Updated: Mar 5, 2019
Up to 370 schools across England will take part in a program that aims to prevent anxiety, stress, and other issues in children.
A new program was launched in England last week to address mental health issues in children and teens. According to a press release from the British government, up to 370 schools across England will take part in a program that aims to prevent anxiety, stress, and other issues in children. Older children will learn about mental health and psychiatric disorders through information sessions. Younger children and some older children will work on more body-centered techniques that include breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and mindfulness, as well as learning about the importance of social support and friendship for improving mental health.
It’s unclear from the press release what will be used to determine a successful outcome, and no study this large can address every mental health issue. One goal of the study is to identify children with existing mental health issues and to get them the additional help they need, as neither information sessions nor breathing and relaxation exercises can address psychiatric disorders or severe psychosocial issues. Hopefully, the information provided in the education sessions will be a good resource for those who need help understanding the difference between normal life stressors and something that requires additional attention.
But for the kids who don’t need additional resources, my money is on the relaxation condition providing a more successful outcome in terms of improved mental health and adaptability. Why? Because no matter what the cause, stress and anxiety have physiological symptoms that can best be treated with physical techniques.
Teaching basic breathing techniques and mindfulness skills to children beginning at an early age can only bring good things. And incorporating it into a school curriculum? Even better. If we can get ‘em young and make this stuff seem as matter of fact as ABCs and basic math skills, children will turn to breathing techniques and other mindfulness methods such as visualization much more readily when they are stressed, overwhelmed, or just need a minute to get their thoughts together.
Our own public schools have come a long way since kids were told to stand in the corner for fidgeting. My daughter’s first grade class does yoga every morning, and on Tuesdays they pass around a rain stick, turn it, and then each kid tells their classmates about the best part of their weekend (she keeps insisting it’s “after Mondays” so I could be wrong about the day). But we are still a long way from incorporating mental health prevention and education into our classrooms. A full-fledged government funded project like the one undertaken in the U.K. seems pretty far off. But imagine what school would be like if each class, in each grade, each day, started off with just five or six slow, cleansing breaths.
Slowed breathing has been shown to increase mental clarity and help focus attention as well as improve emotional regulation. Actually, it’s the attention to breathing that’s been shown to benefit brain functioning as well as improve feelings of well-being
Slowed breathing has been shown to increase mental clarity and help focus attention as well as
improve emotional regulation. Actually, it’s the attention to breathing that’s been shown to benefit brain functioning as well as improve feelings of well-being. Teachers looking for a simple way to gather the troops at the beginning of class might think about this technique of having everyone take just one minute to engage in five or six slowed, conscious breaths. The benefits might just take their breath away.