By Lauren Price, M.Ed
“Are we there yet? Ugh, stay on your side! Don't cross the line!." These are the statements I repeated multiple times during childhood road trips.. My brother and I would sit, trying to stay on our side of the invisible line in the backseat of our parent's Buick. We tried anything we could do to entertain ourselves
However, the road trips of today don't look the same. It is now filled with Podcasts, I-Pads, televisions, and phones on endless scroll. There is no more sitting and waiting for prescriptions to be filled or staring off into the distance as a drive never ends. Instead, I notice myself grabbing my phone to check email or text for short bits of time. The research shows that this desire to fill any downtime only leads to impatience and the inability for the brain to have the time it needs to think of a solution, learn, or create. It is changing our brains.
To fully process,, we need uninterrupted downtime,or simply put, time being bored. Have you ever noticed that a solution will come to you in the shower or bed? My best thoughts or ideas come while getting a massage. I believe my accountant should count spas as a business expense; she doesn't seem to agree yet.
Since doing nothing isn't a thing anymore in our lives, what happens? This is where mindfulness comes in. It isn't just the processing it can help with, but it does tremendous things for our brains and body.
One thing I am currently using to self-regulate or track is my Apple Watch. I will double back on a walk to grab my watch to get credit for the steps. Yes, I am aware it still counts in my body, but my brain doesn't register it. Therefore, when trying a new daily mindfulness habit, I was astutely aware of the benefits because my watch told me. My resting heart rate had gone down considerably, and I slept better. The research on mindfulness reinforced this discovery. I was very excited to learn about the study stating that 8-week mindfulness practice could reduce the size of your amygdala.
As discussed in previous posts, the amygdala can interrupt the learning process by impeding you from using your prefrontal cortex. We have all been there frustrated and just can't think. Wouldn't it be great to be calm in these situations? If our amygdala is smaller, this can occur. Like me, you might scare easily (big amygdala). Since my husband's death in October, I feel as though my amygdala is the size of my entire head. This is why I really need this 8 week's challenge to work. The research, nicely summarized by The University of Wisconsin, states both novice and seasoned meditators showed tremendous benefits. However, with thousands of meditation under their robes (haha), the Monks had amazing abilities to combat negative images and experiences.
The mindfulness benefits have been studied multiple times with similar results, and the findings on the amygdala are all in line. A study with middle school children published in The American Psychological Association showed that the findings in developing brains would have the same benefits as adults and reduced student's stress levels. What middle school student doesn’tneed less anxiety and emotional response? Students even enjoy it. We were teaching 5th and 6th-grade students at Kinkaid pre-pandemic classes on study skills, and before each class, we had the students practice a minute of mindfulness. One day, we ran late, so we tried to save time by taking out the mindfulness, and the students lost it. They said, "don't take that away; it is the only quiet I get."
The question is will it work for me? I think my biggest problem is consistency. This habit can be hard to build with ourselves, students, and children. So let's discuss first how to build the habit and then what to do.
Habit Tagging: This idea from James Clear was introduced in his book Atomic Habits (great read). Habit tagging takes the new habit you would like to build and tags it onto an existing habit. An example of mine, I am trying to drink this vitamin drink each morning. However, I forget, and it isn't fabulous tasting (it isn't actually too bad, but the green color gets me). Therefore, I have tagged it to my coffee. I drink my coffee every morning before my kids get up, so I have added the green drink first while I am making my coffee. Now for my mindfulness 8-week challenge. I think I will tag it to my morning walk. I can't remember if he says to tag it before or after the existing habit, but tagging before works better for me.
Breath - In for 4, hold for 7, and out for 8
Body scan - going down and releasing tension in each part of your body slowly.
Guided - Try apps like Calm or Headspace
Walking or being in nature - Notice everything to be grateful for on a walk or sounds of nature.
Eating - Eat slowly without distraction, notice flavors, smell, texture, and colors.
Will it work? I will let you know in 8 weeks. I challenge you to do the same for yourselves, your students, and your children (if you have them). We created this pdf to help you track what works and hold you accountable. Now I don't think I can get to monk status, but a little calm can't hurt. Happy calming!