Guest post by Stephanie Gutzmer, Au.D., E-RYT
A mindfulness practice increases your ability to regulate emotions, decrease stress, and reduce anxiety and depression. If you’re an anxious teen (or someone who loves one), it sounds like a perfect solution, right? And it is! However, mindfulness for teen anxiety can begin with some resistance, just like mindfulness does for everyone who starts because it is a different way of thinking. New habits can be hard to start and sometimes hard to stick with – but don’t worry, we’re here to help.
“I’m too busy for mindfulness.”
“My brain doesn’t work that way.”
“I tried it once, and it didn’t work.”
Understanding what mindfulness is and why it’s easier to do than you realize may not wholly stop these objections because our minds resist change. However, developing a mindfulness practice has tons of benefits. Keep reading to discover how you can quickly feel like a mindfulness master.
What Is Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a practice of choosing to feel, observe, and react to the present moment. You intentionally work yourself away from the headspace filled with self-talk about what could happen, what has happened, or what will happen. That self-talk keeps you from enjoying and participating with what is actually happening around you.
When you are not actively aware of what is happening at the moment, you begin to operate on assumptions. Assumptions get you into trouble. You react to your brain’s interpretation of the situation – not the actual situation.
Here’s a typical example: you’re having a conversation with someone, and a text message comes through. You stop and read the message, but your friend keeps talking. Even though you briefly looked at your phone, do you truly know what your friend said? Did you assume what was said and incorrectly respond? And now you’re backtracking to repair that damage? If you do this all the time, can you ever really repair the damage? Does your friend (or even yourself) suffer from this?
Your mental chit chat is equivalent to a distracting text message. Except you can’t just put your mind away like you can your phone. Not having control of your thoughts and allowing the mental chatter to play in the background distracts you from the present. This distraction results in a lack of focus that affects the quality of your actions, conversations, and relationships, no matter how much you wish or doubt it does.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety
An anxious brain worries about the future or dwells on the past. And the more often you allow yourself to be anywhere, but the present, the more efficient your anxious brain will become at avoiding the present. Which means it will take an effort to change this habit.
Mindfulness approaches life differently and requires you to let go of some self-judgment. For example, you have to let go of judging your thoughts. Your thoughts are just thoughts. They add narrative to what is going on around you and are just that – stories you tell yourself. Your emotions can trigger these stories, or these stories can trigger your emotions.
But your thoughts and emotions are not facts about the outside world. They are just inferences in your inner world. The information you gather by your thoughts and feelings do not equate to what is happening around you. Your internal narrative and the world are not the same. Mindfulness gives you the awareness of what you are unnecessarily bringing into the situation. It can give you a moment to choose a response instead of emotionally rushing forward.
By being present, you are not allowing your mind or your emotions to take you away from the present. Also, you will begin to recognize what triggers you, what you do to avoid that trigger, and what you miss out on because of it. You will start to see you have a choice in your actions and words. With that choice comes a lot of power.
The more present you are in life, the more you realize you make better decisions, manage your emotions, and are fully engaged in life.
Here are just a few benefits of present moment awareness and mindfulness for teen anxiety:
- Enhances focus and reduce attention difficulties
- Improves mental health and well-being by reducing stress and depression
- Improves social skills
- Increases immune function
- Reduces emotional reactivity
- Contributes to making you more compassionate and empathetic
It is incredible to think a simple tweak in how you operate towards thoughts and emotions can have so much positive change. All it takes is a few minutes each day – here are some ways to start.
12 Ways To Develop A Daily Practice of Mindfulness For Teen Anxiety
- Bring your awareness to your breath and body for at least 30 seconds. Your body and breath are rooted in the present moment. Never will your physical body be in the past or the future. Only your mind can transport you away from the present. By bringing your awareness to your physical body and breath, you are bringing your mind to the present and will begin to feel grounded and calm. Thirty seconds, or 3 deep breaths, is enough to notice a change but I encourage you to spend more time in this meditative, mindfulness state.
- Take deep, slow breaths when you feel overwhelmed or anxious. How your mind and body are connected and can affect each other cannot be stressed enough. If your mind is anxious and quickly moving, your breath will be shallow and fast. If your mind is calm and focused, your breathing will slow and deepen. Breathing deep can be done at set times throughout the day or used when you need a quick moment of mindfulness to reset. As being present becomes second nature, you will begin to notice your body automatically deepen your breaths during stressful moments!
