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Simple Ways You Can Fit Mindfulness In Your Hectic College Schedule

If you’re anything like me, you’ve fallen victim to productivity culture countless times. Regardless of what university you call home, it’s practically inevitable that you’re far from alone in your stress. We’re all struggling to keep our heads above water: constantly comparing schedules — “How many credits are you taking?” — one-upping each other in resume-worthy internship experience, sacrificing sleep for the most polished paper possible, rinse and repeat. Trust me, I know it well. Right now, I’m grieving the sight of books I have to read, the appointments I have yet to schedule, and the growing number of boxes I need to check off my agenda. It never ends, and neither does my compulsion to pull my hair out.

overhead view of a woman sitting in front of her laptop Photo by energepic.com from Pexels My “Intro to Mindfulness 101” Experience

Two years ago, I found myself feeling like the cursed protagonist of my own Girl Meets World sitcom… of the horror variety. There I was: a somewhat-sheltered artistic type thrust from her sheltered hometown and into a school of over 30,000 students. I was a serious perfectionist who willingly took 21 credits her first semester of freshman year as a means of distracting herself from the loss of control. Which role was I supposed to play? I had always felt like a jack-of-all-trades, wanting to get involved with everything all at once, but here at college, I was supposed to be a jack-of-one-trade.

I found myself struggling to feel sane. I had started avoiding obligations strictly out of fear that I’d fail. After realizing that my stress was something that required intervention, I decided to contact my school’s on-campus mental health resource center. I remember trembling as I filled out the intake form.

Do you feel chronically tense or on edge? Yes.

Are you fearful for no reason? Yes.

Does happiness feel unattainable? Yes again.

My counselor listened without judgment, validated the struggles I thought were foolish, and helped me brainstorm ways to cope with my issues in a healthy manner. Her office became a safe space for me, where I could vent my frustrations — toxic relationships, homesickness, academic pressures, the works — and leave with a lighter, more manageable weight on my shoulders.

She suggested something I had heard about before, but never consciously considered trying: mindfulness.

woman looking at the trees in front of the sun Photo by Leon Biss from Unsplash

The Business With Busyness

You’ve probably heard about mindfulness before. It’s a meditative process that has exploded in recent years, becoming more popular as efforts to bring awareness to mental health have gained momentum in attempt to #EndTheStigma.

Put simply, mindfulness is achieved by committing to the present: accepting feelings, thoughts, and sensations for what they are, not what they could be. It’s grounding yourself to reality by focusing on the details. It’s feeling the tides of anxiety overcome your body — the build-up of stress and panic — and letting it “ride” over you, so all that’s left is a wave to surf. It’s just a feeling, mindfulness reminds you. Everything can be reduced to a sensation.

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t have time to sit around and meditate. You hardly have time to sit and read this article, much less sit in silence, criss-cross applesauce, breathing deep with eyes shut.

But common misconceptions about mindfulness are that it requires extra time or must be an act of performance. Mindfulness does not have to look like hipster yoga. It can be something you can incorporate into your schedule of constant rushing around, trying to get through the week, burning through deadlines.

Here are 3 easy ways to incorporate mindfulness in your daily life.

1. Make gratitude lists.

I’m not talking about crafting a Shakespearean work here. Instead, set a timer for 5–10 minutes at the end of every day, and then write down whatever comes to mind, however big or small. Mine typically look something like this:

  • The chunky ducks at the duck pond

  • My boyfriend’s laugh

  • 93 on my test

  • Good phone call with Mom

  • Chocolate chip pumpkin bread

  • A fridge full of groceries

It doesn’t have to be a work of art. Gratitude awareness is a mindfulness technique with proven health benefits, according to Psychology Today. It’s simple science, really: focusing on the good can help dilute the bad. Sunshine makes darkness bearable.

2. Do at least one thing you actually want to do per day.

Maybe it’s finally lighting that candle you’ve been saving since Christmas. Or maybe it’s quiet time outside, people-watching in a crowded location, focusing on the sights and sounds. Maybe you’re like me and it’s a 15-minute dance break to the ABBA Gold soundtrack while taking a homework breather.

When you do something you genuinely want to do instead of just what you have to do, it is a gift to yourself. There is meditation in distraction, especially the good kind.

3. Stimulate your senses.

A huge part of mindfulness is simple sensory awareness, or being open to feeling a particular sensation. Some people find their center of calm by holding ice cubes in their hands, observing how they melt: the temperature, shape, texture, and movement.

Me? I like to put my headphones on and go for a lap around my apartment complex, practicing the 5 Senses Exercise, a way to see, feel, hear, smell, and taste the present moment, taking everything in for what it really is. Read about it! It’s a system of grounding your mind to be calm in the chaos of existence.

This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list.

Learning how to fit mindfulness in your daily life isn’t something that comes with a guidebook, and that’s okay — actually, it’s arguably better this way. This isn’t something you need to set aside precious calendar space for. Instead, it’s a collection of little habits you can learn, modify, and adjust to your particular needs or wishes.

Take a moment. Just one. Be still, and see what you can do with that stillness.