Improve Student Resilience to Stress with Mindfulness

Improve Student Resilience to Stress with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“This is, to the best of our knowledge, the most robust study to date to assess mindfulness training for students, and backs up previous studies that suggest it can improve mental health and wellbeing during stressful periods.” – Julieta Galante


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. As a result, parents and students are constantly looking for ways to improve student performance in school. The primary tactic has been to pressure the student and clear away routine tasks and chores so that the student can focus on their studies. But, this might in fact be counterproductive as the increased pressure can actually lead to stress and anxiety which can impede the student’s 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 individuals’ 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, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in increasing resilience and coping with the school environment and for both students and teachers. So, perhaps, mindfulness training may be helpful for college students to better cope with stress and improve their well-being.


In today’s Research News article “A mindfulness-based intervention to increase resilience to stress in university students (the Mindful Student Study): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Galante and colleagues recruited healthy college students and randomly assigned them to receive either 8 weeks of mindfulness training or to support as usual from the university counseling center. The mindfulness course consisted of 8 weekly sessions of 75-90 minutes teaching mindfulness skills adapted for college students. The mindfulness students were encouraged to practice for 15 minutes daily at home. They were measured before and after training and during the examination period for psychological distress, mental health problems, well-being, sleep and activity levels, examination scores, and altruism.


They found that after training and during the examination period the students who had received the mindfulness training had significantly less psychological distress and greater well-being than the support as usual students. Hence mindfulness training appeared to improve the students psychological state in general and particularly during the stressful examination period. This suggests that the training improved the students’ resilience in the face of stress and this in turn improved their psychological state. Training in mindfulness may be an important component in education to improve the students’ abilities to cope with the pressure and stresses of higher education.


So, improve student resilience to stress with mindfulness.


“Students who had been practising mindfulness had distress scores lower than their baseline levels even during exam time, which suggests that mindfulness helps build resilience against stress.” – Julieta Galante


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary


Julieta Galante, Géraldine Dufour, Maris Vainre, Adam P Wagner, Jan Stochl, Alice Benton, Neal Lathia, Emma Howarth, Prof Peter B Jones. A mindfulness-based intervention to increase resilience to stress in university students (the Mindful Student Study): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. Lancet Public Health. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2018 Feb 15. Published in final edited form as: Lancet Public Health. 2018 Feb; 3(2): e72–e81. Published online 2017 Dec 19. doi: 10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30231-1




The rising number of young people going to university has led to concerns about an increasing demand for student mental health services. We aimed to assess whether provision of mindfulness courses to university students would improve their resilience to stress.


We did this pragmatic randomised controlled trial at the University of Cambridge, UK. Students aged 18 years or older with no severe mental illness or crisis (self-assessed) were randomly assigned (1:1), via remote survey software using computer-generated random numbers, to receive either an 8 week mindfulness course adapted for university students (Mindfulness Skills for Students [MSS]) plus mental health support as usual, or mental health support as usual alone. Participants and the study management team were aware of group allocation, but allocation was concealed from the researchers, outcome assessors, and study statistician. The primary outcome was self-reported psychological distress during the examination period, as measured with the Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation Outcome Measure (CORE–OM), with higher scores indicating more distress. The primary analysis was by intention to treat. This trial is registered with the Australia and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, number ACTRN12615001160527.


Between Sept 28, 2015, and Jan 15, 2016, we randomly assigned 616 students to the MSS group (n=309) or the support as usual group (n=307). 453 (74%) participants completed the CORE–OM during the examination period and 182 (59%) MSS participants completed at least half of the course. MSS reduced distress scores during the examination period compared with support as usual, with mean CORE–OM scores of 0·87 (SD 0·50) in 237 MSS participants versus 1·11 (0·57) in 216 support as usual participants (adjusted mean difference –0·14, 95% CI –0·22 to –0·06; p=0·001), showing a moderate effect size (β –0·44, 95% CI –0·60 to –0·29; p<0·0001). 123 (57%) of 214 participants in the support as usual group had distress scores above an accepted clinical threshold compared with 88 (37%) of 235 participants in the MSS group. On average, six students (95% CI four to ten) needed to be offered the MSS course to prevent one from experiencing clinical levels of distress. No participants had adverse reactions related to self-harm, suicidality, or harm to others.


Our findings show that provision of mindfulness training could be an effective component of a wider student mental health strategy. Further comparative effectiveness research with inclusion of controls for non-specific effects is needed to define a range of additional, effective interventions to increase resilience to stress in university students.


Distress Produces Less Stress with Mindfulness


“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” ― Amit Ray


Psychological distress is related to an increase in physiological stress responses. That is, when the individual is anxious, ruminating, or having negative emotions, the physiology including the hormonal system reacts. The increased activity can be measured in heightened stress hormones in the blood and increased heart rate, blood pressure etc. These physiological stress responses on the short-term are adaptive and help to fight off infection, toxins, injury, etc. But when these stress responses are long lasting (chronic) they can themselves be a source of disease.


Chronic stress can produce a myriad of physical problems including mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders; cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke; obesity and other eating disorders; menstrual problems; sexual dysfunction, such as impotence and premature ejaculation in men and loss of sexual desire in both men and women; skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss; and gastrointestinal problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon. Needless to say, chronic stress can be very harmful.


Unfortunately, psychological distress is often persistent and chronic and resulting in chronic stress which in turn can produce disease. Many of the symptoms of psychological distress have been shown to be related to a lack of mindfulness. Anxiety is often rooted in a persistent dread of future negative events while rumination is rooted in the past, with persistent replaying of negative past events. Since mindfulness is firmly rooted in the present it is antagonistic toward anything rooted in the past or future. Hence, high levels of mindfulness cannot coexist with anxiety and rumination. This has been repeatedly demonstrated (see and In addition, high mindfulness has been shown to be related to high levels of emotion regulation and positive emotions (see So, mindfulness would appear to be an antidote to psychological distress.


In today’s Research News article “It’s Not What You Think, It’s How You Relate to It: Dispositional Mindfulness Moderates the Relationship Between Psychological Distress and the Cortisol Awakening Response”

Daubenmier and colleagues investigated whether mindfulness could blunt the stress hormone response to psychological distress. They measured the cortisol awakening response. Cortisol is a stress hormone whose levels are very low during sleep. Upon awakening they increase. How much they increase is related to the level of chronic stress the individual is under. So, the increase in cortisol shortly after awakening is a good measure of the individual’s level of chronic physiological stress.


They found that, as expected, that the magnitude of the cortisol awakening response was positively related to the individuals’ levels of psychological distress. But, high levels of mindfulness were related to a smaller cortisol awakening responses to psychological distress. In particular, two facets of mindfulness, the ability to describe and the ability to accept thoughts and emotions were negatively related to the cortisol awakening response. This suggests that the ability to consciously label or accept negative thoughts and emotions may buffer their impact on stress hormone activation. In other words, if thoughts and emotions are experienced with mindful awareness they have a less stressful impact.


Mindfulness by focusing the individual’s awareness on the present moment, improving their ability to experience, label, and accept their responses to stress, while interfering with rumination rooted in the past and anxiety rooted in the future, provides a greater tolerance for psychological stress. This would predict that mindful individuals would have less illness as a result of psychological stress. Future research will be needed to verify this prediction.


So, be mindful and be less stressed by psychological distress.


All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for. – Jon Kabat-Zinn
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies