• The teenage years are notoriously difficult, for teens themselves and for their parents

  • Nicola MacDonald shares 5 mindfulness tips to help teenagers become more resilient

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Emotional outbursts, headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, insecurity, worst-case scenarios played out over and over again. It could be mounting school pressure. Bullying. A friendship fall out. Home upheaval. Whatever the situation, your child is stressed and/or anxious. You know they are struggling but you are at a loss as to how to help them. You desperately want them to feel better, to release all that built-up tension on their shoulders.

So how can you help them? You can introduce them to coping strategies like mindfulness. Techniques that help them to handle any challenge coming their way. Learning to release tension and deep-seated emotions using conscious breathing, mindful meditations, and self-compassion practices.

Mindfulness helps us to surf the waves of life, one by one, without getting sucked under. And the great thing is, it is available on demand. You can tune into your breathing and your body sensations whenever you want, wherever you want. No matter what is going on around you, mindfulness is there to help. I’ve used it to ground myself before giving a big presentation. I’ve used it to soothe myself when I’ve felt alone or misunderstood. I’ve used it in the middle of an argument to prevent my inner beast from exploding. I use it every day to help me to remain balanced. I still have emotional wobbles, because that’s part of being human. But, these days, my wobbles are more like mini rainstorms rather than full-scale tornadoes.

Here are five tips for teenagers to boost resilience:

1. Don’t ignore your body’s stress signals

Your body is your emotional gauge, it gives you early warning signals that stress is manifesting. It could be a tightness in your chest, tense shoulders, a clenched jaw, a churning tummy, a racing mind, increased sweating and so much more. If you experience any of this it is time to stop what you’re doing and prioritise some self-care.

2. Focus on your breathing

No matter what life throws at you, you can always tune into your breathing to anchor you in the present moment. I’m referring to conscious breathing – noticing how your body feels as you breathe in and breathe out. You may notice it more in the chest area as your ribcage expands and contracts on each in-breath and out-breath. Or in your tummy, as it rises on each in-breath and falls on each out-breath. Or in your nostrils. Wherever you feel it most naturally, tune into it whenever you feel stress manifesting in the body. Tuning into your breathing helps to turn down the stress reaction and instead, ignites the parasympathetic nervous system or ‘rest and digest’ system that signals to the body ‘everything is ok’. The more you practice this the easier it becomes. Dropping into the body reduces the busyness of the mind. Over time you may even notice your shoulders drop or the tightness in your chest loosening.

3. Learn to release your emotions healthily

If you feel like you’re already simmering i.e. you’re already on edge, likely to explode at the slightest thing with a knee-jerk reaction, you probably have some built-up emotions that need to be released. Try a mindful meditation to help you unearth any hidden emotions that are buried beneath the surface. When you mindfully meditate you tune into your body allowing any tension to be released one tear at a time. A mindful self-compassion meditation is particularly powerful when you have some heavy emotions that need lifting.

4. Use the mountain meditation to prepare for the day ahead

It can keep you grounded and give you the confidence to face any challenge coming your way – an exam, the chat your teacher has scheduled, the social stuff you have to face at school. Give yourself ten minutes in the morning to root yourself to the ground. Mountains endure unpredictable hits of weather regularly. As with the mountain you can remain unshakable, solid, and unmoved by the changing weather patterns around you. This also applies to the occasional icy voices that threaten to take down your mountain.

5. Start accepting yourself more using mindfulness techniques

As you become more aware of what your mind is up to you will notice more quickly when your inner critic is running the show. You can catch that negative thinking before it plays out a film in your head that you’re unworthy/unlovable/not good enough. Techniques such as conscious breathing, grounding yourself in the body, and self-compassion meditations will all help you to pause and become the observer of your mind. You can notice when it is racing off into self-attack mode and instead, you can choose to switch on self-compassion mode. Use positive self-talk to remind yourself that you are more than enough just as you are.

Nicola MacDonald is the author of Resilient Teen

Further reading

7 ways to improve your relationship with your teenager

How to avoid making things worse for your stressed-out teen

How to support a child or teenager who self-harms

Should parents step back from rescuing their children?

Trying too hard: perfectionism in teens

The questing adolescent: how heroic narratives can help teenagers