Sitting together in circle within a dimly lit room I facilitated a mindfulness group for teens. A light scent of lavender lingers in the air providing aromatherapy to promote relaxation. There is a quiet calmness in the room as many teens in this group have shared they have never practiced mindfulness before. The group they are sitting in isn’t the typical group therapy as its purpose calls upon them to practice deep breathing while acknowledging any thoughts they have and letting them go in order to remain being centered and in the moment.
Being centered and calm in the middle of a stressful is a challenge that a lot of adolescents experience on a day to day basis. Many teens look for ways to cope with heavy feelings that come up for them in life. Unfortunately many teens find themselves using unhealthy habits that their peers use such as smoking, drinking, and in some instances self-harming by cutting or burning themselves to numb that overwhelming feeling that sits in the pit of their stomach. What I’ve heard often from teens is that they are unhappy with judging themselves, tired of being judged by others, and being told what to do by adults at school and their parents. What I hear from parents is that they just want their child to be healthy and do well in school so that they can be successful and happy, but that they can’t seem to reach them.
Practicing mindfulness is a useful coping skill for teens that can empower them to create a period calmness. Research on meditation is showing that it can be an effective is an effective way for young people to increase their focus, reduce stress, and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Mindfulness experts promote meditation as a way to help us people to be in touch with their own emotions through awareness, acceptance, and reflection of their experience. Many of the teens report of the group share that while thoughts kept popping into their heads, they were able to bring their attention back to their breathing and begin to feel calm, relaxed, or “chill-axed”. We then opened the group to them sharing their experience with trying to maintain a natural balance with all things that really matter to them. My approach in working with teens in therapy is acknowledging that life can feel pretty crappy at times, and it’s okay for them to feel upset by it. Acceptance of what they’re experiencing without judging it or rejecting it is the first step in coping with changes in life that can be unexpected or stressful. The focus then turns to learning how to use their own natural abilities to work through difficult times and staying in the moment rather than trying to escape it by drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, or cutting themselves to relieve their pain. What many teens, and even young adults, find surprising is how practicing mindfulness, self-reflection, and practicing healthy lifestyle habits such as eating healthy and being active can make a big difference not only in how they manage hard times, but also in their overall outlook in life. Some things I encourage teens to do includes:
1. Take Time.
Setting aside time in the day where you can sit, reflect, and practice deep breathing. It’s okay to have thoughts running through your mind. The point of meditation is to acknowledge those thoughts and let them pass by and bring your focus back to the natural act of breathing. Practicing deep breathing can help slow us down when our mind begins to run away with racing thoughts that feel overwhelming.
2. Get Moving!
Being outside and active has an overall positive effect not only in our physical health, but the act of moving can also help us not sit and dwell on things that bother us.
3. Finding someone who can listen.
Everyone needs to be heard, and especially teens who value being able to open up to someone without being given advice or being told what the “should” do. When teens can’t share what they are feeling they hold onto it.
Adolescence is a time in life lives that is always remembered not only by what is experienced for the first time, but also in the emotional journey of finding their way in handling things, and having the support from people around them as they come into their own. Some of the greatest stories in literature are filled with young heroes on an adventure in which they learn about themselves, and while along their journey they find comfort in companions or mentor figures, what they often find is that what they needed to complete their quest or mission was something they had within all along. Mindfulness skills and inner reflection in therapy for teens is about nurturing that journey of inner discovery.