Imani Gonzalez juggles long school days, a 30-hour-per-week job, and athletics – a lot for any student, let alone a high school junior who is worried about getting into college. Imani, however, has an advantage – tools to help her manage the stress. A longtime student of mindfulness classes at her school with Center for Resilience, Imani recently said that she makes sure to take time to stop and breathe throughout the day. She frequently practices this and other techniques she has learned to reduce anxiety, manage her emotions and find balance. These mindfulness tools help Imani to stop and think about difficult situations, instead of just react to them, and maintain perspective, which helps her from getting wrapped up in them.
Resilience, Imani says, is is more than a capacity to recover quickly from setbacks. “I think of resilience as changing my whole life and having a different mindset about how I see and deal with situations,” she says. “When you go to school for eight hours and then work for another six, that’s really hard. And you have to be able to erase what happened at school and have a whole different mindset. Some kids at school don’t know how to do that and they shut down when things go wrong.”
Imani also works to share these resilience skills to others. When playing softball, she models breathing exercises to her teammates and stretches to clear her mind while preparing for games. She has helped Center for Resilience by talking to younger students about the importance of the mindfulness in school and what it has done for her. Sometimes, she finds that other students don’t always believe that the skills will be useful, but Imani assures them they will help. “I tell them, when you see yourself in tough situations, you’ll wish that you had listened to [the Center for Resilience instructor],” she says.
At her previous job at a store that has since close, Imani had to deal with a lot of customers questions and reactions about the impending closure, as well as the apprehension of her colleagues’ during that time period. The work environment was so stressful, she says, that she needed to make use of her resilience skills often. Imani would help her coworkers by teaching them to “stop, take a breath and think before reacting,” when things got challenging.
Though Imani is grateful she learned these coping and managing skills in middle school, she wishes she could have learned them even earlier. “Growing up, I wasn’t always resilient,” she says, “I didn’t know how to react to situations the way I do now.” Now, even when a day is full of obstacles, she uses her understanding of resilience to maintain an open and positive mindset about all the good things that can happen in a day, and is able to avoid focusing on the negative things.
Along with daily breathing exercises, Imani also loves to use external tools that help her to reset and clear her mind. One of these is the glitter jar – a clear bottle filled with viscous liquid and glitter that, once shaken up, demonstrates how sometimes your mind gets all shaken up and it’s important to give it time to let it settle (as the glitter does). And once the water is clear, she says, “my mind is too.”