Back To School And Stress? Not Necessarily

BTS_Stress_081514_NancyFarberAs September approaches and thoughts of school return, so too can subtle, and not so subtle, feelings of anxiety and stress.

We arm our children with the supplies we believe will help them succeed academically and athletically — new laptops, tennis racquets, lacrosse sticks, SAT/ACT review classes and well-regarded tutors — but that’s not enough.

Most parents never equip their children with one of the most important skills: the ability to cope with the stress and high demands of their test-saturated life now, and to be more resilient in the fast-paced world ahead.

The need for learning stress reduction/mindfulness meditation skills has never been greater for students. As a recent The New York Times Magazine article said, “Never before has the pressure to perform on high-stakes tests been so intense or meant so much for a child’s academic future.”

And with the advent of neuroimaging, research at Harvard Medical School has shown that stress management techniques, such as mindfulness practice, increase the brain’s capacity for focus, learning and memory. This is in addition to decades of cognitive research showing that meditation decreases anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia.

The Times also reports that mindfulness meditation practice has been identified as just as important a treatment as medication for students with ADD/ADHD.

Our children, especially teenagers, know they need relief from the stress and demands of their lives. Unfortunately, many adolescents and college students are self-medicating with psychoactive drugs. Often, teens say they use alcohol and marijuana in attempts to reduce their anxiety and stress. Additionally, a growing percentage of high school students — approximately 1 in 10, according to the National Institutes of Health — use Adderall and other stimulant drugs in attempts to increase their focus for studying and exam preparation.

What can parents do to help their children reach their potential and cope better in school and life?

Enroll them in classes or programs that teach mindfulness/meditation/stress-reduction skills. As an introduction to mindfulness, there is a wonderful on-line app, Headspace, by Andy Puddicombe. Through these activities and practice, children learn to self-care and calm themselves naturally, without using substances. This is one of the best gifts you can give them (and yourself), as today’s challenges require that we maximize our coping skills and resilience.

Nancy Farber is a board certified nurse practitioner who lives in Roslyn. She is the founder and president of Coach2Calm, Inc. The website is www.coach2calm.com

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