It’s easy to get stressed out today. With so many things to do and little clue on how to manage it all, it’s no surprise we’re all feeling stressed and anxious.
Enter the importance of mindfulness.
Whether as a student or a graduate navigating the hectic — and increasingly toxic — workplaces today, mindfulness has emerged as a valuable tool to help us not only survive but thrive.
Mindfulness is more than just a trendy buzzword; it’s a centuries-old practice rooted in Buddhist traditions that has found its place in our 21st-century world.
At its core, it involves paying full attention to the present moment without judgment.
You can do this in many ways. It’s not all about sitting still and meditating. You can also practise deep breathing exercises, or simply by being aware of your surroundings and thoughts.
These sound simpler than they actually are. Yet, studies have shown that you need around eight weeks of daily meditation for 13 minutes before you’ll see results.
Finding time to do this with an already packed schedule seems impossible. And how do you ask someone who is already stressed and tired to do more work?
What even is the importance of mindfulness and should I dedicate time to it?
Our burnout era
University life is fraught with challenges that can affect our mental well-being. When you graduate, more challenges, albeit different, follow.
Research by the American Psychological Association (APA) indicates that stress among college students is on the rise, leading to detrimental effects on academic performance and overall health.
Common mental health issues like anxiety and depression often rear their heads during these crucial years.
The workplaces are just as burnt out. More than half of US workers said they felt burnt out as a result of their job demands, a 2021 survey found. More than four million Americans quit their jobs in December 2021.
Across the world, a McKinsey study found four of every 10 working in India Inc. are showing high levels of burnout, distress, anxiety, and depression.
“Indian respondents expressed elevated rates of every outcome – burnout, distress, anxiety, and depression. For each outcome factor, around four in ten respondents reported symptoms,” said the report.
And it’s not just broke students, employees in office-bound toxic workplaces who are tapped out — the most privileged people in the world today are too.
Famous celebrities who are embracing mindfulness and meditation
Celebrities usually have a busy schedule since they are expected to entertain their fans and attend premieres, interviews, guest appearances and more.
Breakdowns and burnout are just as common among them — hence why many celebrities engage in mindfulness and meditation to free their minds and find respite from constant public intrusion.
Take Emma Watson, for instance. She firmly believes that mindfulness can empower individuals to lead more purposeful and sustainable lives.
In public, Watson has expressed her battles with anxiety and how the practice of mindfulness has positively impacted her mental well-being.
In fact, Watson has been a strong advocate for promoting mindfulness in schools and workplaces, believing that the practise can boost productivity and well-being.
One of the most influential people in the world, Oprah Gail Winfrey, the Queen of Media, has also inspired viewers to practise mindfulness, meditation, and spirituality through her show “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Winfrey also arranged for a meditation instructor to train her Harpo Studios staff in meditation techniques, introducing two meditation breaks during the workday.
In a post by Winfrey for Oprah.com, she said: “The outside world is constantly trying to convince you you’re not enough. But you don’t have to take the bait. Meditation helps you resist.”
Importance of mindfulness for students and workers today
Can mindfulness really make our minds and bodies feel better? The answer is yes.
1. Improved focus and concentration
Mindfulness helps students enhance their focus and concentration by reducing distractions and promoting cognitive abilities.
By training your mind to stay in the present moment, you can immerse yourself fully in your studies, leaving no room for wandering thoughts or external disruptions.
On top of this, mindfulness can also help address other underlying issues that can cause a lack of focus. For example, studies have found that mindfulness-based interventions can help avoid behavioural problems and reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
2. Stress reduction and mental health
Academic life can be stressful, with looming deadlines and the pressure to excel.
Mindfulness education provides students with tools for coping with these pressures, promoting mental well-being and reducing anxiety, as researchers with the Boston Charter Research Collaborative found — a partnership between the Centre for Education Policy Research at Harvard University (CEPR), MIT, and Transforming Education.
As a result, this can reduce the negative impacts of stress and enhance your engagement, helping you maintain your academic progress and steer clear of behavioral issues.
3. Enhanced learning and memory
So, can practising mindfulness improve learning and memory? The short answer is yes.
