Mindfulness has been buzzing in news headlines lately — and for a good reason. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety, prevent and perhaps treat depression, and facilitate a much happier outlook on life.
While adults are typically the ones talking about how mindfulness is good for people, teens can benefit from mindfulness as well. And they may need it now more than ever. Here’s why mindfulness is good for adolescents and a hand-picked selection of some of the best mindfulness activities for teens.
What is a Mindfulness Activity?
A mindfulness activity is one that urges the user to notice their surroundings and to be totally present at the moment. It teaches practitioners not to react emotionally or impulsively in tense situations.
Mindfulness also improves memory and willpower, as you’re not only forcing yourself to pay better attention to your surroundings but forbidding yourself to quit when you do. As a result, taking up mindfulness also improves self-discipline as well.
However, perhaps the most important benefit to mindfulness is the sense of internal calm many people report they get after diligently making it a habit. They realize that they are not their thoughts, nor are they the thoughts of those around them, so mindfulness not only gives a sense of perspective in life but the ability to maintain self-esteem in fraught situations.
Mindfulness is mental resilience. It is wisdom through introspection and patience. And it can help improve a teen’s life.
What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness Activities in Teens?
Being a teenager is perhaps one of the worst time in a person’s life. Not only is a teenager grappling with a changing body, but they’re losing the innocence and freedom of childhood while still lacking the authority of an adult.
The mental changes are intense as well. It is common for teenagers to feel self-conscious and crave acceptance through their peers, but also just as common to put each other down to make oneself feel better.
Teens entering high school also feel immense pressure to succeed in their classes, as many young people around that age are encouraged to go to college. Not just any college — the best college possible, and perhaps with the most financial aid. This means a teen must not only succeed academically but through extra-curricular as well, which can take up a lot of time in a teen’s life.
This isn’t even counting the burgeoning mental health problems that could emerge as a result of all the social and academic pressure. Many teens girls, in particular, develop an unhealthy relationship with their bodies and with food. Teen boys may as well, as they face the pressure to be fit and muscular, just like girls feel like they should be slim. Anxiety and depression can also abound, as well.
Taken all together, mindfulness can be incredibly beneficial to help teenagers get through this arduous time in their lives. It can help give them mental clarity and help keep their heads clear when stress may be exponentially rising.
Best Mindfulness Activities for Teens
Tense and Release
This first activity is great for releasing stress held within the body. When we lay down to fall asleep, it’s as if we’re still constricted and tense on the inside, as if bracing for some sort of impact. That physical position can make our brains stay on high alert, which could not only induce more anxious thoughts but prolong insomnia as well.
So to do this activity, one must lie on their back on comfortable lounging materials, such as a bed, couch, or padded floor. This activity starts from the feet and works up toward the head.
Tense your toes as tightly as you can. Do this for five seconds, then release. Note the feeling of stress leaving your toes. Then tense up your ankles as well, so that they’re pointing towards the ceiling. Again, do this for five seconds, then release. Onwards to the:
- Lower Arms
- Upper Arms
Once the individual body parts have been tensed, the final step is to ball up the whole body as hard as you can then release. That last release should make you feel like you’re melting into your surroundings, and like you can fall asleep at any time.
Your head should be clear, as well. We often forget, but our minds and our bodies are connected. When our minds are stressed with our workload — what are boyfriends or girlfriends are doing, or succeeding in classes — that tension can land itself into our muscles.
Release the tension from your muscles, and you release the tension from your minds. Go brush your teeth after, and you’ll be in for a peaceful night of sleep.
Journaling is a healthy habit for anyone to take up at any age, but especially for teenagers. It lets you talk about your day in your terms the way you need to, so you can use as many expletives or curt sentences as you need.
In addition to letting you express yourself, journaling lets you reflect on your day as well, and see more clearly how your actions could have affected other people. If you take the chronological approach to documenting interesting moments, you can see a perhaps emotionally charged moment more clearly.
