Slow down. Take a deep breath.
That’s how kids are learning to combat toxic stress at Amherst Junior High School.
Guidance counselor Joanne Carnabuci is teaching students what she learned in a life-changing course on mindfulness. Using breathing and relaxation techniques, she helps AJHS kids learn to deal with their negative emotions and refocus their minds for learning.
Carnabuci told the Amherst board of education on March 19 that sixth- through eighth-graders are dealing with a lot of inner turmoil. It’s part of growing up.
Sure, that’s common sense — but it’s also backed up by a lot of research.
Adolescents’ developing brains, “coupled with hormonal changes, make them more prone to depression and more likely to engage in risky and thrill-seeking behaviors than either younger children or adults,” according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.
Consider these facts:
• About 20 percent of children surveyed by the the American Psychological Association said they worry a great deal or a lot about doing well in school.
• The same survey revealed parents are wildly blind to how much stress their kids bear all the time.
• Stress causes kids to have trouble sleeping. It causes headaches, upset stomach, irritability, lethargy, anxiousness, decreases academic performance, and opens the door to substance abuse, the AMA reported.
• Between 20 percent and 30 percent of adolescents have a major depressive episode.
• Suicide is the third leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24. It’s the second leading cause for the 10 to 17 age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder aren’t getting treatment, according to the Church Mind Institute.
• An estimated 32 percent of kids ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Girls are affected far more than boys.
So what is mindfulness and how can it help?
The Mayo Clinic says it’s “the act of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment — without interpretation or judgment.”
“Spending too much time planning, problem-solving, daydreaming, or thinking negative or random thoughts can be draining. It can also make you more likely to experience stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression.”
Carnabuci told the school board that mindfulness can help fight the grind of daily pressure to succeed. It helps kids deal with exhaustion and time crunches.
Meditative focus brings calm, which helps AJHS students wake up, pay attention, better respond to stressful situations, and — best of all — recognize what’s going on with their own roiling emotions.
When that happens, Carnabuci said grades go up, bullying happens less frequently, and students become more empathetic. They also experience improved memory.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.