Teens today have more reasons than ever before to develop stressors that can lead to serious mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. From heavy academic loads to full extracurricular schedules to interpersonal struggles to school and world violence, adolescents’ stress levels are ever-increasing.
With adolescent depression rates on the rise, experts in the field of treating teen depression have been scouring all treatment avenues to get teens the help they need. A relatively new and popular method of treatment, mindfulness, has been well-documented in helping adults to relieve depression and anxiety, and a small but growing body of research shows that it may also be beneficial for treating teens as it improves resilience to stress and helps emotional regulation.
Learning about mindfulness as a practice, along with its benefits and strategies for coping with depression can help you get your teen the depression treatment she needs from a new perspective. Seeking out treatment programs that specialize in mindfulness-based treatment can also help your child receive the all-encompassing, holistic treatment she needs to make lasting, positive change.
What is mindfulness and what are its benefits?
In its most simplified terms, mindfulness is a subset of meditation that requires paying full attention to the present moment and not thinking about anything else at that moment. Seen as the opposite of multitasking, mindfulness asks you to slow down and really take notice of what you are doing. This could be taking notice of your breath, of how your body feels in the current moment or taking notice nonjudgmentally of your thoughts. The actual practice of mindfulness can last anywhere from a few minutes to hours and usually involves a combination of breathing exercises, visualization, body awareness, and relaxation.
The practice of mindfulness can help all children and adolescents learn to cope with frustration and difficult emotions when they are experiencing something challenging in their lives. Mindfulness can also help increase focus and attention and has even been found to help those struggling with ADHD. Implementing mindfulness into your teen’s daily routine can have numerous benefits including cognitive benefits, emotional benefits, and social benefits.
Teaching adolescents mindfulness can impact their cognitive skills positively, particularly the executive functions that the brain performs. These skills include the ability to pay attention, switch focus, organize information, remember details, and plan ahead. One research study found that students who had a mindfulness program implemented in their school showed improvements in regulating behaviors and focusing on academic tasks when compared to a control group who did not receive mindfulness interventions.
Mindfulness can also have enormous emotional benefits including a more positive overall sense of well-being. Research has shown mindfulness is also effective at preventing and helping teens cope with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, stress, and self-esteem issues. One study found that after participating in a mindfulness program, students reported feeling more optimistic, while another study showed that pre-teens reported feeling calmer, more well-rested, and happier after participating in a five-week mindfulness program.
Teens’ social lives are massively important to them and mindfulness can help adolescents learn to better communicate with others as well as nurture mutual respect and care for their community. Similarly, engaging with mindfulness can help increase one’s capacity for empathy, alleviate the painful effects of bullying, and allow for increased opportunities to reflect on thoughts and actions to learn how to make better choices.
Recent research has shown that mindfulness can be especially influential in improving our moods and providing us with strategies for coping with and managing depression.
How mindfulness can improve our mood and teach us strategies for coping with depression
Engaging in mindful activities can help improve our overall mood in many ways including greater appreciation of life by engaging in the present, improved productivity, increased self-acceptance, decreased self-judgment and judgment of others, and reduced impulsivity.
Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and author, explains that mindfulness can make individuals aware of negative self-talk and negative thought loops, and instead of trying to fix or change them, our depressive symptoms become more manageable by redirecting them. This allows us not to get sucked in by our emotions and thoughts, but rather to see them for what they are, just thoughts, thereby disempowering them.
Mindfulness practices and therapy can help your teen manage his depressive symptoms as it teaches strategies and skills for coping with uncomfortable emotions. Mindfulness can teach the following strategies:
1. How to develop responsiveness over-reactivity – Meditation can help create space between a stimulus and a reaction by helping individuals to simply witness their thoughts and feelings. This noticing can give teens a better understanding of themselves and how to control their reactions
2. How to expand our ability to accept discomfort – Mindfulness facilitates an individual’s acceptance of feeling uncomfortable. This practice allows teens to be present with their discomfort, noticing it, not trying to change it in the current moment, and how to break away from unhealthy coping behaviors.
3. How to create a loving relationship with ourselves – Many teens experiencing depression feel at war with themselves and seek external rewards to help mitigate that feeling. Mindfulness allows for the development of self-comfort and nourishment internally, which reduces the need for external gratification.
4. How to develop greater self-awareness – One of mindfulness’s best teachings is developing an awareness of how to stay in the present moment and take notice of thoughts and feelings. This practice can ultimately help teens resist impulsivity and regain control of their behaviors.
5. How to increase empathy toward others – Depressed teens can often engage in destructive behavior that can affect not only themselves but their families and friends as well. Through practicing mindfulness, teens learn how to manage negative thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns so they can increase their empathy toward the most important people in their lives.
In addition to seeking a treatment program or therapy that is mindfulness-based, there are several easy things you can do at home to implement this beneficial practice into your daily routines.
Strategies for implementing mindfulness into your routine
Mindfulness is most effective when practiced habitually, not just when we are experiencing tough or big emotions, so it can be helpful to establish routines and practices for daily use. Get the whole family involved by trying some of these simple yet effective mindfulness strategies:
1. Breathing exercises – When we focus on our breath, it helps us stay focused on the present moment. When you catch your mind drifting to thoughts away from the breath or you’re experiencing physical restlessness, gently remind yourself to bring your attention back to the breath. You can practice this on your own, or there are also a number of apps you can use to get started such as Breath2Relax and Headspace.
2. Progressive muscle relaxation – Doing a body scan can help us feel calm by tensing and relaxing one muscle group at a time. This is a great strategy to try at the end of a stressful day to encourage positive sleeping patterns. GoZen offers a guided progressive muscle relaxation video to help get you started.
3. Mindful senses – Mindfully paying attention to our senses can help sharpen focus and attention. Engage your senses by focusing on the physical aspects of experience such as sounds, tastes, smells, and sensations in the body.
4. Mindful movement – Connecting breath to movement is another really effective mindfulness strategy. An easy way to do this is to go on a mindful walk where you simply focus on the sensations of your legs and feet moving against the ground.
5. Gratitude – Expressing gratitude and taking the time to think about what we are thankful for helps us to calm our bodies and have a more positive outlook. Compiling a list of all we are thankful for can be especially helpful during times of uncertainty and sadness.
If your teen is struggling with depression, a mindfulness-based treatment program like Red Mountain Colorado can help.
How Red Mountain Colorado can help
Red Mountain Colorado is a leading residential trauma treatment center for teens aged 13-17 that is built upon emotional safety, competence, compassion, and consistency. We work with teens who have been struggling with behavioral and emotional challenges such as trauma, depression, and anxiety. The mission of our trauma treatment program is to help your child recover from trauma and grow into a healthy, stable adult.
We specialize in mindfulness-based treatment that has been uniquely designed to help your teen recover from co-occurring mental health disorders. Our mindfulness-based teen treatment program helps our students discover their inherent goodness and focus on giving back to the community. From there, they can focus on redirecting their life path in a positive direction and maintaining the strides made in primary treatment in a real-world setting. Throughout their time at Red Mountain Colorado, students will have access to excellent clinical services, daily meditation programs, adventure therapy, group therapy, hiking, family therapy, yoga, and academic support.
Teens will begin each day at our program meditating as a group, led by long-time meditation teachers. During these sessions, students will learn how to be present, care for others, recognize impermanence, learn to change, and regulate emotions. For more information on how Red Mountain Colorado can help please call (970) 316-7683.