Applying to college can be one of the most stressful experiences in a teen’s life. If you’re doing it in the middle of a pandemic (and possibly a natural disaster or two), you might be experiencing major anxiety this fall. While you probably can’t control the things that are causing your worries, through the practice of mindfulness, you can manage the way you handle them…and bring more calm and positivity to your life now and in the future.
Mindfulness is a simple practice that helps you stay present in the moment that’s happening right now rather than dwelling in the past or getting caught up in the future (because you can’t change what’s already happened and you can’t predict what might happen). When you’re aware of yourself in the present moment, and experience it without judgment, you can dial down the chatter in your brain. While it may This chatter isn’t real; it’s baseless worry, anxiety and projection about what might happen in the future (for example, If I don’t get into UC Berkeley, I’ll be a failure, I’ll never get a good job, and I’ll end up on the streets). But you can learn to be aware of your thoughts, label them as “worrying” or “anxiety”, and then choose not to get caught up in the negative spiral they can generate.
Try these techniques to help get grounded and be more thoughtful about your emotions:
Just Breathe: Spend five minutes each morning and night sitting alone in a quiet place. Focus on your breathing while slowly taking deep breaths in and out. This helps center your thoughts before heading out for the day and helps you let go of the day that’s passed before you settle in for the night.
Get Out Your Crayons: There are lots of “grown up coloring books” available, from intricate mandalas to super heroes. These require you to focus your mind, but don’t generate stress. As you “get lost” in your coloring, your thoughts will slow down, your anxiety will diminish, and you’ll find yourself more grounded in the present moment.
Awareness Practice: This can be challenging at first, but it can teach you a lot about how to recognize a “chatty” mind and still the noise. Sit in a quiet place with your eyes closed. Take deep breaths in and out. After spending about a minute concentrating on your breathing, shift your focus to individual feelings and sounds, like the cool air on your face or the rustle of leaves in the breeze. Try not to attach labels to these experiences – just observe them without reacting. You’ll notice how quickly the mind tries to grab onto and label things. When you find yourself reacting, just acknowledge it as “thinking,” let it drift away and come back to your breath. Spend about 10 minutes observing your breath and mind. This isn’t easy, so don’t feel like you’re “failing” if you can’t stop thinking. In time, the chatter will start to diminish. You just have to stick with it (that’s why it’s called a “practice”).
There are also lots of apps available to help you develop your mindfulness practice.
Even when things are going great and you aren’t applying to college, mindfulness can help you live consciously, maintain a sense of inner peace, and lead a fulfilling life. It really is simple: All you have to do is breathe.