During my semester as an intern at innovation Research and Training (iRT), I have gained interesting insight into some of the work that lies between the boundaries of research and applied psychology. I came into the company as they were beginning to develop a mindfulness program for high school students; this program is an offshoot of other iRT mindfulness projects for younger students and will hopefully one day be implemented in schools to provide stress reduction resources for adolescents. My role in the company is to aid with the foundational research that is necessary to build an effective curriculum.
In order to fully understand how this curriculum development process works at iRT, I had to broaden my knowledge on all of the pieces that go into this specific research project. The first step was really grasping the idea of mindfulness, a catchy term for the seemingly simple concept of being fully aware of the present moment. If you are being mindful at any given time, you might be taking in your surroundings with all of your senses, monitoring how your body feels, and noticing how your emotions fluctuate, but without the goal of changing any of these things (you can see how it might be slightly more complicated than it sounds). Fortunately, mindfulness is gaining popularity in the world of psychology, so there is a huge amount of research that supports the benefits of mindfulness for stress reduction, physical and mental health, and positive cognitive and emotional development in adolescents.
Once I understood what mindfulness looked like on paper, I was able to practice it on my own by going through iRT’s existing elementary and middle school programs and trying out some of the mindful meditations and movements. My favorite activity that I’ve attempted to work into my routine is the mindful eating exercise – you take a small piece of food, study it with all of your senses, be aware of any judgmental thoughts you might be feeling about the food, hold it close to your mouth and notice how your body reacts, and perform several other steps before you can finally chew and swallow the food. While it seems a bit ridiculous at first, you begin to realize how frequently eating meals becomes an autopilot process, to the point where you rarely stop to process how your meal tastes or how full you feel. It helps to think about the mindful eating exercise as a way to train your brain to notice the interactions between your surroundings and what is going on inside your body and mind. It has also been extremely helpful to pay attention to the challenges I experience when testing out these mindfulness activities so I can begin to think about the most effective ways to teach them to high school students when developing the program lessons.
While learning about mindfulness has been insightful in itself, the research process has also involved developing mini-expertise in several other areas, such as adolescent development, stress, emotion regulation, and executive function. In the larger scheme of implementing our program, I have also had to look into technology in high school classrooms to maximize student engagement, as well as implementation fidelity, which will help us be sure that the teachers leading the program adhere to the curriculum so that the students receive all of its benefits. Working at iRT has helped me to take research to a broader level where I can see how scientific findings can be applied in creative ways to improve the health and well being of others.
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