Whilst many people will tell you that your uni years are the best of your life, there’s no denying the pressures that you’ll face when you’re actually here. From exam-angst to coursework concerns, campus dramas to filthy fridges, there’s usually something, or several somethings, on your mind.
When your mind is full of worries, no matter how big or small, it’s hard to live in the moment. Which is where learning some of the skills and techniques of mindfulness can help.
What is mindfulness?
Imagine your brain is a shared fridge at the end of term, and all those thoughts and concerns that weigh on your mind are the congealed milk, rancid cheese, and liquefied cucumber inside... then mindfulness is the rubber gloves, bin bag and cleaning spray that will help you clear out the clutter and make your fridge, and you, feel spotless and shiny again.
Here are seven ways to start that process, and ensure these fabled ‘best years of our lives’ really are just that.
1. First, breathe
Breathing is something you’ve been doing constantly since birth, so it’s easy to take for granted. In fact, it’s something we rarely pay attention to, it just happens in the background. So spend a little time focusing on just your breathing. Look at how your chest rises and falls as you breathe in and out, and as you do, try to tune out all the thoughts in your head. Don’t worry if you can’t at first, it’s not always easy. But set aside some time each day to study your breathing, and over time you’ll be able to push out those thoughts for longer and longer.
2. Switch off your autopilot
Can you recall the last time you brushed your teeth? We’re not saying you don’t brush them, that’s between you and your dentist, what we’re saying is you probably don’t put much thought into an activity that you’ve done, like, 10,000 times or more over your lifetime. It’s an autopilot activity, and we all have them… washing up (let’s not go there), checking emails, driving to familiar places, for example. Now, instead of clicking on the autopilot next time you brush your teeth, think about what you’re doing. Appreciate the sensation, the cool taste of water, and the minty freshness in your breath. The less time we spend on autopilot, the more time we have to enjoy our lives fully. Find your autopilot activities, and engage with them.
3. Get out of your head and into your body
Student life often means being lost in thought, wrapped up in theories and generally weighed down under the intellectual strain of absorbing new information, ideas and concepts. All this brain-straining can leave you neglecting your senses without even realising it, and missing the stimulation and experiences that exist outside of that academic bubble.
Engaging those sense is a vital step towards escaping from your mind, if only for a little while. Even simple pleasures like stroking a cat, smelling a flower or lying down in the grass can give you a boost. And when you’re really feeling the pressure, going for a run, bike ride of a swim (for extra mindfulness bonus points, taking a dip in the sea or a paddle in the river is a great way to touch base with nature) will force you to exist in the moment, and afterwards help you relax and feel good.
4. Watch the world go by
Mindfulness isn’t all about physical exertion, of course. If we told you that being mindful is as easy as visiting a café or a pub and grabbing a drink, would that appeal? The simple act of people watching, and trying to imagine who they are, what they do, and what their lives revolve around, is a great way to liberate your mind. It’s all about stepping outside your own experience and seeing things from someone else’s point of view.
5. Have a chat with your mind
Next time you’re with a group of friends, or in a seminar, and are struggling to focus on the task at hand because you’re worrying about something else, such as your finances, your increasingly elasticated exam-prep schedule or one of a hundred other things, then try this simple mindfulness technique. Politely ask your brain to be quiet. Remind it that you’re on the same team, and you’d like to enjoy the moment, and ask it to come back later. It’s surprising how well this can work. Of course, if your thoughts are really swirling and splashing about, then it can be difficult. But with a little awareness and gentle goading, you can start to adjust the way you interact with your brain. After all, you’re both on the same team, even if it doesn’t feel like that sometimes. And if that isn’t working...
6. Put your thoughts in their place
As many a young child has learned, “sticks and stones might break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” And guess what? Thoughts can’t hurt you either. No matter how dreadful, menacing or insistent they may be, they hold no power over you. You don’t even need to believe them, and you can react to them at your leisure. Understanding the limited power thoughts have over you will help you feel empowered and able to control them.
You can slot most of these mindfulness techniques easily into your daily routine, but don’t be afraid to make time for a spot of good old-fashioned meditation too. If the mood takes you, find a quiet place, sit down and relax. Start with your breathing awareness, keep your back straight, and close your eyes. Don’t be afraid to ask your inner dialogue to ‘shush’ and see if you can clear out your thoughts. Like anything, the more you practice, the better you’ll be able to relax.
It can be the perfect antidote to everything from exam stress to the general life adjustments that moving to a new city to can bring. It’s worth trying at least once, because you never know, it may be your secret weapon for coping with student life.
A place to be relaxed in mind and body
Whether you’re meditating or not, having a clean, comfortable and relaxed place to live is important for your mental wellbeing. Take a look at our comfortable accommodation options to see how we can make uni a great experience for you.