Children in Britain are currently going through the summer exam season, a period of extreme stress. Researchers from the University of Exeter, cooperating with the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and the Mindfulness in Schools project decided to test whether mindfulness techniques could mitigate children’s stress.

Mindfulness is the process of paying attention to one’s thoughts and learning to be aware of one’s emotional state. Past studies have examined adults’ abilities in emotional regulation through mindfulness techniques, but this was the first to investigate how mindfulness could help children.

The study comprised 522 students between age 12 and 16 from 12 secondary schools. Of the participant pool, 256 students throughout six schools were given instruction from the Mindfulness in Schools Project curriculum, which offers a nine week introduction to mindfulness specifically designed for students. Students at the remaining six schools functioned as the control group and did not receive mindfulness training.

Co-creator of the curriculum, Richard Burnett, explains, “Our mindfulness curriculum aims to engage even the most cynical of adolescent audience with the basics of mindfulness,” using an exciting, multi-media presentation.

The research team followed up with the students three months after the initial training, during the summer exam period. They observed that the students who had participated in the mindfulness training reported less stress and greater well-being than students in the control group. Furthermore, about 80% of the students reported that they had continued using the mindfulness techniques that they had learned from the training.

Researchers were encouraged by these results, commenting that mindfulness training may be an effective way for schools to help students learn how to work through stress. Most schools have limited resources, but mindfulness training has a relatively low cost. Since students continue to use mindfulness well after the initial training, it also offers a very good investment for both schools and students.

Professor Felicia Huppert from the University of Cambridge stated, “The findings also support the argument that mindfulness training can enhance the psychological well-being of all pupils, not just those who have symptoms associated with common mental health problems.” Increased well-being can lead to better academic performance.

This study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.