Anxiety is the most reported mental health problem among children, often cooccurring with depression. The pressurized, multi-tasking nature of modern life appears to be making anxiety a chronic problem for many young people. It often persists into adulthood, and causes impairment in many areas of life. Several mindfulness interventions have shown an impact on anxiety in the young (e.g., Beauchemin et al. 2008; Semple et al. 2005).
Mindfulness appears to impact on anxiety by improving attentional focus (Semple et al. 2005) and the ability to relax (Woodruff et al. 2014). As with depression, it offers a way of “catching” recurrent worrying thought processes and helps the individual to recognize that they are passing mental phenomena rather than facts (Ma and Teasdale 2004). The ability to reduce anxiety may help to explain the fairly reliable impact on sleep and eating problems in both adults and the young (e.g., Biegel et al. 2009; see Case Study 1 earlier.)
Case study 3: Mindfulness impacts on anxiety in young children
The Attention Academy Program (AAP) from the US was longer than average, and consisted of 12 sessions of 45 minutes of mindfulness and relaxation over 24 weeks. It employed the familiar exercises including breath work, body scan, movement, and sensorimotor awareness activities, and was taught to children aged between five and eight with high anxiety. Napoli et al. (2005) evaluated it with a methodologically strong study, using an RCT design, a large sample of 228 participants, and objective measures of attention. There was a significant improvement in self-rated test anxiety, teacher-rated attention, social skills, and selective (visual) attention post-treatment, with effect sizes ranging from small to medium.