Teaching students with anxiety can be very challenging. Like many other educators today, I teach so many students who exhibit fear and worry tremendously about their grades, classes, and friends. I was invited to participate in trying out an activity from Greater Good in Education (part of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley which can be found here https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/). I was given a selection of topics to complete with my classes or alone. The Mindful Breathing activity was chosen because it offered a way to relieve stress, and it’s a strategy that everyone can use.
In the course of my nineteen years in public education, I've encountered so many teens who struggle with anxiety. As an educator, it is not only my duty to teach young people but to nurture young minds. Since so many teens struggle with anxiety largely due to social media influences, this activity offered our young people a way to de-stress.
Before beginning this activity, I asked the students how many of them get anxious, and most of them nodded affirmatively. I then asked how many of them use relaxation techniques at home or in any of their classes and received a few nods. Some mentioned using mindful breathing in yoga and chorus, but most did not readily use any relaxation methods in school. Not surprising, since educators tend to focus on the curriculum that needs to be taught in an allotted time frame.
I remember meditating during my sophomore year in high school with my history teacher. I told my classes about this activity and how it stayed with me because it was different. My history teacher taught us a life skill beyond the normal curriculum that we could take with us and use beyond the history classroom. I told them that they would probably remember my activity in the years to come, even if they didn’t remember the content of my course.
For this project, I posted the assignment on our learning management system, Schoology, and led the activity with four classes of approximately 25 students each. I told the students about the project, gave the students reflection questions to answer first and then played the five-minute recording for the class. We did mindful breathing together, and then students were asked to answer reflection questions. The students’ responses substantiated the need for our youth to use relaxation techniques. Many stated that school made them anxious and this helped to calm their nerves.
The questions that were answered before the breathing activity:
1. How does it feel to slow down for this simple exercise?
2. Are you ready to anchor your attention on one thing, your breath?
3. When your mind wanders, can you gently redirect your attention back to your breath?
4. How can you prepare yourself to slow down, focus, and treat yourself with kindness and curiosity?
Although responses varied, most students wrote about the need to find ways to de-stress but expressed difficulty slowing down. Student one* wrote, "It makes me uncomfortable to slow down because I feel like I'm wasting time. However, I know that it can be beneficial sometimes to take a break, so I suppose I'm ready to anchor my attention."
“It's difficult to turn off your thoughts and only focus on breathing. I feel like I'll spend most of my time redirecting and not practicing." The great thing about mindfulness is that you don't have to "turn off our thoughts;" you just observe them with kindness and curiosity and then redirect your attention to your breath
To prepare to slow down, student one said, "I can put my phone on silent and clear my desk of anything that could be a distraction."
Another student said, "I am excited to slow down and concentrate on my breath for this exercise and I hope I can use it daily. I am ready to anchor my attention on my breath."
Student three stated, "When my mind wanders, it takes some time for me to realize it, but I can bring it back to what my attention should be on."
The students provided candid responses and seemed to enjoy the activity.
Another student wrote, "Many times using my breathing and listening to my heartbeat calms and centers me. Music is also a good catalyst for relaxing as well as focus."
Questions the students answered after the practice:
1. How did you feel during the practice?
2. How do you feel now?
3. Were you able to redirect your focus calmly and gently?
4. Can you accept the fact that your mind wanders?
When debriefing, one student said, "I felt uncomfortable at first but by the end, I felt a little bit re-energized and ready to get back to work."
Another student wrote, "It was frustrating when I realized I was thinking about other things often, but I was able to redirect my focus. I accepted when my mind wandered."
A third student stated, "I felt more relaxed during the exercise and after as well."
"I was able to redirect my focus gently, and I can accept the fact that my mind does wander."
The activity can be found here:
https://ggie.berkeley.edu/practice/mindful-breathing-for-adults/#tab__2 . This mindful breathing activity could be used weekly or monthly without requiring the students to write their responses each time. Further, in our society which is plagued with daily stressors from family life, peers, school, economic problems, we as educators must implement strategies such as mindful breathing to help our youth cope and succeed. For more information or to see more activities to use in your class, please visit http://bit.ly/GGIEOnline.
* Students' names were withheld for anonymity. This is a sponsored post.