How Self-Compassion Can Help Teens De-stress

By Jessica Morey | August 15, 2016 | 0 comments

Teen stress is on the rise. According to a new study, learning mindfulness and self-compassion can help teens cope.

In a 2014 national survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 31 percent of adolescents aged 13 to 17 said that their stress increased in the previous year, and 42 percent said they were not doing enough to manage their stress. Adolescents who experience frequent stress are more prone to depression and perform worse in school.

Students meditating at an iBme mindfulness retreat Students meditating at an iBme mindfulness retreat

How can teens foster emotional well-being during this often-turbulent time of life?

Many teens turn to external sources—friends, family, hobbies. But what if they could turn inward and find support from within as well? In a recent study published in the Journal of Adolescence, Dr. Brian Galla of the University of Pittsburgh found that mindfulness training can reduce stress and support health and well-being in teenagers.

In his study, conducted in summer 2013, 132 teens participated in a five-day mindfulness retreat by Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (where I am executive director). The retreat was designed to cultivate mindfulness, loving-kindness, and other positive mental and emotional capacities such as self-compassion and gratitude. Adolescents learned to concentrate better and be more accepting of their present-moment experiences, as well as adopt an attitude of care for all human beings, including themselves.

Each day of the retreat typically included formal sitting meditation, walking meditation, yoga, and workshops. Adolescents also attended small group sessions of six to eight individuals, with two or three adult facilitators. In the groups, they practiced interacting mindfully with their peers, while discussing their thoughts and feelings about the retreat experience.

Before and after the retreat, teens completed surveys assessing their stress, symptoms of depression, and negative emotions such as anger and anxiety. They also completed surveys measuring mindfulness, self-compassion, positive emotions, and their overall sense of satisfaction with their lives. Three months later, Dr. Galla’s team contacted the teens again and had them complete the same surveys to see how well they were doing.

The results were clear: Immediately after the retreat, teens felt less stressed and depressed, and were happier, more self-compassionate, and more satisfied with their lives. More importantly, the benefits of the retreat endured. Three months afterward, teens still reported feeling better than before the retreat began. In other words, teens learned skills during the retreat that seemed to help them manage stress and other challenges in their daily life.

Which skills were most supportive of long-term well-being? The results showed that self-compassion was key, even more so than mindfulness. Teens who cultivated a greater sense of inner kindness and sympathy toward the difficulties in their life were the least stressed, least depressed, and most satisfied with their lives after the retreat. To get an even better sense of what’s going on, future research will compare teens who have gone on the retreat to teens who have not.

In the meantime, how can other teens reap these benefits? During the retreat, participants learned to be more self-compassionate through a variety of activities that teens can easily bring home with them.

For instance, one of the practices the teens engaged in every afternoon was loving-kindness meditation. This meditation begins with cultivating an attitude of kindness towards oneself. Teens are encouraged to focus on their breath and repeat to themselves, “May I be happy, may I be safe, may I be at ease.” Then, the teens mentally extend that phrase to their loved ones, their acquaintances, and even people whom they feel negative emotions toward. The purpose of the practice is to create an atmosphere of acceptance and unconditional love starting from within.

In addition, teens learn the skills of sitting with emotions and understanding them as manifestations of needs. During meditation sessions, this might involve embracing one’s feelings with curiosity and kindness. Not only does this cultivate self-empathy, but it also encourages a critical understanding of stress; when teens are more aware of what they’re feeling, they can start to notice what triggers negative emotions and what soothes them.


Self-criticism, loneliness, and uncertainty about the future are some of the biggest challenges for adolescents. This study suggests that responding to personal failures and shortcomings with kindness, rather than criticism or rumination, is especially critical for adolescents’ emotional well-being. Stress can make teens feel isolated, unwilling to share their struggles with others; but self-compassion helps them recognize that everyone struggles, and they don’t have to feel alone.

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

 
About The Author

Jessica Morey is the Executive Director of Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme) and a lead teacher for iBme teen retreats.

  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  

Greater Good Events

Mindful Self-Compassion: Core Skills Training
International House
December 9-10, 2016


Mindful Self-Compassion: Core Skills Training

This workshop is an introduction to Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), an empirically-supported training program based on the pioneering research of Kristin Neff and the clinical perspective of Chris Germer.


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

How Pleasure Works By Paul Bloom Bloom explores a broad range of human pleasures from food to sex to religion to music. Bloom argues that human pleasure is not purely an instinctive, superficial, sensory reaction; it has a hidden depth and complexity.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement