Mindfulness Helps Increasingly Anxious Students Cope With Stress

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In Seattle public school classrooms, students are learning a lot more than reading, writing and arithmetic, because educators are concerned about extreme stress levels among students.

In response, schools are beginning to incorporate a new skill into the curriculum: mindfulness, an increasingly popular psychological technique that trains the mind to focus on the present. Richard E. Berger, M.D., who teaches mindfulness at the University of Washington, as well as to children and adolescents through programs such as Inner Kids and Mindful Schools, notes that stress levels at school are unusually high. “I asked a group of first-graders if they were sleeping well,” recalls Dr. Berger, “and many of them said no, that they were too worried about school to sleep.” In fact, Berger says he was told by officials at one Seattle-area suburban public school that student anxiety levels at the school were eight times higher than the national average. Mindfulness, a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensations and surrounding environment, may just be the antidote.

As a part of their social-emotional education, students are learning the basic mechanics of mindfulness: how to sit still and focus, practice self-control, and pay attention to the present moment both inside and outside of themselves. “This teaches students to not just be reactive, but to have control over how they respond to any given situation,” says Berger.

As one of Berger’s second-grade students put it, “Mindfulness is what keeps me from punching people in the nose.”

Ready to become mindful yourself? Berger offers these tips:

1. Find a few minutes of quiet time.
2. Pay attention to what you’re doing in the present moment.
3. Examine your breathing. 
4. Observe your thought patterns.
5. Pause before acting.

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