everyday lives – but what does science have to say about the efficacy of mindfulness?

According to a 2010 paper published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers have discovered that practicing mindfulness through meditation actually changed the brain’s concentration of gray matter. The biggest increases in brain matter concentration were noted in areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, perspective taking, and learning processes, all extremely critical skills. This theory was reinforced by another study conducted by Harvard Medical School, which showed that not only did meditation increase those areas of the brain, but it also reduced the size of the brain’s amygdala, the center of fear and stress.

It’s becoming increasingly common for experts to recommend meditation as the first line of treatment for teens facing mental illness, including anxiety and depression. One study even showed that meditation was just as effective in resolving the symptoms of anxiety and depression as prescription medication.

Mindfulness Exercises for Teens

MHS has created an in-depth guide to mindfulness exercises, featuring close to 75 different activities that can help teens improve their ability to be mindful, strengthen emotional regulation, and decrease reactive behaviors. Here are just a few examples of the included exercises:

  • Get creative with clay or play-dough. As it turns out, playdough isn’t just for young children – interacting with it can be a highly therapeutic and relaxing experience. From simply kneading and rolling it to attempting to create something sculptural, using playdough for even a few minutes a day is an excellent way to boost mindfulness.
  • Tune in to a specific sound or song. Encourage your teen to close their eyes and focus on listening to a relaxing song, nature sounds, or even white noise, focusing solely on the sound or song and ignoring distractions.
  • Take a mindful nature walk. Have your teen leave their smartphone behind and go on a short walk through nature, observing the sights, sounds, and smells with a clear, focused mind.

Let MHS Support Your Teen in Navigating the Challenges of Everyday Life

Mindfulness exercises are a practical, concrete method for building mindfulness in teens and supporting their mental health. MHS in Minnesota has created an easy-to-use guide with more than 70 simple ways to practice mindfulness, helping teens develop strategies for use in everyday life. In addition to online resources, MHS also provides a range of professional mental health services for both adolescents and adults, including assessment, outpatient treatment, therapy, and a highly-tailored DBT program.

Mindfulness exercises are a powerful tool that can help teens change their lives for the better, transforming the way they view the world and how they handle even the most difficult of situations. But for many teens, practicing these strategies alone is not enough – in these cases, professional support is often the key to making a positive difference. MHS facilitates a variety of professional mental health services for both teens and adults, offering assessments, individual therapy, and expert-led DBT programs. If your teen is having difficulties coping with anxiety or depression, maintaining safety, keeping friendships, or regulating emotions, MHS is here to help.

For more information about how MHS can provide the help your teen needs, contact our office to schedule an intake today.