Mindfulness has become a real buzzword in recent years. What does it mean? Where does it come from? And why should you care? Well, mindfulness can apply to all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. You might not know it, but it may be able to transform the way you live your life. This is particularly true if you’re currently in education; as the year rolls on, and anxieties about upcoming assignments, deadlines, and exams get worse, you might benefit from a more mindful approach to life.
It’s easy to become stressed out and overwhelmed by the pressures and expectations of school, college, or university. However, mindfulness practices can help you manage stress, reduce anxiety, increase productivity and stay on top of your workload. The practice of mindfulness is gaining popularity among students due to its ability to improve academic performance, increase focus and concentration, decrease stress levels and promote overall our well-being by bringing us closer to our true nature. In this article, we’ll discuss how to incorporate mindfulness practices into your everyday routine, how to counteract your reactions to challenging moments, and how to exploit the benefits of mindfulness skills in your learning. Let’s go!
How Does Mindfulness Affect The Brain?
Mindfulness is defined as paying attention to the present moment without judgment or reaction. By making us more aware of what we’re thinking, feeling, saying, and doing in the present moment, mindfulness activity can stop us from getting caught up in our own heads.
Mindfulness is closely linked to core emotional and social skills such as self-regulation and self-awareness. According to brain imaging research, practising mindfulness can alter brain structures in a way that can improve our response to stressful situations. This can be super helpful to students, particularly those with learning disabilities like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And not only does mindfulness training reduce stress levels, it can also help alleviate anxiety or depression.
Practising mindfulness techniques increases blood flow in the brain and thickens the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for perception and reasoning. Mindfulness training does more than just reduce stress; it can also help those who suffer with anxiety and depression be more productive.
Individual Mindfulness Activities for Students
For a lot of people, studying and learning during higher education is one of the most stressful times in their life. Consistent daily mindfulness practice can improve your ability to manage these stressful moments and develop a true sense of inner peace.
In this section of today’s article, we’ll take a look through some individual mindfulness exercises you can do on your own to help enhance your learning experience and boost your productivity.
Mindful breathing is all about becoming aware of your breath and recognising its connection to both your bodily sensations and your inner mood and emotions. Within lessons, lectures, or quiet study, it’s possible that tensions might build-up due to various repressed emotions, reactions, and feelings. This can make it difficult to concentrate and be productive. Mindful, soft breathing is a strong technique that not only helps you to combat this tendency but also promotes a calm inner sense of being and counteracts physical symptoms of anxiety such as shallow breathing and increased heart rate.
Try this breathing exercise:
- Sit comfortably with your eyes closed.
- Breathe deeply and slowly.
- Count your breaths in from 1 to 4.
- Hold for 5, 6.
- Count your exhale out from 7 to 10
- Then breathe normally again.
- Repeat this breathing cycle until you find your attention and awareness has come to the present.
2. The Five Senses
Sometimes as we study, the environment around us can be filled with distractions. Maybe your housemates are having a loud conversation in the kitchen down the hall, or perhaps someone’s music is blaring through their headphones in the library. When those distractions are getting too much, try using this simple mindfulness activity.
- Take a deep, even breath in and out, and bring your focus to the present moment. Note five things that you can see around you. Try to focus on something you would not usually look at. Is there anything around you that you’ve never noticed before?
- Note four things you can feel. Is it cold? Can you feel the texture of the desk underneath your hands? Can you feel the cold creeping up your hands and feet? What are you feeling around you?
- Note three things you can hear. Tune into the sounds you have been blocking out around you. Can you hear the wind outside, the birds singing, or the electronic hum of appliances around you?
- Note two things you can smell. Is there an unpleasant smell creeping in the windows from outside, like car fumes or fertilizer?
- Finally note one thing you can taste. You could take a sip of your drink, coffee or fruit juice maybe, or take a bite of the snack on your desk. Notice how this taste makes you feel.
3. Mindful Movement
As a result of our emotions coming out in our body posture and bodily sensations, we sometimes become stiff and tense while working. We could get headaches, lose attention and have to stop all because our body has been broken down by stress. If we stop this process from happening by intervening with mindful movement, we can continue to work after grounding ourselves back to the present moment.
- Stand up straight with your feet knee width apart, somewhere you feel comfortable. Straighten your back, and face your palms outwards. As you take a deep breath in, feel the breath rise from the soles of your feet, up to your legs, rushing through your torso, up your spine, up your neck, and all the way to the crown of your head.
