It’s a difficult time for students of all ages. Between social distancing, dealing with the long-term effects of remote learning, worries about contracting COVID-19, and stressors at home, many students are now dealing with more anxiety and stress than ever before.
Educators are turning to mindfulness to help students through these stressors. No matter who your students are and what their situations are like, mindfulness can be an effective tool to help students stay calm in the classroom and build resilience to face challenges in their daily lives.
Stress and Anxiety at School and at Home
Research has shown that since the pandemic began, depression and anxiety have spiked for both children and parents. More than half of students surveyed by NBC News and Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with Stanford University, said they were more stressed about school in 2020 than they have been previously. Only 36% of students said they were purposefully or fully engaged in school.
For many students, remote learning hasn’t helped. One study found students whose classes were online-only reported higher stress levels and worries than peers who spent even one day a week in the classroom. Meanwhile, even students who are back in the classroom may worry about ongoing risks from the pandemic, new safety precautions that limit their ability to interact with peers, and making up for lost learning opportunities.
The Solution: Mindfulness in the Classroom
Fortunately, there are some things educators can do to ease the strain on their students. We’ve known for many years that mindfulness is an effective tool to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and now, facing real challenges in 2021, teachers are finding there’s no time like today to implement mindfulness in the classroom.
What Is Mindfulness in the Classroom?
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the current moment rather than overly reactive or overwhelmed with worries and plans for the future. In the classroom setting, mindfulness is a core social-emotional skill to help students self-regulate their emotions and stay focused.
Mindfulness exercises can take many forms, from one-minute breathing exercises to open discussions or coloring activities. When teachers build mindfulness practice into the school day, they and their students will enjoy reduced stress and a calmer, less emotionally volatile environment.
How Mindfulness Can Help Students Thrive In and Out of the Classroom
Researchers from the Boston Charter Research Collaborative found that sixth graders who participated in an eight-week mindfulness program were less stressed and better able to practice self-control than classmates who didn’t. Brain scans revealed that participating students also responded less to pictures of fearful faces, suggesting that they were less sensitive to negative stimuli.
All this shows that as students develop their ability to focus on the moment, they become better able to regulate their emotions and cope with stress. That helps students not only in the classroom as they attempt to focus on learning but also at home in their daily lives.
Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness in the Classroom
Mindfulness practice in a classroom environment can:
- Boost student attention. Research suggests that students who receive mindfulness instruction are less prone to losing focus.
- Help students regulate their emotions. Mindfulness has been shown to create changes in the brain that correspond to less reactivity and improved ability to engage in tasks even when emotions are activated.
- Reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Research suggests that mindfulness meditation can improve anxiety symptoms and help people cope with stress, especially for people with generalized anxiety disorder.
- Help students develop compassion. Studies suggest that people who practice meditation are more likely to respond with compassion when others are suffering.
- Give students dedicated time for mindfulness. Schools can encourage students to practice mindfulness and take the practice seriously by building time for it into the school day rather than only giving a one-off lecture about it.
- Build school culture. Creating consistent space for mindfulness practice shows the community that your school values self-care, empathy, acceptance, and mental health for all students.
- Help teachers maintain their own mental health. Mindfulness practice not only helps students but also improves teachers’ mental and emotional wellbeing and helps them become better at their jobs.
What Does Mindfulness Look Like for K-12 Students?
Adding a daily or weekly mindfulness practice to your class doesn’t need to be time-consuming. Mindfulness in a K-12 classroom can be as simple as a 3-minute breathing exercise or as dynamic as a dedicated time for students to talk about their emotions.
Here are some of our favorite types of starter mindfulness exercises for classroom use:
- Simple breathing exercises. Set a timer for one minute and have students alternate between inhaling 2-3 counts and exhaling 2-3 counts.
- Self-hug. Teach students to calm themselves down and activate their brains’ natural oxytocin (“feel good hormone”) production with a self-hug by reading these instructions aloud.
- Emotional check-ins. Give students a quiet minute to think, journal, or share their emotions with the class at the beginning of lesson time.
- Color caring. Ask students to visualize a calming color and then share it with others using a script such as this one.
- Gratitude journal. Set aside a few minutes each week for students to practice journaling about what they are grateful for.
You can also encourage families to get involved by giving students mindfulness exercises they can do at home or outdoors, like these birdsong meditations.
Other Ways to Help Students Thrive During COVID-19 and Beyond
In addition to the mindfulness exercises we suggested above, teachers may want to consider adding regular brain breaks (which may incorporate mindfulness) into the school day. Breaks for movement, exercise, or rest can help students reset and refocus on learning.
Another way to help is to have students discuss how their daily habits impact their stress levels. For example, a teacher could host a class discussion on mindful news consumption and how to avoid information overload.
Educators can also help students by leading by example. If teachers practice healthy habits, they can model and share those habits with their students. Messages about emotional health are more likely to ring true if teachers take time to practice and demonstrate their own self-care.
Building More Mindfulness Into the Classroom
For more mindfulness activities, consider purchasing a classroom mindfulness curriculum or manual. At Calm Classroom, we have hundreds of different activities, guided meditations, and other mindfulness exercises you can do as a class. Our mindfulness-based techniques are research-based, trauma-sensitive, engaging, and as accessible as possible.
By building mindfulness into class time, you will empower the entire school community to manage mental and emotional health challenges in even the most difficult times. We hope to hear from you in your school’s mental health journey!