Quieting Your Mind

Like many teens trying to keep up with busy schedules and heavy academic demands, you probably feel as if your mind is constantly “on.” It’s hard to focus because you’re distracted by thoughts and feelings constantly spinning around in your head. Also, it’s next to impossible to turn it all off when you want to go to sleep. Even after you finally finish your work and gratefully crawl under the covers, your brain may still be madly at work. So you’re tossing and turning, perhaps wondering: “Did I remember all of my assignments?” “Will my coach start me in tomorrow’s game?” “Should I ask someone to the dance?” or “What if I do badly on my bio quiz?” Obviously, these thoughts only make you more anxious; then you really can’t relax—and just when you most need to sleep!

But fortunately, there’s a solution to mental busyness. Simple, effective techniques can quiet down your mind. These mental exercises—-for example, yoga, prayer, meditation, and mindful awareness—-offer many scientifically proven benefits. They reduce stress, make you generally happier, and boost your immune system (so you don’t get sick as often). In one recent study, medical students who practiced mindfulness were less stressed and anxious, despite their notoriously grueling training.

As an added benefit, over time mindfulness exercises help you to focus better. And not just on schoolwork. It turns out that directing your attention more effectively will make you a generally happier person. Seriously. In another study, psychologists interrupted people in the midst of various activities, asking them about how much they felt engaged and were concentrating on what they were doing, as well as about their emotions at the time. They found that regardless of what people were doing, when they were more focused they felt greater contentment. This research proved, in fact, that a wandering mind actually causes unhappiness. Incredibly, the mental and physical benefits you get from mindfulness (e.g., improved well-being and better focus) are permanent as a result of changes in the structure of the brain.

So if you already practice yoga, meditate, or use prayer, keep it up. For best results, try to spend about 15 to 20 minutes in mindful activities per day. If you’ve never tried these techniques, consider getting started now. You don’t need to prepare. To do a simple exercise on your own, just find a quiet, private place where you can sit comfortably. Close your eyes and focus your mind on the sensations of your breath. For example, notice how your chest and stomach rise when you inhale and fall when you exhale. Or, pay attention to the oxygen flowing through your nostrils.

Chances are good that the thoughts and feelings that usually occupy your mind will begin to intrude pretty quickly. That’s totally normal—-and perfectly okay. Notice them, and then gently refocus on your breathing. Thoughts and feelings will drift into and out of your awareness, much like clouds float across the sky until they’re out of view.

Over time, you’ll reap another benefit of mindfulness practice: finding that you’re more aware of your feelings and yet less apt to become overwhelmed by them. You can notice emotions as if they were clouds in the sky, without reacting strongly, impulsively, or unhelpfully to them. So situations won’t seem as stressful. You’ll find that being in better control of your thoughts and feelings is empowering.

This technique may be simple, but like any other skill it takes practice. Just as with physical exercise, keep at it to improve over time. Start off with 5 minutes and gradually increase as you get more comfortable. Even after just a few minutes of quiet breathing, your head will probably be clearer. Your whole body will feel calmer. Think of the process like this: Imagine your mind as a snow globe that’s just been shaken. Just as swirling flakes cloud the pretty scene inside, chaotic thoughts make it hard for us to see clearly. But when you breathe and slow down your brain and body, your mind settles down like the snowflakes.

If you’d prefer to be guided through meditations, try these:

FOR RELAXATION DOWNLOADS: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~healthed/relax/downloads.html


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