Students have to manage pressure that comes in many forms and from many different sources. It seems like parents, teachers, coaches, friends, online bullies, tutors, siblings, and classmates all have something to say about what you do, wear, say, and accomplish. You also put a lot of pressure on yourself—pressure to live up to expectations, pressure to be someone special, pressure to achieve.
On top of the internal pressure students put on themselves, they also face performance anxiety around tests, school completion, athletic performance, and presentations. This generation of students is forced to handle more stress and anxiety than ever before.
Luckily, though, there is a large community of educators who are beginning to understand the challenges students’ today face and who are developing programs to help students cope with stress. Mindfulness training is one such approach. Mindfulness training involves teaching students to pay attention to the present. By teaching them how to disengage from worry and negative self-thinking, mindfulness helps students combat stress with simple tools and skills that promote awareness rather than frantic reaction.
When you are feeling stressed, nervous, or anxious, there are 4 steps you can take. These steps are commonly found in mindfulness training. With practice and time, these steps can help you learn how to better handle stress.
1. Breathe: When you begin to feel panicked or stressed, stop what you’re doing and take a moment to breathe deeply. The idea is to let your exhalations last a beat or two longer than your inhalations. You should breathe into your diaphragm. In order to help yourself do that, place both hands on your chest and the bottom of your ribcage. You want that area to expand as you inhale. Shallow breathing from your upper chest can cause anxiety to increase, so be aware of where your breath goes in your body.
2. Become aware of your body: After taking a few deep breaths move your attention to your body. Close your eyes and feel your body in space. Feel yourself supported by a chair or the ground if you’re sitting, the couch or sofa if you’re reclining, or the floor if you’re standing. Start to scan your body for tension. Start with each toe and concentrate on it. Move your attention up your body—noticing any sensations in your legs, knees, hips, stomach, arms, chest, fingers, back, shoulders, and so on. Don’t forget to breathe as you’re doing your body scan. You don’t need to do anything to fix the sensations in your body, just take some time to notice them.
3. Notice what’s true: After scanning your body, move your attention to outside of your body. Open your eyes and start to notice what’s around you. Say aloud three things that you notice. Maybe you hear the fan buzzing or smell the peanut butter sandwich on the table in front of you. Let your mind pay attention to another three things that are happening outside of your body. Name what you notice aloud. This activity is designed to help your mind focus on something other than what it’s worrying about. Often, stress is caused by worry and we often worry about things that are just stories our mind has made up. By concentrating on things outside of your body that are actually happening, you’re showing your mind what’s real and what is not.
4. Take a walk: Walking has been a mindful, meditative technique used for thousands of years. Usually, when we walk, our mind is free to wander. Walking is a great time to think freely and creatively, however, in mindfulness training, walking is used to improve your attention to the present moment. While walking, notice things that you see going on around you. You don’t need to think about these things, just notice them and even say them aloud as you do. Then turn your attention to smells and then to sounds, and lastly to physical sensations. Focus on each sense for 30 seconds to a minute, taking in as much information from around you as possible. Start the cycle over again until your walk is complete.
Students who practice mindfulness are able to pay attention, sustain motivation, and handle setbacks and frustrations. In addition, the focus on the present moment allows students who are mindful to have better, more fulfilling interactions with peers—interpersonal skills improve when you listen to others rather than let your mind wander. Life is stressful, especially for students, but practicing mindfulness can help. Start incorporating these steps one at a time and then work up to completing them as a series. You’ll find yourself less stressed and more engaged with the world around you.
Written by Amanda Ronan