Thank you for publishing Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen and bringing some much needed attention to this epidemic. Students of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds are suffering; they are being diagnosed with anxiety, depression, insomnia, eating disorders, engaging in cutting, drug use, careless sex, and committing suicide at unprecedented rates. To protect their health and well-being, we routinely offer students driver’s education, drug and alcohol education, and sex education. Given the alarming statistics Why aren’t we offering “stress education” ?
Over 30 years of research with adults has shown that an 8-weekcourse in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction decreases stress, depression, anxiety, and hostility, and enhances stress hardiness, sense of purpose and meaning, compassion, empathy and activity in the left prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain associated with positive emotion).
Recent cutting-edge scientific research is documenting that children as young as first grade can benefit from practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply paying attention, to our life experience, here and now, with kindness and curiously. A standard 8-week mindfulness course (“Stress Ed”) can help students learn to observe the thoughts and feelings that accompany the typical daily stresses of lost cell phones, mid-terms, and romantic break-ups, as well as the more intense thoughts and feelings of clinical depression and anxiety. The emerging data demonstrate that children and adolescents who learn mindfulness have significant reductions in anxiety, depression, and physical distress, and significant increases in attention, social skills, sleep quality, self-esteem, and self-compassion. A study by Kristin Neff Ph.D. demonstrated that increased self-compassion improved student’s ability to cope with perceived academic failure.
If we are truly concerned about student health and well-being, let’s offer them basic skills for coping with stress. “Stress Ed” can easily be incorporated into freshman curricula. As with other health ed courses, a specifically trained instructor can teach these essential life skills in a cost effective manner to groups of students. This format creates a safe place for students to discuss their experiences with a professional, and provides all students with basic skills for dealing with stress. Two additional benefits to this format are that the professional can identify individuals who may need immediate additional support, and the instructor could also be a crucial resource for a student at a vulnerable time in the future.
Stress Ed is can inoculate students against this epidemic.
Above, I speak at the 2009 Listen, Learn, Connect evening, one of several discussions supported by Palo Alto High School and the local community in response to a cluster of teen age suicides.