A Mindfulness Approach to Young Adult Treatment
Young adults who are struggling with anxiety, depression, or trauma are often caught up with negative thoughts about the past, or worries and fear about the future. A mindfulness approach helps them to come back to the “now.” As they learn to be present with what they are feeling through mindful practices, they are able to more effectively address the underlying issues catalyzing mental health conditions.
When to Seek Help
It’s not easy to take the first step toward entering treatment. Hence, young adults and their families and loved ones too often wait until a crisis point to seek help. But the earlier a mental health or co-occurring disorder is addressed, the better the outcome.
Emerging adults need treatment when they are unable to move forward in their lives due to the crushing weight of anxiety, depressive symptoms, or the effects of trauma—including collective trauma and situational depression.
Here are some signs to watch indicating that it’s time for a young adult to seek help.
- Everyday functioning is impaired.
- A young adult is unable to focus on school or work, and has no motivation to accomplish tasks.
- Activities that used to be pleasurable no longer give them joy.
- Self-care, sleep, and eating habits are disrupted.
- They experience ongoing feelings of hopelessness and lack of self-worth.
- Drinking and/or drug use has increased.
These red flags indicate that a comprehensive assessment should be performed. Subsequently, emerging adults and their families can determine the appropriate level of treatment. Whether they choose outpatient or residential care, emerging adults need treatment that is tailored to their unique needs, ideally a program that includes a mindfulness approach.
What Is Mindfulness?
The term “mindfulness” is a translation of the Pali term sati and is derived from ancient Buddhist teachings and practices. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School was one of the earliest Western teachers to introduce a secular practice of mindfulness in the United States in the late 1980s. Since then, interest in mindful practices, particularly yoga and meditation, has grown exponentially.
Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” Mindfulness is also described as the process of bringing one’s attention to the present moment. Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and conscious breathing, cultivate awareness of what’s happening in the mind and body. Hence, a mindfulness approach allows young adults to take a step back so they can observe their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations with less emotional reactivity.
The Evidence-Based Benefits of Mindfulness
As meditation and yoga have gained popularity over the last few decades, a large body of research has documented the mental health benefits of mindfulness, including its ability to reduce PTSD symptoms, boost psychological well-being, decrease depression and anxiety, and increase stress resilience.
Newer research suggests that mindfulness may also reduce craving and substance use. In one study, college students who participated in a mindfulness intervention reported significantly fewer binge-drinking episodes four weeks later.
Mindfulness practices calm the limbic system, the part of the nervous system that catalyzes risk-taking behaviors. Moreover, they strengthen the prefrontal cortex, which drives the executive functioning processes of making decisions and regulating emotions. As a result, mindfulness enhances emerging adults’ capacity to self-regulate their behavior and emotions.
Furthermore, self-acceptance and self-compassion are two of the most important benefits of mindfulness for teens and young adults. Through mindful techniques, young people learn to stop judging their thoughts and feelings. They let go of the idea that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel. Consequently, mindfulness can help young people become more comfortable with themselves and their world.
What to Expect from Newport Institute’s Mindfulness Approach
At Newport Institute, mindfulness practices are woven into our young adult treatment. Our clinicians and therapists bring mindful awareness into a variety of therapeutic experiences. Here are some of the evidence-based experiential and clinical modalities that integrate a mindfulness approach and help clients learn how to practice mindfulness.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT, particularly a group therapy version called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, often incorporates a mindfulness approach as part of the work of reframing negative thought patterns. Moreover, CBT teaches clients to use mindful self-observation to become aware of potential triggers for trauma, anxiety, or depression. Hence, they can head off these triggers before symptoms escalate.
Yoga and meditation: These mindful practices, which include movement and/or conscious breathing, are proven to shift the nervous system from the stress response into the relaxation response. The relaxation response is a state of deep rest that promotes healing by tapping into the mind-body connection.
Daily mindful practices: Every morning, our young adults set goals, state positive affirmations, and practice positive visualization. They take time to get calm and centered before they begin their day. Each evening, staff lead journaling, meditation, and guided imagery, supporting young adults to reflect on their day and recommit to their healing journey.
Creative arts therapy: Music therapy and visual art therapy also incorporate a mindfulness approach. These therapeutic modalities take clients into “the zone,” where they are fully focused on self-expression and absorbed by the creative activity.
Relational work: Mindfulness supports not only self-awareness but also stronger relationships with others. In group sessions, therapists guide young adults to engage in mindful exploration of what it means to be their authentic self, and how to develop authentic connections with others.
Recovery awareness: In our Recovery Awareness groups, young adults progress through a curriculum focused on maintaining progress during and after treatment. Self-observation and self-compassion—which are both cultivated through a mindfulness approach—are tremendously supportive in this work.
Mindful eating: At Newport Institute, we view the meal as medicine. And we recognize that it’s not only what we eat that supports mental health—such as foods that contain specific nutrients—it’s also how we eat. Mindful eating entails eating slowly, focusing on the taste and texture of each bite, and learning to pay attention to the physical sensations that indicate your appetite has been satisfied. The practice of mindful eating can be especially helpful for young adults who suffer from eating disorders as a co-occurring mental health issue.
Time in nature: Experiential modalities at Newport Institute include Adventure Therapy in breathtaking outdoor settings and horticulture therapy in our on-site gardens. When approached mindfully, these therapeutic experiences nurture a sense of awe and appreciation of the beauty of nature.
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Care at Newport Institute
In summary, mindfulness-based therapy is a powerful component of a comprehensive treatment plan for young adults. At Newport Institute, clients’ tailored treatment plans include therapeutic modalities that teach them how to practice mindfulness.
Based in the understanding that mind and body are inextricably linked, mindfulness techniques yield both psychological and physical benefits. Moreover, they support deeper connection with self and others, as well as a sense of spiritual connection. And while treatment eventually comes to an end, young adults can carry mindfulness skills with them for the rest of their lives, in every moment.