Rebecca-Anne Withey: Mindfulness for D/deaf teens

Posted on October 3, 2017

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“Deafness does not in itself cause emotional/behavioural or cognitive problems. However, children with hearing impairment are at greater risk of developing emotional/behavioural problems.” Nicoletta Gentili & Andrew Holwell

The above statement, taken from an article on mental health in children with severe hearing impairment, is rather concerning. It makes sense then to prioritise positive mental health for deaf children and teenagers.

The reasons why so many young deaf people experience poor mental health are varied, and this topic is too in-depth for me to explore in one article. But seeing as I am preparing a workshop on Mindfulness for deaf teenagers, I thought I could share some of my insights with you.

Mindfulness for teens is growing in popularity. Yet the delivery of it to a deaf audience is rather unheard of. With few resources online, I’ve been delving into my own experience as a deaf teenager and also as a mindfulness practitioner to create a bespoke plan for the deaf teens in Wales that I’ll be meeting later this month.

Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to lower anxiety, ease depression/prevent depressive spells and it also promotes positive self esteem. And judging by how turbulent the teenage years can be, I only wish it could have been offered when I was at school too.

Why? For teenagers, I believe there’s two main ways that Mindfulness can be useful.

Mindfulness helps to calm your body & mind

My teenage years were full of stress. If I wasn’t studying exams, I was rehearsing for a dance show, taking assessments and performing in shows. On top of that I was socially anxious and self conscious and I struggled to feel calm and centred. I was always on the go.

But today’s world is even crazier. When teens return home from school or college, they can’t seem to switch off from social interaction due to Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook,  Twitter and goodness knows what else. There’s a endless demand to keep an online profile.

The mind, then, is constantly stimulated. So it needs help learning how to relax. Teaching teens to unplug and be grounded can be really challenging especially when checking their notifications is an ingrained habit. But being constantly in a ‘virtual world’ can lead to feeling tired-but-wired, irritable and just plain cranky. In a nutshell, its not healthy.

Creating mindful spaces for teenagers gives their body and mind a chance to recharge. They’ll learn to stop living on adrenaline and actually breathe once in a while. Meditation has been said to help with revision and exam performance too – handy for those forthcoming GCSE’s or A Levels!

But what else are our deaf teens dealing with? Whether they learn through lip-reading, sign language or a mixture of both, school life is especially exhausting when you have a hearing loss. Whereas hearing teens can rely on their ears to receive information (and the ears have no muscles!) deaf teenagers are using their eyes – which do have muscles and are plain knackered.

Developing mindfulness in teens means encouraging them to understand when their fatigue is kicking in or when they’re having trouble understanding something and to express their needs appropriately. I never heard the term ‘eye break’ until my University days. I could have done with it a lot sooner.

Mindfulness exercises offers teens the chance to unwind and recharge both physically and mentally.

Mindfulness supports you to feel good about yourself

Teenagers are full of hormones, as we all know. A lot of their time is spent with their peers and so developing attractions to others is at the forefront of their minds too. But if you’re deaf and you have insecurities or hang ups about yourself, what can you do to help?

Mindfulness encourages you to notice when you have a negative or critical thought about yourself. So for example, if you wake up one morning and you notice a spot on your face… rather than break down in an hormonal frenzy of “I am so ugly, nobody will ever like me, everyone has perfect skin but not me!” – you can actually learn to speak to yourself a bit more kindly and develop a best friend relationship with yourself. “Okay so you got a massive zit, but toothpaste and concealer should do the trick!”

The same can be said for any challenges you’re having with your deaf identity. Being aware that its your deaf identity you’re struggling with when you don’t have the words to express yourself can be a great realisation. Getting to know your darkest thoughts or worries and writing them down in a mindful way can enable you to support yourself.

Navigating the teenage years can be a rollercoaster, and even more so if you have deafness or any kind of additional need. This world isn’t a one size fits all, and its important that deaf teens of today realise that. We are all different. You can gain some perspective from your problems and worries when you speak to a mindfulness practitioner and you can also gain professional help in more serious cases such as bullying, self harm or eating disorders.

Deaf teenagers can have the same insecurities or more as their hearing peers. We are ultimately all unique and so we respond to challenges in our own individual ways. But by delivering mindfulness in sign language and with visual cues, we can enable teenagers with deafness to become informed of positive methods that they can use to look after themselves.

To read about mindfulness for teens see www.mindfulnessforteens.com

And to be informed of future mindfulness workshops for deaf teens, keep an eye on my blog site www.rebeccaawithey.wordpress.com

Rebecca-Anne Withey is a freelance writer with a background in Performing Arts & Holistic health. Read more of Rebecca’s articles for us here.

She is also profoundly deaf, a sign language user and pretty great lipreader. 

Her holistic practices and qualifications include Mindfulness, Professional Relaxation Therapy, Crystal Therapy and Reiki. 

She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.

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