Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment and the nonjudgmental observation of thoughts and feelings. It is a skill that can be developed through practice that has been proven to have both physical and mental health benefits. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), teens today have higher rates of anxiety and depression than previous generations. Mindfulness has been proven to counteract these mental health issues, suggesting that teens might benefit from increased awareness on such practices and their implementation in treatment facilities nationwide.
According to the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, practicing mindfulness has been shown to lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and increase attention and focus. It has even been found to increase brain matter in the areas that regulate decision-making and emotional flexibility. For this reason, specialists suggest that teaching teens about the brain and how mindfulness affects it can help create an understanding and desire to practice. Mindfulness also helps with impulse control, a concept with which many teenagers struggle.
Mindfulness can be practiced not only through meditation and yoga, but also through art, dance, hiking and more. Short mindfulness exercises can even be practiced while a teen is sitting at a desk, playing with a family pet or eating a sandwich. Dr. Dzung Vo’s “The Mindful Teen” explores how teens can benefit from and implement mindfulness in their daily lives. One teen featured in the book explains, “I am a very anxious person, and I’m often worrying about the future or the past. Mindfulness has allowed me to live more in the now. I feel a sense of self-awareness that I didn’t have before, and it has been incredibly useful for managing my anxiety.”
Practicing mindfulness has been proven to have significant effects on the brain. For teenagers, this can mean heightened focus in school. A recent study conducted by researchers at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) found that mindfulness training helps improve the test scores of college students with regard to verbal reasoning. The study explains, “Our results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with wide-reaching consequences.” Michael Mrazek, a psychological scientist at UCSB, elaborates, “…we found reduced mind-wandering in every way we measured it and improved performance on both reading comprehension and working memory capacity.” In addition to the anxiety reduction that comes with practicing mindfulness, increased academic performance can also help reduce stress and contribute to a healthier state of mind.
Another recent study by UCLA found that mindfulness can help reduce sleep problems. The subjects in the study all had moderate sleep problems. Half took a six-week course on sleep education and the other half took a course of the same length on mindful meditation. Those who took the mindful meditation classes reported higher quality sleep and less insomnia than the rest of the participants. Though these subjects were middle-aged, researchers believe that these results can apply to all ages. The National Sleep Foundation reports that only 15 percent of teenagers are getting the sleep they need to properly function. While a variety of factors contribute to this number, such as many teens staying out late and having to wake up early for school, mindful meditation practices at least improve quality of sleep.
Technological advances have made mindfulness training and exercises available to teens at the push of a button. If you or your teen is struggling with anxiety or depression that is not manageable through independent mindful meditation, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teenagers struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer