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Central Texas schools using mindfulness and meditation to address stress

Recent surveys reveal a significant number of Central Texas students are stressed about school work and extracurricular activities. Now, local schools are focusing more attention on mental health by incorporating meditation and mindfulness on campus. (CBS Austin)

Recent surveys reveal a significant number of Central Texas students are stressed about school work and extracurricular activities. Now, local schools are focusing more attention on mental health by incorporating meditation and mindfulness on campus.

"The staff here at Westlake, we've been noticing and feeling the culture of the school change," said Student Support Counselor Kristi Waidhofer.

Waidhofer said this generation of high school students is facing stress on a whole new level. "I think the fact that our kids aren't getting very much sleep right now, we are so much more fast paced, we have social media and are constantly bombarded with news and information," Waidhofer said.

Several Central Texas school districts, including Eanes ISD participated in mental health surveys. Results at Westlake High School found 85 percent of students are often or always stressed by schoolwork and about half of students admit to missing days because of stress or emotional problems.

Westlake is not the only school dealing with these challenges. A 2017 survey at Lake Travis ISD revealed 17 percent of students have seriously considered suicide and 37 percent of those who considered it tried taking their own life.

"The students today don't have the tools that they need to handle the stressors of today," said Stacy Thrash, founder of Peacebox.

Peacebox is a mobile meditation studio and the first of its kind in Austin.

"You've got academic pressures and peer pressures and all of these things. Mindfulness brings in a tool to help students and adults get a little bit of separation from their thoughts and who they are," Thrash said.

In the wake of the most recent school shootings in Parkland, Florida and closer to home in Santa Fe, Thrash said mindfulness practice is needed now more than ever. "There's a common belief that we don't fit in when we're at that age. and I think that manifests in a lot of different ways," said Thrash.

Peacebox traveled to companies around Austin over the summer offering meditation to employees. For every two days spent at a business, they donate a day to a local school.

Westlake High School will be the first to get Peacebox on campus for a day when school starts in the fall.

"One of the main premises of Peacebox and mindfulness meditation is learning how to slow down, how to breathe, how to take a moment and separate yourself from what's going on," Waidhofer said. Student support counselors have already started implementing mindfulness practice at Westlake, but Waidhofer said this will be the most forward step they've taken to address stress with students.

"We're hoping with that we can really change the course of what otherwise might end up in something absolutely tragic and detrimental. That's the hope," Waidhofer said.

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