I remember as a 1st grade student, waking up in the morning with a feeling of anxiety as I went to school. I was so worried that I would not be able to recall the ‘counting-on’ strategy my teacher had taught me, and that I would get the answer wrong in front of the class. Again in high school, I would feel sick with stress and worry at the thought of failing a test. For any teacher, on the outside, I was viewed as a very hard-working, high achieving student. However, internally I was really struggling to manage the stresses that were brought on by everyday school life. In retrospect, I believe had I known how to handle my stress in a healthier way, I would not have developed the pattern of worry and anxiety that I can so easily fall into when faced with stressful situations today.
Mindfulness is a technique that I came across in more recent years through the reading of a book called Mindfulness for Worriers, by Irish author and journalist, Padraig O’ Morain. In a nutshell, mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment, with kindness and curiosity, and responding rather than reacting to circumstances. Now, whenever I encounter stressful situations, I rely on my bank of mindfulness exercises to center myself back into the present moment and I remind myself that everything is impermanent, the way I am feeling right now will pass.
Not every student will experience the same levels of stress as I did at school, but inevitably in life we encounter situations that cause stress: starting school, falling out with friends, exams, college applications, etc. Research on mindfulness shows that it can help children and young people not only reduce stress and anxiety levels but also improve their self-esteem and problem solving/reasoning skills. These skills are not only necessary for success in school, but also in the workplace and daily life.
Mindfulness exercises come in many forms including mindful breathing, mindful movement, mindful eating, and guided imagery. Some of my favorite exercises are the most simple, and can be used anytime, anywhere, be it while getting ready for the day ahead, on the drive home for school, or before bedtime. For example:
7/11 breathing: Breathing in for 7 seconds, out for 11. The secret is to make each “out” breath last longer than each “in” breath. This has the effect of stimulating the body’s natural relaxation mechanism.
Belly Breathing: Often, anxiety is felt in our tummies. Notice how your tummy moves in and out as you breathe. Every time you drift back into worrying, gently bring your attention back to your tummy.
Lion Pose-helps in stretching the lower body, relieving stress and calming the mind.
- Step 1- Inhale, bend your knees backwards and sit down.
- Step 2- Put your palms on your knees. Spread out your fingers.
- Step 3- Exhale and bend your body a little forward.
- Step 4- Inhale deep through nose.
- Step 5- Open your mouth and take out your tongue.
- Step 6- Exhale out through your mouth making a loud ‘roar’.
- Step 7- Repeat this pose many times.
I am happy to share the bank of mindfulness exercises I have built up, that can be adapted for any age group, please email me if you are interested. I have also included a recommended reading list below.
'Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.'
–Christian D. Larson
Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People, Katherine Weare, Emeritus Professor, Universities of Exeter and Southampton
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for School-Age Children, Amy Saltzman, MD, Still Quiet Place, Menlo Park, California; and Philippe Goldin, Ph.D., Stanford University
Teaching Mindfulness to Children- Karen E. Hooker PSY.D. & Iris E. Fodor, Ph.D.
Mindfulness for Kids on Pinterest
Mindfulness for Worriers, Padraig O’ Morain
Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Mark Williams and Danny Penman
Mindful Walking, Hugh O’Donovan
Journey into Mindfulness, Dr. Patricia Collard
Carol Slattery is the Assistant Early Years Principal at the International School of the Peninsula.