I hope you’ve enjoyed your summer, spent lots of time outdoors, with family and friends who you feel connected to, and also had plenty of time to relax! If you’re like many teens, you’re realizing that your summer vacation is about to be over, and school is about to start.
Perhaps you’re having thoughts like:
- “I wish summer wasn’t about to be over, that really sucks!”
- “Who am I going to hang out with this year?”
- “What if my teachers are mean?”
- “What if my physics class is too hard?”
- “What if I don’t make onto the basketball team?”
- “This is the year I have to apply for college, how the heck am I supposed to do that on top of everything else???”
These are some stressful thoughts! If you pay close attention, you might even notice that when you have these thoughts, your body starts to feel stressed and tense. Everyone feels stress differently. Maybe it feels like a tightness of fullness in the pit of your stomach. Maybe it feels like a headache. Maybe you’re having trouble getting to sleep right now.
If you are experiencing any of these things, there’s no need to feel bad about that. All of those things are totally normal, and you’re not alone! The good news is, mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment, with compassion towards yourself and others. When you’re fully mindful, you won’t get as carried away by your stress and worries about going back to school.
Here’s how it works:
Be in the now. As best you can, enjoy the last few days of summer, but without trying to “hold on” to it. Savor each day, each moment, each breath of summer – and also let it go without regret.
Be in the now. You might wish to try an informal mindfulness practice, a mindful walk outside – in your local park, through the woods, along the beach, or just in your neighborhood. As best you can, notice what is interesting and enjoyable about the walk. Maybe it’s a patch of flowers sprouting in the sidewalk, or perhaps the sight of birds flying overhead, or a ray of warm summer sunshine on your cheeks.
Be in the now. As best you can, notice when your mind wanders off towards those stressful thoughts about school, all of those “What if…?” kind of thoughts. Say to yourself, “Hello mind, I know that you are being pulled off into the future, but the present moment is right now. Come on back!” Try saying this without any judgment, perhaps even with a gentle smile. Then, bring your awareness to your next breath, to this very moment. Do this over and over, as many times as you need to.
Be in the now. Once school starts, you can continue to stay present and mindful at school. You can walk mindfully to the bus stop, the same way as when you’re enjoying a walk in the park. When you go to your first new class, you can take a few mindful breaths before stepping in the door. Then, as best you can, keep your mind in the here-and-now during class, with curiosity and an open heart. If your mind gets pulled away into thoughts or fears about what might (or might not) happen in the future, remember you can just come back to your breath, with a smile. You can do the same thing when you meet someone new at school, or before your first sports tryout.
Be in the now. Try practicing a formal meditation. I call it “formal” because it means you take some time just to be mindful. But, formal doesn’t mean it has to be serious or “stiff.” In fact, I encourage you to practice it with a lightheartedness, inviting a sense of ease. You can start by listening and breathing along with my five-minute guided meditation, “Mindful Breathing,” which you can download onto your phone. Experiment with practicing this meditation every day for the next week, either before you go to school, or in the afternoon after school, and also anytime you feel stressed out and want to take five minutes to “just breathe.”
There are endless ways to practice mindfulness, to help you to handle stress one moment at a time. As an adolescent medicine pediatrician, I’ve worked with lots of teens who have found creative and powerful ways to bring mindfulness into their lives, and handle stress in a healthier way. To learn more, check out my book – written just for teens! – called The Mindful Teen: Powerful Skills to Help You Handle Stress One Moment at a Time.
(Note: This blog post has also been cross-posted on Meditation.com)