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May 19, 2015

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Quieting the Chaos: Encouraging Mindfulness in Adolescents

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Tom Jameson, MS, NCC

PQ Therapist

Many of the students who come to PQ present with anxiety, depression, impulsivity, emotional regulation issues, and may have difficulty distinguishing between thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness practices teach students to begin to slow down their busy minds, see the difference between thoughts and emotions, and pause before reacting impulsively to those thoughts and emotions. The concept of mindfulness originated in Eastern thought and has been translated into Western Psychology as a way to focus one’s attention on the present moment, observe unhealthy habitual patterns, and respond in new, healthy ways. The specific goals are to decrease unhealthy behaviors such as interpersonal chaos and confusion about the self and to increase behaviors related to interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance. Mindfulness and awareness of one’s own process, patterns, and habits is a key foundation for making these positive behavioral changes.

Often students are caught in worrying and/or fantasizing about the future; anger and/or shame about the past; and are so unaware of their thoughts and feelings in the moment that they act habitually and continue to act out old, unhealthy patterns. At PQ, we teach students new and useful mindfulness skills to self-regulate attention on the immediate thoughts and feelings that they experience, which promotes increased awareness of how the mind works in the present moment. Examples of mindfulness activities incorporated into the PQ milieu include working in the gardens, weeding, watering, cooking, engaging in whole person wellness with focus on sleep, diet, exercise and breathing, yoga, and meditation.

When we talk about this with students we often frame it as working on auto-pilot without really slowing down to make a choice about how to handle a particular situation. Students are encouraged to try to view their present moment experience with curiosity, non-judgmental stance, openness, and acceptance. The idea is that by promoting curiosity and non-judgment, one is able to slow down and recognize habitual patterns without shutting down or acting out. In turn, one is then able to think about possible outcomes and respond to situations in new, rather than habitual ways.

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