Sitting With Sour Powers: Using Mindfulness With Teens
By Edie Stark LMSW, Experience Wellness Group Therapist
A lot of times when I introduce the idea of mindfulness to my adolescent clients I am met with a reaction of, “what? I have to sit by myself in silence and not think? Ya. NO thanks.” While silent meditation can be helpful to many individuals, it is a common misconception that ‘mindfulness practice’ is limited to this.
What about mindfully eating? Mindfully responding to text? Try taking five minutes to walk down the street without music, or playing on your phone and just taking in the city sounds. All of these are examples of mindfulness practice. Being mindful isn’t something you have to do, it is always available, just like breathing. Just by noticing when you are feeling overwhelmed or tired or PO’d, these are the first steps into engaging in mindfulness. Active mindfulness can feel much more accessible for teens as sitting with thoughts or feelings can be a challenge.
So how can you practice active mindfulness? Learn how to mindfully eat candy. One game I created which is great for emotion tolerance is called “Sour Power.” It is super simple in theory, can really help with confidence and is fun to boot. “Sour Power”or “Warheads” are ultra-sour candies that must be eaten slowly due to their powerful nature. This challenge helps teens to take in the moment, slow down, and notice sensations.
I once had a teen lay on my couch while tears of laughter streamed into her hair. Afterward, I asked why she was laughing so much. She answered “It was so intense and weird, I didn’t know what else to do, my other thought was to cry but why cry when you can laugh!” This teen had been struggling with restricting both her food and her emotions, so her ability to access her inner joy through this activity was awesome to see. Later, when we processed this experience further, she talked about how nervous she had been. Mindful eating is something we had been talking about for a while, and this teen really struggled to access it. She would become overwhelmed by the idea of introducing mindfulness into meals, since just getting through the meal was a job in itself. This silly, simple exercise showed her that being mindful doesn’t need to be work. She was able to connect taste and sensations with laughter- a first! While, she still found mindful eating challenging at times, she would come back to the memory of laughing to tears on my couch with a sour candy in her mouth, and smile.
There is no right or wrong way to do this mindfulness practice, it is all about you, and your experience. I have had teens that had absolutely no reaction to the sour taste. While others will get up and run around the room to try and cope with the uncomfortable feelings. There are even some teens that will sit in total stillness. Everyone’s experience is different and unique, just like everyone copes with stressors in special ways. This fun exercise teaches tolerance of something a little unpleasant and allows insight into habitual ways of coping. It allows for beginning, middle and end to an experience that might be avoided. It is also silly and we often laugh. It is ok to play and have fun! Kids (and parents) are all so overworked, over-scheduled and overrun that it is essential to pause and do something playful just for you!
Edith Stark, LMSW is a primary and group therapist at Experience Wellness Group. At Experience Wellness she treats adults, families and teens through mindful psychotherapies.