Self-Awareness for the Student Body: How Practicing Mindfulness Can Enhance Academic Outcome

Imbalance is birthed from a combination of stress and a lack of coping mechanisms needed to process life’s pressures. Anxiety is an epidemic for college students in particular, as they adjust to the physical, mental and emotional changes that occur on the academic path. Students get buried under many responsibilities; classes, homework, midterms, job requirements and personal stressors can leave anyone scrambling to catch their breath. Often such a hectic lifestyle results in the severe neglect of personal health. This is unfortunate because if the student is not healthy and thriving, the outcome of their work will lack the quality it should possess, and their overall well-being will suffer.

What relaxation techniques can be taught to the students who are struggling with anxiety? For someone to relax, they must be mindful of their breathing. It would also benefit them to know how the systems in the body work to heal and repair. Practicing mindful self-awareness is the key to identifying and eradicating imbalance in life.

Identifying imbalance can be a hang-up for people. It is such a normality in modern society, that most are missing out on true health. Disease, fatigue, lack of enthusiasm and fear are all examples of life being in disarray. However, these things are a part of everyday happenings, and are interpreted as part of getting older. Nothing is further from the truth. Imbalance comes from an internal source. Sickness is often caused by stress weakening the immune system and interfering with hormone function. In the same way, depression can stem from inflammation. Anxiety comes from an unhealthy perspective and a distressed nervous system.  Fatigue is often adrenal fatigue, dehydration and vitamin deficiencies. If students begin to “check in” with themselves every day, they will learn to listen to their bodies and not overlook pain in their lives.

Engaging in a “checking-in” exercise is the way professor Rebecca Levy opens her Pilates class. This can be lying down or sitting up. The student begins breathing deeply into the belly–or diaphragm–expanding wide before exhaling. This opens up the cells in the body and relaxes the nervous system. When they are focused on their breath, other stressors begin to fade from the mind’s eye. Once rhythm is established, students start to scan their bodies, observing any sensations in full awareness. Here in this space they are able to identify what is different that day, or what they want to change. This practice can also provide a retreat in times of anxiety. “I am happy to have people think about it,” said Levy. Everyone can benefit from being connected to their bodies. When people listen to their bodies, they also tend to nourish them with adequate rest, proper diet and movement. Noticing and understanding emotions or discomfort in the body is the first step in getting and staying healthy.

The state of a college student’s well-being is the foundation for their success. When all is in alignment and stressful life situations can be tackled productively, everything else falls into place. Critical thinking skills are applied better in a calm state of mind. New perspectives can present themselves when the chattering in the brain is silenced. Mindfulness and self-awareness should be taught in Student Life Skills courses as a technique, urging students to relax and carefully examine themselves. It might even benefit schools everywhere to integrate a “checking in” during the first five minutes of class in order to calm and focus the students before teaching the day’s curriculum. While education is the expansion of knowledge, self-awareness is the education of self.