Mindfulness activities for teens are similar to the activities you’d practice as an adult. But it’s important to put them in a context teenagers are interested in. That means making mindfulness exercises relevant to their lives (like meditating to make studying easier) or doing exercises that spark curiosity (like mindful eating or mindful music listening).
Anyone going through their teenage years can benefit from mindfulness skills like self-compassion, patience, awareness, emotional balance, and calming the nervous system.
But what’s the right way to grab their attention and help them connect with these practices?
We’re all different. Recognizing that is the quickest path towards allowing teenagers to connect with mindfulness exercises in a way that makes most sense to them.
That’s exactly why we created this list of 31 mindfulness exercises for teens. With activities that span from introspective to surprising to tactile, there’s sure to be something here for everyone.
1. Add meditation into your study routine
A 2019 study showed that meditation is effective at reducing stress and anxiety around exam time. The best news? The students in the study were only practicing meditation or yoga once per week.
That means even if you can only devote a bit of time each week to mindfulness, meditation, or yoga, it may keep you lower-stress in the weeks leading up to exams.
Plus, some studies show that meditation may increase your IQ. And it’s been repeatedly shown to improve short-term memory, decision-making skills, focus, and attention.
One of the easiest ways to introduce mindfulness into your life on a regular basis is to make the process automatic.
In the age of social media, one of the great ways to influence your thinking is to do a “social media audit” and make sure the accounts that populate your social feeds contain the kind of thinking and examples that you want to bring into your life.
Remove those that don’t, and add more accounts that do. Over time, you’ll automatically be exposed to and reminded of the mindfulness concepts that you want to incorporate into your life.
3. Get into a state of flow
Have you ever been doing something you love, and found that the hours absolutely flew by and you lost yourself in your work?
For me, this can happen when I’m immersing myself in the Internet, building websites, designing, or writing. For you, it might be something entirely different.
Spending time in a state of flow is one of the great joys of being alive. Noticing when you’re losing track of time and falling into a state of flow can also point you towards the activities you should be spending more time on.
Try and identify what activities in your life might be flow-inducing. Then, go do them.
4. Learn from your dog
That’s right – when it comes to mindfulness, Fido is one of the foremost experts out there.
It’s funny, isn’t it: humans are all about striving, and when it comes to meditation and mindfulness, it’s no different. But animals easily achieve that present-moment awareness we’re after, and they do so effortlessly.
If you’re lucky enough to have an animal in your life, notice the playfulness and joy that they approach each moment with. Notice the lack of focus on the past and future.
Dogs make us happier, reduce stress, remind us to practice mindfulness, and demonstrate that it’s indeed possible to focus on the present. So, when in doubt – play with your dog.
5. Treat your mind like a laboratory
No one knows what it’s like to be you.
As much as us humans have in common, we can never fully understand the internal mental landscape of others.
That’s why your approach to mindfulness needs to be fluid. Yes, there’s extensive research backing meditation and mindfulness, but that doesn’t mean that every approach within those areas will resonate with you. Pay attention to what works for you. Try different approaches.
Treat your mind like a laboratory. Experiment. Journal. Notice what works and what doesn’t work.
6. Take a moment for mindful eating
I often fall into the trap of eating my meals quickly, sometimes without even noticing what I’m doing. Notice if your eating experience is similar. Is eating becoming an automatic process for you?
Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, whatever it is you’re doing.
When it comes to eating, try and gently stop yourself if you notice you’re eating on autopilot. Then, shift your attention. Try slowing down, and paying attention to the texture and flavor of the food and drink. Take a piece of food and savor it. Noticing how it tastes and smells. Notice how the meal feels as you slow down and pay attention.
7. Meditate as soon as you wake up
As the day goes on, it often becomes busier and busier. That’s why many people choose to meditate in the mornings.
If you’re just starting your practice, you can even choose to do this as soon as you wake up, before even getting out of bed. Your meditation can be as simple as a one-minute body scan meditation.
As you wake up, take a moment to yawn and stretch. Then, pay attention to each individual part of your body from your head to your toes. Notice how each part feels. Do this over the course of a couple of minutes. While breathing deeply, scan from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head.
8. Try 4-7-8 breathing
A simple breathing technique to center yourself and calm your nervous system, the 4-7-8 breathing technique helps to provide a mindful moment through the experience of intentional breathing.
To start, first get comfortable. Sit or lie down, then breathe through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Then, breath forcefully out for 8 seconds.
Try doing multiple cycles of 4-7-8 breathing over the course of a few minutes.
9. Listen to music mindfully
What does it mean to mindfully listen to music? By bringing your full awareness to whatever you’re listening to. When your attention drifts, bring it back to the present moment and the experience of listening to each layer of sound.
Wearing headphones and listening to a song that’s entirely new to you are a couple of ways to facilitate listening to music mindfully.
10. Learn a new language
When I was 16 years old, I spent nearly a month in Guatemala learning Spanish.
