Overthinking is an increasing problem in today’s busy and competitive world. Students are especially prone to excessive remuneration given the pressures they face; there is ample opportunity to worry about things going wrong!
Mindfulness is an effective antidote to worry and overthinking given that it can replace negative thinking journeys with the simple discipline of observing thinking patterns. Through early detection, mindfulness can effectively short circuit negative thinking.
It might be helpful to consider the following metaphor to understand how mindfulness can be used…
When feeling anxious or stressed, the mind’s ocean is rough with big waves. Mindfulness provides a raft to ride the waves and keep dry. It doesn`t necessarily reduce the ocean’s swell, but it can keep one above water. Conversely, without mindfulness, the waves can easily overwhelm all in sundry.
The Goal of Mindfulness Practice
Practising mindfulness is in many ways like going to the gym to build muscle.
Just as it is unrealistic to expect to lift your goal ‘bench press’ weight without diligent training, it is also unrealistic to expect complete mindfulness for an extended period of time without training. So like with building muscle, regular practice is required to grow your ‘mindfulness muscle’.
When practising mindfulness, the aim should be to try and remain aware in the present moment; specifically, for example, focussing on the breath or the surrounding sounds. When deviating from the present moment, it’s often because random thoughts hi-jack awareness of the present. However, this is to be expected as the brain is designed to think – thoughts appear all the time.
Therefore, the goal of Mindfulness practice should not be perfection, but rather to keep on pulling oneself back to the present moment every time upon distraction. Using the gym analogy, one bench-press repetition is the equivalent of one occasion pulling oneself back to the present moment, post distraction. The more this is done, then the more mindful one will become!
Honing this skill will ultimately allow one to call upon mindfulness, when it’s really needed – during times of stress and anxiety.
Using Mindfulness to alleviate Stress and Anxiety
Students will likely encounter many pressures at school. How, in particular, could the mindful student combat stress and anxiety?
Consider the student waiting outside the classroom to sit an exam. Stressful thoughts about failing or poor performance might enter their head, such as “I can’t do this!” or “I’m going blank!” They will likely feel a knot in their stomach, tightness in their throat as well as an increased heart rate.
In using mindfulness, students should ask themselves the following questions to focus in on the present moment;
Thereafter, mindful students would silently label stressful thoughts with the word “thinking”, turning their focus on the breath; noticing one complete in-breath and one complete out-breath. Then, upon being aware of the mind wandering down a tunnel of worry, would simply label thoughts with the word “thinking”, and return attention to the breath. Labelling these thoughts helps accept discomfort, and return focus back to the breath.
The challenge for most students – and people in general – is to identify the early signs of stress and anxiety to allow for early mindful intervention! This is why constant practice is needed; it better equips one to intervene and use that raft boat upon the onset of the storm.
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