*This was also posted on our “In the News” page on this site. I do not normally post things in two places. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but this time, I felt it was important. Since we are in the middle of a pandemic, I want to make it as easy as possible for people who are looking for this kind of content to help them find ways to practice mindfulness and cope with stress.
I’m grateful to Four Winds Journal for publishing my article, Mindful Moments for Teens. Four Winds Journal is an online and printed publication supporting local and global positive change. Orenda Healing International, a non-profit located in Sante Fe, NM, publishes the Journal twice a year (Spring and Fall). Each issue has a different these, and the these for this one is “The Pandemic Papers.” My article is about ways for teens who are stuck at home to cope and de-stress. Click the link below to read the actual article. It is also below if you’d like to read it here. I hope that this helps anyone in need, especially during these overwhelming times, and I hope that you are well.
Mindful Moments for Teens
Ok….this is take 3. It’s been one of those days…one of those technological challenging days. First, I individually changed the description on 250 YouTube clips and then they all got wiped out and disappeared (don’t ask me how) so I had to do it all over again. Then, I tried to record a video, and it started thundering outside, and the neighbor decided to play Motley Crew at the highest volume. And just now, I had written a blog [one I think was pretty good] which was 5 pages, and the computer crashed, so here I am, back at square one, trying to re-create the whole thing. [*Note to self: make sure auto-save is turned on in Word].
There are 3 things you can do in a frustrating situation: laugh, cry, and/or breathe. I might have done all three. And that brings me full circle to the blog I was writing, which, funny enough, was about mindful practices to use when you’re feeling stressed out or overwhelmed! No joke, I was really writing about that!
I started to write about these practices because a school board asked me to make a short video for teens, parents, and teachers about some of the techniques I use to reduce stress and cope with emotions while in quarantine. Here’s that video: https://youtu.be/HQtv65G6caU
For those that don’t know, mindfulness is basically focusing on right now, not the sadness of yesterday or the anxiety of tomorrow. It’s about kindness for ourselves and others. One misconception about mindfulness is that it’s about sitting down with our legs crossed, eyes closed, hands in a certain position, and breathing. That’s not it at all. Breathing is important, but it’s not all there is to it. There are so many different ways to practice mindfulness, including mindful art, mindful music, mindful eating, mindful listening, and more.
As teens, sometimes it’s hard to stop the negative loop in our head. Mindfulness is not about being happy all the time. There’s something called Mindfulness-based social emotional learning (MBSEL). We need to feel our emotions, but we also need to learn how to process them in a healthy way. It’s about recognizing those emotions, accepting and regulating them, and releasing them. In order to release them, we first have to be aware of them, and we need to give ourselves a break sometimes too. The average person has 50,000 random thoughts a day, and some of them are bound to be negative. We simply have to learn how to watch them float by without attachment, and without judgment. The trick is to begin again. Every moment is a new opportunity to begin again.
This is gifting ourselves with self-compassion, and by allowing others the same internal process, we develop compassion, which leads to empathy, and that’s the umbrella under which everything else lies. If we can get to it, then we can get to connection, and that leads to inner-peace. But this doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something we need to practice daily, I like to tell people to practice at least 5 minutes every day. If we can learn how to do these techniques daily when life is normal stress, then we’ll be able to use these tools when things become overwhelming, traumatic, or frustrating…. like when none of the technology seems to be working your way, or when you have to be stuck in the house for months.
When I’m feeling upset, sometimes I like to deliberately make myself smile. It may sound weird, but our brain doesn’t know that we’re not really happy. It simply gets the signal from our body that we’re smiling and then it thinks we’re happy. This makes me feel better, at least enough to begin a mindfulness practice and achieve some semblance of inner-calm. It’s like a mind-body connection, and I definitely believe that our minds can affect our bodies. Our physical and mental health are deeply connected. As my Great-Grandpa used to say, “Think Well to Be Well,” and even though it may be difficult sometimes, that’s what I strive to do in my daily practice.
