4 Ways to Improve Your Student’s Mental Health

A mom and daughter smiling and practicing meditation

As the school year moves along, it can sometimes feel like a struggle to get through. This is a normal sensation, but it can be important to think about some ways to help yourself and your student improve how you feel, which can also help you keep your attention where it needs to be. We’d like to share a few ways that researchers have identified to improve your mood and your ability to focus.

1. Mindfulness

Research has found that being more mindful can be a great way to feel more positive. But what does it mean to be mindful? Mindfulness is about “attending and accepting.” The idea is that when you focus your conscious attention on right here and right now, you can observe your thoughts and feelings without immediately reacting and doing something about them, which will help you to feel and perform better. Helping kids to practice a few simple techniques can improve their on mood and focus, such as:

  • Breathing exercises: Many kinds of specific approaches are available, but studies have shown that learning how to use one’s breathing as part of an attention-focusing and emotion-regulating exercise is helpful for people of all ages, from young kids to the elderly.
  • Find a focus point: One technique for mindfully dealing with stress is by pausing when one notice’s some kind of negative reaction, focusing awareness on those negative feelings and accepting them, before finally shift concentration to some neutral physical sensation, like the feeling of the soles of the feet.

If you are interested in more, you can check out some of our resources on ReconnectU.

2. Managing Anxiety

While we tend to avoid feeling anxious, anxiety can be a natural and appropriate response to stressful situations. However, we often feel anxious in ways that are not appropriate or helpful for a given situation, and many of us struggle to control the feelings of anxiety when it is not. Of course, some people really struggle with this and require the help of a professional, but there are some simple approaches worth trying when students get nervous, like before a test.

  • Writing exercises: You might think that trying to ignore or distract yourself from the negative emotions might be the best approach, but research suggests that writing about your worries is a good way to work through them. For example, in one study, when kids took 10 minutes before a math exam to write about their concerns they helped work through them, helping them to feel more ready to succeed.
  • Reframing: Trying to take advantage of the feeling of anxiety can, perhaps surprisingly, help! The physical symptoms associated with feeling anxious, like your heart beating faster and your mind racing, are the same kind of reactions your body produces in response to challenges you are facing, where it can be helpful. Reminding students of this and trying to frame the task ahead as exciting rather than a threat can help improve their performance.

Check out our Learning Coach support sessions for more on how you can help support student wellness!

3. Exercise

Exercise is a great way to improve your physical health, but did you know that it can also help improve attention and memory? In studies with elementary school kids all the way up to senior citizens, moderate aerobic exercise, when done consistently, can help improve mental functioning. Some specific approaches that have been found to help kids include:

  • Yoga: While specific approaches can vary, Yoga can be a good place to start. By focusing on postures and exercises that promote strength and flexibility, yoga also includes breathing exercises, deep relaxation techniques, and elements of meditation practice, as well. It has been found to improve mood in a number of school-based studies.
  • Sports: Participating in extracurricular sports activities may help kids feel more confident and capable. Finding local opportunities to participate can also be a great way to make friends, and social connection can contribute to feeling positive.

4. Gratitude

Another approach for improving one’s mood is to focus on gratitude. When people spend just a few minutes a day reflecting on things that are going well and that they are thankful for, over time, their mood improves. This can take many different forms, but some simple ones include:

  • Family time: Take a moment during daily times with the family, such as at dinner, to have everyone talk about something they liked or appreciated from their day. It is a good way to connect as well as to focus on the positive.
  • Morning and Night: Spending a few moments as part of either a waking-up or night-time ritual to reflect on things that you are grateful for can set you up for a good day or a good nights’ sleep!

If you are looking for a concrete activity to support students’ wellbeing, consider helping them write thank you notes using our templates!

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