Being a student is stressful. Exams, deadlines that seem to have a magnetic pull on each other causing them all to arrive at once and, of course, pennilessness! Not to mention balancing part-time jobs and the worry it might be the last job you ever get, even after graduation. Depression, anxiety and simple stress are high among students. Mindfulness is a form of meditation which teaches the ‘user’ to remain present and in control of their thoughts.
There are between 80 and 100 billion neurons in our brains. All humans are programmed to think negatively and assume the worst. The prehistoric part our brains, the amygdala, is responsible for the fight or flight response to a threat. This was very useful when we were living in caves but we are still ruled by it much of the time. These days, we mostly have this response to perceived threats. We want to limit the power of this part of the brain.
The hippocampus is a seahorse-shaped structure responsible for learning, memory-storage (quite useful for students) and regulating emotions. Then, there is the temporoparietal junction where the temporal and parietal lobes meet. This takes care of our empathy and compassion. Clearly, these are the areas where we want to strengthen the neurons and improve access. This is what mindfulness does and here is how and why to practice it:
- Just ten minutes a day can help you to learn to regulate your thoughts and choose which area of the brain you need to use.
- It is free. There are plenty of apps and low-cost books available but once you know the basics all you need is you.
- You can do it literally anywhere. A big part of mindfulness is focussing on the breath which is always available to you – on the bus, walking along, even in class if necessary.
- It works. Studies have shown that most people benefit from regular mindfulness practice and it can reduce the risk of relapse in depression-sufferers by 50 per cent.
- It is safe. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work for you – there are no risks or side-effects.
- Exercises include body scans where you focus on every sensation, head to toe; mindful movement; befriending which teaches you to be kind to yourself and others; dealing with difficulties; colouring (it’s perfectly acceptable for grown adults to watch Disney movies so why not colouring!).