For example, let’s say you and your friend had a fight in the theater. She says your an inefficient scene partner because you never know your lines. You say to her that she needs to work on improving her English accent for the school’s rendition of Hamlet and mind her business. Everyone was edgy after that.
Perhaps you wrote down that comment and commended yourself on the sick burn. But, in retrospect, you see a point. You were messing up your lines, and it did halt the energy of the show. It made your friend — your scene partner — pick up the slack to make the show run smoothly again.
You see how spending 30 more minutes a night could help you remember your lines better and prevent halting the show’s energy. It would also lower the director’s blood pressure as well.
Through such introspection, you can see how you were perhaps in the wrong for some situations or comments you made, and brainstorm how you can improve in the future. You have to have a sense of humility, though, as it would be otherwise easy to view yourself as the victim to everything and thus negate any reason for self-growth.
Adult Coloring Books
Coloring books aren’t just for kids. Teens can relax their minds and do something with their hands while they fill out a coloring book.
Adult coloring books differ from children’s coloring books in that they’re usually more complex a design to fill out. There are fewer spaces to fill in, so an adult must spend more time filling it out. However, with the increased spaces comes the ability to make more colorful and visually stunning pieces, compared to rather tame children’s designs.
There are also coloring books with designs from pop culture. Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad have their own coloring books, and teens are bound to find coloring books based on their favorite movies and shows as well.
Besides, coloring supplies are cheap — especially if a teen can snatch them up during a back-to-school sale. Crayons, markers, and color pencils can be found in most grocery stores and drug stores as well, so a teen can always make a quick stop to find the perfect shade for their design.
Coloring books may seem silly, but they force people to stop thinking about an issue and focus on ensuring they don’t spill their color outside of the lines. It’s frustrating to fill in a gap perfectly only to mess up when you get near completion. Focus is the way to prevent that, which is why adult coloring books are so addictive.
For a cheap activity that can take your mind off things while getting something done. Though it might just be a picture of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman sitting on a couch, as seen from Breaking Bad, it’s still something. And it felt good to do it.
Meditation has been mentioned a lot in the self-improvement community — and for a good reason. It can help boost creativity, reduce anxiety, and overall help you respond to life instead of reacting to it, according to Dan Harris, in his book 10% Happier.
You may have seen Dan Harris on TV before. He’s quite a popular news reporter for broadcast news networks, but he’s gained a lot of attention for one particular moment: a panic attack on live television.
Dan calls it one of the most embarrassing moments of his life, which is why he figured he had to do something about getting his anxiety — and his life — underway.
He took up meditation and mindfulness, which allowed him to put his feelings into perspective. He saw his thoughts in a different view. Rather than taking them at face value, he learned to recognize what he was thinking, allow some thoughts to remain if he found them useful while banishing others, and not identify his feelings as who he is as a person.
What we mean by that last point is that if Dan feels like he’s angry, he shouldn’t generalize to consider himself an angry person. The first recognizes the state of being he’s in, but the second absorbs the state of being into the identity. It’s not fair to the identity, so learning to separate your thoughts from yourself can help drastically improve your sense of self-worth.
Teens can incorporate meditation into their daily routines with just five-minute increments every day. Once they feel comfortable with five minutes, they can increase the time for as long as they feel necessary, such as 10 minutes.
Starting small and working your way up helps make habits actually stick because you’re starting within your willpower. Everyone can spare five minutes. Instead of scrolling through Instagram or TikTok for that amount of time, you can sit with your legs crossed and meditate. The point is to feel silly if you can’t do it, which prompts you actually to do it.
How to Meditate
We understand that those who are interested in meditation might not know what to do. So we’ve briefly explained the best way to get started with meditation by yourself — without the use of smartphones or apps, as those can be distracting to some (especially if you’re trying to get away from your phone).
- Find a place where you can sit undisturbed and away from distracting noises. That last part might be hard depending on where you live, but you can wear earplugs if necessary.
