8 May 2019

Unlocking your Emotions to Achieve the SDGs: Mindfulness & Education

What if there was a tool that could help countries avoid war and heal post-conflict, help communities work more closely together and help people have better interpersonal relationships, care more about their environment and be better global citizens?  This tool already exists – it’s called Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ). There are many definitions of Emotional Intelligence, but broadly EI is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in an effective and positive way. In this week-long series, UNAI will explore the many aspects of Emotional Intelligence and how it can be applied in diverse settings and taught to anyone to help build empathy and achieve a better world. 

Stress is often associated with the responsibilities of adulthood: employment fears, financial strain, family concerns, and health issues are all things that cause people to worry. But increasingly, children and adolescents around the world are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety and some countries have seen a tremendous spike in anxiety disorders, depression, chemical use in young people, all of which are stress-related disorders. This is due to several factors including technology that leaves us with very little downtime and competition generated by school and the job market.  Some stress can be helpful – it teaches us coping mechanisms and resilience and builds confidence that we can handle challenges.  Chronic stress, however, is damaging both short term and long term.  It impacts the ability to function socially, emotionally and academically. Kids who are stressed find it hard to learn because it’s harder for them to focus and integrate and retain information.  More worryingly, high levels of stress disrupt the architecture of the brain and place kids at a greater risk for anxiety and depression as they age.        

Teaching children and adolescents coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and anxiety is increasingly seen as an important part of education.  In the third interview in our series on Emotional Intelligence, we speak with Dr. Megan Sweet, Director of Training at Mindful Schools, an organization that trains teachers in integrating mindfulness into their classrooms in schools all over the world.   

A meta review of 15 studies of 1800 students from six countries found that when meditation was introduced in schools it led to three broad outcomes for students: “higher well-being, better social skills and greater academic skills.

Students who were taught meditation at school reported higher optimism, more positive emotions, stronger self-identity, greater self-acceptance and took better care of their health as well as experiencing reduced anxiety, stress and depression. This was compared to before the meditation programs and compared to peers who were not taught meditation.

The review also showed that meditation helps the social life of students by leading to increases in pro-social behavior (like helping others) and decreases in anti-social behavior (like anger and disobedience).

Finally, meditation was found to improve a host of academic and learning skills in students. These included faster information processing, greater focus, more effective working memory, more creativity and cognitive flexibility.”

Dr. Sweet brings more than twenty years of experience as a school teacher, school and district administrator, and a leader in school transformation. And is the author of several educators’ guides and books.

Watch the interview with Dr. Sweet in which she talks about the importance of mindfulness for children, how meditation helps one cope with stress and depression and the kinds of exercises mindful teachers can do in their classrooms.

On Friday, 17 May United Nations Academic Impact will hold a half-day conference on using Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness to achieve the SDGs from 10am-2pm at UNHQ in New York. You can watch the conference live or on-demand at webcast.untv.org.

The following resources provide more information on meditation and its implementation into classrooms:


Unlocking your Emotions to Achieve the SDGs: Mindfulness & Education

Unlocking your Emotions to Achieve the SDGs: Mindfulness & Education with Megan Sweet