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As college students, I think we can all relate to the constant feeling of chaos and stress around us. I personally have become the master of multitasking because of this. Does that mean I am able to give my full attention to each thing that I am doing? Definitely not. Sometimes I am doing or thinking of so many things at once that I don’t even remember or realize what I was doing in the first place. I am especially guilty of doing this during classes — with mine being all virtual, it is so easy to leave the present moment and run through all the things I have to get done for the day in my head. Frequently, I struggle focusing on one thing at a time, leaving those I’m around feeling like I am ignoring them and my grades looking lower than I would like to see them.

It’s clear that we are living in a society full of distraction. With our phones at our fingertips, instead of dealing with current issues or being present in class or with loved ones, it can be more convenient to just scroll through social media mindlessly. And while each day we may not realize it, this mindlessness can have real effects on our wellbeing, both physically and mentally.

Mindfulness is simply defined by the Oxford dictionary as the quality or state of being fully conscious or aware of something. That sounds easy, right? Not exactly. For example, think about the last time you sat down and ate a meal. Did your mind wander to other things besides that meal? Were you also scrolling through your phone or watching TV? Were you talking to someone else while you were eating? Did you all of a sudden finish your food and wonder where your food went? (Definitely did that once…) If you answered yes to any of those questions you are not alone! Just like building muscle in your body takes time so does building this muscle in our minds. It isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. But the results are extremely beneficial and gratifying.

Recently I have been seeing the word mindfulness everywhere from self-help books to magazines and throughout the internet. What does it even do? Well, mindfulness has been proven to reduce stress, improve memory, attention span, and overall health. Countless studies have been done to see the actual impacts that long term mindfulness has on the brain, and it’s pretty incredible. One study was performed on 16 people who had never practiced mindfulness before to see if there were any significant changes in their brain after an 8-week program. After the 8 weeks were up, a significant increase in gray matter throughout the hippocampus was confirmed. This part of the hippocampus is involved in emotion regulation and responsiveness. It is also important to note that major depressive order and other mental health problems are associated with decreased gray matter in the hippocampus. These findings prove how just 2 months of practicing mindfulness can affect your mental health and life.


neon sign in greenery
Photo by Max Van Den Oetelaar from Unsplash

So how can you get to your best less stressed self? Well, first it’s important to say that there’s a lot of misconception around the term meditation. Most people hear that word and automatically envision themselves sitting crisscross-applesauce with their hands in that one position humming to themselves for 4 hours straight. Of course your first thought would be “I could never do that! How can you sit still that long?” The good news is that meditation doesn’t have to be 4 hours long, it doesn’t have to take place sitting, and you don’t have to make any noise if you don’t want to! There are so many different ways to practice mindfulness in your everyday life and meditation is only one of them.

To practice mindfulness in your busy schedule all you need to start is about 5 minutes every day. You could choose to do this while you have your morning coffee, while washing the dishes, or going on a walk. Practice muting everything else around you and only focusing on the moment you’re in. Bring focus to your 5 senses, and when irrelevant thoughts pop into your head, bring your attention back to the present moment.

If I have a stressful day ahead of me, I prefer to practice in the morning. I’ll shut my eyes and just focus on my breathing. Thoughts will always enter your mind, you can’t stop them, but you can deter them and keep going back to your breath. I do this for 3 to 5 minutes on my busy days and up to 10 minutes when I have more time. On the days that I don’t, I always wish I did. It is a great break to clear and calm your mind so that later on in the day you will find yourself being more intentional, focused, and less impulsive. Like I said earlier, this isn’t an overnight thing, and it definitely takes self-discipline at first. But the more you practice it the stronger your muscle will get and the better you will feel.

I learned a lot of what I know about mindfulness from an awesome course called Koru, taught at CofC by Rachael McNamara. This course is only a few weeks long and you learn so many different techniques to implement in your everyday life. I highly recommend joining if you want to learn more about mindfulness! She also hosts the Meditation Club. Both will be starting sometime in the spring semester so keep an eye on Cougar Connect if you are interested or you can email Rachael at [email protected].

Sources:

https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-mindfulness/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/\

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/mindfulness

Hi, my name is Samantha! I am a senior here at the College of Charleston and am majoring in psychology. My interests include music, beauty, fitness, good food, and the city of Charleston!
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