“Need a very high grade average, but from courses that show that I’m not afraid to challenge myself, so I’ll take as many enriched courses as possible. Need service work that provide evidence of my capability for leadership and interpersonal skills – will agree to every opportunity and try to juggle them with my existing commitments. Also need some time to do some athletic-related things just to show that I’m even more well-rounded. So I’ll give up some sleep, sacrifice my social life, but it’s only short-term anyways, right? Liza, stop daydreaming and focus on your math class if you truly want to get into a university!!!”
This was my life when I was in grade 10, as I was one of the many over-achieving students who was beginning to worry about what I was going to do after I graduate. Like many upper-grade students, I was terrified of what it would mean if I didn’t get into a reputable university and disappointed the people in my life. As I reassured myself over and over again in my mind that everything was going to my plan, I believed that nothing could stop me from achieving my future aspirations. But that was the problem – I was imagining my ideal future, but completely neglected the present. And in the present, I was in denial about my struggle with an eating disorder that would nearly kill me.
Although I am thankful that I was given the gift of meeting so many wonderful people and learning the importance of health on my journey, I still from time to time wonder how my illness could have been prevented. How could I have lost so much of the confidence that I thought I had permanently gained from years of my karate practice? Why did I have to go through the experience of being hospitalized twice for my mental illness when I thought I had control over my life? How is it possible that I couldn’t manage to graduate high school on time with my peers TWO YEARS in a row, when perfectionism was my best friend? The answer though, was very simple.
What are you doing right NOW?
Through my DBT mindfulness training, I realized that I truly forgot how to live here and cherish the beauty of the present moment. I had lost my acceptance of what is. I think it was inevitable that I would finally burnout given the immense pressure I put on myself to succeed. Mindfulness allowed me to break free of my past and fear of the future to finally finish high school, find my voice, and more importantly, regain my stamina to keep moving forward, one moment at a time.
Looking back, I wish that I was given this knowledge when I was a high school student struggling to cope with the stresses of being a teenager. On top of needing to succeed at home and in their relationships, students must deal with a rising admission average and the need to have a well-rounded character profile to make a competitive application to many universities in Canada. While I can personally attest to its benefits, mindfulness has been found to be a highly effective skill to cope with stress in many studies as well. Some schools in Canada have successfully introduced mindfulness in their classrooms, like Dr. Norman Bethune Collegiate Institute – a high school in the Toronto District School Board. The bottom line is, we need to talk about student stress in schools, and do a better job at preparing them not just academically, but also psychologically to handle the pressures of adult life.
I’m currently a Kelty Youth Ambassador who is working on implementing mindfulness in Vancouver’s high schools, but I know that I can’t do it alone. Hopefully this blog can be the first step in getting a discussion going about what we can do to address the mental health of our students.