Mindfulness Promotes Health and Well-Being in Stressed College Students
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Student life can be stressful, but that doesn’t mean students have to let stress take over their lives. By incorporating mindfulness and meditation into daily routines, students can not only relieve the pressure, but also improve their memory, focus and ultimately their grades.“ – Todd Braver
In the modern world education is a key for success. Where a high school education was sufficient in previous generations, a college degree is now required to succeed in the new knowledge-based economies. There is a lot of pressure on students to excel so that they can be admitted to the best universities and there is a lot of pressure on university students to excel so that they can get the best jobs after graduation. This is particularly true in highly rated, elite, universities. This stress might in fact be counterproductive as the increased pressure can actually lead to stress and anxiety which can impede the student’s physical and mental health, well-being, and school performance.
It is, for the most part, beyond the ability of the individual to change the environment to reduce stress, so it is important that methods be found to reduce the college students’ responses to stress; to make them more resilient when high levels of stress occur. Contemplative practices including meditation, mindfulness training, and yoga practice have been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. Indeed, these practices have been found to reduce stress and improve psychological health in college students. So, it would seem important to examine various techniques to relieve the stress and its consequent symptoms in college students.
In today’s Research News article “There Is No Performance, There Is Just This Moment: The Role of Mindfulness Instruction in Promoting Health and Well-Being Among Students at a Highly-Ranked University in the United States.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871302/ ), Kerrigan and colleagues recruited college students from an elite university and provided them with an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The program was specifically developed to improve coping with stress and consisted of weekly 2.5-hour group training sessions with home practice and included meditation, body scan, yoga practices, and discussion. They were interviewed before and after training on “personal goals, priorities, and background; current and past stressors and coping strategies; motivations to participate in the program; experiences with the program; barriers to attendance and practice of program techniques; and impact and future use of the MBSR tools and methods.”
The students described the high pressure, stressful, competitive environment of the university, their challenging schedules of academic studies, extracurricular activities, and volunteer work, and family pressure to succeed. About half of the participants reported chronic health conditions as a result of the stress. Reducing this stress was their primary motivation for participating in the MBSR program. They described the MBSR program as cultivating mindfulness, attention to the present moment and non-judgement. Non-judgement was particularly important as it stood in stark contrast to the competitive environment of the university. They also indicated that the program allowed them to step back and reframe their current existence and their lives. They described the benefits that they obtained from the MBSR program of reducing stress and anxiety and improving coping skills. They also reported improved relationships and academic performance.
These qualitative results suggest that participation in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program was of great benefit to these stressed college students, reducing their responses to stress and their self-judgement, and improving their mindfulness, productivity and overall well-being. These results mirror those seen with controlled quantitative studies. This suggests that participation in an MBSR program should be recommended for college students.
So, promote health and well-being in stressed college students with mindfulness.
“a mindfulness intervention can help reduce distress levels in college students during a stressful exam week, as well as increase altruistic action in the form of donating to charity.” – Julia Galante
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Kerrigan, D., Chau, V., King, M., Holman, E., Joffe, A., & Sibinga, E. (2017). There Is No Performance, There Is Just This Moment: The Role of Mindfulness Instruction in Promoting Health and Well-Being Among Students at a Highly-Ranked University in the United States. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 22(4), 909–918. http://doi.org/10.1177/2156587217719787
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has been shown to improve health outcomes across populations. We explored the feasibility, acceptability, and initial effects of a pilot MBSR program at a highly-ranked university in the United States. We conducted 23 in-depth interviews with 13 students. Interviews explored stressors and coping mechanisms, experiences with MBSR, and its reported impact and potential future use. Interviews were analyzed using thematic content and narrative analyses. Results indicated that students are exposed to a very high level of constant stress related to the sheer amount of work and activities that they have and the pervasive surrounding university culture of perfectionism. MBSR offered an opportunity to step back and gain perspective on issues of balance and priorities and provided concrete techniques to counter the effects of stressors. We conclude that MBSR and mindfulness programs may contribute to more supportive university learning environments and greater health and well-being among students.