What is mindfulness, you ask? Mindfulness is an elegant word for paying attention to the present moment without being distracted by what’s happening either inside of you (your thoughts and body sensations) or around you. Since the 1980s, mindfulness exercises have become more and more popular in practice and in research. Countless studies and accounts have cited the social, health, academic, overall well-being benefits of mindfulness.
Research from the University of Massachusetts has found that students who practice mindfulness often improve their attention, grades, behavior, mood, and ability to self-regulate (self-regulation). In other words, mindfulness helps students to slow down and ultimately make smart choices even when emotions are running high, therefore improving their overall well-being and quality of life . The benefits of mindfulness are tremendous as we seek to practice present moment awareness.
1.) STRESS RELIEF
Student life is stressful–especially now as we juggle the realities of our new COVID-19 normal. Between getting to class, managing the workloads of multiple courses, and memorizing countless facts, it’s easy to panic. Georgetown University tested stress management through a mindfulness-based stress reduction program by inviting participants to undergo a stress test, take an eight-week mindfulness meditation course and then go through a second, similar stress test. Afterward, the participants showed reduced stress hormones, demonstrated a decrease in negative thoughts, reported feeling less stressed in daily life, and showed improved overall well-being during the second test. Ultimately, meditation practice helped students feel and perform better.
2.) IMPROVED CREATIVITY
We know that one of the benefits of mindfulness is increased creativity. Meditation sessions coupled with the practice of mindfulness can actually increase “divergent thinking” – the ability to come up with new ideas-a primary component of thinking creatively. Whether you need a topic for your thesis or you are brainstorming for your writing course, creativity is important. One of the clear benefits of mindfulness is an increase in cognitive flexibility. Being more cognitively flexible naturally lends itself to improved creativity. Not surprisingly, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has been shown to be incredibly successful with individuals struggling with depression and anxiety.
3.) INCREASED FOCUS
Being able to focus is an important skill for students in everyday life. Without focus, the mind wanders and it’s very difficult to work on a paper, study for a final, or prepare to sit in a three hour lecture. One study found that “meditators … demonstrate superior performance on tests of self-regulation, resisting distractions and making correct answers more often than non-meditators.” There are so many projects a student has to complete in a given semester but there are also several distractions. Students who meditate are more focused on the present moment, better at self-regulation and more equipped to see assignments through. If you are unsure where to begin with meditation, start with this beginner’s guided meditation. You can also download a mindfulness app to your mobile phone or check out Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on mindfulness exercises for beginners.
4.) REDUCTION IN DEPRESSION
An estimated one third of university students suffer from depression and anxiety. It’s hard to succeed academically when your mental health is holding you back. Mindfulness training and meditation techniques may be the key to improved self-awareness and focusing on the present moment. JAMA Internal Medicine found that the practice of mindfulness meditation helps students with self-regulation and manage the anxiety and depression that come along with busy schedules and rigorous course loads. In fact, an average of 20 minutes of guided meditation per day yielded consistent results in combating and managing depression and improved daily life functions and overall well-being.
Whether it’s helping you cope with the stress of the workload, helping you come up with new ideas for papers, or helping you set your focus and finish that term project, if you’re a student you should consider adopting the practice of mindfulness and taking up mindfulness meditation. The health benefits associated with mindfulness as form of meditation include mindful eating and increased self-compassion. Mindful eating and self-compassion are factors that contributed to overall well-being and help to fight depression and other negative mental health triggers.
5.) IMPROVED RETENTION
Remembering what you’re studying is crucial to succeeding in school. A 2013 study found that the “benefits of meditation included improved student retention of the information conveyed during the lecture.” Students are constantly bombarded with information so it’s difficult for students to recall important information from lectures. Forms of meditation and mindfulness exercises can help with that.
With schools and other academic settings, the effects of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation are proven to increase:
- Academic achievement
- Focus on the present moment
- Social skills and self regulation (including less focus/obsession with social media)
- Sleep habits (and overall physical health)
- Compassion (including self-compassion)
It is also shown to reduce:
- Stress levels (as a result of practicing present moment awareness)
- Mental health issues
- Bullying (as a result of improved compassion and self-compassion)