College can be a stressful time, as we NUI Galway students only know too well. Trying to juggle coursework, part-time jobs, our social lives and remembering to eat, sleep and exercise can leave us feeling like there aren’t enough days in the week. However, despite our hectic schedules and looming deadlines, it is absolutely essential that we take some time out for ourselves, to relax, to breath and to just be.
In the break-neck pace of the modern world, it is more important than ever that we take care of our mental well-being. Mental health is a huge issue for the young people of Ireland, with more and more of us struggling with anxiety, depression and extreme levels of stress. Knowing how to cope with stress and how to relieve it is a life skill that everyone should learn and put into practice in their daily lives.
Practicing Mindfulness is one of the ways that we can learn to rid ourselves of excess stress and tension. At its core, Mindfulness teaches us how to live in the present moment and forget external pressures in the process. It uses simple breathing techniques and meditation practices which increase attention to our thoughts, feelings and immediate surroundings while distracting from worry and negativity.
The practice of Mindfulness can have fantastic benefits for students. Taking the time to stop and be actively aware of our surroundings can improve cognitive control by increasing concentration and attention spans – something we could all be grateful for at a 9am lecture.
Furthermore, engaging in Mindful Meditation can contribute to emotional stability. At times of high stress, our emotions can fluctuate radically and these highs and lows can leave us feeling emotionally drained. Being able to regulate our emotional response to stress is really important and it’s an aspect of our lives that Mindfulness can definitely improve.
Mindfulness also makes those who practice it much more self-aware, which in turn can lead to increased empathy, compassion, tolerance and improved self-esteem. Improvement in all these areas of a student’s life can, in turn, only lead to improved performance, improved grades but most importantly, improved happiness.
Introducing Mindfulness into our lives as students need not be daunting, as the exercises are easy and flexible with no expectations of the person practising it. One of the most basic exercises is called the Puppy Mind.
- During the Puppy Mind, we sit upright and become aware of our body’s points of contact, with the chair, with the floor, with our clothes.
- We then turn our attention to the breath and simply follow the movement of the breath in and out of the body without trying to change it. We feel the breath in our chest, our stomach, our nose and mouth and try to keep our focus on this.
- Gradually we may notice that our mind has wandered away, like a puppy, to focus on other things, be it daydreams or worries. When we notice this, we guide ourselves back to our breath, like guiding a puppy back to its owner.
- This can be done for as short or long a time as feels comfortable. The whole idea is to focus on the present moment.
Incorporating Mindfulness into our everyday lives can be even simpler. When you’re walking to college, take a moment to actively notice the sounds that you hear – the traffic, leaves rustling, a squeaky bicycle. Notice the wind blowing through your hair, the heat of sunshine on your eyelids, or the drizzle of rain on your cheeks. Be aware of every step that you take and how your feet connect your body to the earth, to the ground. Take some time to realise that you are here, alive in this moment and for that time, you can forget whatever it is you were worried about.
-By Aoife O’Donoghue