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Anxiety: Shedding Light On It with Mindfulness

It’s October and many of you know what that means. It’s one of the busiest times of the year because we have so many holidays back-to-back. There are multiple occasion decorations, parties to attend, costumes to dust off or buy new, school parties and festivals, lots of amazing food to make and eat, and so many people to see. So. Many. This is all going on while we have our regularly scheduled programming of this thing called our life. I love the holidays! It’s so much fun and it can make you feel kind of crazy. Can I get a shout out in agreement here?!

With all the holiday mania coming up, do you ever feel restless, wound-up, or on-edge? Then we have our full schedules with the bittersweet addition of holiday engagements and events. Does that ever have you experiencing fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and muscle tension?

But hold on, I haven’t yet described all the things going on with our kids in school. This can be a double whammy for my parent and educator friends reading this. As soon as school starts, we dive right into the busiest time of the year. With school events, sporting or extracurricular events, and holiday events, do you feel like you have difficulty controlling feelings of worry about getting it all done and have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you have experienced generalized anxiety as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Numbers are powerful and telling. The American Psychological Association reported in their data on behavioral health that approximately 40 million adults in a given year have anxiety! Per the NIMH, that’s 19.1 % of adults in the U.S.

Yet, I’m not done with the numbers. I have one more number to share. Take a deep breath because this one may be hard to process. The American Psychological Association indicates that student stress levels now top adult stress levels. According to Michele Borba, educational psychologist and author of Unselfie, Childhood anxiety is up 25%due to economic hardship, high stakes testing, bullying, and pressure to perform.

Let that sink in. All the way in. Staggering isn’t?

I recently posted a survey in my Facebook Group, Today’s Gonna Be Awesomesauce!, asking the members to give feedback on struggles they are facing in their day-to-day lives. Guess which category received the most votes? Perhaps you may get the theme by now – Anxiety.

Despite all the numbers showing increases in anxiety, mindfulness practices can help turn the tide in our schools and our homes. Science is increasingly showing that there are many benefits to these timeless practices, including increasing awareness and reducing stress and anxiety.

The great spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, says “mindfulness means awareness and it also means looking deeply at the object to shed light on it.”

When I teach students mindfulness, I teach them that we bring focused attention, a certain awareness to one thing (object) at one time. We notice and observe to bring light to what’s so in the moment.

That certain “what’s so” in the moment may be anxious feelings and sensations that stem from an important test coming up, or it can be a little more insidious, it may be from internal formations, as Hahn notes “these can be feelings of anger, fear, worthless[ness], and regret that have been suppressed in our subconscious.” Those are the trickiest!

The important part of the process is that we name the feeling and then we tame it by using our intentional breath and mindfulness practice to transform the immediate distressing feeling, such as test anxiety or holiday event anxiety, and perhaps we may even delve into the internal formations (those other uncomfortable feelings that may be deeply suppressed) that can be causing the surface-level anxiety.

I wish I could tell you that we can transform all these uncomfortable feelings in just a few mindful breaths, but that’s not the case. What we can do is turn the tide on anxiety rates in our schools and homes by shedding light on it with mindfulness practices. We can name it, tame it, and eventually, transform it.

It’s a process, but one that we are finding we can’t live without, that is, if we want to add a little more joy, sparkle, and awesomesauce to our lives.

XO ~ Athea

PS. Featured Image Photo Credit: Lightbulb Card from Today’s Gonna Be Awesomesauce: Affirmation + Art Card Deck for Youth, Parents, and Educators.  


American Psychological Association. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/data-behavioral-health.aspx.

Borba, Michele. (2016).  Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. New York, New York: Touchstone.

Hanh, Thich Nhat. (2006). Transformation and Healing: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. Berkeley, California: Parallax Press.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.

Netta Weinstein, Kirk W. Brown, and Richard M.  Ryan, “A Multi-Method Examination of the Effects of Mindfulness on Stress Attribution, Coping, and Emotional Well-Being,” Journal of Research in Personality 43, no. 3 (2009).


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