As a student do you find that, even though you may not really wish to admit it, you sometimes:
• lack focus and concentration?
• feel stressed and overwhelmed by the volume of assignments and study?
• feel overwhelmed by your feelings and thoughts?
• feel you may be in a low mood or have feelings of anxiety throughout your day regularly?
• feel that you may be responding to stress in a negative way?
• feel generally stressed out and may be turning to alcohol or drugs to help you along?
You may feel that your current mindset fits into one, some or all of the above symptoms. That’s ok and it’s perfectly normal at some point within your time in college to feel this way.
College life can be wonderful and fulfilling, but it can also be stressful. But we know from research over the past number of years that regular practice of meditation and mindfulness can have huge benefits in terms of our mental health and well-being. These benefits can be similar to an antidote to the symptoms mentioned above. They include:
• A decrease in low mood and anxiety levels
• Positive changes in how we respond to stressful situations
• Improved focus and concentration
• Reduction in use of drugs and alcohol to alleviate stress
Ok, so what is this mindfulness or meditation that we are all talking about? What does it entail?
Well, meditation occurs any time that we bring our attention to the present moment; this can be practiced formally or informally. Formal practice would be sitting or lying down in a space where you are guided or guide yourself through a meditation.
Informal practice would be living mindfully AS you study, eat, drink etc; simply bringing attention to what you are doing in that moment.
So let’s make meditation a little more realistic.
Grab a chair if you are not sitting down already.
Sitting comfortably with your two feet on the floor and keeping your eyes open to read this, notice all of the sounds you can hear inside the space you are sitting in right now (even if it is busy and noisy). Take a moment to do that.
Now notice all of the sounds you can hear outside of this space if you are sitting indoors. What is the furthest away sound you can hear right now in this moment? Take a moment to do that.
Now with your eyes still open, bring your attention (because you are in charge of it in every moment), to your feet; notice the weight of them on the floor. Wiggle your toes to bring attention to them.
Your mind will drift and this is perfectly normal. Think of it as training a puppy! We want to let it be what it is even if the thoughts are negative. So when your mind starts drifting, just say ‘that’s ok’ and label your thoughts, no matter how negative or busy they may be, with the word ‘thinking’ (imagine a big label across the front of your mind!), and return your attention back to your feet again.
Notice the weight of your body on your chair; the points of contact between your body and your chair.
Now notice your breathing; don’t change it….just notice it. The breath going into your body and the breath leaving your body.
Notice the weight of your body on your chair again.
Notice your feet again.
When the mind drifts, notice where it has gone, label with word ‘thinking’ again and bring attention to the sounds in the space you are in.
Now bringing attention back to your breathing again, breathe in gently through your nose for a count of 4 and out through your mouth slowly for a count of 5. Repeat this step at your own pace 3 times.
If you managed to follow these simple steps, you have just engaged in formal mindful practice; sitting formally and being guided through a mediation. This would be classed as a waking meditation as you had your eyes open but after practice, you soon won’t need to follow the guide; you will be able to do it by yourself.
For informal practice, we simply bring attention to the present moment through our breath, our body and our senses at any time day or night. For example, you could be sitting with your friends on campus having a cup of coffee and you simply bring attention to that cup of coffee; the smell, the taste, the temperature. Then you might notice your feet on the ground. Then you might notice what your friends are saying and pay full attention to them. Then you might return your attention to your breathing; not changing it, just noticing it. Then you might return your attention to your feet again. Your mind will drift off, simply bring your attention back to the cup of coffee, your surroundings, colours, smells, sounds. Remember YOU are in charge of your attention in every moment! Place it where it will be of most value to you.
Mindful practice is all about training and repetition. Like training a muscle, this takes time but if you have even 3-5 minutes a day to simply sit and notice just as you have done here, you will notice a difference in yourself over a few weeks. The more time we spend in the present moment, the better it is for our mental health as when our minds are in the present moment, we are not mulling over past events or worrying about the future.
If you found this article helpful, return to the practice above regularly and you will begin to notice your mind settle a lot more day to day. I would also recommend a mindfulness/meditation class if you could find one locally.
You can find out more about meditation and mindfulness here.
Still here? Check this out: NUIG Seeks Participants for Nationwide Online Chronic Health Study