I was recently involved in a discussion about the benefits of mindfulness for secondary school students. The conversation revolved around the range of coping strategies that could be taught to young people to help them deal with the ups and downs of school life, in particular the build up to exam season in Y10 and Y11. I was reminded of a comment from a student in one of my classes when I was still working as a teacher. He said,
“The school puts under more and more pressure but doesn’t give us the tools to deal with it”. I think he made a very good point; he wasn’t asking for more study skills or academic knowledge to make the challenges easier, he wanted to learn how to be more resilient. Unfortunately, (and the student knew this) it was too late for him because he was already over-stressed. The opportunity to proactively learn coping strategies had been missed.
We cannot avoid stress, but we can be better prepared to deal with it. In the classic book “Full Catastrophe Living” Jon Kabat-Zinn points out that “we can be more resistant to stress, more resilient, if we build up our resources and enhance our physical and psychological well-being in general ...... during times when we are not particularly taxed or overwhelmed. This is our biological and psychological ‘bank account’ from which we can withdraw needed resources on some occasions, and to which we can make deposits at other times.”
Mindfulness practice helps us to develop a different relationship between our emotions during stressful situations and our response to them, but it is important to keep making the mindful deposits into the bank account when we are not stressed; before we are stressed.
The difficulty is of course that preventative work can often be the first thing to be sacrificed when things start to get tough. As Jim Rohn observed “What is easy to do is easy not to do”.
So, I am off to do my mindfulness practice now. Time to visit the bank.