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HeartMath and Mental Health for Teens in Minnesota

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HeartMath and Mental Health for Teens in Minnesota

Our story with the St. Louis County School district of northeast Minnesota begins during School Year 2022 with the outreach of local social worker and Project AWARE Mental Health coordinator Alicia Dick, who contacted us in hopes to incorporate self-regulation techniques and heart-rate variability (HRV) measurements in her expanding work with students and staff within the county’s schools.

Funded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, also referred to as the SAHMSA grant, the district purchased a set of emWave Pro devices for district support staff who work with individuals and groups of students across the county. We conducted three professional development sessions virtually during the school year and stayed in close contact with the project lead as she organized and expanded their well-being efforts throughout their schools. Some schools created regulation rooms where they invited students to take a moment to calm themselves or get ready for an upcoming test, sporting event, or perhaps even an important conversation. HeartMath techniques, including Heart-Focused Breathing™ and Quick Coherence™, were offered as optional tools. The emWave Pro’s built-in games supported students’ regulation and building of inner coherence.

HeartMath and Mental Health for Teens in Minnesota
Several months later when Alicia proposed the idea of incorporating an in-person, hands-on HeartMath session during a district-wide Mental Health event for teens, we could not say no. Even when the unconventional idea of including a local therapy llama named Sophie in the workshop, we were all ears. After all, some of our less conventional research certainly explores our connection to the animal world. For instance, our deep bond with horses is beautifully depicted in HMI’s "Connecting Hearts" video, while our special relationship with dogs is highlighted in the "Exploring the Beneficial Bond Between People and Dogs" video. Still, my own experience with llamas was limited at best, and my prior knowledge consisted mostly of imaginary images of weird, wooly creatures with aloof attitudes and amazing spitting aim. This was sure to be one of my most interesting workshops yet. I was game!

HeartMath and Mental Health for Teens in Minnesota

The three-day Youth Mental Health event was hosted by the Minnesota Discovery Museum in Chisolm, a mining community that sits closer to the Canadian border than to the state’s capital. Packed with picturesque maple and birch trees, pristine walking and biking trails, and state-of-the-art gathering spaces, the location was a stunning scene where nature meets industry and innovation. It didn’t hurt that the weather was crisp, sunny and dry. A gift from the Minnesota skies, it seemed. Perfect days to bring the outdoors in. And the farm animals, too.

HeartMath and Mental Health for Teens in Minnesota

For three full days, we welcomed in close to a thousand teens from ten local high schools and immersed ourselves in honest conversations and fun activities focused on the mental and emotional well-being of teenagers. Connection was the theme of our days, and we built upon the understanding of the power of increasing coherence among family and friend groups, with nature, and, of course, with their intelligent hearts.

HeartMath and Mental Health for Teens in Minnesota

The days were filled with interactive digital games, ice water challenges, and then a daily afternoon visit from a local farm friend, Sophie. Time to put our tools and technology to the test: We invited a few willing volunteers from the group to come up on stage and demonstrate the effectiveness of the Quick Coherence ™ technique to shift their nervous systems into higher levels of coherence, perhaps with the help of Sophie or for others by calling up the loving feelings they have for their own pets or loved ones. Brilliantly, one volunteer after the next was able to create more coherence internally and demonstrate it in real-time as their HRV was displayed on a large screen for the room of their peers to see.

HeartMath and Mental Health for Teens in Minnesota

Some students who wanted to spend more one-on-one time cuddling with Sophie joined her outdoors, where she hung out with her handler, Lois from Cook’s Country Connection. The three days were packed with excitement and energy that somehow seemed to me to become more and more coherent as we progressed. It is possible that this was simply my own perception, but Sophie seemed to confirm this when, on Day 3, she decided that rather than take her spot outside, she would finish the day sitting in the large crowd and close to her new-found teenager friends who also seemed to embrace Sophie’s friendship with ease.

HeartMath and Mental Health for Teens in Minnesota

As for the spitting and supposed llama attitude, it turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong. In the moments when Sophie leaned in and at eye level, I certainly used my tried and true HeartMath® techniques to keep my cool. But this furry friend was the sweetest reminder not to judge a book by its cover. All this llama wanted was to cuddle with us, too. She found the right crowd to connect with.

HeartMath and Mental Health for Teens in Minnesota

Written by Jenna A. Moniz, M.S.,NBCT.

Jenna Moniz, HeartMath Institute’s Education Program Specialist since 2021, is dedicated to sharing HeartMath’s principles globally. She passionately believes the social and emotional well-being of young people is the #1 priority of school communities. With over 25 years of educational experience, Jenna’s journey spans teaching in Southeast Africa, West Africa, and South America as a Peace Corps volunteer and holding roles in Career & Technical Education (CTE), Adult Education, English as a New Language, and Social & Emotional Learning in the United States. Jenna’s qualifications include National Board Certification, graduate studies in Brain-Based Instruction, and certifications from the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, Yale University’s Science of Well-being, and HeartMath Institute’s Resilience, Team, and Trauma-Sensitive training. She is also pursuing certification with Dr. Joe Dispenza’s Neuro Change Solutions program.