Mindfulness, or the quality of being fully present and engaged with whatever you’re currently doing, can improve your wellbeing and mental state in numerous ways. Mindfulness helps reduce stress, decrease blood pressure, improve sleep, boost memory, and alleviate anxiety.
Techniques vary, but all are rooted in meditation. The goal of any mindfulness practice is to become more present by noticing your emotions and reducing your reaction to outside stressors. By noticing emotions and situations, and accepting them -- rather than pushing them away or anxiously avoiding them -- you’ll find it easier to clear your mind of distractions. And a less preoccupied mind can help you improve your focus and mental health.
Though mindfulness practice has been growing in popularity in the U.S. since the early 90s, its current ubiquity stems from our fast-paced, digital lifestyles, wherein enervating multitasking has become the norm. At all times, we’re under pressure to stay connected for work and school, and everything from the 24-hour news cycle to our daily commutes can cause an immune- and mental-health-damaging flight-or-flight response.
Mindfulness practice has garnered attention as a tool to help alleviate stress and anxiety, helping individuals more easily balance the demands of work, school, and family life.
Benefits of Mindfulness for School Work
According to the Mayo Clinic, mindfulness works to reduce stress and anxiety chiefly by directing attention to the present moment and away from draining, damaging negative thoughts of the future. Even mental activities, like planning, which are part of our daily lives, can cause stress and anxiety if they take up major real estate in our thoughts.
In addition to reducing overall stress and anxiety, mindfulness can help improve cognitive flexibility. According to studies conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), participants who engaged in mindfulness exercises were less likely to be distracted and better able to suppress distracting information. In another study, the APA found participants who practiced mindfulness also demonstrated increased cognitive flexibility:
“One study found that people who practice mindfulness meditation appear to develop the skill of self-observation, which neurologically disengages the automatic pathways that were created by prior learning and enables present-moment input to be integrated in a new way.” - American Psychological Association
The same study found that participants were better able to return to “baseline” after a provoking or stressful event -- that is, they were less likely to be thrown off task, give in to rumination, or be distracted by negative encounters than individuals who did not engage in mindfulness practices.
Techniques for Mindfulness
There is a wide variety of simple mindfulness techniques to choose from that can help boost your focus, decrease your stress levels, and bring an increased sense of calm to your daily life. These exercises easily fit into your daily life and are accessible to anyone looking to improve their mental and emotional wellbeing.
- Five Senses Exercise: The five senses exercise can be conducted anywhere and is especially beneficial for individuals who are pressed for time or looking for a simple way to incorporate mindfulness into their everyday lives. It works in a simple 5-4-3-2-1 pattern -- notice five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This technique is effective in bringing your attention back to the present moment. Try using this exercise when you’re stuck in a studying rut or need to refresh your mind before moving onto the next chapter.
- The Body Scan: Another mindfulness exercise that can be conducted anywhere, the body scan focuses your attention and helps you release tension you many not even be aware you’re carrying. Start at either your feet or the top of your head, and slowly scan your body, noting areas of tension or lightness. Think of the scan like a wave running through your body and removing anything that’s causing tension or anxiety. If you’re particularly nervous for an exam or having trouble gathering your thoughts for a research paper, try using the body scan to calm your nerves.
- Mindful Breathing: This practice aids in calling attention to the breath and can be done in as little as one minute. While sitting or standing, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, allowing thoughts to come and go as you remain focused on your breath. Mindful breathing is perfect for reducing stress and anxiety at any time before, during, or after studying.
- Meditation: Last but not least, traditional meditation. Meditation is best conducted in a comfortable seated position. Bring awareness to your body, starting with your feet and moving to the top of your head. Notice your surroundings, how it feels to be seated, and any areas of tension in your body. Close your eyes, breathe in and out, and don’t chastise yourself for being distracted -- just allow the thoughts to come and go as they please while gently bringing your focus back to your breath. Stay here as long as you’d like, then gently open your eyes.
Daily meditation or mindfulness practice has been shown to increase psychological well being, as well as to improve focus and clarity, and even two to 10 minutes a day can help. Wherever you are in your mindfulness journey, try incorporating a few of the above techniques to improve your study habits, calm your mind, and decrease stress and anxiety.