Mindfulness Reduces Stress and Negative Emotions in College Students
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.” – Marcus Aurelius
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 stress might in fact be counterproductive as the increased pressure can lead to stress and anxiety which can impede the student’s physical and mental health, well-being, and school performance and lead to burnout.
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.
In today’s Research News article “Investigating the effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on stress level and brain activity of college students.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9121238/ ) An and colleagues recruited college students and randomly assigned them to either a no-treatment control condition or to receive 8 weekly 1.5-hour sessions of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) along with home practice. MBSR consists of meditation, yoga, and body scan practices along with group discussion. They were measured before and after training and 2 months later for perceived stress, anxiety, and depression. They also had their electroencephalogram (EEG) measured while performing a stressful task (easy, moderate, and hard mental arithmetic, and the Stroop task).
They found that in comparison to baseline and the no-treatment group, the students who received Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training had significantly reduced levels of perceived stress, anxiety, and depression that were maintained 2 months later with the exception of perceived stress which continued to significantly decline from the end of training to 2 months later. They also found that during the stressful tasks that the alpha rhythm power in the EEG was significantly increased in the frontal, temporal, and occipital areas after MBSR.
Alpha power is reflective of relaxation. These findings then suggest that mindfulness training improves psychological well-being and the ability to relax under stress. Although not investigated, the improvements should translate into better academic performance. Nevertheless, mindfulness training is highly beneficial to college students and should be recommended.
“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Twitter @MindfulResearch
An A, Hoang H, Trang L, Vo Q, Tran L, Le T, Le A, McCormick A, Du Old K, Williams NS, Mackellar G, Nguyen E, Luong T, Nguyen V, Nguyen K, Ha H. Investigating the effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on stress level and brain activity of college students. IBRO Neurosci Rep. 2022 May 14;12:399-410. doi: 10.1016/j.ibneur.2022.05.004. PMID: 35601693; PMCID: PMC9121238.
Financial constraints usually hinder students, especially those in low-middle income countries (LMICs), from seeking mental health interventions. Hence, it is necessary to identify effective, affordable and sustainable counter-stress measures for college students in the LMICs context. This study examines the sustained effects of mindfulness practice on the psychological outcomes and brain activity of students, especially when they are exposed to stressful situations. Here, we combined psychological and electrophysiological methods (EEG) to investigate the sustained effects of an 8-week-long standardized Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention on the brain activity of college students. We found that the Test group showed a decrease in negative emotional states after the intervention, compared to the no statistically significant result of the Control group, as indicated by the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) (33% reduction in the negative score) and Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scale (DASS-42) scores (nearly 40% reduction of three subscale scores). Spectral analysis of EEG data showed that this intervention is longitudinally associated with increased frontal and occipital lobe alpha band power. Additionally, the increase in alpha power is more prevalent when the Test group was being stress-induced by cognitive tasks, suggesting that practicing MBSR might enhance the practitioners’ tolerance of negative emotional states. In conclusion, MBSR intervention led to a sustained reduction of negative emotional states as measured by both psychological and electrophysiological metrics, which supports the adoption of MBSR as an effective and sustainable stress-countering approach for students in LMICs.