Meditation to Combat Stress in High School Students

Background-The Focus Group

As a high school student, I realized first hand how stressed my peers and I are. The main stressor is obviously school, but it goes deeper than that. I feel pressure from parents and teachers to get good grades and always have tons of homework. I also play sports year round, so I never get started with homework until late. This leaves me little time do things I enjoy like hang out with my friends, play with my dogs, or just relax. Another stress factor is sports themselves and always having to be ready to play after a long day at school. Then, of course, friend drama and thinking about college factor in, and I struggle to enjoy my limited time off and instead just focus on my stress, making it difficult to enjoy the moment. So, when asked to think of a group of people who would benefit from positive psychology concepts, my first thought was obviously high school students struggling with stress as it pertains so well to my life. The stuggle I had was figuring out which practice to pick, when I thought back to my basketball season a few months ago.

Background-The Positive Psych Concept

The first day of basketball practice, one of the new coaches announces that she’ll be running the first bit of practice including new drills, stretching, and “mindfulness.” We were all skeptical when she instructed us the lie on the ground, close our eyes, and take a deep breath. The first few times we did this mindfulness meditation, I spent the whole time lying on the ground thinking about how dumb the whole thing was. After a week or two, however, meditation became one of my favorite parts of practice. It was the perfect way for me to let go of the stress from the school day and focus on the practice ahead.

The Problem-Highschoolers are more stressed than ever

From more pressure to get good grades and get into top colleges to social media, teens today face stress factors from all directions. Students also are more at risk for mental health issues with 70% saying that anxiety and depression are a major issue. Schools also aren’t doing enough to help combat stress with a national average of 491 students to a counselor. One school psychologist, Rob Benner, comments on the two main issues he sees with highschoolers today.

“One is testing anxiety, and the other is anxiety over social media.”

He talks about how one of the reasons for increased text anxiety is that standardized tests were required at younger ages for public schools. Also, subjects like art, music, PE, and recess were shortened or cut to make room for more testing. Now in high school, these students get nervous when taking tests and increased pressures from parents to get good grades to get into college isn’t helping. Social media is also not helping students manage stress. Teens spend hours on social media which . wastes time and a lot of times they don’t even realize how much time they are wasting. Social media can also cause self esteem issues since peiple are always seeing pictures of what they shoudl look like or how they should act. People also feel more left out and are constantly worried about missing out instead of focusing on the present.

So What?

Stress isn’t always a bad thing. Stress can motivate people to achieve goals and meet deadlines. Stress is also a survival instinct: think fight-or-flight. However, the high levels of constant stress that many high school students face is not healthy. Stress affects students mental health as well as physical. Stress can affect the quality and quantity of sleep students get. And the less sleep students get the more stressed they can get. Stress and sleep become an unhealthy schedule that is difficult for students to break. Stress can also affect students eating. Some students over-eat when stressed while some skip meals.

The Solution-Meditation

Meditation works by teaching the brain to accept and let go of issues. There are many different ways to practice meditation, but the benefits remain similar no matter the way it’s practiced. A recent study at the University of British Columbia analyzed the brain scans of consistent meditators. They found several things including that the meditators’ brains had thicker tissue in the regions of the brain responsible for stress management. This same study found that the brains of consistent meditators had smaller amygdala. This is the region of the brain that processes sadness, anxiety, and negative emotions.

“Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.” -Madhav Goyal

Madhav Goyal, a researcher at John Hopkins, helped find a link between mediation and a reduction in the symptoms of anxiety and depression. This research also found that meditation is more beneficial to reducing these symptoms than breathing alone. A new type of meditation, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction focuses specifically on lowering stress. This is one example of many that meditation can take different forms. Another interesting fact is that meditation seems to have much more affect on developing brains. This is an example of why meditation can be so beneficial to students struggling with stress.

Try it!

Below, there are several steps to follow for meditation along with a short video of sample meditation. If you wish to meditate for longer or want to continue meditation, there are some great videos on youtube along with some apps.

  • The first step of meditation is to find a 10-15 minute block of time where you won’t be interrupted.
  • Next, find a quiet space that’s calming
  • If you would like, play some calming music or background noises. The sound shouldn’t be a distraction and shouldn’t be too loud.
  • Now that you have the space and noise ready, either sit or lay down. If sitting, it might be helpful to sit in a chair with a back so your posture is correct.
  • Once you are comfortable, and either sitting or laying down, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Try to take as long as you can breathing in and out and breath out longer than you breathe in. Focus on the air moving in and out of your body.
  • Once you have focused on your breathing, let your mind wander.
  • From this stage, there are many directions where the meditation can go. One example is a full body scan which entails scanning your body and noting any pain, where your body contacts the floor, etc. The purpose of this is to bring more awareness. Another example is imagining your favorite place, like a beach, and remembering all your senses.
  • Whatever direction you choose to go, focus on the positive and don’t let your mind linger on the negative.
  • When you are ready or your time is up, slowly open your eyes and readjust, getting ready for the rest of the day. Try to bring the focused calm from your meditation to the rest of your day and don’t focus on the negative.

Looking Forward

Here are some links to resources to help you incorporate meditation into your life.

Poll Time!

If you have time, answer these polls about stress and meditation. Each should take 20-30 seconds max.

Works Cited

“American Psychological Association Survey Shows Teen Stress Rivals That of Adults.” American Psychological Assosiation, 11 Feb. 2014.

Flannery, Mary Ellen. “The Epidemic of Anxiety Among Today’s Students.” NeaToday, 28 Mar. 2018.

“Meditation Research: What Does Science Tell Us About Meditation.” Mindworks.

Mindful Staff. “How to Meditate.” Mindful, Foundation for a Mindful Society, 31 Jan. 2019.

“NYU Study Examines Top High School Students’ Stress and Coping Mechanisms.” NYU, 11 Aug. 2015.

Walton, Alice G. “7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain.” Forbes, 9 Feb. 2015.

Share this project
  1. April 24, 2019 by Lauren Silver

    Hey Henrietta! I really love your project! You incorporated your information very well and it was very informative. Good work!

  2. April 25, 2019 by Addie Behrens

    Hi Henrietta! Everything is laid out so well and introduced so smoothly from one topic to the other – it’s like a story. I really love all the pictures and interactive activities. Great work!

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