Emily Stamp discusses the benefits of meditation and mindfulness during this stressful exam period, both for academic success and mental wellbeing.
I admit that while writing this, meditation and mindfulness are far from my mind. It is coming to the end of a revision period and the start of exams, and it seems like everyone is panicking about how much every little second matters. I have friends right and left losing sleep, eating either far too much or far too little (because they can’t waste time cooking proper food), and taking time for themselves doesn’t seem to be high on the agenda. In fact it is almost like I should feel guilty that I popped home for a week, enjoyed a day revision free in London, and spent most of today not working.
Recently, a study found that meditation decreased mind wandering. Since stress plays a debilitating factor in everyone’s lives - whether that affects your work, your health, or both - taking a small step back, sitting on your bed, and breathing for ten minutes will only ever improve your life. You may be taking a longer break than normal, but it’s said that the optimum work time is 45 minutes; not four solid hours in the library, and certainly not under harsh artificial lighting.
Mindfulness means paying attention to the present, as opposed to being caught up in your thoughts, and while worries are natural, you don’t have to let them crowd your mind. Leaving yourself time to think, reflect, internalise, be calm and take your body into account is important in reducing stress. Ask yourself if you are exhausted, need more breaks, more water, or to go outside for some fresh air.
The same study reported that mindfulness training promotes an attentional focus in anxious individuals, which can be exactly what is needed when deadlines and exams are looming. Instead of worrying about how these pressures will affect your entire career (which is highly unlikely) take time to prioritise, maybe write a list, and deal with today first. If you are at home, lie down, take a deep breath and meditate. If not, take a quick walk and note the surrounding sensations.
Thinking in the present can positively change your self-view. Instead of what you did badly last week or what you are worrying about for tomorrow, focus on what did you did well today or what you enjoyed, even if it’s as simple as what you had for breakfast.
There is something to be said for cheesy quotes about how you can never get back yesterday, or about how days meld into each other until the weeks have passed by so quickly that you feel disorientated. In the grand scheme of things, how big an effect on your life is having a cup of tea and focusing on the small pleasures of life going to make? Will you remember the periods of stress or will you remember that brunch that had you and a friend laughing slightly too loudly?
Tomorrow can wait. Your wellbeing is more important, and don’t feel guilty for taking advantage of today’s opportunities. Take time to meditate, be calm, listen to your favourite song, cook properly, go to bed early and get up late, dance around the kitchen with your housemate or just take a walk to your local park. Be aware of today, and most importantly be aware of yourself, your needs, and your thoughts.