While we often see that in film and media college life is portrayed as an exciting and carefree adventure, the reality is that for an increasing number of students, college life is extremely stressful.
How stressful? According to CollegeAtlas.org, 70% of Americans will study at a 4 year college, but fewer than 2/3rds will graduate. And 30% of college and university students will drop out after the first year.
There are many reasons that students today are having such a challenging time coping with the academic experience. For some students, the pressures of being away from home are something they’re simply not equipped to deal with. For other, college represents an increased level of responsibility beyond what they have previously experienced. Many students are taking on added duties on top of their classwork, such as internships. Rather than waiting until their final year of university, students seeking an edge in the workforce are securing internships in their first and second years of school.
How can these students deal with these myriad sources of stress? One effective – and inexpensive, because remember, students are generally on tight budgets – is meditation. What makes meditation such a valuable tool in addressing daily stress?
For one, meditation can be done nearly anywhere. Students can meditate in their dorms, in the school library, in dormitories – basically anywhere that a quiet space can be found. Students have busy lives, and find themselves quickly moving from place to place across their campus, their internships, or even part time jobs.
As mentioned earlier, the fact that meditation requires no cost is certainly a benefit as well. Students don’t typically find themselves with a lot of disposable income, so other types of therapy, like speaking with a licensed professional or even getting a massage can be cost-prohibitive. But clearing one’s mind and focusing on the present through meditation carries no financial expense.
And meditation is a safe stress reliever. This is an important but potentially overlooked fact. When seeking to cure stress, anxiety, and other conditions, people often turn to solutions in the form of self-medication that may or may not be safe. Meditation is a truly all-natural and completely safe way to address stress.
Many people who have never tried meditation may be skeptical of its efficacy. However, data suggests that it’s an excellent tool for managing anxiety and stress, just like that faced by students.
According to the National Institute for Health, a 2014 literature review showed that mindfulness meditation drove moderate improvement in anxiety and depression. This supports a 2012 study that also suggested that groups engaging in meditation saw benefits over control groups monitored.
This can be attributed to actual changes made in the physical structure of the brain . Studies show that the areas of the brain related to cognition, learning, and emotion get thicker, while the areas related to fear and anxiety get smaller.
Students can also be encouraged by the idea that while improvement may not occur overnight, the aforementioned study suggests that changes in the brain occurred in only eight weeks after practicing 40 minutes per day. So even a student, with their exceptionally busy schedules, can find time to leverage the benefits offered by meditation.
The benefits of meditation for students can extend past simply relieving stress too. A 2012 study referenced by the NIH showed that adults who meditated had more outer folds in the brain, which may help in the processing of information. Think of how valuable the ability to process information faster and more effectively could be to students who might be studying five completely different subjects during a single week of classes!
And while we’ve mostly discussed college students, meditation can actually help students at any age. In fact, a study conducted in 2000 showed that middle school students who practiced meditation saw improvement in study habits, their grade point averages, and school attendance
As the educational process becomes increasingly competitive, with students focusing on what university they will be accepted to at an earlier age, and with university students trying to pack more studying and activities into their daily lives, it’s unfortunate to say that the reality of stress and anxiety for students of all ages is not going away. But with time spent exploring the benefits of meditation, and a fairly small time commitment to actually practicing mindfulness, students can begin to see decreases in stress and increases in information processing. What better outcomes could a student hope for?