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Mindfulness practices in academic settings: Enhancing student and faculty wellbeing

In this article the author will explore the benefits of mindfulness practices in academic institutions in promoting wellbeing for students and faculty alike. The article will delve into the different techniques of mindfulness that can be incorporated into day-to-day activities and how they can help alleviate stress, anxiety and improve mental health. The article will also highlight some best practices for implementing mindfulness in academic institutions.

Higher education can be a demanding and sometimes stressful experience with lots of new information to process and deadlines to meet; it can be overwhelming for many – especially if studying away from home.

Mindfulness is a simple form of meditation that can be centred around breathing, teaching those practising it to be present in the moment, often referred to as the art of noticing.

Backed by science, mindfulness meditation has gained popularity for good reason, with businesses and CEOs using it to build leadership skills and achieve business goals by enabling them to effectively manage stress. 

Helping students and faculty members to cope with stress

It’s unsurprising to learn that it can also be a great tool to help students manage their stress while boosting their wellbeing and productivity. Many students who use mindfulness daily or as an intervention have reported reduced anxiety and depression symptoms and healthier habits that improve overall physical health. 

Mindfulness can benefit faculty members, too. For example, research shows that educators who regularly practice mindfulness have a higher sense of wellbeing and teaching self-efficacy. Additionally, these teachers are better at managing classroom behaviour and maintaining supportive relationships with students. 

Boosting productivity and performance

Mindfulness provides numerous benefits to personal wellbeing but may also benefit students’ performance. Certain practices can help students anchor their thoughts and feelings by encouraging them to focus on the present moment, boosting their attention and concentration to focus on the task. The increased capacity for self-awareness also aids in helping students to respond skilfully (act) rather than react to external and internal situations.

Practising mindfulness techniques

In summary, mindfulness practices can be highly beneficial in helping both students and faculty members through stressful times. It can also be an excellent tool for all students (whether struggling or not) to be more productive. It can help reduce depression, low moods, low self-esteem, and anxiety; it increases wellbeing, self-compassion, compassion towards others, and emotional resilience. But how exactly is it practised?

It’s important to note that mindfulness doesn’t always mean journalling or meditation (although it can!). There are many ways to incorporate it into daily life, such as listening to the rain outside. Other examples include:

  • Meditation Practice – this can be seated or lying down. Try and schedule a fixed time out of your day; this could be first thing in the morning or just before bed to help with sleep, where you sit for 5 minutes or more and meditate. You can achieve this in many ways; for example, light a candle to create a sanctuary feel to your space. Once you’ve set the tone, focus on the breath, taking note of each inhale and exhale. Nowadays, there are many great tools online and apps, such as Headspace, for simple guided meditations.
  • Focus on your breath – whether you’re about to sit down for a lecture, write an essay or visit the library to read or research, take a few minutes before close your eyes and focus on your breath to allow the mind to be still and focus.
  • Physical activity – mindfulness doesn’t just have to mean meditation. If you want to take a break from your studies, try walking around campus or running. When doing these activities with mindful practice, you can notice all the details: your feet, the temperature, sounds, and your breath. When your mind wanders to something else, gently bring it back to your walk or run.
  • Commit to the present moment – when you sit down to read or write, focus on the present moment and remove any other distractions. Perhaps putting your phone in another room or setting a timer to commit to being 100% focused for a specific time can help to achieve this.
  • Practice mindfulness outside of academic life – the great thing about mindfulness is its versatility. Away from academic life, try incorporating mindfulness into other activities such as eating, cooking, drawing, etc., making sure you’re remaining fully focused and noticing the details. This, in turn, helps to shift the mind to be present, bringing a sense of calm.

How to implement mindfulness practices in an academic setting

When implementing mindfulness practices within an educational environment, higher education institutions should consider the following:

  • Build consistency and awareness. Make sure you are allowing time for students and staff to study the theory and purpose behind mindfulness; this, in turn, strengthens a dialogue around the topic. Doing so creates a consistent space for mindfulness practices and prioritising theory during academic days. As a result, it positively affects the entire academic culture, promoting acceptance, self-care and empathy.
  • Provide teachers with dedicated time to engage in mindfulness practice themselves. To help students reap benefits, teachers also need time and support in adopting and practising it. Research has also shown mindfulness to be helpful to teachers, improving their own emotional wellbeing, helping them understand student perspective, and freeing them up to be more effective in the classroom. 
  • Allow students to make their own time for mindfulness. Be sure to encourage students’ awareness of their emotions and tune in to when they may benefit from practising mindfulness. To adopt mindfulness as a successful tool for mental health and happiness, students must have the space and time to practice it.

By Diana Munoz, Student Services and Welfare at Oxford Business College

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