By Angela Cataldo, Student at Clemson University and BodiMojo Blog Contributor
It is expected that about 20.5 million students will be attending college this fall. For many, this is the first time away from home, the first time finally experiencing the “real world.” How can practicing mindfulness ease this stressful life transition?
It has become a given that teens and young adults are stressed out. We balance loads of homework, a busy class schedule, and a variety of extracurricular activities on top of our personal lives. According to a national survey of over 1,000 U.S. teens conducted by the American Psychological Association, 31% of adolescents said that their stress increased in the previous year, and 42% said they were not doing enough to manage their stress. It has been proven that adolescents who experience stress are more likely to perform poorly in school, which leaves them faced with extra challenges as their academic workload increases.
Of course, it’s common to reach out to family or friends for help, but teens and young adults can also look inward for support. If we adopt the right techniques, we could be our own teachers.
According to Dr. Brian Galla, providing teenagers with the proper mental equipment will allow them to succeed in their daily lives. What is that mental equipment? Mindfulness! Dr. Galla was able to show a long-term decrease in stress and an increase in overall well-being in teenagers who attended his five-day mindfulness retreat. There, adolescents practiced meditation, yoga, and meaningful group discussions. The benefits of the retreat were seen both immediately afterwards and in the follow-up three months later. Benefits included boosted happiness, enhanced self-compassion, increased satisfaction with life, and improved management of stress.
Kristin Neff, a University of Texas professor and leading self-compassion researcher, has similar theories about the benefits of mindfulness. She views mindfulness as one of three aspects that comprise self-compassion, which also includes kindness toward oneself and a sense of common humanity with others. She has found that each component of self-compassion acts as a buffer to negative reactions to undesired events, such as failure, rejection, and embarrassment – all of which are commonly encountered during the college years, especially the first year when students are adjusting to a new environment and lifestyle.
Researchers at Duke University also found that students with higher self-compassion were less depressed, less homesick, and more satisfied with college life . Their research measured Neff’s three components of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Their hypothesis was proven to be accurate: freshmen can cope with homesickness by treating themselves kindly when things don’t go as planned (self-kindness), by recognizing that homesickness is a universal experience that doesn’t set them apart from the other students (common humanity), and by approaching their emotions with nonjudgmental awareness (mindfulness).
It turns out mindfulness can also help with academics. Research conducted at the University of California demonstrated the positive effects of mindfulness training on memory capacity and test-taking. They found that practicing mindfulness training helps diminish distracting thoughts, which can be especially helpful for people who have trouble focusing.
Although one may apply mindfulness during any stage of life, the beginning of college – with its many new experiences and challenges – is an especially effective time to tune in and start practicing mindfulness.
Here are some ways to start practicing mindfulness:
- Bring a sense of purpose into your daily life. Whether you change your laptop password to your favorite mantra (i.e., breathe, calm, love, courage), or you set a positive reminder to go off every few hours, there are plenty of ways to positively interrupt the daily grind to center yourself. The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence refers to this as a “micro-moment.” Their studies have shown that a single moment is all we need to change our perspective.
- Take time to reflect. More often than not, things don’t go as planned. Instead of dwelling on what we intended, we can view every experience as an opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t sweat the small stuff! Take a deep breath and move on.
- Be honest. It is impossible to speak your truth without mindfulness. Being aware that our fearful thoughts and feelings are only fleeting will free you from being tied down by them. Mindfulness allows us to feel the fear and work through it.
The myriad benefits of mindfulness can be applied to daily life at colleges and universities to help students deal with social, academic, and emotional challenges. At a time when college admissions are more competitive than ever, a self-compassionate approach could aid freshmen in exploring this new phase of their life without excess fear or stress.
*Adapted from Greater Good Science Center
More on Mindfulness!
© Lenanet | Dreamstime.com – Student Girl Sitting And Meditating With Books Photo