By Katherine Jones & Liz Friedman, MS
As summer winds down and the days get shorter, students will begin thinking about heading back to the classroom. For some, this transition from the carefree days of summer can be fraught with emotion, including anxiety. Younger students may find it stressful to sit still for long periods of time. Students of all ages may be prone to social or academic challenges. And many will be returning to the classroom full-time after a couple years of disrupted schedules and learning from home, so settling into a new routine may be anxiety provoking itself. Older students also face challenges of tight deadlines and large assignments. And often, anxiety can result from “what if” thought patterns, such as, ““What if I don’t get an A on this assignment?” or “What if I can’t make any friends in my classroom?” Having these thoughts can be exhausting, and over time can take a physical toll on one’s body.
To bring oneself back to the present, various techniques and daily activities can be implemented to help students (and teachers!) regulate any anxious thoughts and feelings that may arise.
20th century American psychotherapist and father of bioenergetics, Alexander Lowen, developed the concept of “grounding.” Grounding encourages people to focus on the physical aspects of their surroundings to help them feel connected to the earth, rather than focusing on the anxiety or other emotion at hand. This allows people to ground themselves in the present rather than in their emotional thoughts.
The grounding technique is rather simple and can be used by people of all ages when feeling over-whelmed or overstimulated, to center themselves back to the present:
When an anxiety inducing event occurs, verbally or mentally list:
- 5 things you can see,
- 4 things you can hear,
- 3 things you can feel,
- 2 things you can smell, and
- 1 thing you can taste.
This allows the mind to focus on the “here and now” and de-escalates the heightened emotions.
Another grounding technique involves the use of sensory tasks such as listening to music or rubbing one’s palms together. By focusing on physical stimuli, your body grounds itself back to Earth and into the “here and now.”
Another technique used to regulate anxiety over a longer term is Mindfulness. While in some ways similar to grounding, it should be noted that the two are quite different. Grounding is better for temporary relief of an acutely stressful or anxiety-provoking situation. Mindfulness, on the other hand, can be practiced at any time of day and is used for long-term changes in overall wellbeing.
Mindfulness is a practice of self-awareness and meditation used in Buddhism, Hinduism, and various other spiritual cultures and traditions that can be achieved through hyper-focusing on a task at hand and sitting with the emotions and feelings evoked without judgement.
There are four key components to mindfulness that help relieve stress and increase compassion: attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and sense of self. Mindfulness studies have confirmed that practicing just a few minutes twice a day can dramatically improve mental and physical health. The mind and body are highly connected, therefore, learned optimism and the ability to appreciate what is around you can be highly beneficial for your overall health.
One great way to integrate mindfulness into a daily routine is through a daily nature walk. While walking, take deep breaths and focus your mind on what you see, the way the ground feels beneath your feet, and how it all makes you feel with no judgement. If walking to school or around campus, these same principles can be applied. The movement and focus on your surroundings can help ease anxiety. Dr Jaffe recommends at least 20 minutes a day of mindfulness practice(s).
Mandala, meaning “circle” in Sanskrit, started in Hindu culture as an artistic way to anchor an individual to their community or self through introspection. The circular architecture of mandalas allows the viewer to start broad in reflection, then focus in more as the eye moves toward the center, more intricate symmetrical patterns. Throughout history, mandalas have also been appointed as spiritual and meditative tools in Buddhism to center and ground oneself.
In today’s world, coloring mandalas can be used as a tool for practicing mindfulness, meditation and reflection. Coloring can be a fun and creative outlet for students and a great way to ease the mind. Specifically, the symmetrical and intricate details require focus and attention on the task at hand, helping to release anxious thoughts. Following the patterns can help regulate emotions and encourage calmness, while providing a grounding and centering activity. Find a free mandala coloring page here.
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All of the above techniques and tools can be used to manage anxiety and set you up for success and less stress in the coming school year.
*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.