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Mindfulness for Teens

Posted on Aug 21, 2014 in Kids' Health

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Many teens live with “toxic stress” – a buildup of stress from social pressure, competition at school, anxiety about fitting in – that too often can lead to depression, substance abuse or even physical pain.

Mindfulness is a tool they can use.

“Mindfulness can be especially helpful for teens with anxiety,” Kimberly Erlich, CPNP, nurse practitioner and coordinator of the Adolescent Behavioral Health Project at Mills-Peninsula and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, says.

“It helps them learn how to take their worries and just let them float to the back of their minds for a bit while they focus purposefully on one thing, like a school project.”

The Adolescent Behavioral Health Project is training pediatricians and family doctors throughout San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Alameda counties to assess the behavioral health of their teen patients, and help them work through their problems.

The project will touch – and hopefully improve – the health of 70,000 teens in PAMF and Mills-Peninsula practices. Doctors will learn how to bring up stress, anxiety, depression and other common problems with their young patients, and about the resources available to help them.

Amy Heneghan, M.D., a pediatrician who works on the project’s executive team, says mindfulness is one resource she often recommends to her patients.

“I show them in the office how to breathe deeply,” she says. “After four or five deep breaths you can actually see their shoulders, their muscles relax. I let them know this helps with sleep and also with performance in school. I talk about it as a medical modality, because it is.”

Dr. Heneghan says one girl who suffers migraines attends a free yoga class and does mindful meditation once a week. She still has migraines, but she manages them better, and her quality of life has improved.

Other kids who practice mindfulness have told Dr. Heneghan it helps them in school, and in emotional arguments with parents.

“It takes practice,” she says, “just like tennis. But once a teen learns mindfulness, it’s a game changer.”

Here is a simple mindfulness practice to try