Christiane Kerr● Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher for children and adults
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.” Jon Kabat Zinn
Teenage years can be tough at the best of times and the pandemic has only made it harder for many teens. Whilst they may be less likely to become seriously ill if infected, by Covid, many have struggled with the impact of the pandemic on their mental health.
Teens have had to cope with isolation and loneliness at a crucial time for their social development. Not seeing their peers in person can compound the belief that the perfection projected on social media is a reality rather than the carefully edited highlights of experience.
The Princes’ Trust Youth Index reports that one in four young people admit they feel “unable to cope with life” since the start of the pandemic. As well as dealing with the physical, mental and emotional turbulence that often comes with adolescence, teens are having to manage an unprecedented level of uncertainty about their education and future.
Each student will have had a different experience of lockdown and their resilience and coping strategies will be varied. The inequalities in our society have been highlighted during the pandemic and socio-economic factors have played a significant role in how teens have been able to adapt. As students returned to school this autumn many teachers have faced the challenge of levelling the playing field and offering crucial support to those who need it most.
Schools will need to have a variety of tools to help pupils as each will have different needs. As well as academic learning support, many schools are now seeing the value that yoga and mindfulness offer in terms of wellbeing and below are three simple exercises that can give teens ways to cope with anxiety and stress.
1.Squeeze and Breathe
When you feel stressed, upset or overwhelmed, shift your focus to your body and how you are standing or sitting. Do you notice any physical tightness or tension? Now bring your attention to your breath, and as you breathe in, squeeze your hands into fists, and tighten the muscles in your arms. Breathe out slowly as you count to ten, relaxing your arms and hands and letting go of any physical and mental tension. (If 10 feels forced or uncomfortable, shorten the count to something that suits you.)
Moving our bodies can help shift our perspective and distract us from unhelpful thought patterns. This may be as simple as walking whilst we concentrate on the contact of our feet touching the ground. Or it can be more coordinated and active which requires focus or raises your heart rate. Simple yoga poses such as tree or cat /cow stretches are good as well as easy to follow flows or sequences. Movement boosts production of endorphins, which are the bodies feel good neurotransmitters.
3.Press Pause and Breathe
Reframing is a way of changing the way you look at something and by doing so, you also change your experience of it. Mindfulness practices can help us become more aware of our habitual way of seeing or reacting to things and allows us to cultivate a pause where we can change our automatic behaviours into something that may be more helpful to us.
Sitting or standing, bring your feet parallel and hip distance apart, like the pause symbol on a remote control. Let your weight drop through your feet into the grown and invite a sense of stillness into the body. Have three full breaths and repeat at least three times.