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Mindfulness Training in Schools Can Help Relieve Teens’ Stress

By Carolyn Gregoire

It’s at the most stressful times of the school year — like during exam periods — that strategies to relieve academic pressure mean the most. And recent research is shedding light on an effective way for schools to help manage students’ stress: mindfulness, a mental practice that aims to develop greater awareness of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.

A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry this month found that mindfulness programs could reduce stress and lessen symptoms of depression among secondary school students, as well as increase well-being. Researchers at the University of Exeter, in collaboration with the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP), tested 522 students between the ages of 12 and 16 from six UK secondary schools during the British summer exam period. The researchers found that the 256 teens who went through a nine-week introductory mindfulness course reported fewer symptoms of depression, lower stress levels and greater well-being overall at the end of the nine weeks, compared to the control group of students who did not participate in the program.

Using the principles of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the program consists of nine lessons, each offering instruction in a different mindfulness skill. The skills include learning to recognizing worry, harnessing the power of attention, creating distance from thoughts and emotions and dealing with unpleasant feelings.

Among adults, mindfulness has been linked with lower stress levels, better emotional stability and improved sleep, greater compassion and self-knowledge, and resilience, among other health benefits.

But despite the wealth of research on the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness and meditation among adults, comparatively few studies have been conducted on children and adolescents, the study authors say. Still, the advantages of mindfulness programs in schools are increasingly well-documented: A Belgian study published earlier this year found that school mindfulness programs can reduce symptoms of depression among adolescents. Students who participated in an in-class mindfulness program exhibited decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression both immediately after and six months after the program.

A recent University of California study also found that a two-week mindfulness training program reduced mind wandering and improved working memory and GRE reading-comprehension scores among college undergraduates.

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