Mindfulness: a Stress-Management Tool for Students

This past week has been wellbeing week at the University of Sussex, so in keeping with that, this post is about how mindfulness can be used as a stress-management tool for students.

Being mindful while studying is harder for students than ever before because the technology we must use for our assignments poses huge potential for distraction. When we inevitably get stuck on an assignment, it is incredibly tempting to hop onto social media because it’s easy, engaging and literally only a click away. ‘Technology is a good servant but a poor master’, said self-help legend Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which I highly recommend). I would describe mindfulness as a mental state of relaxed focus. This doesn’t sound particularly dramatic either, but is actually pretty rare. Due to the pressure to succeed, students often swing from feeling stressed and hyper-stimulated to exhausted and unfocused. We are not typically in a state of flow, deeply calm yet at the same time completely focused on the task at hand. Kevin Hawkins, mindfulness teacher and author of Mindful Teacher, describes mindfulness well in this 1-minute video on the SAGE YouTube channel.

We can increase our capacity to be mindful through meditation, which is basically focusing intently on the sensations of breathing (usually the rising and falling sensation in your chest or belly) for 10 minutes or longer. This doesn’t sound particularly dramatic, but has been shown to have extraordinary benefits:

  • A study found that meditating for just four days before a task was enough to improve novice meditators’ working memory, executive functions and ability to process visual information¹. For students, this means mindfulness can be a huge help in your studies, plus you’ll start to have significant benefits after meditating for just four days!
  • A review of 17 mindfulness studies found mindfulness to be effective in reducing psychological and physiological symptoms of stress². This shows that mindfulness is a great stress-management tool for students.

I first got into meditation through using the Headspace app, which I really recommend. The phone app provides guided meditations in many different themes (including studying, focus and sleep). As with books I’ve read on meditation (see below), the language used isn’t woo-woo at all, it really makes meditation simple and enjoyable. I’ve found it really helpful in making meditation one of my daily habits because of the layout: there are ‘packs’ consisting of 10 sessions, which are each labelled ‘day 1’, ‘day 2’ etc., so you can pace yourself and track your progress easily. Also, each day it provides a tip for how to be more mindful in everyday life, so you can apply what you’ve learnt to your studies. If you’ve never meditated before, I’d highly recommend starting with the free 10-minute sessions available on the free Headspace phone app.

A resource that I think really helps to ‘master’ technology is the computer app Cold Turkey, which you can use to block distracting websites – I’ve found it to be a godsend. If I’m finding social media particularly distracting, I sometimes commit to an isolated ‘social media hour’ from, say, 6-7pm, and abstain from using it for the rest of the day.

The books about mindfulness and meditation that I love are How to Meditate by Pema Chodron and Mindfulness In Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana. What I like about these books is that they are based on practical tips (as opposed to theory or philosophy) which helps chivvy me into taking action. They are both ordained and highly regarded Buddhist monks so have enormous experience in practicing and teaching mindfulness and meditation, but the language they use is simple, secular and down-to-earth, so it’s totally accessible for beginners. I came across these books browsing Amazon’s book section and by googling ‘meditation books’ (a ribbon of the most acclaimed meditation books appears at the top of the page). I bought How to Meditate as a book on Amazon, and I bought Mindfulness In Plain English as an audiobook on Audible. I highly recommend Audible because you can get through audiobooks when you’re out and about, whereas you wouldn’t be able to with a book book.

Personally, I’ve been amazed at the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, which for me have been a massively increased sense of calm, clarity and focus, which has in turn helped with my studies.


I found this paper using PsycARTICLES, available to all University of Sussex students through the Library’s Psychology Subject Guide:

1. Zeidan, F., et al. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition (2010).

I found this paper on the Headspace website, on a page discussing the benefits of meditation:

2. Sharma, M., & Rush, S. E. (2014). Mindfulness-based stress reduction as a stress management intervention for healthy individuals a systematic review. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 19(4), 271-286.

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