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Mindfulness: The Powerful Tool Alleviating Student Stress and Depression

Author: Shaghayegh Parsanejad - MSc. in Psychology and neuroscience




In today’s high-stakes world of academia, students are navigating a storm of stress and depression, fueled by a plethora of elements. From rigorous academic expectations to the novel experiences of independent living, university life is a cauldron of challenges for today's students. Adding to this complex equation are the skyrocketing costs of education and an uncertain job market that heightens anxiety levels.

These emotional strains jeopardize more than grades; they’re manifesting in sleep disturbances, mood swings, and, alarmingly, some students turning to substance abuse or isolation as a way to cope.


The Toll of Stress on Academia

According to Pérez, Martín, Borda, & Del Río (2003), high stress is linked with compromised academic results. It impacts a student's ability to focus, solve problems, remember information, and operate efficiently. In essence, stress is not only an emotional burden—it’s an academic one as well.

Universities Taking Action

In light of this, universities are increasingly recognizing the need for impactful interventions and counseling services. A growing endorsement for stress management techniques, notably mindfulness, and meditation, is sweeping through educational institutions. Universities are not merely addressing issues academically; they are advocating for a holistic approach, encouraging students to cultivate a balanced lifestyle and a vibrant, supportive community.


The Revolution of Mindfulness

Enter mindfulness—a practice defined by its emphasis on present-moment awareness. Picture it as a serene pause in the midst of chaos, a deliberate moment to savor life, akin to delighting in each bite of an exquisite dish. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, a mindfulness pioneer, eloquently puts it, mindfulness is about being completely engaged in the here and now, warmly and without judgment.

Recent years have seen an impressive surge in the application of Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs). Given the escalating mental health issues among students, mindfulness is no longer a niche concept but an evolving mainstream approach. Today, it stands as a prominent strategy to counteract stress, particularly in educational settings.


Research Backs the Benefits

Several studies underscore the efficacy of mindfulness. A recent meta-analysis, for instance, demonstrated a significant decrease in university students’ anxiety levels who engaged in mindfulness-based approaches, as opposed to passive control groups (Dawson et al., 2020).

In addition to reducing anxiety, mindfulness has shown great promise in a variety of settings. For example, a study using Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) found notable reductions in levels of depression, anxiety, and stress compared to a control group of physical education (PE) sessions.

Moreover, pioneering programs like Mindfulness-Based Coping with University Life (MBCUL) have been developed, yielding results such as reduced perceived stress and enhanced problem-solving abilities (Walach, Lynch, & Louise, 2008).

The Key Components of Mindfulness

At its core, mindfulness encompasses two foundational elements: the self-regulation of attention and an open, accepting orientation toward one’s experiences. This enables individuals to cultivate an invaluable sense of mental clarity and resilience, especially under the high-pressure environment of university life.


The Path Forward

While substantial strides have been made, the journey to integrating mindfulness fully into the student experience is ongoing. The main challenge lies in destigmatizing mental health concerns and ensuring that all students can readily access these transformative resources.

As the body of research grows at a brisk pace, one thing is clear: Mindfulness isn’t just a trend, it's poised to be a mainstay in supporting student well-being in our complex, ever-evolving world.


References:

  • Gregorio, María & Mas, Mercedes & Rodríguez, Agustín. (2003). Estrés y rendimiento académico en estudiantes universitarios. Cuadernos de medicina psicosomática y psiquiatria de enlace, ISSN 1695-4238, Nº. 67-68, 2003, pag. 26. 67.


  • Huberty J, Green J, Glissmann C, Larkey L, Puzia M, Lee C. Efficacy of the Mindfulness Meditation Mobile App "Calm" to Reduce Stress Among College Students: Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019 Jun 25;7(6):e14273. doi: 10.2196/14273. PMID: 31237569; PMCID: PMC6614998.


  • Lynch, S., Gander, M.-L., Nahar, A., Kohls, N., & Walach, H. (2018). Mindfulness-Based Coping With University Life: A Randomized Wait-List Controlled Study. SAGE Open, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244018758379

  • Parsons CE, Crane C, Parsons LJ, Fjorback LO, Kuyken W. Home practice in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: A systematic review and meta-analysis of participants' mindfulness practice and its association with outcomes. Behav Res Ther. 2017 Aug;95:29-41. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2017.05.004. Epub 2017 May 10. PMID: 28527330; PMCID: PMC5501725.


  • Simonsson O, Bazin O, Fisher SD, Goldberg SB. Effects of an eight-week, online mindfulness program on anxiety and depression in university students during COVID-19: A randomized controlled trial. Psychiatry Res. 2021 Nov;305:114222. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2021.114222. Epub 2021 Sep 23. PMID: 34601450; PMCID: PMC8459547.


  • Sun, S., Goldberg, S.B., Lin, D. et al. Psychiatric symptoms, risk, and protective factors among university students in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic in China. Global Health 17, 15 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-021-00663-x

  • Zheng MX, Masters-Waage TC, Yao J, Lu Y, Tan N, Narayanan J. Stay Mindful and Carry on: Mindfulness Neutralizes COVID-19 Stressors on Work Engagement via Sleep Duration. Front Psychol. 2020 Dec 21;11:610156. doi 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.610156. PMID: 33408674; PMCID: PMC7779584.



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