As the guest speaker for the Wellness Week All-School Meeting (ASM), Christopher Willard, Psy.D., a psychologist and educator in mindfulness for young people, presented the research and importance of managing stress in high school and beyond through mindfulness and other related practices.
“The facts actually show that the most stressed group in America [is] the American [teenager], who have so much on their plate. So much stress and not a lot of time to figure out how to deal with it,” said Willard during the presentation.
Willard defined mindfulness as staying focused on the present and accepting events without judgement.
Willard cited the increasing stress levels of this generation and age, in which students are so driven to compete for spots at top universities that they begin to overbook their schedules, aim for the highest test scores and miss the present moment due to intense focus on the future.
“There is more pressure on kids than there ever has been before, and then, at the same time, there are even fewer resources for how to deal with stress. The things that used to be fun, like sports, become very competitive and become four seasons long, rather than just one season, so it becomes like work,” said Willard in an interview with The Phillipian.
During his presentation, Willard displayed a slide titled “College Facts,” which emphasized the rapidly growing issue of stress, depression and mental illness in the student population in America. Willard suggested that students practice mindfulness as a coping technique when feeling anxious or overwhelmed, and he emphasized the importance of breathing.
Willard said, “It’s not about getting rid of stress, it’s about organizing stress… when we change our breath, we can actually change our bodies, and when we change our bodies, we can actually change how we feel.”
At the end of his ASM presentation, Willard led the audience in an activity called 7/11, during which he asked the audience to inhale for seven seconds and exhale for 11 seconds in order to calm the mind and body.
“It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. We can find these little moments throughout the day where maybe we do a 7/11 breath or we do some breathing or we focus on sensations in our body,” said Willard.
Willard first approached practicing mindfulness about 20 years ago, during some time off from Wesleyan University, and was motivated to share the benefits of mindfulness with other young adults in the world.
“When I was in college, I was taking some time off trying to figure out what to do with my life and had my own stress-related issues. Then, I found mindfulness and just wanted to bring that into my own life and share that with other people, because it had been helpful in terms of my own mental health, my own physical health and academic performance,” said Willard in an interview with The Phillipian.
Willard is the author of “Growing Up Mindful” and “Child’s Mind,” co-author of “The Mindfulness for Teen Depression Workbook” and a co-editor of “Teaching Mindfulness Skills to Kids and Teens.”