Have you ever heard the term “mindfulness?” Maybe the word “mindfulness” makes you think of yoga or meditation. Defining mindfulness can seem difficult, such as trying to explain how sunlight feels or what chocolate tastes like. However, mindfulness is a concept that you can use in any area of life, including education. Mindfulness simply means “paying attention to the present moment, exactly as it is” (Youth Anxiety Canada). According to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (The Mindful Teen).
How can focused attention, in the present moment, help with your education? First, it may be a way to deal with the stress of teenage life. Stress affects every area of life, including academics. Teen stress is not unusual; in fact, research indicates that teens may be “the most stressed-out group in America” (American Psychological Association). Mindfulness exercises may help relieve stress. Teacher, mom, and writer Sarah Ruddell Beach shares that much stress in academic settings comes from “worrying brains ruminating on all the worst possible scenarios.” For example, think about a time you felt unprepared for a test. You may have thought “Oh no. I am going to fail this test. My grade is going to be ruined. I’m going to get in trouble. I probably won’t be able to go to college or get a job.”
These worst-case scenarios rarely happen, but the anxiety they produce is real. Mindfulness can help you label these kinds of thoughts as “worrying,” which allows you to “acknowledge anxiety without getting caught up in the negative thoughts it generates” (Beach). Mindfulness can train your brain to channel raw emotion and negative thoughts, freeing the mind to focus on the task at hand with a calm sense of purpose. It is almost impossible “to be anxious if you are completely focused on the present moment – what you are sensing and doing right now” (Youth Anxiety Canada).
How Can Mindfulness Help Me in School or With My Online Class?
Researchers are studying the benefits of mindfulness in academic settings, and are finding that mindfulness techniques help in a number of ways. Students who use mindfulness techniques have been shown to perform better on tests. Scientists at the University of California-Santa Barbara performed a study with 48 college students to see how much a mindfulness class benefited them academically. The students who took the mindfulness class outperformed other students on both a working memory test and a standardized test (Beach). Another study found that meditation greatly improves the ability to pay attention, which greatly helps students in class (Blakeslee).
What does this mean for you, the student? Learning some mindfulness techniques will not only help you reduce stress, but also help you do better in school. The ability to focus is vitally important in online classes. In in face-to-face class, the teacher may be able to capture your attention, but when you are studying online, you have to help yourself focus on the material your teacher has provided. While other online distractions such as Fortnite or other games may seem to call your name, getting “in the zone” while working on your online classes will help you finish on time, earn better grades, and feel less stressed.
Mindfulness Techniques and Strategies
So, how can you apply mindfulness techniques in both regular and online school? Here are some suggestions from the experts.
If you find yourself in a stressful, anxiety-producing situation, stop and focus on what you can experience through three senses: sight, sound, and touch. Youth Anxiety Canada recommends that you:
Take a few slow breaths and ask yourself:
What are three things I can hear? (clock on the wall, car going by, music in the next room, my breath)
What are three things I can see? (this table, that sign, that person walking by)
What are three things I can feel? (the chair under me, the floor under my feet, my phone in my pocket)
Think of these answers to yourself slowly, one sense at a time. It’s impossible to do this exercise and not be present and mindful!
While cell phones can be a major sources of distraction, like everything, “there’s an app for that” when it comes to mindfulness. Sarah Beach shares her favorite apps for students:
Stop, Breathe, and Think: this app asks how you are feeling and recommends guided mediation for your current state of mind.
Another popular app is an Australian app called Smiling Mind. It’s available for iOS on the App Store, and was developed by psychologists and educators to help users find balance. There are programs specifically designed for teens.
In addition to cell phone apps, here are some websites that provide simple techniques that anyone can do anywhere:
Are you ready to give mindfulness a try? I’m already taking a deep breath and being present in the moment, and it’s already made me feel less stress. I hope you enjoy the calmest, most productive school term ever as you take the mindfulness journey.
Author: Wendy Faircloth, VirtualSC Social Studies Teacher
American Psychological Association. “American Psychological Association.” 2014. Are Teens Adopting Adults’ Stress Habits? 15 January 2019.
Beach, Sarah Rudell. huffpost.com. n.d. 29 January 2019.
Blakeslee, Sandra. “Study Suggests Meditation Can Help Train Attention.” New York Times 8 May 2007.
The Mindful Teen. Mindfulness for Teens. 2019. 20 January 2019. <http://mindfulnessforteens.com/what-is-mindfulness-anyway/>.