Recent graduate Liam Montgomery shares his thoughts on how best to deal with stress when the pressure is on
Stress at university and the benefits of mindfulness
As we all know, stress is a mindset that the vast majority of us will encounter at many points throughout our lives. As a recently graduated university student, I have become beyond familiar with how stress affects not only the mind, but the body as well. Having studied psychology and criminal justice for four years I not only encountered the stress that accompanies the workload of a double major, but have also researched stress and its effect on the mind and body throughout my coursework. We all deal with stress in a variety of ways (some healthily and some not so much), but mindfulness (don’t worry, I will elaborate on this shortly!) has emerged as a method for healthily and effectively coping with this ever-present phenomenon.
The effects of stress on the mind and body
Many university students, including myself, have experienced or are currently experiencing stress and its many side effects – so believe in yourself Mr. Proscrastinates-until-the-last-moment-and-stays-awake-for-two-days-cramming-for-an-exam! Some physical symptoms of stress include muscular tension, dizziness, sweating, fatigue, headaches, and many more. However, the symptoms of stress are not limited to our physical body, but also extend to our emotions and our cognition. Some of these emotional symptoms include anger, anxiety, and rapid mood swings which can also spur the experiencing of cognitive symptoms including irritability, difficulty concentrating, and unwanted or repetitive thoughts (“The professor said we won’t be tested on this, but what if we will be?” or “I can’t believe I forgot to do my homework, I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I forgot to do my homework, I’m such an idiot.”)
Can mindfulness help me?
Practicing mindfulness is a very simple method that increases the awareness of your own thoughts and feelings and what is going on inside and outside ourselves moment by moment, which can improve your mental wellbeing. While this may sound overly simplistic and to some may appear to be utter nonsense, it is recommended as a way to prevent depression and can help us to notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier.
A mindfulness technique I find helpful is the body scan. The body scan involves putting yourself in a quiet, comfortable place, closing your eyes, focusing on controlled breathing, and simply becoming aware of how your entire body feels from head to toe. After you have done this, work your way back up from your toes to your scalp. By doing this, you will begin to become aware of how your muscles feel, which ones are tense and which ones are relaxed, and you can consciously begin to bring your entire body and mind to a state of tranquility. Ultimately, this concept of focusing on and becoming aware of physical sensations in your body will allow you to achieve that same level of awareness with your thoughts and feelings.
The first time a professor of mine had the entire class complete a body scan, I was very skeptical and quite honestly, not very keen on participating. Instead of sitting in my chair and thinking “Okay, let’s just wait until this is over”, I decided to give it a go. By the end of the exercise (which only took about five minutes) I felt more emotionally relaxed, less muscularly tense, and had a sense of my mind being completely at ease. For the remainder of the class, I actually felt that I had a much easier time paying attention, and even felt a sense of increased interest in the class material.
So next time you find yourself worrying too much about exams, struggling with that paper, or simply just feeling overwhelmed, try a mindfulness exercise. I found this this technique easy to do as it can be done almost anywhere without the assistance of medication or a professional; you can be your own therapist! Take a deep breath, relax, and give yourself a five minute break from homework and see if mindfulness can help reduce your stress and allow you to get through your day productively and worry-free. Happy studying!
You can read more about stress, its causes, side effects, and how to deal with it on –there’s even a page on mindfulness where you can find out other mindfulness techniques: www.nhsgo.uk or download the NHS Go App!