With the GAT just around the corner for VCE students, and university assessments coming thick and fast, we thought it might be helpful to share some of our mindfulness-based study tips. Mindfulness is an evidence-based practice, and research shows that it is useful in improving focus and overcoming stress. We know that study at all different levels – from high school to university – can be stressful, and we often help people with this very common issue at Birch Psychology.
We hope that you might find new ways to be kind to yourself, and cope with the school year, by studying mindfully.
What is mindfulness?
You might have heard of mindfulness before, and wondered exactly what it is and how it works. Put simply, mindfulness is about attention and focus. Being mindful means to engage your mind intentionally on what you are doing in the present moment, while noticing passing thoughts, feelings or bodily sensations without judgement. We are all capable of being mindful, but it can take some practice in order to start feeling its benefits.
Coping with study stress – mindfully!
Study is often stressful. Many people find it difficult to cope with daunting due-dates, particularly when it feels like everything is due at the same time. It is also common to feel the strain of expectations (both other people’s and our own), and worry about getting the ‘right mark’.
The frustrating thing about study stress, is that it can in itself impede our ability to study effectively. We can get so busy thinking about all the things we are worried about, that we struggle to focus and cope with the task at hand.
Next time you feel the stress taking hold, you might want to try this simple mindfulness exercise:
Sit somewhere where you are comfortable.
Straighten your back without tensing your body.
Begin to take some slow, deep breaths. There is no need to force your breath in any way.
Let your mind focus on your breathing – either on the rise and fall of your tummy, the gentle movement up and down of your rib cage, or the air moving in and out of your nose.
When you notice your mind start to wander, simply return your attention back to your breath.
Keep breathing like this for as long as it is helpful.
It’s okay if you don’t feel comfortable with this practice at first. You will likely find your mind keeps darting off in all different directions – this is just what minds do. It is normal and natural and happens to even the most experience meditation guru.
You might also notice you feel impatient or even frustrated, rather than relaxed. The goal of mindfulness meditation is not to help you relax but instead, to help you focus your attention and to learn to notice when your attention isn’t where you want or need it to be. If you become relaxed as a by-product of the meditation practice – lucky you!
Start off practising with short exercises – maybe a minute or two – to familiarise yourself with the process. You might find listening to an audio script easier when starting out (see our list of potential apps at the end of this blog post).
Using mindfulness to improve focus
Mindfulness can also help us to stay focused on the task at hand. The idea is to be present with your study, rather than trying to wade through it while you are distracted, or have other things vying for your attention. Mindful attention also helps us to notice when unhelpful thoughts start to creep into our mind that, if we pay attention to, might derail our study or affect our motivation to study. Thoughts like, “It’s all too hard, why bother” or “I’m just stupid, I’ll never understand this.”
Structuring your study environment can also support you to focus.
Set up a study space that is quiet and appealing to you. For some people, this might be the silent part of the library, for others, it might be a sunny patch of grass. Make the space somewhere that helps you to feel settled (as opposed to a cluttered bedroom!).
Turn off or remove the things that might pull your attention away. This could involve putting your phone on “do not disturb”, or switching it off so that you’re not tempted by social media.
Give yourself breaks. You don’t need to keep your attention fixed for hours on end – everyone needs a break.
Try to get enough sleep, exercise, and eat good food. You will find it easier to be mindful if you are well rested and treating your body well.
If you would like to try guided mindfulness exercises, you could try one of these apps:
Keep an eye out for our workshop teaching and applying mindfulness skills to improve your study. Details coming soon!