Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Teens with Anxiety

A common phrase used to signal anxiety is “I have butterflies in my stomach.” This suggests that people are subconsciously aware of how physical sensations can alert us to anxious thoughts without necessarily making the connection. Teens are often better at noticing signs of physical anxiety than being able to express specific fears they may be focused on. For this reason, practices like mindfulness-based stress reduction are particularly useful for teens with anxiety that want to become more aware of signs of their anxiety without being consumed by it.

What is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction?

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a program that teaches participants a variety of secular mindfulness practices to help people cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and pain. It focuses on helping individuals improve their attention, allowing people to cultivate awareness, and enabling them to make more informed choices in their lives.
While focusing on anxiety may initially increase racing thoughts, the goal of MBSR is to help teens accept their emotional experience without judgment, which often lesses the intensity of physical symptoms of anxiety.
MBSR includes grounding techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, mindful movement, and thought-stopping techniques to help students develop a deeper sense of control over their body, actions, and internal processes. Students are also regularly encouraged to tune into their senses, pause, and strengthen their mental capacity to be still and content without constant distractions. 

How Does it Help Teens with Anxiety?

The University of Cincinnati’s researchers conducted a study about how cognitive therapy merged with mindfulness techniques, like meditation, quiet reflection, and facilitator-led discussions, affect youth compared to the usual medications. In this study, participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing performance tasks prior to and following 12 weeks of mindful-based cognitive therapy. Researchers found that mindfulness-based therapies increase activity in the part of the brain which processes cognitive and emotional information. 
In another study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers found that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs were useful in helping individuals extinguish fearful associations. They found that attempts to stay present in the moment during exposure therapy helped participants establish a sense of safety. 
“Mindfulness training may improve emotion regulation by changing the way our brain responds to what we’re afraid of and reminding us that it is no longer threatening,” explains lead author, Gunes Sevinc. “Mindfulness can help individuals recognize that some fear reactions are disproportional to the threat and can enhance their ability to remember this new, less fearful reaction. This is key to breaking the cycle of anxiety.”

Benefits of MBSR include:

  • Emotion Regulation. Mindfulness can promote awareness of thoughts, which helps teens recognize when they are becoming overwhelmed. With this awareness, teens make the effort to practice coping strategies to help them become more regulated.
  • Positive Interpersonal Behavior. As mindfulness teaches teens to respond better to stress, they are better able to communicate their emotions and show more compassion for others. 
  • Increase Response Flexibility. In recognizing stressful situations more easily, mindfulness helps people become more reactive. Self-reflection reduces impulsivity and allows teens to practice greater cognitive flexibility in weighing potential choices.
  • Greater Self-Awareness. Mindfulness is an intentional practice that encourages teens to reflect on how they’re feeling and what they want to change. Pausing throughout one’s day to check in with oneself allows teens to find more clarity and insight about their thoughts and behaviors.

If your child is struggling with overwhelming anxiety, mindfulness therapy can help them build confidence and face their fears.

Trails Carolina Can Help

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program that helps teens ages 10-17 who are struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, self-esteem, and behavioral issues. This program uses adventure-based therapy to treat anxiety in teens and help students gain a new sense of self-awareness, confidence, and independence. The skills they learn throughout the wilderness program offer long-term benefits towards their ability to successfully self-navigate in the real world. By removing teens from their fast-paced environment into a safe, nurturing, and peaceful environment, they are able to focus on improving and reflecting upon their behavior. Trails Carolina gives students the tools they need to lead happy and healthy lives.
Contact us at 800-975-7303. We can help your family today!

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Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: https://trailscarolina.com/common-ground-podcast/ With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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