College students are under a lot of stress, that’s long been a given.
Not only are you striving and pushing to learn and gain knowledge, stretching your intelligence and studying while trying to keep up with your class requirements and maintain a respectable GPA, but you’re also facing some of the biggest decisions of your life: what profession is right for you—who do you want to be when you grow up?
As you also juggle work responsibilities, create new relationships and a healthy social life, attempt to eat well and take good care of yourself while living, for the first time, outside of your home environment and without daily parental guidance, college is a time of great joy and growth—and upheaval and stress.
But you can relieve much of the pressure while also improving your focus, memory, and even your grades by cultivating and incorporating mindfulness practices and meditation into your routine. Helping you reduce stress, get better sleep, improve your relationships, and become more effective in your studies and work, let’s take a closer look at ways to include mindfulness practices and meditation into your student life.
For starters, although mindfulness and meditation are closely linked, they are not the same thing.
Meditation is a process where we create a sense of deep relaxation and tranquility by calming down our minds. This can be done by concentrating on a certain point in the room, chanting a mantra, visualizing or focusing on our breath. Although we may think of meditation as only being done while sitting on the floor with our legs crossed in the lotus position, mediation can also be practiced while standing, walking, or lying down. Meditation can be done on its own, but it’s also associated with yoga, tai chi and Qi gong.
Mindfulness, in its most simple definition, is the practice of being in the moment. Mindfulness practices help us harness and train our minds to attend to the here and now only. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way for us think or feel in a given moment.
When we practice mindfulness, we’re training ourselves to tune our thoughts into what we’re sensing in the present moment, not the past or the future. In addition to increasing awareness, mindfulness helps us to avoid being overwhelmed and overly reactive to what we’re experiencing from one moment to the next.
While meditation can help to increase mindfulness, we can practice mindfulness while doing any daily activity. Whether studying, spending time with friends, or sitting in class, you can bring a sense of awareness to the present moment, what’s in front of you at the particular time, by practicing mindfulness.
Here are a few easy ways you can cultivate mindfulness and incorporate meditation into your college routine to relax from stress and anxiety and also improve your focus and overall wellbeing:
- Mindful Breathing. Whether you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming test or even a social situation, taking deep breaths will help slow down your mind and heart rate, and turning your attention to the physical sensation of your breathing—practicing mindful breathing—can help you to feel calm in only a minute or two. Try taking a nice, deep inhale through your nose, feel how your lungs and chest expand, and then relax on your exhale out of your mouth. Repeat three times or until you feel yourself relaxing. The goal is simply to focus on and be mindful of your breathing, only, for a couple minutes.
- Mindful Studying. When you sit down to study, spend a minute or two first becoming aware of your physical surroundings: the feeling of sitting in the chair, the sounds around you. Take a few mindful breaths, focusing solely on the physical sensation of each inhale and exhale. Once you begin working, pay attention to any time you’ve become distracted as early as you can. Then, take a few more breaths and come back to your work. Distractions are inevitable, but as you practice mindfulness while studying, you will find over time that you experience fewer distractions and more focus.
- Gratitude Journal. It’s not uncommon to feel stressed during college for varying reasons, but focusing on these stressors can eventually lead to depression and anxiety. Taking a few minutes each day to write down what you’re grateful for in your gratitude journal can help cut through negativity and remind you of the good things that are going on in your life, despite the stress.
- Visualization. You can easily incorporate this mindfulness exercise into your day to help overcome fears or doubt and to increase confidence. Take a few deep breaths and focus on creating a clear picture in your mind of acing the test, getting a good grade on your paper, or a similar positive outcome.
- Meditation Exercise. Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit or lie down. Close your eyes, and tune into your natural, rhythmic breathing. Focus on slowing down while allowing your mind to relax from any “busyness” of the day or anxieties you may be experiencing. If thoughts come in, observe them without judgment and let them pass by. Practice listening to your breath and feeling mindful, present, and calm for 5 to 10 minutes.
Cultivating more mindfulness and incorporating meditation into your college routine will take a bit of practice, but you’ll find the rewards that come along with to be positive and worthwhile.