Mindfulness: the Student Edition

Yet another hipster fad? We beg to differ. Read more on how mindfulness practice can improve wellbeing and academic performance…

What’s all the hype about?

Mindfulness has recently gained popularity, but it existed long before magazines and colouring books. The mindfulness was initially grounded in Buddhism, but its secular form was embraced by clinical psychology and psychiatry, as research shows that the techniques practised within mindfulness have positive impact on conditions like depression and anxiety,  fibromyalgia, sleep disorders and fatigue. In education context, mindfulness-based techniques have proved beneficial in improving academic performance, especially with high-stakes exams.

Tweet: "does mindfulness mean having your mind full of everything all the time because if so then i think i've nailed this thing"
If it did, we’d all be winners! Mindfulness is actually about trying to clear away all those thoughts so you can focus on what’s important.

What do you actually do in a mindfulness session?

We can all agree that better exam performance sounds great, but how do we actually get there?

  • During a mindfulness session you will usually be comfortably seated in a circle with other participants, you don’t need to bring anything but yourself. (Some exercises can be done in lying position but, personally, I wouldn’t take up the challenge of not dozing off…)
  • The session leader guides you through a set of exercises and, in between, there is a chance to chat with others and share your impression. This video might give you an idea of the techniques used.
  • Breathing is the key element of all mindfulness techniques. It helps us slow down and relax, allowing us to make the most out of the session. (You can test it right now – take a few deep breaths. There, don’t you feel more relaxed already?)
  • Exercises like body scan would focus your mind on the sensory experience and on what is happening to you here and right now, rather than wandering to essays or lab report deadlines.
  • For me, the most challenging part of the session was the one focused on controlling our own thoughts. This is usually started by becoming aware of your thoughts and acknowledging them,, and then slowly working up towards a state where we can be without any thoughts, even if just for a few moments.
Tweet: "What's with this "mindfulness"? I have my mind full with other things!"
When studying, you might have a millions thoughts a second, making it hard to concentrate and distracting you with worries. Mindfulness can help you to learn ways to control that slurry…

How can mindfulness help with your studies and university life?

This all sounds nice, but how does it actually benefit us as students? Here’s what you can achieve with regular practice of mindfulness:

  • Taking a break between lectures, group project meetings and social activities might seem like making your timetable even busier, but a quality break can help you tackle daily activities more effectively, and prevent burn out during stressful periods.
  • Dealing with stress and negative feelings. My first impulse was always to try to beat or avoid anything take makes me sad or angry, but mindfulness encourages us to pause first and acknowledge and evaluate these, and then decide how we want to address them. This means it’s less likely you will be overwhelmed by small obstacles we all face every day.
  • Performing better in tasks. Being able to manage your thoughts, means that you can focus better and do your best when you set your mind to a particular task, rather than feeling paralysed by the workload or limited amount of time (great bonus to have in exam halls, right?)
  • Improving relationships with others. When we feel good about ourselves, it is likely this will show in how we behave towards other. Also, being aware of our feelings and thoughts, particularly negative ones, can help us communicate them better (which beats snapping at your housemates over bin rota).
  • Enjoying the little things. Yes, it sounds corny, but increasing your sensory awareness and focusing on what is happening in the given moment (instead of worrying about a silly text you sent or a project you haven’t even started), enables you to appreciate it more, be it in a nice cup of tea after a long day, a night out with friends or pages of a good book (you know where to go for this one :)).
Tweet: "My therapist said I need to work on my mindfulness. After work, I'm getting a whole buffet of brain food. My mind will be SO full, guys"
It doesn’t quite work like that… but mindful eating is definitely a thing. Savouring your food means you enjoy it so much more!

The perks of mindfulness

The best thing about mindfulness is that once you’ve become familiar with some basic techniques, you can practise mindfulness on your own, at a time and place convenient to you. Mindfulness can be practised even when you are involved in other activities, like colouring, crafts (check out #StudyHappy for activities likes this), walking, running, swimming…

Now that you’ve made it to the end of this post, why not try some mindfulness sessions and see for yourself? Join us in the Library (Experimental Teaching Space, Floor 2), every Wednesday, 1-2 pm (until the end of term).

 

Credit
Image: Pixabay, CC.0
Tweets: @hacalcutt, @MagnusManske, @JoshAndHisJokes

 

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