- Slowly release this breath. Repeat this first step three times.
- Now take a deep breath in and at the same time, with your fingers stretched out comfortably, reach your hands out to your sides and up above your head, with your palms touching for a couple of moments.
- As you release this breath, release your hands and bring them down to the ground, letting your body follow. Bend your knees if you need. Feel the ground or earth beneath you. Thank the ground, bring forward a sense of gratitude for the support it offers to you.
- Rise slowly, without rushing, and take a breath. Let your spine straighten out naturally, let your head follow, and bring your arms up and out to your sides. As your head rises completely, raise your arms above your head and place your palms together. Say an affirmation to yourself like “I am strong, I am courageous, I am brave”.
- Slowly release this breath. Repeat this step three more times, alternating your loving affirmation each time with comments like “I am loving, I am compassionate, I am kind”.
- When you have finished this step, stand tall once more with your palms together above your heart, and repeat to yourself “I am peace. I am peace. I am peace”. Show gratitude and thank yourself, the people around you, your environment, and the world for your peaceful moment.
4. Mindful Breaks
It is really important to take regular breaks while studying, in order to enhance concentration, maintain productivity, and keep your brain active and creative. Mindful Breaks help you to re-energise your mind by bringing your focus to the present moment and the present tasks that you are tackling, rather than wandering through worries and stress.
Try out these different activities to take Mindful Breaks:
- Jump, skip or dance: Jumping, using a skipping rope or dancing to your favourite song can give you a moment of liberation and escapism. You can become aware of your body and how you are truly feeling in that moment.
- Listen to classical music: Studies have found that those who listen to classical and folk music mindfully are better able to recognise the true experience of the music. This type of mindful break is all about building your ability to note different sensory experiences in the present moment.
- Yoga: Even if you don’t have time for a full yoga session, using a restorative yoga pose during a mindful break can be extremely helpful in allowing your body to relax. Rest with your back against the wall, the seat of your trousers against the bottom of the wall, and your feet in the air, heels resting against the wall. Remember to breathe deeply and evenly, exhaling completely. Relax your body and remain here for five to ten minutes. You can find out more about yoga here.
- Sing: Try a simple vocal warm-up, beginning in your lowest range, rising gradually to your middle range, and then going as high as possible. Focus on being present and enjoying this moment of peace as you connect your mind and body.
- Simple gardening: Planting a simple and quick-growing crop in a small tub on your windowsill or in your back garden (like spring onions, lettuce, or cress) is a satisfying mindfulness activity. As your mindfulness skills grow, so too will the plant. You can use mindful eating practices to continue acting mindfully.
5. Guided Body Scan Meditation
Body scans can be a very effective way of refocusing your attention on the academic task in front of you. They can be completed at any time, even while you’re sitting at a desk with your eyes open.
Start by becoming aware of the sensations at the crown of your head. Then, focus on moving your awareness down your body until you reach your toes. Try to identify where you feel tense; sitting at a desk often leads to tension in the jaws, shoulders, and back. If you feel any tension or tightness, try breathing deeply into the tender spot to relax it. The practice of body scanning is another example of how a simple practice can help us refocus our attention on the present moment and improve our executive function. For more on how to meditate while working, read our article here!
3 Group Mindfulness Exercises for Students
Working collaboratively in group projects or assignments can be really difficult, not least because emotions can run high in a group. Group mindfulness activities can be used to counteract any difficulties. They can boost morale and bring everyone’s focus back to the present moment. Try out some of the activities below to enhance the group work experience.
1. Mindful Listening
We often miss out on vital information because of both internal and external distractions. Mindful listening is about retraining ourselves to fully engage in the things we hear around us. This mindful practice can improve attention skills and root us in the present moment.
Use the acronym HALT to practise mindful listening as a group:
- Halt — Halt what you are doing in the present moment and bring your attention to this activity completely.
- Enjoy — Enjoy a deep breath as you receive and accept the task at hand, regardless of how you feel about it.
- Ask — Ask everyone if they are sure of the group’s tasks, targets, and needs. Be open and curious, and try to act non-judgementally.
- Reflect — Reflect back to each other what has been said. This keeps everyone on the same page.
To find out more about mindful listening, read our article: Can you listen to music while meditating?
