Lessons on Mindfulness

Finals are approaching at lightning speed, and you can’t stop thinking about those looming papers and exams. You know that soon, you’ll be frantically rushing to cram everything in while still getting just enough sleep to function. Thoughts of “I should’ve done this before” and “I have to do this, this and this in the next three hours” are constantly running through your mind. Reading about all of this is getting you tense, anxious, stressed and panicked.

Pause. Take a deep breath in. Hold. Release it.

What you just did — slow, deep breathing — is just the first of many mindful ways you can survive this finals season, and whatever other stresses constantly pile up in your life. As students, we are always worried about what’s ahead or regretful of what already happened. It’s obviously important to learn through past mistakes and remember future deadlines, but failure to appreciate and live in the present is a vital factor to mindful, stronger mental health.

Mindfulness is the state of focusing on the present. It’s being aware of your current physical, emotional and mental state, as well as calmly accepting those for what they are without worrying about having to alter them. Essentially, it is just letting yourself exist in the current moment in time.

Why is this so important? Well, there are scientifically proven benefits to making mindfulness a habit. It reduces stress, improves memory and focus, allows greater cognitive flexibility, and increases appreciation for the self and for others. These are especially important during times of greater stress and anxiety, such as finals season.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, with varying intensities. Meditation is one that is well known, and hard for many to grasp. However, with some helpful books or YouTube tutorials, it gets easier the more you know and try. Some other, less intensive ways include:

  • Gratitude: Write a list people and things you are grateful for and why. Finding something new to appreciate everyday brings more happiness and perspective into our lives.
  • Deep breathing: If you can’t get meditation and the art of emptying your mind down, don’t worry. Even taking deep breaths in patterns such as 4-7-8 (four counts of inhaling, seven seconds of holding and eight counts of exhaling) can calm you down and even lower blood pressure when your mind is going at 100 mph.
  • Stretching: You can relax both your mind and your body at the same time by staying focused on only the present sensations and emotions in you as you stretch.

One of the most important aspects of staying grounded and mindful is not judging yourself as you focus on the now. It’s all about simply accepting that the emotions are there instead of honing in on the negativity. And if you can’t keep up any mindful habits at first, don’t worry. It’s a new habit you have to develop, just like forcing yourself to the gym every week until it becomes normal routine. Except this is easier: you don’t even have to leave your bed to find peace in the moment.

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