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Back-to-school series: Is your mind full? Try mindfulness

Exams, homework, deadlines…oh my! While life as a student can be full of new challenges, experiences and fun, it can also come with increased stress levels.
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And with busy schedules, it can be tough to find the time to get some rest and relaxation. Dr. Dzung Vo, adolescent medicine specialist with BC Children's Hospital, recommends students bring the practice of mindfulness into their everyday routine to ease stress that often comes along with the demands of school, and increase their enjoyment of their journey.

"Often when we get to school we worry about the future – we worry about making the right grades, getting into the right university, the right classes, making the right friends, and all of that can be really stressful and it's all about the future," says Dr. Vo. "It can be useful and important to plan for the future, but even while we are planning, we can stay grounded in the present moment, because if we get lost in our worries about the future, it just increases our stress."

Mindfulness is about paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment (Jon Kabat-Zinn). Mindfulness is paying attention to what you're thinking, feeling and experiencing. It doesn't have to take a lot of time. There are a lot of ways you can do it, and a lot of ways it can be helpful.

"Mindfulness helps us bring awareness back to the present moment, back to the here and now, back to our bodies, back to our breathing, so we can enjoy every step of the journey and not just focus and get stressed about the destination we want to get to," says Dr. Vo.

Dr. Vo understands it can be difficult to add more to a student's to-do list, but practicing mindfulness doesn't have to take a lot of time and can be done anytime, anywhere. The simple act of taking a few deep breaths can reduce stress, maintain focus and contribute to overall mental wellness.

There are lots of brief and informal mindfulness practices that students can practice before or after class or exam, that can take as little as 30 seconds up to a few minutes. One Dr. Vo recommends, is the STOP meditation (Stahl and Goldstein, 2010):

  • Stop what you're doing and get out of auto pilot mode
  • Take three mindful breaths.
  • Observe what's happening, right now in this moment with an attitude of kindness and acceptance.
  • Proceed and carry on with what you're doing but with presence and mindfulness without being worried about the future or the past.

Dr. Vo also recommends downloading the Breathr app – a free mindfulness app developed by BC Children's Hospital that helps guide you through simple practices using your iOS or Android devices. It helps youth and those new to the practice of mindfulness learn about the science behind it, and explore different exercises like mindful eating and walking.

Follow BC Children's on Twitter and keep watching the stories section on our website for more helpful tips and resources for students and parents.

Listen to a CBC Early Edition story about Dr. Vo's mindfulness work with children and youth at BC Children's, where one of his patients shares her experience with mindfulness and how it helped her manage stress and anxiety. 


Stahl R and Goldstein E. A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. New Harbinger, 2010.


mindfulness; self care; back-to-school; students; mental health
Children's Health
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