Being a student is hard. Being a student during a pandemic, even harder. Whether you’re in high school, determined to get into the university of your dreams, in university determined to land your dream job, or simply just trying to make it to graduation, school can be the source of a lot of pressure and stress in our day-to-day lives. Sometimes it can feel so consuming that we forget to check in on ourselves and allocate a little time for self-care. Luckily, mindfulness meditation might be just the self-care tool you need to cope with the strain of school stress.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that focuses on bringing our awareness to the present moment, intentionally and non-judgmentally. It continues to yield positive outcomes for individuals dealing with depression, anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, heart conditions, stress, grief, and more. As a student, here are some benefits that you might be interested in yourself!
You know that dreadful feeling you get when you’re about to start an exam? You might start sweating, your heart might be racing, you might feel a little nauseous. Sound familiar? This would be your fight-or-flight response in action. Normally, this response is only active for brief periods of time until the threat in our environment disappears. However, if this response is active too frequently and for too long, it can eventually cause other problems for our health. Mindfulness meditation works to counteract this stress response by activating its counterpart – our rest-and-digest system! The breathing and acceptance that is practiced through meditation helps us slow down our heart rate and lower our blood pressure so that we can restore a sense of control and peace even during stressful times. Mindfulness meditation helps bring balance to our fight-or-flight and rest-and-digest systems in a healthy way so that we can prevent some consequences of stress.
Preventing Negative Thoughts
You’ve likely experienced some automatic negative thoughts during your time in school. These thoughts tend to target our self-esteem and are usually quite a leap from the actual situation at hand. For example, if you’ve ever had a difficult time understanding a concept in class, you might have thought “I’m so stupid,” or “I’ll never get this.” These kinds of thoughts can trigger our stress-spiral and become harmful to our self-concept. Fortunately, practicing mindfulness meditation can actually help us avoid negative thoughts and quickly let go of any that do arise. This is because the practice of mindfulness requires us to accept our feelings, encouraging us to admit to ourselves that whatever we are feeling is okay and will eventually pass. This is much healthier than suppressing difficult emotions until they aggressively pop into our heads as negative thoughts.
Mindfulness meditation therefore also allows us to adopt a healthier sense of control within ourselves and relieve some of the pressures we might experience as students. It helps us gain control in overwhelming situations that we can change by positively shaping our awareness and anchoring us in reality. It’s also helpful in situations where we may not be able to change, by promoting acceptance and gratitude.
Reducing Feelings of Loneliness
Stress can be an isolating experience. We might feel like others cannot understand what we are going through. We also might become so preoccupied with the stressor (such as a paper or prep for an exam) that we accidentally isolate ourselves for some time. Luckily, mindfulness meditation studies have demonstrated that the more mindful you become, the less lonely you will feel. This is because mindfulness meditation enhances our overall wellbeing and social cognition by helping us manage our emotions in a healthier way. With this improved emotion regulation, mindfulness meditation can make the act of being alone much more comfortable instead of isolating – we can be in solitude without feeling lonely. This practice can also create opportunities to interact with others. With an improved sense of wellbeing, we are usually more willing to reach out to others and form relationships or improve existing ones.
How To Meditate Mindfully
When engaging in this kind of meditation, it’s best to find a quiet place with minimal distractions, and to sit in a position that is comfortable for you. Try to find a position where your back and leg muscles are not strained.
Next, close your eyes and try to relax every part of your body starting from the top of your head and mentally scanning all the way down to the bottoms of your feet.
Breathe deeply and engage your stomach instead of your chest to help you do so. Try to fall into a slow-paced, regular breathing rhythm and focus on your breath and any sensations you may feel in your body.
If you notice that your mind is wandering, acknowledge the thoughts in your head, accept any emotions you may be feeling, and bring your attention back to your breath and present awareness. Mindfulness can be harder for some people than others, and that’s okay! Remember not to become frustrated if you find your mind wandering, but simply accept it and try to return to your breath. It is a practice that takes time!
It’s important to take the time to acknowledge what your mind and body need. Many students struggle to confront what they may be feeling and what it is they need as they become too preoccupied with the demands of school. It is crucial check in on ourselves. School is stressful, and it might feel endless, but if you can implement some time in your day, even 5 minutes towards mindfulness, your mind and body will thank you!