We have been in the midst of an opioid crisis that is affecting our youth for several years. In 2017, there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the United States.

The tragedy is that, often, opioid addiction is not from the result of treating physical pain, but rather emotional pain. Evidence is mounting that opioids are abused to self-medicate negative emotions, pointing to the fact that our youth are not equipped with adequate self-regulation skills.

What does it mean to self-regulate, and why is it important?

Self-regulation means being more aware of your thought processes and reactions in the present moment, and thus allowing you to be more in charge of your emotions and behaviors.

Kids, who are just learning to manage their internal noise, can benefit significantly from instruction on how to do this, rather than having to stumble through it on their own (and most adults wish they had learned this skill set earlier as kids). In other words, self-regulation might be a significant skill set that can be used to fight against opioid addiction and other negative emotional tendencies.

I came across a recent study from the Journal of Child and Family Studies. It examined school curriculum infusion of mindful yoga to foster self-regulation in support of academic performance and health promotion among emerging adolescents.

Students who engaged in mindful yoga demonstrated significant increases in both global and long-term self-regulation compared to the students who didn’t engage.

Another study found that kids who learned mindful awareness practices had better executive function after eight weeks of training twice per week.

In 2012, about 4 percent of Americans engaged in some sort of regular meditation, according to the National Institutes for Health. In 2017, that number nearly tripled to 14 percent.

“I think that people are longing for this as the problems in our culture have become more complex,” said Richard Davidson, founder of The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Because of things like smartphones, tablets, work and the idea that we always must be multitasking, the average American spends 47 percent of his or her waking life not paying attention to what they are doing, according to a Harvard study. And because of this, they were less happy.”

Our youth are in the midst of this cultural complexity without the experience and tools to tackle its challenges.

“We believe giving children the gift of yoga, mindfulness and meditation enables them to have choices and resources to self-regulate through movement and breath work,” said Molly Schreiber, a Dubuque resident and founder of Challenge to Change.

Molly reaches out to all ages in the community, including school-age children, to pass on wellness through the practice of fitness and yoga. She also is the founder of Mindful Minutes, a

nonprofit organization created to further promote emotional self-regulation in schools through yoga and mindfulness practices.

With the increasing complexity of our times, alarmingly high rates of drug addiction and rampant diagnosis of attention deficit disorders, wouldn’t it make sense to foster self-regulation in our kids? We need to support and engage with these organizations because I believe that they are critical to a healthy mind for our kids.

Koneru is an oncologist with Paramount Oncology Group.

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