Reduce High School Students’ Anxiety Levels with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Anxiety has become a large mental health concern in students, and schools should implement mindfulness to teach students to understand and regulate their anxiety.” – Gina Bradshaw
There is a lot of pressure on high school students to excel so that they can get the best jobs or admission into the best universities after graduation. This stress might in fact be counterproductive as the increased pressure can actually lead to stress and anxiety which can impede the student’s physical and mental health, well-being, and school performance. Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving physical and psychological health. Indeed, these practices have been found to improve psychological health in high school students. It is important to ascertain whether mindfulness can be integrated into the high school curriculum and produce improvements in student mental health.
In today’s Research News article “Classroom-Based Mindfulness Training Reduces Anxiety in Adolescents: Acceptability and Effectiveness of a Cluster-Randomized Pilot Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7755132/ ) Johnstone and colleagues recruited students taking mandatory health education classes at a private high school. The students in 3 classrooms received 8 weeks of mindfulness training, in 2 classrooms received 8 weeks of wellness training, and in 8 classrooms received the usual health education curriculum. Along with the regular curriculum students in the mindfulness classes received training in meditation, body scan, and yoga while those in the wellness classes received training in time management and conflict resolution strategies. The students were instructed to practice at home for 10 minutes each day. The students completed measures of their expectancies, interventions acceptability, attendance, and their satisfaction with the intervention. Before and after the interventions they completed measures of mindfulness, perceived stress, depression, and anxiety.
They found that the students in the mindfulness training classrooms had significant reductions in anxiety after training compared to baseline and the students in the usual health education classes. But they did not significantly differ from the students in the wellness training classes. There were no significant differences between the groups in depression or perceived stress.
The students in the study did not have clinical levels of anxiety or depression prior to the study. So, improvements in mental health would be hard to detect given the low baseline. Nevertheless, significant reductions in anxiety were detected. Mindfulness training has been routinely found in prior research to reduce anxiety in both clinical and non-clinical participants. So, the reduced anxiety in the present study was not surprising.
Anxiety in high school students is generally high as the students are under pressure to perform in addition to the difficult adjustments ongoing during adolescence. High anxiety tends to interfere with school performance and social adjustments. Reducing these anxiety levels should be quite helpful to these students. Academic performance was not measured in the present study. But it would be predicted that reductions in anxiety in the students would result in better academic performance.
So, reduce high school students’ anxiety levels with mindfulness.
“With 15 minutes of daily meditation for at least three weeks, the brain becomes more responsive and less reactive — which can be especially helpful to teens prone to anxiety or erratic behavior,” – Jane Ehrman
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Johnstone, J. M., Ribbers, A., Jenkins, D., Atchley, R., Gustafsson, H., Nigg, J. T., Wahbeh, H., & Oken, B. (2020). Classroom-Based Mindfulness Training Reduces Anxiety in Adolescents: Acceptability and Effectiveness of a Cluster-Randomized Pilot Study. Journal of restorative medicine, 10(1), 10.14200/jrm.2020.0101. https://doi.org/10.14200/jrm.2020.0101
Many high school students experience a high degree of anxiety and perceived stress. This study examined whether a classroom-based mindfulness program or a wellness program were acceptable and effective as anxiety and stress reduction interventions based on students’ self-reports.
Design, setting, and participants:
Thirteen health education classes (n=285 students, aged 14–16 years) were randomized by classroom to one of three conditions: mindfulness, wellness, or usual health class only (passive control/ waitlist), for 8 weeks.
Pre- and post-intervention scores compared self-reported measures of depression, anxiety and stress.
Complete data were available from nine classes (n=202 students). Post-intervention anxiety scores were reduced in students who received the mindfulness intervention compared to those who received only their usual health class (β=−0.07, SE=0.03, P≤0.001; 95% CI=−0.12, −0.02). No significant between group differences were found for depression or stress (P>0.4). Students’ satisfaction with the mindfulness intervention they received withstood baseline credibility and expectancy effects: r=0.21, n=67, P=0.17 for credibility; r=−0.001, n=67, P=0.99 for expectancy. However, students’ satisfaction with the wellness intervention they received was positively correlated with their pre-intervention expectations, r=0.42, n=47, P>0.001. Fifty-two percent of the 68 students assigned to mindfulness (n=35) used the iPad app for mindfulness home practice at least once; of those, 10% used it 10 or more times.
Eight weeks of classroom-based mindfulness, with limited home practice, reduced self-reported anxiety compared to usual health class, and withstood baseline expectancy effects in this group of high school students, a majority who come from high income families.
School- or community-based mindfulness may be an appropriate recommendation for adolescents who experience anxiety.