by Katie May
Kylie and her mom got into a fight. Kylie screamed, “I hate you!”, ran to her room and slammed the door. She threw the folded pile of laundry from her bed and it scattered onto the floor. Then she curled up on the bed and cried. She noticed an emptiness in the pit of her stomach. She began to recognize the thoughts going through her head like, “It’s not fair. She never lets me do what I want!” Kylie decided to take out her journal and free write. After a few minutes, her heaving sobs turned into calming breaths and she decided to go downstairs and talk to her mom about coming to a compromise with her curfew.
In all my years of working with teens, this situation has come up again and again in many similar ways. Your teens are gaining independence and figuring out where they fit into the world. Along with these developmental tasks comes the challenge of navigating intense emotions and being mindful of thoughts that result in a variety of wanted and unwanted behaviors.
Mindfulness skills have proven very beneficial in helping teens with these challenges. When teens are mindful, they can:
· Notice thoughts without being overwhelmed by them
· Make planned decisions rather than acting impulsively
· Feel more calm and in control in stressful situations
The first topic I teach teens when we work on practical mindfulness skills is to become more aware of the three states of mind. Your state of mind is your outlook or your perspective. These states of mind have a big impact on what emotions you experience and what decisions you make.
When you are in Emotion Mind, you are driven by your feelings and urges. You can be in Emotion Mind for both pleasant and difficult feelings. In Emotion Mind, you are not focused on facts; you are immersed in feelings. Some situations that trigger Emotion Mind include getting into an argument, listening to music or creating art.
When you are in Reason Mind, you are focused on the facts. That means you are thinking logically and analyzing a situation. In Reason Mind, you are NOT focused on your feelings. Some situations that trigger Reason Mind include doing schoolwork, writing a list or following a recipe.
Wise Mind is the balance between your emotions and reasoning. When you are in Wise Mind, you are able to feel your emotions AND focus on the facts. In Wise Mind you have a balance that lets you make decisions based on how you feel AND the facts in a situation. Wise Mind helps you to make healthy choices and act effectively. Some examples of Wise Mind include asking for help when you are frustrated or talking to someone when you feel sad.
You can help your teens at home by pointing out when you see them in each state of mind, or discussing examples of when they have been in each state of mind. In the example above, Kylie began the argument in Emotion Mind. She was driven by her emotions, leading her to yell at her mom, slam the door and throw her clothes. However, she used mindfulness to become AWARE of her body sensations and her thoughts, allowing her to make the Wise Mind decision of using her journal to cope with stressful feelings, then act effectively by going back and speaking to her mom more calmly to develop a solution.
You can also be a powerful teacher for your teen by modeling your own use of the three states of mind. When you feel frustrated and act on this by snapping at a family member, you can catch yourself by stating, “I’m sorry I snapped at you. I let my Emotion Mind take over.’
I have heard lots of parents say that practicing mindfulness is embarrassing, or that it doesn’t work. This typically happens when they try something once and don’t get the desired response right away. Mindfulness skills take LOTS of practice and do NOT come naturally at first. I wouldn’t write an article about how to run a marathon then expect you to go out and do it after reading about it! Mindfulness takes time and practice, so stick with it!
This article is part one of a three-part series. In my next article, I will show you exactly how to help your teens pay attention to what is happening inside and outside of themselves and be able to put words to what they notice to help you get a REAL answer to the question “What’s wrong?” when your teen looks stressed. You won’t want to miss it! Click here [insert link to: ] for more.
Katie K. May is a Nationally Certified, Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in working with children and teens. She uses mindfulness-based practices, play therapy and expressive arts to help clients communicate difficult emotions and decrease problem behaviors.