I have been practicing mindfulness and meditation for over 30 years. I have found the techniques and tools of mindfulness to be invaluable for my own mental health as I navigate life.
So, what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness means to slow down and focus on life in the present moment. As author and mindfulness practitioner, Jon Kabut-Zinn shared:
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. And then I sometimes add, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.”
I use mindfulness sometimes in working with my high school students applying to college. This is a time for them of high anxiety and uncertainty. The reality is that the college admissions process is highly competitive and not transparent at all. There are huge numbers of students applying for the same spots at the same universities and not all will get in.
For my students, I work with them, focusing on the possibilities rather than the obstacles. This can be an exciting time for them. It’s also the first time when they will be asked to consider possibilities and make decisions for their life. “This is what freedom feels like.”, I tell them. “Enjoy it.”
Of course, that is much easier said than done.
As students begin to actively complete their Common App, request letters of recommendations, and write essays, their anxiety and stress levels rise. I’ve had many students ask: “Do you really think I have a shot of getting into XXX school?” My answer is always, “YES, AND….”
Yes, you always have a shot.
And you need to send in a quality, well-written application.
You are the key to your college admissions journey.
One of the mindfulness strategies I use in the moment is the ‘pause’. It’s so simple; yet so effective. When I sense that a student’s stress level is rising, I simply ask them to stop and focus on their breath. “Just breathe for a little bit”, I ask. I then say what I’m seeing. “I need to check in with you. Are you a bit anxious or stressed right now? What’s going on?” Through open-ended questions, such as those, I give the student an opportunity to share their fears and can dispel any myths that they may have about college and the college process.
Many of my seniors are juggling rigorous academic classes, usually dual-enrollment or AP, along with extensive after-school practices, rehearsals, games, performances, or recitals. It’s more common than not that they leave home early in the morning; only returning home between 9pm and 10pm. And, now on top of all that, they are applying to college.
No wonder they are stressed and anxious.
Unfortunately, because of their intensive schedule, most don’t have a chance to visit many schools, which is a shame. Visiting a college goes a long way to dispelling any myths they may have about the school and gives them a realistic picture of what life would be like for them if they attended this school. It also decreases their anxiety levels throughout the entire process.
If I feel they are interested, I encourage my students to try meditation, even if only for 5 or 10 minutes. “I promise it will help you to stay present and healthy.” I am also aware that for some families and students, mindfulness and meditation just isn’t for them. That’s perfectly OK. My goal is to be a support to students and families in whatever way I can.
I recently completed a two-year mindfulness meditation course with practitioners, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. The training was intense, enlightening and well worth my time and energy. I am now certified as a mindfulness meditation teacher and have been teaching mindfulness meditation both in person and online. I have found that incorporating mindfulness into the work I do as a counselor and coach for high school seniors only enhances and supports their experience.
If you have an anxious or stressed-out high school student, I can help. Give me a call at 240-285-1920 or email@example.com.