Between school and homework, extracurricular activities, sports, family responsibilities, part-time jobs, and college applications, girls from Daisies to Ambassadors are under increasing stress and pressure in their lives. Time to relax or play is so vital to their growth, yet so difficult to make time for in their busy schedules. You may notice that girls in your troop who have stressful school or home lives, or older girls who have even more pressure on them get fidgety, zone out, become forgetful, or react strongly to difficulties or obstacles. All of these things can be signs of stress, and without techniques and coping mechanisms to address these issues, girls may continue to struggle in many aspects of their lives.
This is where mindfulness and stress-relief techniques come in. Mindfulness, according to Wikipedia, is “bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can be developed through the practice of meditation and through other training.” Mindfulness (a secular practice originating in Hinduism and Buddhism) allows us to create space to slow down, listen to ourselves, and let anxiety and stress pass us by.
Mindfulness and stress-reduction can be helpful for anyone, so why not spend a meeting or two trying it out with your girls? Start your meeting by encouraging discussion about the stressors in their lives, introduce any of the following exercises, and then talk it out—how did meditation feel? Did it make them feel silly or good? What worked and what didn’t?
All of the following exercises are accessible to girls of all ages, but some may need modifications based on individual needs and preferences. If an exercise says to sit cross-legged with a straight back and you have girls who can’t do that, let them stand, lie down, or find any position that they feel comfortable in. If sitting still isn’t in their wheelhouse, pick out an activity that has them moving or focusing on something specific.
By being mindful and paying attention to what is happening physically, emotionally, and mentally around us, we can tackle the problems in our life without getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of the world. Just make sure to not take yourselves too seriously, or feel down if these techniques don’t work right away. Keep experimenting, Google for different options, and let your girls know you’re there to listen and support them through hard times.
Follow Your Breath
One of the classic mindfulness meditation techniques is simply following your breath. This is something our bodies do automatically without us having to think about it, and it can affect all sorts of physiological functions, from our heart rate to our stress levels. By simply breathing intentionally, we can reduce our stress levels.
Start by just observing your breath—how it feels as your chest expands and contracts and the coolness of the air in your lungs. Then maybe play around with breathing deeper to a specific count (count four breathing in and four breathing out, or four in, hold for four, four out, and hold for four) to help your girls focus on just their breath, without getting too distracted. (But if they do get distracted, make sure they know that’s okay, and it’s alright to do their best and try again.)
There are plenty of videos online providing guided meditations for girls of all ages to walk you through this exercise, or free recordings in apps like Calm. You can also put on some gentle music or nature noises (or even go outside to enjoy the fresh air). Use your best bedtime story voice to guide your troop through this exercise. If your girls are visual learners, try this video where they can sync their breath with the moving shapes.
Another excellent starting point is a body scan. This is a great way to help the girls bring their mind to the present moment and pay attention to their physical space instead of whatever is going on inside their heads.
Have your girls sit comfortably or lie down on the floor with a blanket. Tell them to breathe deeply and calmly. Guide them to focus on parts of their body, one at a time. Start with the toes, feeling them stretch, then relax. Then the shins and calves, the knees, and so on all the way up to the crown of their head. Ask them to feel the floor beneath their hands and the air on their faces. Go slowly and bring their attention to all the little details of touch and physical sensation. Soft music can also help with this, or use this guided body scan meditation and join them for a little calm meditation.
Be warned that you will likely have some girls so relaxed by the end of this that they may fall asleep! Luckily, laughter is an excellent form of stress relief, so if someone starts snoring, take it in stride.
A nature walk is a perfect time to practice mindfulness for energetic girls (or older girls who don’t get recess anymore). Head outdoors, whether it’s in your local park, down a pretty street, or a proper hike into nature. Direct your girls that today’s walk is about paying attention, not just with their eyes, but with all their senses.
Have them listen for the distant sound of traffic, local birdsong, their own breathing and heartbeat, the sound of their sister Girl Scout’s footsteps. See if they can spot wildlife, notice the color of the leaves, and the clouds making shadows on the ground. Feel the fresh outdoor air, the sensation of their clothes, or how the ground feels through the soles of their shoes. Do they notice the smell of flowers, food from local restaurants, or even the less enjoyable scents of people or animals?
