Mindfulness Backlash: Are your techniques fueling student anxiety?

mindfuelinganxiety

“I can’t close my eyes, it makes me freak out.”

Have you had students that are fearful of closing their eyes while practicing mindfulness? It’s pretty common. Read on to discover a quick and easy solution.

During the last few months of the 22-23 school year we started working with several new districts. Since it was the end of the school year, our Zensational team worked directly with students in their classrooms, leading them in practices from our Educate 2B and Everyday Mindfulness curriculum. Typically, before we begin working with students in the classroom, we lead a professional development workshop for the faculty to teach them about the science and practices of breath, movement and mindfulness. 

Since it was so late in the school year…..no time. You know how that goes, right?

Two of the benefits of beginning our relationship in a new district with this workshop is:

  • Educators get the opportunity to experience the physiological shifts that happen within their own body when engaging in our signature practices
  • Understanding the science and the educational benefits of incorporating mindfulness into the school day, empowers educators to know they are not “wasting precious time.” They are truly helping their students become better learners, while helping themselves at the same time, adding to the general well-being of every nervous system in that room.

Following our workshop, our faculty joins classrooms to begin leading/modeling practices. For the new districts this past spring, we had to jump right to this part of our services.

Coming into classrooms to teach simple practices, gives us the ability to model for the educator how to lead practices that create great shifts within the nervous system. 

Sharing mindfulness in your classroom is not just about reading a script. Body language, facial expressions, tone and pace of your voice, are just a few of the crucial, subtle aspects in creating a sense of safety and connection through the practices. This is why we created a manual full of scripts, along with videos for use in direct student instruction.

Guiding individuals through the practices is only 1 facet of teaching mindfulness. The other is guiding them through the experience they are actually having in the moment, during and following the practice. 

If your school truly encourages teaching with a trauma-responsive lens, this part is essential. 

Here is a great example of what I mean. This past June, I was teaching in a 5th grade classroom. It was only my second time working with this class. Out of the 18 students, one had her head on the desk for the first exercise, clearly resting and probably not participating (however, I never want to assume). Let’s name her Kim. When another student commented about Kim’s lack of interest, their teacher stated that Kim did not have to participate if she didn’t want to (Bravo. I fully support that).

For the 2nd activity, I invited the students to sit in a circle on the rug. Kim sat pretty close to me. As I began to lead the practice, I invited everyone to close their eyes if they wanted to. This is always phrased as an invitation and a choice. 

Kim immediately leaned over to a classmate and whispered, “I can’t close my eyes, it makes me freak out.” I could see her body tighten in defense of this feeling of, “this is all tooooooo much.” Now, allowing Kim to opt out is the best care you can give her in that moment if you don’t know how to safely guide her through this real fear (while also guiding the other 17 students).

The fact that Kim came to the rug to join her classmates demonstrated that she had some level of interest if participating, but tending to her fear was, of course going to come first. Safety is a biological imperative and as humans, we will do all that we have to do to help ourselves feel safe first.

Here are a few simple sentences I shared with her that changed everything:

*If closing your eyes is not comfortable, you are doing the right thing by keeping them open. The last thing you want to do is cause yourself to “freak out.”

-Here, I am validating her experience and empowering her to honor herself.

*“For the next exercise, see if it is comfortable to keep your eyes open and softly focused on something on the carpet, in front of you.”

-This gave her CHOICE and another option to try which allowed her to soften her fear and participate.

BINGO

A simple adjustment changed everything for her.

Sometimes what seems to be an epic fail, is actually the greatest learning experience for the student(s), the teacher and me.

I hope this helps you as you are leading more practices with students in your classroom or with your own children at home.

Have you had any tough situations sharing mindfulness that you would like some guidance on? I would love to provide some help. Email me your challenge and I will share my response with this community so more people can benefit from your experience.