- Art therapy and coloring books are a creative way to process through emotions. You can freestyle a drawing or purchase meditation coloring books, which are more complex and require you to color slowly. Art helps you process feelings or thoughts differently than with language, often giving you new insights. It also gives you a healthy outlet to express and let go of your feelings, thoughts, and fears.
- Take a walk. A mindful walk can help clear your mind, especially outside. Choosing to walk in nature can have an even more significant rejuvenating effect, improving your attention. To walk mindfully, begin walking and take note of how your body feels, checking in with each limb. You can also tap into your senses, noticing what you can see, hear, touch, smell, and maybe even taste. For me, I always need to check in with my pace. If I walk too quickly, my thoughts begin to race and create an anxious feeling.
- Begin a yoga practice. A yoga practice fosters mindfulness because it requires body awareness to move through each pose while maintaining slow, deep breaths. By focusing on your body and breath, you are out of your head and only in the present moment. There are many resources online to start a practice, and most studios offer discounts for students!
- Play a board game with friends or family. It’s hard to enjoy a game, let alone win if you are not actively involved in the game – that’s mindfulness!
- Eat your meals mindfully. Mindful eating is taking your time while you eat, focusing on each bite and how your body feels in response. It is also awareness of when you are hungry and when you are full; not eating out of boredom or while distracted. Mindful eating not only helps you balance meal size but also can improve your nutrition. When you gain awareness of how you feel when eating, you will recognize how food affects you. When you know how food affects you, you make healthier choices that keep you feeling good.
- Use guided meditations to practice mindful techniques. Mindfulness meditations are done by paying attention to your breath, and, when your attention wanders, bringing it back to your breath. Guided meditations, especially those in apps, help keep you focused on the meditation. However, they are not necessary to practice. Mindfulness meditation is relatively easy to do once you realize (and expect) your mind will You cannot stop your thoughts and emotions, but you can learn to sink below them and discover the reason they surface. Some find it helps to use “labels” when your mind wanders. For example, say to yourself “thought” if your mind wandered with a thought, “sound” if your attention was captured by a sound, or “sensation” if your mind becomes over-focused on a body sensation.
- Avoid multitasking and learn time management. Although many of us multitask, truthfully no one can do it effectively because our brains lose data in the process of switching from task to task. Although it feels slower, you are more efficient and accurate, completing one task before moving to the next – 40% more productive in fact! Improve the quality of your work and your mindful ability by focusing entirely (mindfully!) on one thing at a time.
- Interact with the community through volunteering or trying new things. Trying to grow new relationships and getting to know other people requires you to focus on whomever you are talking to. Be sure to fully listen, rather than preparing what you will next say. Also, developing new friendships is an excellent way to understand yourself better and express yourself in a way that lets others better understand you.
- Use the three senses exercise to bring your focus to the present. This exercise forces you to take note of what you are currently experiencing by asking yourself three questions on what you can see, hear, and touch. The key with this exercise is to stop and take a moment to answer each question one at a time – it’s not one to rush through.
- What are three things I can hear?
- What are three things I can see?
- What are three things I can physically feel?
- Mindful apps are an excellent resource to get you started and confident in your practice.
- Stop, Breathe, and Think: This app is an excellent place to start for teens because it begins with a questionnaire to determine your current mood and will recommend guided meditations based on that. It teaches not only mindfulness but also emotional intelligence.
- Smiling Mind: This app is specially designed for adolescents in mind to help them work towards a balanced life.
There is no right way to practice mindfulness. The goal is to find a state of focused relaxation, even if just for a moment, by deliberately paying attention to your thoughts and sensations, without judgment. Approach your experiences without coming to the conclusion they are right, bad, successful, or failed.
The root reason mindfulness for teen anxiety is beneficial is because you are learning to accept your experiences as they are instead of reacting to them. Often we cling to the positive or reject and avoid the negative in life. It only takes 12 minutes of mindfulness a day to see positive changes in your life! Even easier, it does not have to be all in one sitting but sprinkled throughout your day.
When Support Is Needed
Teenagers have problems that require guidance to navigate, no matter how petty or trivial we assume the issues are. Without help and support, teens can develop depression, anxiety, and loneliness – issues that will be carried with them as they become adults and enter the “real world.”
Stephanie Gutzmer, AuD, ABA, C-IAYT
Stephanie is a certified yoga therapist and life coach, specializing in health and mindfulness coaching, and holds a doctorate in audiology, specializing in tinnitus. With her mobile practice, she collaborates with her patients to develop an individualized plan of specific hearing and health goals and provides guidance to overcome practical and emotional barriers in reaching them. Her unique background and training allows her to support her clients in ways that make positive physical, mental health and well-being change in their lives.