An interview with Dr. Greg Bottaro, author of books on Catholic mindfulness
By Michele Faehnle
With anxiety on the rise, most teachers are seeing the impact on their students and how it can affect their daily learning. In an effort to help students, schools have been integrating programs to help with anxiety reduction. Recent research is showing promising results with mindfulness programs in schools to improve attention and help students manage stress.
I had the opportunity to discuss integrating Catholic mindfulness programs into schools with Dr. Greg Bottaro, a Catholic psychologist who directs the CatholicPsych Institute and developed a Catholic mindfulness program. Before getting his doctorate, Dr. Bottaro spent four years living as a Franciscan friar. Under the mentorship of Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Dr. Bottaro formed a spirituality based on Abandonment to Divine Providence, which he now applies to psychological principles in his practice.
1). Why do you think we are seeing such high levels of anxiety in students?
One of the major contributors to anxiety, depression, poor behavior, ADHD, and the like is a direct effect of technology abuse at home and in childhood in general. We are flooding our brains and our kids’ brains with constant artificial stimulation, which doesn’t require any active participation in paying attention to the present reality that we are actually living in. Our kids are missing out on vital developments in their brains and the result is the widespread increase in the disorders mentioned.
2). What solution do you suggest to help students in this situation?
Because of how deep the addictions have become and the patterns of behavior and habits have overcome normal daily life, we need an actual program to learn how to pay attention again. This is why I’ve developed Catholic mindfulness. Mindfulness is the antidote to technology addiction. Through this program we can relearn, and teach kids how to, pay attention to the present moment and get acquainted once again with life as it really exists.
3) How is Catholic mindfulness different than traditional or secular programs?
Catholic mindfulness connects the psychology to our faith. We have our faith, which we proclaim, we live by, and we believe in. But we need to incorporate our spiritual life into our emotional lives. The most important reality is that God is a Father who takes care of his children. This is why it’s OK to let go of ruminations and live in the “real world” instead of in the fantasies created by the technology we are obsessed with. This is the only healthy way to practice mindfulness.
Catholic Mindfulness, in fact, is simply a re-branding of a classically Catholic spirituality that has been around since Jesus told his disciples, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns—and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
My wife and I practice mindfulness with our kids and are constantly trying to find new and engaging ways of making it stick with them. We decided to put some of the exercises we use into a book for other parents to benefit from as well. We use stories of the saints to introduce children to the tradition of our Church at the same time, so that parents can connect with their kids on every level of their humanity — spiritual, physical, and emotional. Try sample audio exercises for your students.
5). Can Catholic mindfulness help teachers?
Absolutely! Parents and teachers alike can benefit from Catholic mindfulness. Emotional regulation is of number one importance in education of children. Children pick everything up from adults, including their dysregulation! Starting with peace is the only way to educate with peace, since we can’t give what we don’t have.
Catholic mindfulness is a way to practically trust God more in our lives. It can help teachers understand their emotions better, manage stress, and strengthen their relationship with God. Instead of separating faith from the day-to-day of life, mindfulness helps bridge the gap so that we can feel the peace in our lives that should come from having a Father we can trust.
Michele Faehnle, RN, BSN, is the school nurse at St. Andrew School, Columbus, Ohio and co-author of Divine Mercy for Moms and The Friendship Project.
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