In my work with children and adolescents, I practice techniques to draw on the powerful and proven connection between the body and mind (see The American Psychological Association article for information on coping with stress and how to manage it for tips to boost mental and physical health). How we treat and inhabit our bodies can vastly improve mental functioning (and vice-versa) — from how we approach study habits to dealing with the mental stress of school, testing, and being a child and adolescent in today’s accomplishment-driven culture.
Some skills I incorporate into my practice (and encourage students to do on their own) include:
- Deep breathing
- Positive imagery exercises
- Healthy sleep, exercise, and eating habits
- Being physical and having fun with our bodies (exercise, play)
- Getting in touch with sensory awareness
- Breaking down academic successes and reliving them (we tend to remember the failures more than our triumphs)
- Finding the connection between thoughts, emotions, and body changes (such as headaches, stomachaches, and back pain)
- The power of positive thinking to inspire new perspectives
Here’s a sample sensory awareness exercise I’ll assign students to help activate mindful thinking, and build upon their powers of observation:
- On your route walking to school or an after-school activity (usually a route that you are so familiar with you are probably preoccupied with your own thoughts while walking it) and instead of focussing on your thoughts, concentrate on noticing the details of your surroundings. What are the sounds, smells, sights you encounter? Do these sounds, smells, or sights make you think or feel anything? What? Parents can help guide younger children through this exercise. The result: mindfulness emerges, and we will become more in tune with immediate experiences rather than dwelling in distracting thoughts.