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5 Ways mindfulness and meditation can help teens navigate stress

Our teenagers are suffering. The COVID 19 pandemic has created and highlighted an existing crisis of anxiety and stress for teens in particular. 

The Problem

As a psychologist with a private practice dedicated to teens and young adults, before the pandemic, I was telling schools and parents and really anyone who would listen that anxiety was a huge epidemic in the teen population with a massive downside. Our teens are being inundated by information from outside themselves: social media, news, YouTube, TikTok, you name it. It used to be that information was power but now we have too much information and it is frying our brains.

These days, clarity is power -- being able to sort through massive amounts of information and figure out what really matters. The problem is that our teens have a hard time discerning what is important and what is not. The noise from the outside is drowning out their inner voices. And, it is their inner voice that can be the guide posts that help them navigate this increasingly complicated world. 

There is a Solution

As a society and especially in the young adult population, we need to find better ways to cope. Mindfulness and meditation can help youth not only survive the pandemic, but actually thrive. And what I love the most is that research has confirmed that these strategies positively impact the structure of our brain (Lazar, 2011). So, it not only makes you feel more centered and calm, it actually impacts neural pathways to help you regulate stress, sleep, emotions, concentration and energy. 

Solution Halo

Another plus of this coping strategy is that mindfulness and meditation require very little of you. You just need to set aside some time and be willing to do the practice.  And before I begin the many ways in which this practice can help you, let me demystify meditation. 

Mindfulness itself can be defined as: paying attention in the moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally. The practice of meditation can help you live a more mindful life. Meditation is a technique that calms your nervous system and trains your brain to be more focused, engaged and less reactive. One common misconception is that you have to ‘empty your mind of thoughts’, and this is just impossible. It is like telling your eyes to stop seeing. Your brain is an organ that is made to think. 

Meditation is simply a form of concentration, of being a curious observer of your thoughts without getting tangled in them. So there is no right or wrong, no success or failure with meditation. The simple act of quieting down and focusing on one thing is enough. Even if your mind can’ t stop, just noticing that is what meditation is all about. 

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Here are 5 ways these simple practices can help you.

  1. Sleep: Sleep is the number one pillar of our health. And our teens are not getting enough! This impacts their energy, ability to focus and a whole multitude of other factors. Have you ever been around a tired teen? It’s not fun. Teens do not give themselves much time to process their days so by the time they lie their head down at night, all their thoughts can swirl around and make it difficult to transition to sleep. Meditation gives teens an opportunity to process their days so that their transition to sleep at night is smoother.
  2. Anxiety: Anxiety occurs when your thoughts turn towards the future and you worry about a lot of imagined scenarios. When this worry becomes persistent and excessive is when anxiety starts to have negative behavioral and emotional consequences. Mindfulness and meditation can help you become aware of your thoughts, learn to cope with feelings of anxiety in a different way all the while increasing your brain’s capacity to manage anxiety through improved neural networks.
  3. Relationships: When you are more mindful of your thoughts and behaviors and how they impact others, you slowly learn to become more responsive versus reactive. When you can intentionally respond to yourself and others, you open up pathways towards connection and compassion.
  4. Concentration: With the more recent dramatic increase in screen time, sustained attention is a commodity that is hard to come by. We have learned to multi-task but research has shown that mono tasking is the best way to ensure quality work. Meditation helps you train the brain to focus on one thing at a time and this trickles out into your daily life and has been proven to enhance your ability to focus.
  5. Energy: Meditation is kind of like taking a power nap. Your brain needs a rest just as much as your body does. When you give your mind space to process, you will notice that you have more mental energy to accomplish what you need to in your day. The next time you have an energy dip try meditation and see how that shifts your energy.   

Give It a Try

Here are a couple meditations to get you started. In Joon's new guided meditation series, I will lead you through simple practices that only take about ten minutes. Keep an eye out for new meditations!

In Sleep, you will find a place of deep rest that allows for a smoother transition to sleep.

In Self-Inquiry, you will look inward, understanding who you are and what you want and need. This process of introspection, allows you to get in touch with yourself and deconstruct negative habits and limiting beliefs.

Enjoy!

Source:

Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry research, 191(1), 36–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006

January 5, 2021
Dr. Shannon Albarelli, Psy.D

Dr. Shannon Albarelli, Psy.D

Dr. Shannon Albarelli, Psy.D is a licensed clinical psychologist with expertise in mindfulness for adolescents, teens and adults. As a therapist, consultant and motivational speaker, she has experience helping individuals to improve their well-being and organizations to increase their leadership effectiveness. After graduating from Brown University with a major in psychology, Dr. Albarelli pursued a doctoral degree from William James College in clinical psychology specializing in health. Dr. Albarelli is highly regarded in her field for her ability to connect, transform and empower all those she works with. See her TEDx talk on how to use meditation to navigate stress at doctor-shannon.com.


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