It was one of the best things I ever did. It put me on a course of openness and exploration, and influenced some of the biggest decisions later in my life.
That’s why I’m a strong believer that learning a language can be a great mindfulness hack.
Why? Because there’s no way to avoid the practices you need to engage in to develop your powers of mindfulness. When you’re speaking another language, particularly in another country, you have no choice but to see everyday situations with new eyes.
Plus, you have to put yourself out there and be willing to make mistakes. The only way to do that in the long run is to practice nonjudgment and self-compassion towards yourself – key mindfulness skills.
11. Practice box breathing
Box breathing is part breathing technique, part visualization exercise. It’s simply another approach towards holding your attention onto an object of concentration, as a way to practice staying in the present moment while calming your nervous system.
To start, visualize the left side of a two-dimensional square. Inhale to the count of 4. As you inhale, move along the left side of the square towards the top of the square, in your mind’s eye.
Then, hold your breath for 4 seconds, heading towards the right side of the square. Exhale for 4 seconds, heading down the right side of the box. Finally, hold for another 4 seconds at the bottom of the box, before starting the process again.
12. Try the STOP method
Ever need a quick mindful break? The STOP method is a grounding exercise that helps you reconnect with yourself. Here’s how it works:
- (S) Stand up and breathe.
- (T) Tune into your body. Notice how it feels, and any physical sensations.
- (O) Observe. What is your body telling you?
- (P) Ask what’s possible. What new possibilities might emerge if you’re able to connect with yourself in this moment? How might this be a turning point for the rest of the day?
13. Turn dull moments into mindfulness exercises
Every day has a myriad of boring moments. You know the ones:
- Waiting at a stop light
- Standing in an elevator
- Sitting in the doctor’s office
- Waiting for water to boil
- Killing time in the grocery store checkout line
Challenge yourself to turn some of these moments into opportunities for mindfulness.
When you’re standing in the grocery store checkout line, wishing it would move faster, invite yourself to instead accept this moment as it is. Treat it with curiosity and openness. Pay attention to what’s happening around you with nonjudgment.
14. Do a mental reset each time you enter a new room
One of the challenges of mindfulness is that, despite our best intentions, our brains are wired to pull us away from the present, and back to a mode of distracted past-focused or future-focused thinking.
That’s why one of the most helpful things you can do for your mindfulness practice is to fill your day with reminders to come back to the present moment. With a technique called habit stacking, you can attach mindfulness triggers to something you already do.
For example, you can tell yourself “When I walk through a door and into a new room, I’ll take a breath, notice my surroundings, and come back to the present moment.”
This technique is adapted from the book How to Train a Wild Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays.
15. Take a break from multitasking
With so much to do all the time, from school to home to extracurricular activities, there’s a huge temptation to jump between tasks to try and get as much done as possible.
But multitasking is usually a counterproductive way to work. When we multitask, our attention is divided and we are less effective overall. If you’re a chronic multitasker, try giving yourself a window of time – maybe 30 minutes, or an hour – to focus exclusively on one task.
If it’s a task you love, pay attention to any feelings of flow, or losing track of time, that might come up.
16. Yawn and stretch
Who doesn’t appreciate an opportunity to yawn and stretch?
Especially if you’re designing a mindfulness activity that takes place in the morning, there’s no better icebreaker than to give everyone a chance to do what they really want to do:
Acknowledge that they’re tired!
But yawning and stretching slowly is also a mindfulness exercise in its own right. It can bring you back to your body, and help you notice and release areas of tension.
17. Practice alternate nostril breathing
Here’s an easy one. When you’re looking for a quick mindfulness activity, alternate nostril breathing provides a great structure to help you manage your breath, while regulating the nervous system and promoting relaxation.
To get started, just place your thumb on your right nostril. Then, breathe slowly through the left nostril. Switch to the other nostril, and repeat the process 3-4 more times.
18. Go barefoot
A great way to shake yourself out of your normal routine, and into a new way of looking at the world, is to go barefoot.
First of all, in the context of a group activity, going barefoot is just plain fun. When everyone takes their shoes off and starts moving around, it brings a new kind of energy into the room.
But more importantly, intentionally observing the world while barefoot can be a great mindfulness activity, especially for those who have trouble with meditation. Walking barefoot is a way to focus on sensations you normally wouldn’t notice.
To get started, have participants take their socks and shoes off and walk around on the carpet or floor. What feelings do they notice? Is there any other surface they can step on? How does it compare? Have them wiggle their toes, move their feet, and really feel the surface of the ground as they slowly pay attention to the experience of walking in a deeper way than before.
This activity pairs well with walking meditation, too.
19. Read a mindfulness book
It’s incredible what you can learn by diving into the minds of the great spiritual teachers.
From the Dalai Lama to Jon Kabat-Zinn to Thich Nhat Hanh, the accumulated life knowledge of some of the wisest people to have ever lived is at your fingertips.
