By Anna Henk
Before reading this, take a moment to pause. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your stomach. Take three slow, deep breaths. Feel the sensation of your chest rising and falling as you breathe. Observe the urge of your thoughts to wander. Do not judge yourself for it, but simply notice where your mind naturally wants to go. After you do so, thank yourself for taking a few moments out of your day to slow down. Now tell yourself congratulations because you just practiced mindfulness meditation!
As college students, we are constantly consumed by thoughts, emotions and an endless to do list of daunting tasks. Our weeks usually consist of going to class, working, doing homework, studying, participating in student organizations and somehow trying to fit social time, family time and free time in there. Additionally, in this day and age we are being bombarded with social media, like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and dozens of other platforms. It is not uncommon for us to feel extremely overwhelmed and exhausted by everything going on in our lives.
It is quite a rare occasion that we slow down, become present and be fully in the now. I know it seems like slowing down is impossible with the amount of responsibilities on our plate, but it is absolutely essential that we find time in our hectic lives to practice the art of mindfulness by setting our screens down and focusing within. There have been several studies that have shown the benefits of mindfulness meditation. One study in particular studied MRI scans which found that this form of meditation can physically change the structure of our brains and therefore change the way that we process information (in a good way, of course).
Mindfulness meditation is one type of meditation that humans have been practicing for thousands of years. Narayan Helen Liebenson, a guiding teacher at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, says the following about mindfulness meditation, “What happens when we sit is none of our business. The practice is to accept whatever arises instead of trying to control our experience. What we can control is our wise effort to be present with what is.”
In the simplest terms, mindfulness meditation is the practice of slowing down, observing our thoughts and not judging them. The key here is not judging our thoughts. Once you can become aware of passing thoughts and accept them as they are without clinging to them, you are practicing mindfulness. As stated, there are many benefits of mindfulness meditation and I will be going through just a few of them, identified by the American Psychological Association, that can help college students.
1. Stress reduction
A 2010 study looked at the difference between a group of individuals participating in a mindfulness-based stress reduction group and a control group (Farb et. al.). The researchers in this study looked at the difference in the self-reported measures of depression, anxiety and psychopathology. In the end, they concluded that those who were doing the mindfulness-based stress reduction reported way less anxiety and depression. Using this information, we can learn that practicing this method of meditation gives college students the opportunity to reduce their anxiety and stress levels, which is absolutely necessary.
In a different study, researchers aimed to find the difference in attention span among a group who practiced mindfulness meditation and a group who did not (Moore and Malinowski, 2009). Their results concluded that those who did practice mindfulness meditation had significantly higher cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning. As college students, we can utilize this tool to improve our attention span and ability to focus in class, meetings and other extracurriculars that we are involved in.
3. Less emotional reactivity
Since we are often highly stressed, it is easy to react emotionally to the little things that may bother us. Luckily, mindfulness meditation can help with this too. A 2007 study looked at people who had been practicing mindfulness anywhere from one month to 29 years (Ortner et al.). They found that it helped people to not react to emotionally upsetting photos and helped them to focus more on their tasks instead. This could be extremely helpful to college students who have a lot on their plate. We often allow external events or other people to upset us which throws our whole mood off. However, by learning to disengage from usually upsetting events, we can be more focused and use our time more wisely.
These are just three of many benefits to mindfulness meditation which can help college students be happier and less stressed overall. By practicing mindfulness for even five minutes every day, you can begin to see positive changes in your life that will contribute to your college success. And if you don’t know where to start, start here.
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