Mindfulness, the practice of cultivating focused awareness on the present moment, has been shown to have a number of benefits, including emotional stability and improved sleep. Now, some schools have started incorporating mindfulness programs into their curriculums, teaching kids as young as five years old how to use body scans, mindful breathing, and attention to their thoughts and emotions to become more focused. According to a recent study, such programs could be successful in leading to reduced depression-related symptoms among adolescents.
Researchers at the University of Leuven study looked at the experiences of 408 students from five different schools in Flanders, Belgium, all between the ages of 13 and 20. At the beginning of the study, the students answered a questionnaire designed to reveal symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, and were then divided into a test group and a control group. The test group followed an in-class mindfulness training program which consisted of instruction in mindful breathing and body scan exercises, sharing experiences of these exercises, group reflection, inspiring stories, and education on stress, depression, and self-care. The control group, meanwhile, received no training. All students filled out the questionnaire after the training, and again six months later.
The researchers found that students who adhered to the mindfulness program exhibited decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression both immediately after and six months after the program. Whereas before the training, 21 percent of the test group and 24 percent of the control group reported symptoms of depression, after the mindfulness training, 15 percent of the test group versus 27 percent of the control group had depression symptoms. Six months later, 16 percent of the test group and 31 percent of the control group showed signs of depression.
The study is the first to examine the effects of mindfulness on depression among adolescents in a classroom setting, but previous research has found that mindfulness meditation can reduce symptoms of depression and chronic pain in adult patients. Brown University research published last month showed that mindfulness practitioners are able to gain greater control over sensory cortical alpha rhythms, which help regulate the brain’s processing and filtering of emotions, including pain and depressive memories.
And many schools are starting to catch on to the benefits of stress-reduction training like mindfulness: More American high schools than ever before are implementing yoga classes, mindfulness meditation training, wellness centers and designated nap times to help students cope with anxiety and academic pressure.
“Mindfulness is a discipline that can help us tap into our students’ potential,” UK school principal Mark Keary told The Guardian.
This month, the first international conference for mindfulness in schools will take place in London. And in the U.S., the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program, supported by Congressman Tim Ryan, is bringing mindfulness training into schools as a way to boost students’ emotional resilience and help improve academic performance.