So, I’m going to tell you about some of my favorite mindful practices, and hopefully, you’ll find one that resonates with you. One thing I think it’s important to mention is that all of the techniques I’m going to share with you can be done in 2 minutes and all can be done without anyone ever knowing you’re even doing it. I will include one breathing practice, but for the most part, I want to share alternative practices that you can do when you need to de-stress. I’m hopeful that you can find one that speaks to you and it can help you navigate the ups and downs that life will inevitably offer.
Affirmations are statements that we repeat to ourselves. I like to say something positive in the mornings to start the day off right, like “Today is a good day,” or when things are going rough at any point during the day, we can say something like “Everything is okay.” Affirmations can be said silently to ourselves, or we can stick post-it notes up around the house or on the bathroom mirror so that these statements are the first thing we see when we brush our teeth. And even better, we see ourselves in the mirror at the same time that we see and say these positive statements, thereby associating them with ourselves in our minds. If we see and say them often enough, they will eventually become part of who we are and we will believe it. This can be really important for teens because some of us are really hard on ourselves, and it’s good to know that we’re all deserving of love. Here are some examples for you to try out:
“I am safe.”
“I am healthy.”
“I am grateful.”
“I am smart.”
“I am kind.”
“I am special.”
“I am worthy.”
Start your morning off, or end your day, by being thankful for the good in your life. It can be something simple like something that made you smile that day, like a funny TV show. Or it can be something like being thankful for your health, the sunshine, the butterfly you saw, your family, your friends, playing with the dog, the book you were reading, the test you did ok on, or anything that you want. When we do this, especially in times that are stressful, it helps us to focus on the positive and remember that there are some good things in the world.
It’s kind of like we’re exercising our brain, we’re taking it to the gym, and building up the muscles that we need, so that when we really need these tools, we’ll already have them and know how to use them.
For this one, just listen to your favorite song. That’s it. Easy. Choose a song that’s uplifting and makes you feel good. Pick one sound to focus on, like the drum beat, the guitar, or the lyrics. Remember that it’s okay if thoughts enter our brains. Just say hi, acknowledge them, and then release them, without judgment. If, on day 1, you had 500 random thoughts intrude, then on day 2, you may have 499, and that’s progress, it’s great, so you should be proud of that. The more you practice, the better at it you’ll get it. And then when things get stressful or your coping with some overwhelming emotion, you can listen to that song and be in the present moment with it, taking your mind out of the past or the future, and coming back to gratitude, self-compassion, and connection.
Did you know that deep breathing can add years to our lives? Yup, that’s what science has shown. I’ll share with you different ways you can practice with breath. The first is to breathe in for 4, hold for 4, and release for 4. Another way is to visualize yourself breathing in clean oxygen and releasing stale carbon dioxide on the exhale. And the third way is to breathe in love and peace for yourself, and then breathe out love and peace to the Universe. Choose whichever one calls to you and give it a try.
Coloring can be very meditative. This one is my sister’s favorites. She can sit quietly and color for hours, and it really makes her feel calm on the inside. For teens, there are adult coloring books, with mandalas in them, of all different shapes. We have one book with animals as mandalas, and another with positive affirmations (2 mindful activities for the price and time of 1!)…while you’re coloring, you’re breathing is regulating, you’re taking in the positive affirmation (e.g.: “You Are Beautiful”), and you’re focused on the present moment.
Mantras are similar to affirmations in that they are statements that you repeat to yourself to achieve a sense of calm and peace. Two of my favorites are “Think Well to Be Well” which I use when I’m not feeling well, and “Peace Begins with Me” which I use when I’m feeling upset. You can choose to tap your fingers to your thumb for each word, or just to repeat the statement, either way that works for you. While you’re repeating these words, it’s kind of hard to focus on any other negative thoughts that may be trying to intrude. Mantras make it a bit easier to focus on the here and now, on the positive, and to live in health and wellness.
