How Mindfulness & Yoga Can Address the School Mental Health Crisis

Mental health is at an all-time low.

Mental health challenges, already on the rise before the pandemic, have spiked among children, teens, and adults since 2020. More than 60% of adults and 40% of teens report feeling increased levels of significant stress (APA, 2021). Youth report feeling more stressed and disconnected, and hospitals are seeing more children’s emergency room visits due to mental health (CDC, 2020).

Students aren’t the only people in the school building feeling the stress. Teaching has consistently been listed in the top 5 most stressful professions in the world and teacher attrition has risen from 16% to 25% over the past year.

By neglecting their own needs in favor of the dozens of other priorities thrown their way each school day, teachers are burning out and experiencing many of the symptoms they are told to look for in their own students.

Schools are now on the front line for both students and teachers mental health needs. Chronic stress, overwhelm, and burnout are contributing to teacher attrition, student disengagement, and increasing mental health challenges within the school day.

Stress Hinders Learning.

What are schools without learners and teachers?

The implications of stress over time cannot be overstated. Maintaining a chronic state of stress has well-documented long-term effects on overall physical and mental health. Effects can include an inability to focus, procrastination, headaches, stomach problems, tension, pain, anxiety, depression, aggression, substance abuse, and violence (APA, 2018).

Mental health must be addressed in schools.

When we feel stressed, our minds and bodies are affected. The emotional centers of our brain and our sympathetic nervous system, aka fight or flight, are activated. The prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain where learning happens, goes offline. Thus, learning and teaching cannot happen optimally.

Mental Health and Calm.

Calm is the opposite of stress. When we feel calm, we are self-aware and regulated. When we are calm, our brains are online. Learning and teaching can now happen.

The challenge for many of us is how to find calm when we are feeling stressed.

In order to find calm in times of stress, we first need the opportunity to know what calm feels like and practice arriving in that state. This is a skill that we can practice and learn at any age.

Mindfulness and Yoga for Calm.

Yoga and mindfulness are effective ways to learn this skill.

Mindfulness is a way of being, and Yoga is one type of mindfulness practice. Yoga combines breathing, movement, and relaxation to bring the body and mind back into a state of calm and regulation.

Through breath and movement, Yoga and mindfulness regulate the emotional centers of our brain and activate the thinking and learning parts of our brain. They also activate our rest and digest response, or parasympathetic nervous system, so that we can feel more calm and relaxed in our bodies.

Over time, yoga and mindfulness can have powerful benefits on mental health for children, teens, and adults. Studies conducted by Harvard, Tulane, and California State University of Fullerton have found that Yoga Ed. programs can improve mental health outcomes in students and teachers, including:

  • Decreases Stress & Anxiety: A 2018 randomized controlled study conducted by Tulane University found that Yoga Ed. programs may improve symptoms of anxiety among students.
  • Improves Focus & Attention: A 2014 study conducted by the California State University of Fullerton found that Yoga Ed. programs in classrooms produced benefits in attention, concentration, joy, self-esteem, self-confidence, physical well-being, and daily behaviors.
  • Maintains Mental Health: In 2012, a Harvard study found that Yoga Ed. programs have the potential of playing a protective or preventive role in maintaining mental health for students.

Mindfulness and yoga can be valuable practices for schools as we navigate the growing mental health crisis. Learning skills to support our mental health and experiencing what it feels like to be mentally healthy can profoundly impact the health and wellness of students, teachers, and school communities. In order to choose calm in times of stress, we first need the opportunity to experience calm and practice arriving in that state. Yoga and mindfulness provide that opportunity.

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Julia Bond

A strategist by trade and scientist at heart, Julia informs the neuroscience and psychology of yoga and mindfulness at Yoga Ed.

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