The job market is becoming increasingly more competitive with students having to add more strings to their bows than merely doing well in their degree programme, now companies want graduates to bring more skills and experiences to the role. This increased pressure to stand out from the crowd can be stressful for students and many feel overwhelmed at times.
Student Advisor at UCL Student Support and Wellbeing, Ronan McCoy shares his top tips for students to stay calm and nurture good mental health and wellbeing practises through Mindfulness.
Add mindfulness to your wellbeing toolkit
Most students I meet say they have or are experiencing, some degree of stress or anxiety. I frequently identify an important tool to add to their wellbeing toolkit - mindfulness. Mindfulness is not some wishy-washy unquantifiable quirk. It is a tool backed by significant findings and academic research. It’s been shown to decrease anxiety, depression, rumination, and emotional reactivity, help to increase positive affect (mood), concentration, and overall wellbeing. Practising mindfulness dampens activity in the amygdala and increases connectivity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, lessening our reactivity to stressors and aiding our recovery from stress when it comes (i.e. developing resilience).
Mindfulness can be used in two ways: reactionary and pre-emptively.
Panic attacks, are sudden episodes of intense anxiety with physical manifestations and mostly occur when someone is under sustained stress and are more common in their teens and 20’s. Without any immediately clear cause, a panic attack can feel like something much more sinister is happening and make the person worry even more.
If as a UCL SoM student you experience a panic attack, mindfulness could be the key in helping you to regain your sense of self and come back from that extreme few minutes. In the case of a panic attack, find a private place (e.g. a toilet cubicle if you are on campus) and follow the steps below. This is reactionary mindfulness, which can be done in one or two minutes, anywhere, in response to heightened anxiety.
By this, I mean building some amount of mindfulness into your routine. Consistent and regular mindfulness helps to move your baseline stress level and develop your resilience and focus more generally. It can take a week or two to fully appreciate the difference but the emotional oxygen you gain provides the space you need to see more clearly and deal with the challenges you face in a more manageable and comfortable way.
How do you do it?
Find a private place to sit upright, preferably on a chair with a back.
Plant your feet flat on the ground (if you’re at home, maybe take off your shoes).
Place your hands, with palms raised or lowered, on your knees, or nestled together on your lap.
Close your eyes.
Breath as deeply as you can, slowly, in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
Focus on your breath; giving time to just breath; in and out.
As you breath, focus on three words: ‘I. Am. Here.’ ; as you breath in, and out.
After you feel settled into this pattern, drop the final word and focus on the word ‘I’ as you breath in, and ‘Am’ as you breath out.
Take your time.
If other thoughts come to you, that’s fine. Don’t judge yourself for that, but do return your focus to your breathing and the words. Let the other thoughts come and go.
Again, when you’re settled into a pattern, drop the second word, and just think of the word ‘I’ as you continue to breath deeply, in your nose, and out your mouth.
When you’re ready and feeling calm, open your eyes, and gently continue with your day.
There is no magic wand in mental health, and this isn’t one. We learn skills that we add to our wellbeing toolkit. Mindfulness is as good a tool as you’ll find for dealing with stress.
Some tips: if you’re doing it without any help, set an alarm on your phone for the given time (e.g. 2minuites). This will save you from the distraction of wondering when the time is up and allow you to be present for the time you’ve given. Otherwise, find a YouTube video that guides you through it. If you would like to discuss this further or have any questions please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are feeling stressed, I’d encourage you to try this in the mornings; for five minutes. It won’t take much out of your day, but can add a LOT. If this is really not for you, that’s fine, but please do consider what you could do that would give you your emotional oxygen (e.g., yoga/running/cooking mindfully).