Research shows that children who grow up in stressful environments and have difficulty managing stress find it harder to concentrate, follow directions and rebound from failure and disappointment.
Today’s students are often overwhelmed with unrelenting stressors. High academic expectations, peer pressure, violence, poverty and drugs may surround them in their schools, homes and communities, contributing to immense stress. Stress is proven to adversely impact academic achievement, health and social-emotional growth.
Research shows that children who grow up in stressful environments and have difficulty managing stress find it harder to concentrate, follow directions and rebound from failure and disappointment. Further, neurological research reveals how stressors influence brain functioning and development. The stressed brain resides in a reactive state with impaired learning and reasoning abilities. Stressors shift the brain into this reactive mode, putting the emotional brain in charge and reducing valuable input from cognitive and executive-function areas.
Mindfulness and Students
Mindfulness can be defined as intentionally paying attention to the present moment, without judgment. The practice of mindfulness helps students cope with stress by teaching them to focus on their present experiences, to avoid reactive and impulsive choices and to examine their circumstances with curiosity and acceptance. When practiced regularly, mindfulness can be a powerful tool for restoring emotional balance and decreasing stress.
Mindfulness is particularly effective with adolescents, allowing them to understand the inner workings of the mind and to realize that thoughts and feelings change over time. This realization can be very empowering for students as they discover their potential for successfully riding out life’s stressful events.
Mindfulness in Practice
Educators who are new to mindfulness may want to explore resources such as Learning to BREATHE: A Mindfulness Curriculum for Adolescents to Cultivate Emotion Regulation, Attention, and Performance by Patricia C. Broderick, PhD. Below are some simple ways to introduce mindfulness to your students:
- Emphasize attention on the present moment.
- Examine the body’s reactions to stressful versus calming thoughts.
- Focus on awareness of breathing and how to breathe in a healthy way.
- Introduce real-life activities, such as exploring nature through a mindful walk.
Students who adopt mindfulness to manage stress effectively will likely carry those skills and strategies into adulthood, thus reaping benefits throughout their lives.