For Wakefield students, by Wakefield students

The Wakefield Chieftain

For Wakefield students, by Wakefield students

The Wakefield Chieftain

For Wakefield students, by Wakefield students

The Wakefield Chieftain

Meditation and Journaling: Their Effects on Mental Health

Ms. Wathen and I publishing my article for my Senior Project.

The mental health of high schoolers has been a topic of avid conversation in recent times. Post-COVID, things have changed. The transition from middle to high school was rough on most, if not all students. Online school provided no meaningful student connections past the ones that had already been built before leaving school for an “indefinite break.” This isolation that many students experienced has led to a decline in the mental health of high schoolers. The isolation led to an era dependent on technology to communicate, and not connections in real life. This is something that many are still recovering from, and even the Virginia Department of Education has stepped in to try to fix the “dire” situation at hand.

The VDOE has come out with Social Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons. This is a program meant to help students feel a bit more comfortable at school and help them reach their full potential for learning. Even though its main objectives are related to trying to help students achieve more in school, the methods to reach that goal are deeper. Upon further inspection, the methods involve recognizing and managing one’s emotions and behaviors, while establishing healthy interpersonal communications and relationships. This improves how students perform academically, and so Virginia has implemented it. But as we know, some of the SEL lessons haven’t been embraced by the school community, or aren’t achieveing the goals set. Which begs the question; what are some things we can do on our own to manage stress, anxiety, and overall highschool emotions to help us succeed?

I remember there was a day in which the SEL lesson was a 2 minute video of rain sounds. We were instructed to sit with our thoughts with the rain playing in the background. While this is a very simple approach to meditation, the basics are there. Sitting with your thoughts (and maybe some sounds or guided audios) can be considered meditation. This is one of the two things that I have found to help with stress management, especially in the later years of high school. 

Meditation began as a Buddhist practice that was aimed on focusing or clearing your mind using a combination of mental and physical techniques. In recent years, this practice has seen a revival in western culture as a means to calm your stress levels. Different types of meditation have different effects, but the ultimate goal is to be calm and present in many parts of your life. 

Meditation is a diverse term, with many different types of meditation being available. Mindfulness is the one most commonly associated with the term meditation, which is when you clear your mind and watch thoughts pass without entertaining them or judging them, just acknowledging them as a passing thought, like a cloud. Another form that fits the stereotype is mantra meditation. This is the one you may usually think of; people with their legs crossed, gently humming “Om” and their hands on their knees. This is helpful for people who find it hard to focus on their breathing or like to have some sort of noise to focus on. 

In my experience, sticking to it is extremely hard and incredibly rewarding. In a 2018 study, patients with anxiety and depression were instructed to practice meditation. After the trial period, there was evidence to show that meditation was significantly better than no meditation, and that it was as effective as evidence-based therapies. It is also known that practitioners of meditation are among the happiest and calmest people in the world. A study shows heightened activation in the left prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that is linked to positive emotions, self-control and temperament control. Practitioners of meditation are more likely to experience more positive emotions than the average person. 

Another very common but effective form of stress and anxiety management is journaling. Journaling allows people to put their feelings, thoughts, and emotions into writing and allows them to, instead of bottling up emotions, release them and have an outlet. When your friends or support system is unavailable, a pen and paper can be your next best friend. I have found that sometimes, journaling can be more effective than talking to others. It allows me to be true to my emotions. It is a healthy outlet that can be utilized by anyone that wants to have a healthy way of destressing.

This can help people process through tough times, and being able to put thoughts into writing is therapeutic because you can analyze the feelings much easier if you can see and read them compared to when they are just being felt, which is very similar to traditional talk therapy.  Similarly, being able to look back on experiences and memories from your past can show you how much you have grown since the time you wrote. It gives you a tangible checkpoint that you know you have passed. 

A 2006 study showed that people who journaled twice a week saw a large reduction in stress, depression, anxiety, and hostility, and especially larger reductions if they were very stressed to begin with. It has shown to improve IQ, sleep quality, and strengthen your immune system, weirdly. 

What do you even write about, though? Available online, there are various websites that can help you have something to write about by giving you prompts that you can choose. They can be as deep or as surface-level as you would like them to be. This is called guided journaling. The one I like the most is Day One. Unguided journaling, on the other hand, allows you to have no limits on your writing. You can write about whatever you want. Your day, how you feel at that moment, something that made you happy. Even when there is nothing negative to write about, a form of journaling called Positive Affectivity Journaling is meant to help you focus on positive experiences and thoughts in your life. It allows you to be mindful of things you can be thankful for, and things that you want to continue doing. 

Meditation and journaling have become much more common recently; in fact, new research into newer and better ways to do both gives us a guide that will scientifically help us feel better about ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. Like a more effective, self directed version of SEL. 

If you are looking for more information, here is a QR code for a powerpoint presentation showing different ways to meditate and journal.

Work referenced: 

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