This is a fun one. Start by sitting down somewhere, and close your eyes if you’re comfortable doing so, otherwise stare at a spot on the wall or floor. Imagine yourself in your happy place, which may be your room, a beach environment, the mountains, a park, a lakeside, or anywhere that helps you feel peaceful. Notice a big movie screen in front of you. It’s filled with things that stress you out. Sit with that for a moment and notice your breathing pattern, and the tension in your body. Watch as one by one those items float off the screen and disappear, leaving behind a blank white screen in their place. Sit with the blank screen for a minute. Remember to breathe. If thoughts enter your brain, it’s okay. Simply acknowledge them and release them, without judgment, and watch as they too disappear from the screen. Notice how you’re feeling, you may be experiencing less tension, you’re breathing may have slowed down. Now I want you to fill up that movie screen with things that make you happy, which may be your family, your friends, your favorite sport or hobby. It’s kind of like feeding our body with healthy things it needs, and now we’re doing that for our brain too. Notice how your shoulders may have dropped away from your ears, and how your breathing may feel easier, the tension gone. Breathe for a few moments, and give gratitude to the screen, knowing that you can always come back to this moment if you need. When you’re ready, take a deep breath and if your eyes are closed, open them. Notice how you feel.
Chakras are like energy sources in the body, and we can use them to either calm us or recharge us. We visualize different color lights, and say mantras with each one, repeating each three times. These are the ones that I like to use, so give it a try and see how it makes you feel. Find a comfortable sitting position, and visualize a red light where your body meets the chair or floor. Say “I am Safe.” Moving up, see an orange light around your pelvic area, and repeat, “I am creative.” Around your middle section, your upper abdomen, see bright yellow light and say, “I am strong,” or “I am confident.” Next, visualize emerald green light around your heart/chest area, and repeat, “I am love.” This is also the healing chakra. At the throat, see light blue light and say, “I am truth.” Between your eyes is the chakra we call the third eye, and it’s a dark blue color, like indigo. Repeat “I am wise.” This is our connection chakra as well. At the top of your head, see violent or light purple and say, “I am light,” or “I am goodness.” Remember to breathe throughout, and be in gratitude. When you’re done, visualize a beautiful white light surrounding you, like a protective layer.
This is kind of similar except you see yourself in a happy place of your choosing, and use all your senses to experience that place. I sometimes see myself sitting on the beach. For example, feel the sun on your face, the sand under your feet, the wind in your hair; smell and taste the salty air; see the beautiful blue water; hear the waves crashing on the shore and the birds chirping. You can do this exercise anywhere that feels comfortable to you or brings you peace. For athletes, you can even do this on your favorite sports field.
Ok, there are so many more mindful practices to share, but that’s probably enough for now. I will tell you about one more before I stop writing. This one is a bit controversial because some people think it’s religious based, but it’s not. Mindfulness, Yoga, and Meditation are all totally secular (meaning that they are for everyone). It’s about love, kindness, and peace. Breathe in love and compassion on the inhale and breathe out whatever you feel the need to release, and love and compassion, on the exhale. Silently repeat these mantras.
-May all beings be peaceful and live in peace.
-May all beings be happy
-May all beings be healthy
-May all beings be safe and free from inner and outer harm
-May all beings be surrounded by truth, goodness, light, and positivity forever and always
-May all beings be filled with love and kindness.
Then do the same thing, changing the words “all beings” to the word “you.” Think of someone that you feel frustration with, and send these well-wishes to them, spreading kindness and gaining compassion in the process. Then repeat it, this time thinking about someone you love deeply. And lastly, replace the word “you” with the word “I” and grant yourself all these well-wishes.
That’s it for now. Hopefully you’ll find one that you like and that can help you cope with emotions and stress, especially during this new normal of ours, having to stay home. Remember to practice daily, to breathe, and if thoughts intrude, it’s ok, just begin again. You can always begin again.
We will get through this. Wishing you wellness,