- Sitting on a hard surface is preferred as you don’t want to get too comfortable and risk falling asleep. If you don’t want your legs to lose circulation, you can straighten them out in front of you so that your body makes an L-shape.
- You can also sit against a wall if it helps as well. Sitting for an extended period can make some people’s backs feel uncomfortable after a while. You don’t want to feel too comfortable while meditating, but you don’t want soreness to deter you from trying it out again.
- Once you’ve found a good location and position, start up a timer, turn off the lights, and close your eyes. Relax your body and focus on your breath — the oxygen going in, the exhalation coming out.
- As you settle into this gentle focus, your mind might start to throw random thoughts at you. A task you’ve been meaning to do but keep forgetting. An assignment you need to add to your to-do list. A random memory you haven’t thought of in a while. Your focus will naturally feel pulled toward those thoughts.
- Try to smoothly pull yourself back to paying attention to your breathing when you find your focus wandering. No matter what, don’t get up from your meditation position. Unless it’s a dire emergency, like someone’s about to die, the situation can almost always wait until you’re done meditating.
- Once the thoughts subside, you might feel like you’re pulled into a state where it’s easy to focus on your breath. You don’t feel the gravitational pull of your thoughts anymore. The edges of your body might start to slip away, too, until you’re entire being is just focused on your breath.
- Note: That intense of a focus won’t come within the first day, week, or month of meditation, but it can come to those who are diligent.
Mastering this basic principle of meditation forces you to see your thoughts as random expulsions of neurotransmitters and not necessarily statements you need to take seriously. You don’t have to do, pay attention to, or believe what your thoughts say. You have other things to do, like focus on your breath, and this sentiment can be applied in different situations as well.
Breathe Out Longer Than You Inhale
Say you’re feeling anxious. You’re on an airplane, and you’re just waiting for the pilot to come over the speaker and say the plane is going to crash at any second. Your hands grip your legs with tight, white-hot fear. Your heart’s beating a million times a minute as you sweat, waiting for it all to end.
This anxiety is just another state of being. You can return to your breath and remember that what you feel or think isn’t always the truth. The pilot hasn’t said you’re going to crash because you’re not — airline travel is one of the safest forms of transportation in the world, so there’s no reason you would be special enough to be caught in unlucky probability.
When you get in moments like that, just focus on your breath. In fact, breathe out for longer than you inhale. As Robin Berzin, MD, explains, exhaling for just a few counts longer than your inhale, the nerve running down from your neck to your diaphragm (the vagus nerve) tells your brain to amplify your parasympathetic nervous system and slacken the sympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system deals with flight or flight — which is what gives you the boost of energy to run away from an intruder or hop away from a moving car. It can also be triggered faultily in not necessarily life-threatening situations, such as riding on an airplane.
Which is why you need to turn up the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your body’s relaxation. Breathing out longer than you inhale — and focusing on all breathes you take while you’re highly anxious — is an excellent way to de-escalate situations and calm you down when you need it the most.
Take a SEAT
Sometimes you’re in a place that’s too distracting to meditate fully, but you still want to practice mindfulness. There’s a way to do that wherever you are.
It’s called the SEAT method, which stands for sensations, emotions, actions, and thoughts.
You can check in which yourself to take stock of the current experience you’re going through — tumultuous or calm.
Let’s say your parents really upset you. You didn’t make it home by curfew, and, as a result, you have to have your phone taken away for the next day. The idea that you have to be held to such an arbitrary rule infuriates you — there’s no difference between 10 pm and 10:30 pm, when you got home, right?
So before you say something that could really jeopardize how soon you can get your phone, you storm off to your room and sit down on your bed. You feel the anger burning under your skin like a balloon, like you’re filled with hot air. It’s definitely anger you’re feeling, perhaps with some regret for being stupid enough not to leave 30 minutes earlier last night.
