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Mindfulness & Movement
Zaheera Swing
Nutritional Therapist & Herbalist BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD

Can Teens Benefit From Meditation For Anxiety?

Nowadays, teens are bombarded by stressors from all angles. There are constant pressures from school, family, and societal expectations, not to mention the new and often scary experience of discovering your identity and place in the world.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 30% of teenagers aged 13-18 experience some form of anxiety disorder. With 8% of those with an anxiety disorder experiencing severe impairment in their daily lives [1]. Some common symptoms of anxiety in teens to look out for include:


  • Withdrawal from social activity
  • Avoidance of difficult situations
  • Increasing fears & worries about daily life
  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism
  • Irritability
  • Physical symptoms like headaches & stomach pain
  • Social anxiety
  • Panic attacks

Chronic anxiety can lead to serious mental health problems like depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. It can also result in difficulties with socializing, focus, and productivity, impacting learning abilities and school performance, resulting in a cascade of negative consequences. 


With these stats, teens must be given the tools to navigate overwhelming emotions like anxiety. While they may have dozens of subjects at school, unfortunately, practical tips on managing stress and anxiety usually aren’t one of them. Luckily, research shows that specific mindfulness techniques like meditation are scientifically proven to provide relief and improve mental health!


Why are teens more anxious than ever before?

anxious worried teenage girl


Many potential causes could explain the rise in anxiety among teens, but a few contributing factors may include:


  • Social media: A high use of social media has been shown to negatively affect mental health, with researchers linking it to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem [2].

  • Cultural/societal pressures: Teens today face higher expectations to achieve academic and financial success.

  • Modern diets & lifestyle factors: Low nutrient intake can lead to deficiencies in omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, which have been linked to symptoms of both anxiety and depression [3].


How can mindfulness meditation for anxiety help?

 

Meditation is a powerful practice and resource that teens can use to help them cope with everyday difficulties and stressors. The type of meditation used to alleviate anxiety and panic usually takes the form of mindfulness-based meditation, which is achieved by practicing awareness of the present moment and learning how to detach from one’s thoughts. Here’s why the research says it works:

  • Mindfulness-based meditation allows a break from racing and negative thoughts. Researchers have found that meditation can help to enhance mental health by significantly reducing anxiety, cortisol levels, and symptoms of depression [4]

  • Mindfulness-based meditation can help to enhance productivity by improving focus, attention, and memory [5]. One study found particular benefits for adolescents on working memory function [6].

  • Meditation also might help support a higher quality of sleep, as research demonstrates that meditation practices can reduce the severity of chronic insomnia [7], which can have positive effects on mental health, including anxiety and depression.

Where to begin?

For anyone new to meditation, it can feel a little daunting. So, here are a few simple steps to get started:

  • Sit in a comfortable position. Either cross-legged or on a chair with your feet on the floor.
  • Begin by paying attention to your breath. Simply observe each inhale and exhale.
  • If you feel distracted, gently bring your awareness back to your breath and the present moment.
  • If anxious thoughts cross your mind, acknowledge them without judgment and imagine them as clouds being carried away by the wind.
  • Continue this practice for 5-10 minutes to start with, always bringing yourself back to the present moment when you find yourself drifting.
  • Open your eyes and observe how you’re now feeling without judgment. 

If it feels too challenging to keep your attention focused or cultivate this practice on your own, a great place to begin is by downloading a meditation app like Retreat Sounds that can introduce you to a guided meditation for anxiety.


Mindful breathwork as meditation

 

A structured mindful breathing exercise can also be a powerful technique to help relieve anxiety, and stress and create calm in a moment of panic. 

Here’s a simple one you can start practicing today:

The 4-7-8 breathing technique

This type of breathwork is based on a yogic breathing technique called pranayama. To try this breathing technique, sit or lie down somewhere comfortable. 

  • First, inhale silently through your nose as you count to 4 in your head. 
  • Now, hold your breath for 7 seconds. Then, release your breath slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds... and repeat! 
  • Start by doing this technique for four breath cycles, and with time you can increase the number of cycles. 


What if a meditation practice feels too difficult?


That’s okay! Some people find that meditation, guided or not, just isn’t their thing, or their attention span just won’t allow them to stay focused. Don’t stress! There are other simple, everyday activities that, when done mindfully, can help one get into a meditative frame of mind, for example:


  • Writing
  • Writing or journaling your feelings and thoughts is a simple habit that can help to release stored emotions and calm a busy mind. Amazingly, there’s even scientific evidence to back up the health benefits of journaling! Research shows that expressive writing may positively affect mental health and stress levels [8]

     

  • Going for a walk
  • By paying attention to the lifting and falling of your feet during each step, the simple practice of walking can be meditative. And if you can go for a walk in nature, that’s even better! Scientific research shows that spending time outdoors may promote wellness by reducing levels of the stress hormone known as cortisol [9]


  • Listening to calming music
  • Simply taking time to be present in your body while listening to some calming music can also be considered a mindfulness practice, plus it’s so easy! Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, take a few minutes to pause and sit or lie down in a safe and comfortable space with a peaceful song to allow yourself to decompress.  





    Final Thoughts


    New research reveals the benefits of mindfulness meditation, not just for mental health but the overall quality of life! We all know that the teen years can be one of the most trying and tumultuous times, which makes mindfulness techniques and meditation practice invaluable tools to help teens cope with overwhelming emotions, pressures, and daily stressors to enjoy their youth to the fullest genuinely!



    Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.

    Zaheera Swing
    Nutritional Therapist & Herbalist BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD
    As a qualified Nutritional Therapist (BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD), Zaheera Swing has a deep passion for restoring balance and harmony to the body through the modalities of nutritional science, herbalism, and holistic lifestyle practices. Using the functional medicine model coupled with wisdom from ancient paradigms, she aims to provide insight into the underlying root causes of poor health and the holistic tools we can harness to enhance the well-being of mind, body, and spirit.
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