Walk in silence, enjoy the day, and pay attention to all that’s around you. Whenever you are done or reach your destination, sit down and discuss what they noticed, and how it felt to walk in silence and just pay attention. You might find that even the youngest Daisy is in a very perceptive and contemplative mood!
Similar to our first breathing exercise, this has girls directing their focus inward, and can be used to relax or calm down in any circumstance. The heartbeat reflects our mood: fast heartbeats are often caused by intense emotion, either happy ones, like excitement, or scary ones like anxiety over a test or being startled by a bug on your arm. Paying attention to the heartbeat can help us calm and regulate emotions that interfere with our ability to focus and succeed at our tasks. This exercise also incorporates touch to further reduce stress. Friendly touch is a huge stress reliever—humans are a social species, and feeling close to people helps us feel supported and stable in our lives.
First, have your girls get the jitters out. Dance around, shake it out, do jumping jacks, yell and sing loudly, run around in circles—anything to get the heart pumping. Then put on some quiet music and have them sit on the floor (or on backless chairs) in pairs, back to back and leaning on each other slightly. Walk them through slowing and deepening their breathing, and then ask them to focus on their heartbeat. Feel their heart slowing as their body relaxes and their breath becomes more normal. Feel the warmth of their partner behind them, and see if they can feel her heartbeat too.
This exercise is very cozy and relaxing, so take your time with it and let them sit as long as they’d like to. Afterwards, see how it made them feel. Was it strange to focus on something so automatic and normal? Did leaning against their partner help them feel closer to their sister Girl Scouts? Did they notice their heartbeat having an effect on how they felt emotionally?
Mindfulness in your Everyday Life
Mindfulness isn’t just for special exercises or a one-time thing. It can be incorporated into almost everything you do. Whether you pay special attention to the sounds and textures of washing dishes, savor the flavor of your food as you eat, or follow your breath to fall asleep faster at night, mindfulness can be a natural and vital part of your life.
There are plenty of excellent Girl Scout activities that can be made more enriching and inspiring by adding a mindfulness component to it! Building a community garden? Have your girls spend some time with the plants, enjoy the sunshine on their face, and take in the whole moment of being outdoors doing something they care about. Collecting supplies for a homeless shelter? Take a few moments to talk about gratitude, both for the ways in which their lives are good and fulfilling, and also about the ways that other people give and help others. Spend time focusing your mind on a meditative activity like art (all while earning a badge). The opportunities to stop and smell the roses (literally and metaphorically) are endless.
Mindfulness is a practice designed to make the difficulties of modern life simpler and less stressful. It isn’t just to help the girls get better grades or pay more attention in meetings. It’s to prepare them for a better future, where they’re equipped to take risks without panic, explore and create new ideas without fear, and believe in themselves to take the lead. Encourage your parents and volunteers to practice these techniques with their girls—practice is good for the soul, and who knows? You might inspire a new family tradition.
What did you think of these techniques? Which ones worked well for you, and which ones didn’t? Do you have any other stress-relief tips or tricks you’ve shared with your girls? Tell us in the comments!
What to do next:
- After trying some of these exercises, download some meditation apps!
- When your girls do badge activities, ask them to think about how to apply their newfound mindfulness skills to the activity. For example, if your Juniors are earning their Gardening badge, they can hear the wind around them, feel the dirt in their fingers, and smell the beautiful flowers they helped grow. See the Badge Explorer for more possibilities!
- Let us know in the comments which techniques work best for you and your troop.
Katie Mock—Katie is the Marketing Copywriter for the Girl Scouts of Northern California, where she writes everything from tweets to Trailhead articles, and makes sure everyone dots their ‘i’s and crosses their ‘t’s. Although she was a Girl Scout for only a few years, her experiences with Girl Scouts, combined with attending a single-sex high school, gave her a profound appreciation for the power all-girl spaces have to change girls’ lives for the better. Katie moved to the Bay Area after graduating from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in Linguistics; when she’s not diving into writing with a red pen, you can find her geeking out about the latest sci-fi novel, cooking anything from traditional Japanese cuisine to pizza, or cuddling her two cats.