Research suggests that mindfulness can change our brains and improve our short-term memory. How? It helps you focus on one subject at a time and instils a deep appreciation for the present moment.
Further research has shown that mindfulness increases the density of the hippocampus, a part of the brain connected to memory and learning.
Simply put, regular mindfulness meditation, even just a few minutes a day, can alter the brain’s structure. Those areas that are responsible for helping us remember things more vividly, focus better and improve self-awareness are boosted.
4. Improved academic performance
What if we told you that practising mindfulness while studying at university could significantly enhance your academic performance and overall well-being?
According to a study, mindfulness has been linked to a boost in creativity. “Mindfulness improves people’s functioning in many areas,” the study notes, “but its relationship with creativity is equivocal.”
It promotes metacognitive awareness, decreases rumination and enhances attentional capacities through gains in working memory.
This way, students can better manage their time, retain information more effectively, and tackle complex problems with increased clarity.
How to practise mindfulness
Here are three mindfulness techniques that you can use to improve your focus and concentration
1. Mindful breathing
Breathing exercises improve focus and concentration. When you take slow, deep breaths, you are providing your brain with more oxygen, which can increase alertness and focus.
Mindful breathing is a technique used in mindfulness practice that involves focusing on the breath and observing it in a non-judgmental way. This technique helps you develop a greater sense of self-awareness and emotional regulation and reduces stress and anxiety.
Before practising mindful breathing:
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit or lie down.
- Pay close attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale.
- Focus on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body, grounding you in the present moment.
If your mind starts to drift, recognise the wandering thought or distraction and gently redirect your focus to your breath. With regular practice, mindful breathing can help you develop a heightened sense of presence and focus, ultimately benefiting your overall well-being.
Arianna Huffington, co-founder of Huffington Post and founder and CEO of Thrive Global, includes mindful breathing daily in her morning routine.
“Once I’m awake, I take a minute to breathe deeply, be grateful, and set my intention for the day,” Huffington told High Existence in 2020. “Then I do 20 to 30 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes on my stationary bike when I’m home. I also practice yoga most mornings.”
2. Body scan meditation
Body scan meditation is a mindfulness meditation practice involving scanning your body for pain, tension, or anything out of the ordinary. It can help you feel more connected to your physical and emotional self.
The result? You’ll feel more relaxed, be more in the moment, and let go of tension and stress — helping you stay alert during study sessions.
To practice body scan meditation, find a comfortable and quiet place to lie on a yoga mat or a bed. Close your eyes and inhale deeply a few times to ease both your body and mind. Begin by directing your focus toward your toes, noticing any sensations you feel in this area, such as warmth or tingling.
Gradually shift your attention upwards along your body, focusing on each part, including your feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, hips, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, and head.
While focusing on each part, try to notice any sensations without judgement, simply observing what you feel in the present moment.
Body scan meditation can benefit students, especially by enhancing their focus and concentration. By bringing awareness to different body parts, body scan meditation helps reduce tension and stress, which can be significant barriers to concentration.
William Clay Ford Jr., Ford Motor Company’s executive chairman, used meditation to navigate bankruptcy, crediting mindfulness for his resilience.
“The practice of mindfulness kept me going during the darkest days,” he said in an article published in Harvard Business Review.
He also introduced mindfulness meditation and yoga at the company so his employees can remain calm, alert, and productive.
3. Mindful study practices
Applying mindfulness principles while studying can enhance focus and memory retention.
Techniques include setting specific study goals, avoiding multitasking, and taking regular breaks.
Multitasking may seem efficient, but it often leads to decreased productivity and increased stress. Instead, concentrate on one task at a time to improve the quality of your work.
Another way is to create a conducive study environment. Eliminate distractions in your study space and make it a sanctuary for focused learning. Apart from that, try to minimise clutter and noise to maximise your mindfulness.
For instance, a University of Virginia professor, Patricia Jennings, recently tested the effectiveness of mindfulness practices to create healthier learning environments specifically for teachers who experience stress.
Research showed that when implementing mindful practices, teachers’ well-being improved, and students became more engaged.
“It combines mindful awareness practices, compassion, and emotional skills to help teachers manage stress, be present for students, and create emotionally supportive classrooms,” Jennings said.