Since early 2020, Covid-19 has impacted our daily lives in ways we never could have imagined. Among those sharply feeling the prolonged impact are schools.
Bessel van der Kolk, MD, a leading expert on trauma, says that we are experiencing a traumatic situation as we navigate the impact of the pandemic. We are suffering in a state of affairs that is unpredictable and uncontrollable. For many of us, this can evoke feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.
Today more than ever, it is critical for our nation to reflect on whether we are doing everything possible to support the mental, social, and emotional well-being of all children and youth. Anxiety in the classroom is at an all-time high – and school communities are seeking ways to turn mental health awareness into actionable solutions.
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 5 children will experience a mental health challenge, and ADHD, behavior problems, anxiety, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children ages 2-17.
Early diagnosis and treatment of mental health challenges can make a substantial difference in the lives of children and their families, yet not everyone has equal access to mental health services and support. Socio-economic factors greatly impact some forms of mental health challenges for children and youth, creating greater stressors in the classroom – not to mention in their daily lives.
Additionally, educators are facing a massive amount of stress, overwhelm, and burnout. A 2021 U.S. Teacher Survey highlights a few alarming statistics:
In addition to systemic change, students and educators need additional tools that support mental health.
School-based mental health programs that help children and educators feel safe, supported, and connected are key. This is critical to their mental health and resilience.
Children need a way to articulate and explore their feelings without being overwhelmed by them. Mindfulness is a proven strategy for helping children of all ages become more aware of their emotions and manage the effects of stress in their lives. More specifically, the daily practice of mindfulness in the classroom is a win-win for the well-being of students and teachers alike.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Education recommends mindfulness as a strategy for supporting the mental health and well-being of educators, students, and families. Research shows that the consistent use of mindfulness-based interventions improves learning skills and resilience from early childhood through adolescence. It helps us gain clarity over life events and make healthy choices.
Practicing mindfulness for 5-10 minutes a day results in a greater sense of well-being for educators, students, and their families. It brings heightened awareness and clarity that helps children and adults identify and better cope with mental health challenges.
As with all evidence-based mental health prevention strategies, mindfulness needs to be accessible to children and families across racial, ethnic, and socio-economic boundaries. Equity matters – and Inner Explorer is committed to reaching across barriers to provide all school communities and centers with the resources needed to foster healthy mental, social, and emotional development in the classroom and beyond.
Daily mindfulness practice also builds emotional awareness and self-regulation that improves our overall mental health, creating a sense of calm and comfort in our schools and homes. Plus, mindfulness can increase our sense of optimism and help us to problem-solve while reducing the effects of toxic stress, anxiety, and trauma.
Consistency. Predictability. Clarity. Calm. These are our tools for building a more secure inner world while we wait for our outer world to regain balance.