Contributed by Gail Slogoff
For most high school juniors, the year leading up to application deadlines is extremely stressful. On top of keeping up with classes, studying for entrance exams, and visiting colleges, students have the agonizing task of creating “the list” of schools to which they want to apply. For students, this time period can cause an enormous amount of fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. As parents, we know it can be stressful, but we don’t always know how bad it can be.
Even the most motivated and hard-working students worry:
- Am I taking enough AP classes?
- Am I taking the right classes?
- Should I be involved in more extracurricular activities?
- Am I applying to the right colleges?
- Ugh, (enter classmate name here) is applying to the same school. Are my scores better than hers?
Then there’s Naviance: the online system that takes the GPA and SAT/ACT scores of all college applicants and uses analytics to give students the likelihood of acceptance based on their scores. We tell our teens not spend too much time obsessing over those little dots, but then we find ourselves getting caught up in the frenzy when the college application process comes up in discussion during coffee with friends or in the office break room.
How can teens learn to manage their anxiety and cope with stress while also reminding parents that this is an opportunity that will prepare their teens for success in the future?
Luckily, mindfulness is a practice you can use to help manage the stress and anxiety.
What is mindfulness?
It's being aware of the present moment, right here, right now. It's not about permanently clearing our mind of absolutely everything, which is impossible anyway, but about looking at all our experiences in a non-critical way. Over 25 years of scientific research shows that mindfulness reduces stress and boosts the immune system.
How does it work?
The basic science of it goes something like this: on a brain scan, the amygdala is the part of our brain that lights up when we're stressed. The pre-frontal cortex is the part of our brains used to organize information. Get this: by practicing mindfulness, we can build neural pathways between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex, so instead of freaking out when something happens, we can respond consciously.
How do I do it?
Here’s a basic mindfulness exercise:
- Sit up straight in your chair.
- Close your eyes.
- Pay attention to your breath. See if you can notice the beginning, middle and end of each breath.
- Do this ten times.
Gina M. Biegel, MA, LMFT author and creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Teens (MBSR-T) says that a part of being “mindful,” is to “be aware of what is, in this moment as it is occurring. However teens aren’t always aware of their thoughts as they are occurring in this moment, or that a thought is actually just a thought and that it might not be real or based on fact. As most people know, judgments are a type of thought and just teaching a teen these things can improve their functioning.”
How you choose to respond to and cope with the college admissions process affects your overall level of stress as well as your ability to manage the process. The first step to managing the process in a healthy way is to notice what you are doing that is causing the stress. The second step is to stop doing that which is hurting you, not helping you. When you are stressed, notice your breath just as it is. If you are focused on your breathing, you aren’t necessarily focusing on whatever is stressing you out.
Below are a few mindfulness resources:
Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition 2013) - Jon Kabat-Zinn
Jon Kabat-Zinn is the founder of The Centre for Mindfulness and a pioneer in the scientific research and application of mindfulness. Essential reading (in my opinion), this book is based on his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program and offers the antidote to the burnout caused by our fast-paced living. I believe that if everyone were taught MBSR (in our education system, perhaps) our world would be a kinder, friendlier place.
From WiseMindBody, this is a go-to YouTube mediation when you just need to take it down a notch.
A highly rated app with free and fee options. It features a huge resource of guided meditations and many extras, such as classes with well-known teachers, programs and progress tracking. Available on IOS and Android.
This book is Brené's assertion, based on her tremendous research, that embracing our vulnerability is our clearest path to courage, engagement and meaningful connection.
About Gail Slogoff
Gail Slogoff is an Academic Coach focusing on stress and anxiety. She helps teens and their parents let go of worry, overcome their fears and gain confidence to navigate the College Application Process.