2. Mindfulness Safari
During group projects, productivity may slow down if the group is overwhelmed with stress, indecision, or tiredness. Making mindful observations as part of this mindfulness safari exercise will help you combine social-emotional learning with academic study. Try this group exercise to experience a break together.
- Go outside, maybe to the local park, or perhaps just a short stroll up the road. Make note of the things you are all seeing. Pick up a rock or a small flower and note what it looks like, feels like, and smells like.
- Walk together in silence, mindfully taking in your surroundings. Give yourselves a moment to re-centre your mind with the world around you.
- As you walk in silence, you should notice all the small details you’d usually take for granted.
3. Awareness In the Moment
During our studies, we often focus so much on the end goal of completing our qualification that we don’t pay enough attention to what is happening in the present moment. We are usually fixated on what we need to do next, what appointments we have to make, or which emails need replying to.
By bringing our focus to what we’re aware of in the present moment, we can better manage the task at hand. A mantra can help us in this task. By developing a phrase that helps you keep focus and brings perspective, such as “I am preparing myself for future assignments”, or “My goal is to prepare myself properly for future assignments”, we can stay on track and manage our emotions in a productive way.
At the End of the Day
Sometimes we wake up the day after studying and find it difficult to remember a single thing we studied the previous day. Mindfulness activities like ‘Concluding Reflections’ can help solidify our daily learning process by engaging our memory and reinforcing to ourselves the tasks we’ve completed. When we have finished our work for the day, it is a good idea to reflect on what we have done.
Here are a few Concluding Reflections you can try:
- “Something I learned today is…”
- “A question I still have is…
- “I had the best feeling today when…”
- “Something from today that I am thankful for is…”
When You Are Feeling Frustrated
Sometimes it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Negative emotions can arise at the most inopportune times, and emotions like frustration and aggravation can be triggered by long periods of study. Use the acronym STOP, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn as part of the MBSR Mindfulness training programme, to refocus on the present moment and check in with your thoughts and feelings.
- Stop – Stop whatever it is you are doing. If you’re moving – stop. If you’re overthinking – try to stop.
- Take a breath – Take a deep, even breath, in and out. Take a pause.
- Observe – Observe your emotions, note what you are feeling. Are you feeling frustrated? Are you in pain? Maybe you’re feeling anger, or sadness?
- Proceed – When you have taken ample time to pause and check-in with how you are really feeling, proceed with the knowledge of your true emotions and intentions.
For more tips and guidance from MindOwl on how to handle and make the most out of frustration and anger, explore our article on Meditation for Anger Management.
Let’s Wrap Up!
So there you have it. Mindfulness for students can have a real impact. Exercises like meditation, mindful breathing, and mindful listening are powerful tools that you can use to improve your performance at school while protecting and enhancing your mental health. Certain practices require some dedication and patience, but others are super easy. And the great thing is, mindfulness can be beneficial to elementary students, middle school students, and college-goers alike. Taking the time to develop those mental mindfulness muscles through regular, dedicated practice should seriously improve your productivity, creativity, and concentration during studying.
Are you searching for more? Awaken your mind and join the MindOwl community to have access to tailored courses, resources and a community of dedicated meditators, students and teachers to share experiences with. Here, we’ll explore a wide variety of game-changing concepts and ideas relating to meditation, mindfulness and psychology.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is mindfulness important for college students?
Mindfulness can be an effective technique for reducing feelings of anxiety and stress, controlling attentional distractions, and improving psychological well-being. Just as physical exercise can provide a great outlet away from studying, meditation and mindfulness can help students build their mental fitness and cope better with tough situations.
How can students incorporate mindfulness and meditation into their daily routine?
Meditation is most effective when practised at a regular time every day, for instance in the morning when you wake up in bed, or in your daily shower. However, mindfulness can also be cultivated at various other points during your day, whether you’ve planned it or not. Check out our article on mindfulness throughout the day for more on this.
How can practising mindfulness and meditation help college students with their studies?
Although it is not magic, mindfulness and meditation is a proven way to manage your awareness and increase your attention. Both these practices help you deal with the constant flow of thoughts that accompanies college study. You’ll be able to deal with things one at a time, observe and appreciate nature and enjoy life more. To find out more about cultivating calmness, read our article 7 Techniques to Help Calm a Busy Mind.
MindOwl Founder – My own struggles in life have led me to this path of understanding the human condition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.