20. Practice movement meditation
Did you know you don’t have to sit still on a cushion in order to meditate?
If you’ve found yourself getting antsy after too long in sitting meditation, try experimenting with tai chi, qi gong, dancing, walking meditation, or other forms of movement meditation.
21. Start a mindfulness journal
Journaling is an excellent tool for introspection, but it’s also the perfect mindfulness activity because it allows you to clear your mind and turn jumbled thoughts into something concrete.
You can also use journaling as a mindfulness tool with mindfulness journal prompts that invite you to reflect on different aspects of mindfulness in your life.
Here’s a mindfulness journal template that’ll help you get started fast.
22. Make a list of things to be grateful for
Life is short, and one of the great risks of life is that we move through it without appreciating the moment that we’re in.
The good news is, there are so many reasons to be grateful that once you make a habit of looking for them, they start showing up everywhere.
(If you’re looking for inspiration, here are 101 reasons to be grateful.)
23. Stop overthinking
Ever struggle with falling asleep because your mind is racing?
It’s actually pretty common. The main cause of overthinking at night is that your mind is dwelling on worry and anxiety about the future or about the past. Or, you may just be stuck on any number of cognitive loops. (Sometimes, overthinking can lead to more overthinking.)
Pay attention to whether overthinking at night is a pattern for you. If it is, consider taking steps to reduce your stimulation and anxiety before bed: avoid smartphones and TV before sleeping, reduce caffeine intake, and tire yourself out by moving more during the day.
24. Dream bigger
Invite yourself to release any self-imposed limitations, dream bigger, and visualize yourself having already achieved your wildest dreams.
Manifestation might seem a little woo-woo, but as I argue in my manifestation guide, it’s essentially a supercharged version of traditional goal setting.
Rather than just giving yourself a goal, manifestation invites you to dream big, then create a detailed, emotional, and immersive visualization that makes it feel like you’ve already achieved what you set out to do. In a way, you’re hacking your mind’s expectations to pave the road that allows you to reach your goals.
For teenagers who feel stuck, don’t have dreams they’re excited about, or lack inspiration, this can be a revelatory exercise.
25. Identify your emotions
Mindfulness is all about walking through life with awareness, rather than stumbling around on autopilot.
But being aware of how you feel, and identifying the specific emotions that are coming up for you, are two distinct skills.
Consider learning about the eight primary emotions – like anger, fear, joy, and sadness – so you can practice identifying them as they come up, rather than letting your feelings go unknown.
Learn more about how to identify your emotions.
26. Meditate with your eyes open
If you normally meditate with your eyes closed, try meditating with your eyes open. (Zen monks do it!)
There are pros and cons to each method, but keeping your eyes open might help you stay awake and alert during your meditation, and avoid the temptation that often comes with eyes-closed meditation to get lost in your imagination.
27. Wash your hands mindfully
Washing your hands might just be the perfect mindfulness activity:
- It’s something you do many times a day
- It often happens in the privacy of a bathroom
- There are sounds and sensations to focus on
- Bathrooms often have a mirror; seeing your reflection can serve as a trigger to remind you to be mindful for 30-60 seconds while you wash your hands
To wash your hands mindfully, just do the same thing you normally do – but slower. Pay attention to each step of the process, and notice the feeling of the lathered soap on your hands, and the temperature of the water.
28. Be self-compassionate
Self-compassion is an essential skill for operating in the world, because so many of us are too hard on ourselves.
Instead, we need to treat ourselves as we would a dear friend or a child: with patience, understanding, forgiveness, and compassion.
If you catch yourself falling into a pattern of negative self-talk, challenge yourself to try a different approach. Ask yourself, “How would I treat a friend who was talking to herself or himself this way?”
Check out this list of self love mantras.
29. Try the raisin mindfulness meditation
The raisin exercise is a practice that teaches you to linger on food, noticing the texture, taste, and smell on a deeper level than you normally would.
It doesn’t have to be done with a raisin, either. Pick your favorite food, or even a cup of tea, and approach it with intention, slowly.
30. Stop reading the news
Reading the news can feel like something you need to do to be a responsible citizen, but the reality is that the daily news cycle is often a drip-feed of stress and anxiety that moves your focus onto things outside of your control.
Consider taking a break from reading the news – even if just for a few days – and notice how you feel. If you find yourself calmer and more peaceful, ask yourself if you’d like to continue the experiment.
31. Notice what’s within your circle of control
There’s so much in life that we have no control over: the stock market, the weather, politics, government, how other people choose to behave.
These things you have no way to control or affect fall within your Circle of Concern. Ask yourself how much of your mental energy is being spent here.
At the same time, there’s plenty in your life that you can control: where you live, your job, your attitude, your philosophy, what you read, who you marry, how much you exercise.
This is your Circle of Control. How would it feel if you focused more of your energy in this area?
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