Words by Tayla Benson
Regardless of the subject you’re studying, or the level at which you are studying it at, at some point in your academic journey you are going to need high levels of cognitive control. Whether it’s during the last push in finishing your dissertation, revising for final exams, or in preparation for an important performance – emotional regulation and self-awareness are crucial. Inconveniently, when we try our hardest to reach these aspects of mental control they become harder to achieve, as often our focus turns into panic, nerves, and stress.
Here’s where mindfulness steps in. Mindfulness provides us with the tools to help remain calm, sustain attention, and focus. They help you pay attention to the present moment through breathing and meditation practices. By increasing our awareness of current thoughts and feelings, we are able to address them, reduce stress and anxiety, and in turn boost levels of attention and concentration.
So what is mindfulness? It is the process of bringing your mind to the present. The idea is that as a species, particularly young people, we spend so much time looking forwards at what we need to do to reach our goals, and looking backwards to consider where we failed, that we do not actually spend time in the present moment. For students, deadlines are a dooms-day: we are all very aware of their presence, and we panic when we’re not quite where we want to be – the deadline always looms closer and closer.
This feeling of running out of time can send a lot of us into a spiral of negativity, and it is in these moments that mindfulness tells us to just stop and be in the present moment.
Stop trying to get it all done, give yourself a moment to just worry. Not too long, but just long enough to acknowledge that you are panicking without actually having to force yourself to try and get things done at the same time. An effective and simple mindfulness practice is the Rule of 3. Here you focus on three things: what you can hear; counting to 10 and starting again; and the rhythm of your breathing. Whilst focusing on these three things, the idea is that you cannot consider the negative way you may be feeling, or the deadline that appears to be looming, it is almost as if the stress disappears. Your mind becomes quiet. Once you’ve gained control over your feelings, you can write a list of what you can practically achieve to get closer to your goal and start to cross things off.
When the anxiety levels rise again, you stop. You become mindful. Then you go again.
Its not about making all your worries and thoughts go away, it doesn’t make things disappear but simply calms a busy mind allowing you to focus and prioritise.
Its not about coming up with solutions as to why you are feeling the way you are feeling, it is about clearing it so that you can resume living in the here and nowbefore it is gone again. It’s not for everybody. But what is? If you struggle with panicking and focusing during this wonderful time of you of exams and final deadlines, it’s surely worth a try.
So just remember to breathe, and focus on the present moment.