After years of study, the end of my uni career (to date) was marked by the completion of my 8-month-in-the-making psychology thesis. I chose to write my thesis on the topic of mindfulness and the ways in which it can improve an individual’s overall well-being. Needless to say, that last month or so of writing was a time of immense pressure, stress and late, late nights. The irony of the situation didn’t escape me. I was researching, writing, editing and re-writing thousands of words on the concept of personal well-being while at the same time feeling like I was compromising my own.
I learnt a lot throughout those eight months, not just about the theory behind mindfulness, but also what it takes to put it into practice yourself. It goes without saying that I’m passionate about the topic, so I thought, what better way to help all of you current USQ students than to introduce you to mindfulness and the ways it can help you cope with stress during busy times of semester.
Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness is more but also less than just meditation. In day to day life, we often spend so much time analysing things that have happened in the past or worrying about what might happen in the future that we completely miss out on the moment that we’re living right now. Mindfulness involves being open to the experiences, thoughts and sensations that you feel within yourself at this exact present moment, instead of allowing your mind to wander into the future or be occupied with the past. While doing this, you need to be open and curious about these experiences and emotions, not fighting or resisting negative feelings or labelling things as good or bad, but simply acknowledging everything you’re feeling and allowing it to be as it is.
Many people imagine mindfulness as periods of solid meditation, but you can actually practice mindfulness almost anywhere at any time of the day. For example, you can do mindfulness exercises while walking, eating, doing yoga, listening to music, or even just in those spare few moments you get throughout the day between tasks. Personally, I mostly enjoy walking mindfulness (when I’m not doing anything anyway) or eating mindfulness (which not only helps you to enjoy your food more, but can also prevent over-eating).
A common behavioural skill of mindfulness that you can learn and practice is breath-counting. Focus on taking deep, even breaths and count each time you exhale. When you realise you have become distracted (thinking of something other than your breath) you start counting again from zero. I warn you, this is incredibly challenging and can be quite frustrating to begin with. You’ll be surprised just how quickly everyday thoughts and worries intrude on your concentration. You can practice mindful breathing for just a minute at a time or, if your schedule allows, work your way up to longer meditation sessions. There’s also a heap of great apps to help you develop your mindfulness skills.
Regularly practicing mindfulness can help to improve your concentration and performance, reduce the impact of negative or stressful thoughts and emotions and improve your relationship with yourself and those around you. By being more aware of your own thoughts and behaviours and being fully engaged with the present, you can experience each moment to its very fullest. In your study, mindfulness can help you to focus fully on what you’re learning and improve your concentration and productivity. For example, instead of becoming overcome by nerves or stress in the exam room, mindfulness can help you to acknowledge and co-exist with those difficult emotions so that you can still be productive and continue on with your exam paper. Overall, learning to be mindful has many, many benefits!
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, sites like Reach Out and Living Well have great information about what it is and why it’s useful. If you’re ready to make a start with your mindfulness practice, these awesome apps are a good place to start and can help to guide you through mindfulness meditation exercises. Good luck!