TRAVERSE CITY — Rod Meyers was dealing with stress and anxiety when he saw a flyer on a bulletin board at his school for a program called “Stressed Teens.”
The flyer claimed that the mindfulness training offered by the program could help Meyers, a sophomore at Grand Traverse Academy, with the issues he was facing.
Meyers joined Stressed Teens with some skepticism. He is logically oriented and he felt that eight weeks of mindfulness might be too spiritual for him.
“The first few classes, despite my doubts about them, I felt so much calmer afterwards, it was ridiculous,” Meyers said.
Meyers was later diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. By the time he took Stressed Teens, he had no words for the issues he was facing, but even then the class introduced him to a calm he had yet to experience.
“It basically gave me a baseline that I didn’t know I could achieve because I’ve always been under constant stress all my life and didn’t even know I could be calm,” Meyers said. “It kind of lifted the veil, and I realized, ‘Oh my god, I could be so much happier right now. “”
For the past seven years, Wendy Weckstein, Physical Therapist, Certified Wellness Consultant, and Certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Teacher, has conducted MBSR classes for adults and adolescents at Northern Michigan Psychiatric Services in Traverse City. , where she is the Director of Wellness. .
About 15 years ago, Weckstein herself completed an eight-week MBSR program to overcome the stress she had accumulated from her work and personal life at the time. It was resistant at first, but about three weeks later it opened up.
“Something clicked,” Weckstein said. “A switch has been flipped.”
The program changed her life and she wanted to help others experience the same, she said.
With a passion for teaching and a Masters of Education already under his belt, Weckstein dove into a five-year training program at Brown University to earn his certification in MBSR and later his certification in Teen MBSR. , or MBSR-T.
The work has been a “privilege”, she said.
“It’s just incredibly rewarding to witness the change and see people step into this journey and discover the possibilities that mindfulness can bring,” Weckstein said.
According to the National Library of Medicine, MBSR is a secular meditation and stress reduction program developed by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970s, used worldwide for stress management and to help individuals cope with chronic mental and physical illnesses. Kabat-Zinn developed the program from research in medicine, psychology and Buddhism.
In the early 2000s, Gina Biegel created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Teens Program, or MBSR-T or Stressed Teens. This is a version of MBSR more suitable for adolescent development.
According to an article published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences, the results of several studies done on people who took MBSR indicate that the program helps people deal with a variety of clinical problems.
During the eight weeks of the Stressed Teens program, Weckstein guides her students through guided mindfulness meditations, yoga, creative projects and group discussions. Outside of class, Weckstein encourages her students to incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives to establish healthy practices they can take with them after the eight-week program is over.
“Every teenager should take a class like this. It’s so essential,” Weckstein said. “They’re learning skills and cultivating skills that most adults will never learn in their lifetime, and it’s inner tools and resources that provide them with that inner strength, that agency, that’s going to allow them to navigate through the challenges in their lives.”
In MBSR, mindfulness is the act of bringing attention to your thoughts and surroundings with acceptance and curiosity and without judgment, Weckstein said. Our minds tend to leave the present moment and focus on the past or the future, but mindfulness draws an individual’s attention to the present.
Recently, the effects of the pandemic have also been a prominent topic in Stressed Teens.
As previously reported, social services in the region have seen how the pandemic has had a negative impact on young people’s mental health, as young people have struggled in a world of heightened stressors they have had to navigate through the pandemic.
In May 2021, Northern Lakes Community Mental Health (NLCMH) saw 124 children for crisis counseling or inpatient services – triple what the organization saw in the same month a year earlier.
Over the past two years, Weckstein said he’s seen deeper levels of anxiety, self-doubt and self-mockery, as well as more self-harming behaviors and maladaptive coping mechanisms in his teen groups. stressed.
The initial isolation of the pandemic was difficult, but re-entering normal routines also caused a lot of stress and anxiety among teenagers. Weckstein found that, in his groups, many teenagers felt comfortable being at home and not having to deal with the stresses of social interactions to the point that leaving home to return to “normality” presented also difficulties.
Anxiety, despair and stress lead to unhealthy behaviors, but with consistent practice of mindfulness, individuals may be able to respond to stressors in their lives in a healthier way, Weckstein said. . Unhealthy eating habits, self-harm, or even heavy use of technology or social media are examples of unhealthy behaviors people can fall into, Weckstein said.
“Mindfulness has the potential to help us navigate life’s inevitable challenges with greater ease, a greater level of calm, and the ability to see things with greater clarity,” Weckstein said.
For Meyers, practicing mindfulness gave him a clearer head and quieted the constant chatter in his brain. He still thinks of a project he did in Stressed Teens where they filled jars with glitter and water to make snow globe-like objects. When you shake it, the jar is darkened with glitter until it stabilizes again and the water clears up.
In the classroom, students learn to think of the jar as their mind and the glitter as their scrambled thoughts. Weckstein often leads students through a mindfulness meditation where they watch the glitter swirl through the jar and eventually settle.
At first, when the sequin pot was introduced, Meyers laughed it off. But during meditation, the imagery helped calm him down. He still uses it from time to time, he says.
“It really helps me to remember, like, to relax for a second,” he said.
Now Meyers is a sophomore at Northwestern Michigan College. He continues to manage his social anxiety with exercises he learned at Stressed Teens — and the adult MBSR course offered by Weckstein, which he later took — and he tries to practice mindfulness from time to time.
Overall, taking Stressed Teens opened him up to taking better care of himself.
“It really helped silence my fighting brain,” he said.
Classes for stressed teenagers are limited to 20 people and take place in the fall, spring and winter. Participants can join virtually or in person. Weckstein’s next program will run from September 21 to November 9 and will take place on Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. For more course information, individuals can visit www.mindfulnesstc.com.