Are You Feeling Stressed About Everything University Is Throwing at You?
The good news is that you are not alone. Practicing mindfulness is a helpful technique that can benefit you. Along with lowering your stress levels, bringing your mind to a state of focused awareness can improve your ability to feel happy and feel good! By improving your self-awareness and understanding of your body, you can feel better equipped to tackle the challenges of school.
What is Mindfulness?
Practicing “mindfulness” means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and your surrounding environment.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that you should pay attention to your thoughts and feelings without immediately judging them. When you practice mindfulness, you tune into what you are sensing in the present moment, rather than spending time rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Mindfulness and Your Grades
Research has shown that practicing mindfulness reduces wandering thoughts, increases working memory capacity, and improves exam scores—all of which should help you achieve your academic goals!
Benefits of Mindfulness
Studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. They also suggest that practicing mindfulness can improve emotional regulation and empathy.
Mindfulness helps tune out distractions and improve your memory and attentiveness. This makes it easier to focus in class or when studying.
Mindfulness can help you cope with stress and reduce your levels of anxiety. It can also prepare you to identify and deal with the causes of stress in your life.
Research suggests that practicing mindfulness can boost the immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Mindfulness can also lead to decreased blood pressure.
Mindfulness training can make couples more satisfied in their relationships, and make partners feel more optimistic, relaxed, and accepting of each other.
Aggression, anger, and hostility are decreased when one practices mindfulness.
Just Do It!
It isn’t uncommon for people to be skeptical about the benefits of mindfulness. However, just as you can’t reap the benefits of exercise by reading about it, you will not truly understand the effectiveness of mindfulness until you give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised!
Practicing mindfulness is easier that you might think. Techniques include yoga, meditation, listening to nature, focused breathing, walking/running, or anything that brings your focus to the present moment.
Be Mindful of Food and Substances
Being mindful of what you consume can decrease overeating, overdrinking and corresponding feelings of guilt. Practice mindfulness to make better choices about food and drink and to avoid becoming dependent on substances.
Be Mindful in Relationships
Become more satisfied in your relationships to prevent dwelling on the past, worrying about the future, and becoming disconnected. Focus on listening, staying open-minded, being empathetic, and thinking before you speak. Notice what relationships support you.
Be a Mindful Student
Being a mindful student can help you relax, focus, and accomplish your goals. Practice mindfulness at school by turning off your phone while studying, concentrating on one task at a time, visualizing yourself writing an exam before starting, and taking short study breaks when you start to lose focus.
Research has found there are many health benefits associated with practicing yoga. You don’t need to have a specific spiritual background to participate. Try different types of yoga to find a style that suits you best! Types of yoga include:
- Vinyasa Flow
Meditation can lead to improved concentration, decreased distraction, lowered stress levels, and better coping skills.
Clearing the Mind Meditation
- Sit with your hands on your knees facing up.
- Inhale and raise your hands to the back of your head bringing fingertips together. Visualize all your thoughts being gathered in your hands.
- Exhale and push the thoughts up and away in front of your head. Allow your hands to drop back to your knees facing down.
- Visualize your thoughts becoming clouds and floating away.
- Enjoy for a moment your clear mind. Watch your thoughts float away like clouds. Repeat after a few moments or as the mind wanders.
Resources on Campus
There are some great resources available at the university for students interested in mindfulness.
Whether you are a beginner with minimal experience or have been practicing yoga for years, you are welcome to register for a term-long club.
The PAC offers both pre-registered and drop-in classes every day. Sign up by calling or visiting the PAC, or check out the class schedule online.
Mindfulness Meditation Sessions
The university offers weekly drop-in guided mindfulness sessions. Check out the schedule.
Counseling for Students
If things in your life are becoming too much to handle and you are struggling to find balance, free help is available for students at Student Wellness Centre.
Mindful Breathing Meditation
When stressed and anxious, people tend to breathe in a more rapid and shallow way. This “over-breathing” can help produce a variety of physical symptoms that prompt or worsen anxiety.
Abdominal breathing or deep breathing helps reverse the uncomfortable physical symptoms of anxiety. It also lowers susceptibility to stress and tension by decreasing overall levels of physiological arousal.
Beckfield (1994); Wilson (2000)
How Does Breathing Relate to Stress and Anxiety?
When anxious, the body’s autonomic nervous system produces physical changes such as increased heart rate, sweating, dry mouth, and upset stomach. Many of these unpleasant physical symptoms are directly connected to rapid and shallow breathing.
Shallow and rapid breathing results in a decreased proportion of carbon dioxide to oxygen in the blood. In turn, the acidity of the blood is altered. This can cause a rush of calcium to the muscles and nerves, leaving people feeling tense and shaky.
“Over-breathing” also contributes to a constriction of blood vessels leading to the brain and extremities, helping to produce dizziness, lightheadedness, tingling sensations in the hands and feet, blurry vision, and clammy hands.
How Do I Know If I Am Overbreathing?
Find a clock with a second hand. Breathing normally, count the number of times you inhale during a minute. If this number is higher than 12 or 13, you are probably breathing in a rapid manner (Beckfield, 1994).
Place your right hand on your upper chest (near the base of your throat) and your left hand on your abdomen (slightly below your belly button). Take in several deep breaths. Which hand rises and falls with your breathing? If it is your right hand, chances are your breathing is shallow.
How Do I Abdominal Breathe?
- Lean back in a sitting position.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your abdomen.
- Imagine that you want to fill your stomach with air.
- Take a long slow breath through your nose as if to fully inflate your stomach. Take four full seconds to inhale. The hand on your abdomen, not your chest, should rise.
- Hold for one second.
- Exhale slowly and gently through your mouth. Take four full seconds to exhale. The hand on your abdomen, not your chest, should fall. Continue this process for at least four minutes to achieve a benefit. Practise twice daily.
How Do I Use Breathing to Relax?
• Find a quiet time and place away from friends, the phone, and the TV.
• Play music you find relaxing.
• Close your eyes or focus on an object in the room.
• Before you begin, notice how you feel.
• Begin to use abdominal breathing. Remember to take four full seconds to inhale and four full seconds to exhale. Continue this until you find your respiration rate has slowed and you are comfortably breathing in a slow and relaxed way.
• If negative or anxious thoughts (e.g., “I blew the exam,” “I should be studying”) come to your mind, acknowledge them and let them go. Try to refocus on your breathing.
• When you are done, notice how you feel.
• With practice, becoming more relaxed will happen more easily.
• Take time to relax even when you’re not especially tense; this helps lower overall susceptibility to stress.
Beckfield (1994); Bourne (2000)
Relaxation helps reduce or eliminate the physical sensations associated with stress and anxiety. A “relaxation response” occurs when your respiration rate drops, your heart rate slows, and your muscles relax.
There are many benefits to practising relaxation (i.e., using techniques such as abdominal breathing, meditation, and guided imagery) on a regular basis. These benefits include the following:
• Reduction of anxiety and stress.
• Increased energy level.
• Increased productivity.
• Improved concentration and memory.
• Increased self-confidence.
Where Can I Get Help?
If you think that you may be experiencing problems with stress or anxiety and require professional assistance, contact the Student Wellness Centre.
• Beckfield, D. (1994). Master Your Panic and Take Back Your Life: Twelve Treatment Sessions to Overcome High Anxiety. San Luis Obispo, Impact Publishers.
• Bourne, E. (2000). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.
• Wilson, R. (1996). Don’t Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks. New York: Harper Perennial.