FOR the last number of years, talk about ‘mindfulness’ seemed to be everywhere. We read about it in magazines or in newspapers. We heard about it on the radio and each of us was supposed to be doing some form of mindfulness every day.
But the economy was booming and technically speaking, according to the economists, we were living the dream, again.
Then one day, all the chatter about mindfulness just stopped. It seemed to disappear completely. Maybe we had incorporated mindfulness into our daily routines successfully, and no longer needed any prompting.
Then the Coronavirus happened, shaking us violently out of the comforting beliefs and reality we had created for ourselves. For some reason, few of the experts speaking to us about our mental health have been suggesting that we use mindfulness to deal with this pandemic. I am not sure why this is the case. However, in the last few weeks, I have heard many young people speak about their stress levels, their anxiety and their fears about the future. They have good reason to be concerned.
We are living in one of the greatest periods of upheaval and change that perhaps we will ever live in, at least in our lifetimes. Our anxiety and stress levels are through the roof and our coping strategies are being tested to their limits every day. Those of us who are parents may be learning to Home Educate for the first time and are finding things even more difficult, trying to juggle our own lives, our work lives and most importantly, the needs of our children. Some of us may be drinking more alcohol or eating more junk food. If we are very disciplined, and good on you if you are, you may be exercising more and staying in touch with friends and loved ones through online video platforms.
For teenagers, many of the cherished rituals of youth have been taken away from them; hanging out with their friends, going to teenage discos (yes I am showing my age here) while even their exams were all very important rites of passage that allowed teenagers to gain a sense of their identity and to discover who they were. Now that these rites of passage have been taken away from them, they too are struggling.
As a family therapist, I am only too aware of the difficulties young people are facing today. My clients tell me frequently how upset they are about the way life is turning out. No one could have imagined a world without a Leaving Cert, despite many students and parents campaigning for years to have it scrapped. It always stood up to their challenges and went ahead without fail, opening doors to some, and closing doors to others.
A number of years ago, I created a mindfulness course for teenagers that has been used widely throughout Ireland. Seeing all the distress that young people are experiencing, I felt now is the right time to offer this course for free so that money would not prevent anyone from getting the support they need.
The course guides young people into a number of mindfulness exercises which are completed over a four-week period. They have been specially chosen to help young people get in touch with their thoughts and feelings, whatever they may be. For example, in one of the weeks, children and teenagers will learn to eat more mindfully. In other words, they will learn to taste properly, maybe for the first time, what they are eating and to be become fully cognisant of what it is that they are experiencing. It is a very powerful experience to truly taste something. In another exercise they will be encouraged to walk mindfully and to become aware of the weight of their body on the ground.
We are living in a digital age where so many of us spend most of our time disconnected from our bodily sensations. This makes it important to learn to tune into what our bodies may be telling us. I often see clients browsing social media before their appointment with me. In the past, when people came for therapy, they allowed themselves to feel upset, angry or sadness. Nowadays everyone distracts themselves.
For young people, learning to connect with their bodily experience is even more important as they may have been attached to devices from a very young age. Mindfulness encourages teens to just feel, to just think, and to just experience rather than to distract.
The research papers are clear on this; by allowing us to stay present to our emotions and thoughts, we reduce the likelihood of racing thoughts or acting without thinking-the root cause of most of our problems, especially for teenagers who we know are more likely to act impulsively and sometimes make bad decisions.
So if you are reading this, and you know of a teenager that is experiencing stress or anxiety, or both, why not tell them to register for free on the website, www.headwise.ie, and support them as they learn a whole new set of life-skills. The world will be a better place if we all learned to resume our relationship with mindfulness, perhaps not by much, but as a supermarket chain tells us, ‘every little helps’.