There aren’t many actions you can take now to resolve the issue, and reacting in your state is sure only to make things worse. So you do nothing but stare at the floor and wait for this monsoon of emotion to fade.
In the meantime, though, your brain conjures up the worst expletives known to man. Quite the creative combination you got there. Perhaps you should be a poet using only swear words (or maybe don’t).
But remember from the meditation lesson — these thoughts are just chemicals firing in your brain. They’re an appropriate response to the events of last night, but they don’t necessarily mean anything.
While you take your SEAT, you can distract yourself just enough from your emotional turmoil to find a sense of clarity. Instead of reacting poorly to an emotionally charged situation, you not only prevent yourself from making things worse, but you practice a bit of emotional intelligence. You’re becoming aware of what your body and brain are doing, and that’s no easy feat.
One of the best skills you can start learning as a teen is how to manage yourself when you’re under intense emotion. It’s something that will aid you well not only in your younger years, but when you progress to adulthood as well.
Another mindfulness activity you can employ uses four of your five main senses: sight, hearing, smell, and touch. We’d include taste, but in most circumstances, you’re probably not eating something unless it’s a snack or gum (though you can certainly employ this activity at a meal and achieve the use of all your main senses at once).
The premise of this activity is simple. What do you see right now? Don’t just glance out into your scene and provide a bland answer, like a “park” or a “classroom.” Respond with more detail. You’re sitting on a sidewalk bench, so you see the gray street stretching to your left and right. You see a man and woman walking hand-in-hand with each other.
As your sound, cars swell in volume as they pass then fizzle out as they get farther and farther away. A person walking in high heels click along the concrete sidewalk. The murmur of conversation is joined by the rustle of plastic grocery store bags and teens whizzing by on their skateboard.
The smell could be better — car exhaust was never your thing, but you can’t expect much else on the side of the road. You’re also in front of a Mexican restaurant, so freshly fried corn chips and lime and spices waft warmly through the air. Someone’s copious cologne stings your nose, and someone’s dog is just now taking a poop.
Finally, you finally found the perfect pair of pants that aren’t too tight but not too baggy as well. They sit a solid inch above your knee in that highly modern way nowadays. The bench you’re sitting on was cold, but it’s warmed up a bit to your body heat (finally). You wiggle your toes and feel the soles of your feet press back. The air kisses the skin on your cheek.
There are an infinite amount of things to notice with these four humble senses, but our brain rarely uses them to their fullest because it doesn’t have too. Do you really want to always notice the smell of car exhaust when you’re waiting for a bus? Or the sound of people walking? To save energy, your brain cut costs whenever it can.
But you don’t always have to live like that. You can take a few precious moments to unfurl your sight, hearing, smell, and touch onto your surroundings and see what you net. These brief, liminal memories are the ones we often forget but can enrich our lives when we do.
The sense we left out of the previous exercise gets to shine now. Mindful eating involves noticing and experiencing the food you eat rather than simply consuming it for fuel.
Granted, it depends on the food you eat, which might not be very good, and so you’d rather not be mindful of it. However, sometimes you stumble upon lucky moments where the apple you just bit into is absolutely delicious and nearly tastes like apple juice. Yeah, you’d want to remember that.
So close your eyes or look down if you’re embarrassed. Focus on the taste of the food on your tongue — the notes of sugar, the tart sourness, all the other accents it possesses. Then move onto the texture. Is the apple crisp and crunchy, or grainy? Be sure to chew and swallow before taking your next bite fully.
Shift your view of food to a sensory experience to be enjoyed, not just another task to get done.
Mindfulness is a great way for teens to get a handle on their emotions, impulse control, and mental health issues. It’s also a nice way to learn more about oneself and absorb more sensory experiences.
Mindfulness may sound too “out there” to those who are not familiar with it, but the benefits are there. Teens can start incorporating these habits into their lives and expand these skills when they need them. With consistent practice, these mindfulness skills can grow into highly beneficial habits.