‘Mindfulness’ Project Could Help Students Cope With Stress, Regulate Emotion

Tool Against Opiate Use Epidemic?
Mar 15, 2017

Holgate residents, mothers and business owners Elizabeth Burke Beaty, of Life You Want Coaching, and Donna Ryan, of Ryan’s Windows in Ship Bottom, have developed a mindfulness project to empower and equip young people with tools to cope with the stresses of life and to self-regulate emotions, as an alternative to drugs and alcohol. The women bring their combined decades of experience in recovery to a pilot program designed in response to the addiction crisis in the local community.

Prescription and illicit opioids are the main cause of drug overdose deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids were involved in over 33,000 deaths in 2015; heroin-related overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010 (past misuse of prescription opioids is the strongest risk factor for starting heroin use); and New Jersey is among the states with statistically significant increases in drug overdose death rates from 2014 to 2015.

As envisioned, the mindfulness program runs one hour a week for eight weeks, and involves public speaking by a vetted young adult (ages 18 to 25) in addiction recovery for a year or more – but has the built-in flexibility to accommodate different organizations with different objectives. Its goals include outreach, mindfulness training, hope fostering (via speakers’ personal stories of experience and strength), youth empowerment and community building.

The framework could be adapted to a middle or high school curriculum, other youth organization or the general public. Beaty and Ryan’s mindfulness project is based on the 16-week course by Mindful Schools (mindfulschools.com). The true mission is to train teachers, Beaty said, because it’s easy to integrate into existing educational platforms.

Mindfulness is a growing movement, accessible to anyone, Beaty said. She is a 20-year practitioner who is trained to teach mindfulness in schools, having studied the teachings of renowned experts Gil Fronsdal and Tara Brach.

“It’s been a natural evolution,” she said.

Beaty began by incorporating mindfulness into a stressful 20- to 30-minute commute. After 90 days it became a habit. Now, she can apply it to driving, eating, or standing in line. “It brings me to a great place of civility and calm,” she said, and it even seems to have an effect on those around her.

She has used it as a parenting tool and feels mindfulness techniques have enhanced her young son’s self-soothing ability. “When he’s upset, we go straight into mindful breathing.”

Mindfulness is not a disciplinary tool. Based in science, not religion, it teaches not to deny feelings, but to manage them, by working with the brain’s natural responses to stress (the prefrontal cortex/ amygdala connection).

For her, the next logical step was to share the benefits with others.

“I felt so good about my own practice, I wanted to start giving back,” she said.

She presented the program last week to board members of the Maximilian Foundation, which focuses on drug abuse prevention and empowerment. As a preventive tool, they said, mindfulness training could really fill a need in the community. Beaty said their feedback was “We don’t have anything like this going on.” That component could take the form of 15-minute exercises teachers can squeeze into their curriculum.

She is also looking into the program’s potential applications for rehabilitation centers and with the Ocean County prosecutor. She said she likes the idea of encouraging recovering addicts to come out into the open to share their experiences.

Anyone interested in helping, or with more ideas to share, is welcome to contact Beaty at elizabeth@lifeyouwantcoaching.com—V.F.

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