Why college students need mindfulness

Amidst high demands and little time, mindfulness can be the key to surviving college.

A stressed college student looking at a laptop, sitting at a booth.
Photo: Tim Gouw/Unsplash.

We all experience stress. But the unfortunate reality is that many of us are not taught effective coping skills for dealing with this stress. The strategies we often use are temporary, ineffective and can lead to more problems. This is often true with college students, who face a unique chapter in life as they gain independence while learning to manage time, finances, friends, priorities and copious responsibilities all at once. 

Alcohol is often found in social situations on college campuses, and it is also often used to cope with stress. According to a December 2019 report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, "52.5 percent of full time college students ages 18-24 drank alcohol in the past month, and almost 33 percent engaged in binge drinking in the past month.”

There are better ways to handle stress than to drink alcohol regularly or in excess, though. The Journal of American College Health published a study concluding that “mindfulness-based stress reduction or other mindfulness programs may be useful in decreasing alcohol problems on college campuses via the effects on stress.” 

So what is mindfulness? According to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn mindfulness is:

  • Paying attention.
  • On purpose.
  • In the present moment.
  • Non-judgmentally.

Michigan State University Extension teaches Stress Less with Mindfulness, a five-week course covering the three components to mindfulness: awareness (of thoughts, emotions, and body sensations), shifting your perspective, and practicing daily. The way we view the world creates our reality. Mindfulness can help people become aware of our perspectives, and we can choose to shift that perspective if it is not serving us. If you are a college student who is struggling with stress and feeling overwhelmed, here are some strategies and tools that can help you learn to manage stress:

  • Register for an MSU Extension Stress Less with Mindfulness class.
  • Listen to guided meditations via YouTube, podcasts, free apps and other online platforms. MSU Extension offers guided meditations for no cost that are available online.
  • Go online or to a library and check out a book or audiobook on mindfulness.
  • Learn to use the four-step mindfulness technique developed by Southern Utah University, commonly referred to as “STOP.” It stands for:
    • S: Stop whatever it is you are doing and think about the present moment.
    • T: Take a few slow deep breaths, just focus on breathing in and out.
    • O: Observe what is going on inside of you, how you are feeling mentally and physically.
    • P: Proceed with what you were doing or need to do; you may slow yourself down and tune into yourself and the task at hand.

College students are encouraged to practice mindfulness as a coping skill when stress is experienced. For more information, visit MSU Extension's Mindfulness for Better Living website.

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