Mindfulness meditation could help UT students combat stress, improve focus and find meaning

Tarek Zaher

Many college students’ lives are increasingly dominated by  cynicism about themselves, their future and the world around them. Much is said about the institutional, political and social changes that must be made to correct these concerns, but the small habits individuals can form to foster well-being in our day-to-day lives are just as important.

The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center started the Thrive at UT app and MindBody Labs to help students to do just this. Elana Bizer, Technology Initiatives Coordinator for CMHC, says, “We developed the Thrive at UT App and MindBody Labs as a way of giving students a wide variety of tools to help them manage the ups and downs of campus life.”

According to Bizer, thrive at UT offers “an entire module about Mindfulness that helps introduce students to what mindfulness is and how it can be helpful.” The app even lets you sign up for kind daily reminders to be mindful, which over time can substantially improve the quality of our lives. In addition, the MindBody Labs have ipods with guided meditations, relaxing breathing techniques and much more that allow students to test the benefits of mindfulness for themselves.

With record-high levels of stress, anxiety and depression among college students, mindfulness meditation can help us effectively cope with emotional distress when times are bad and fully enjoy our happiness when times are good. It can help anyone make small but beneficial changes to their everyday lives. Bizer says, “This could be something like being in the present moment of walking to class instead of worrying about an assignment deadline … or connecting with something that you feel grateful for even if the rest of your day isn't going particularly well.”

Practicing mindfulness has been empirically proven to reduce stress, improve focus, and foster well-being, in part, by developing what is know as “meta-awareness.”  This is the ability to consciously observe our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations without directly identifying with them. This distinction between having an experience (experiential consciousness) and knowing that we are having an experience (meta-awareness) is essential.  By being aware of how much our minds change on a moment to moment basis, we develop a sense of continuity above the ever-changing fluctuations of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This allows us to deal with those mental states in a healthy way.

Unfortunately, many people have not developed a healthy perspective to view their emotions through. Many UT students are dealing with the immense pressure of getting good grades, forming long-term career aspirations, and leaving their family for the first time.

Considering the above, is it any wonder that many of us learn not to feel and cut ourselves off from our emotions entirely? Mindfulness meditation offers a better alternative. By developing a sense of objectivity when observing our passing mental states, we are better able to acknowledge our feelings, but at the same time not be overwhelmed by them.

It takes a certain kind of courage and fearlessness to change our unhealthy mental habits, but by developing a habit of mindfulness in our everyday lives, whether you have 30 minutes or 30 seconds, it can be done.

The Thrive at UT app is completely free and available on the app store. The MindBody Labs are open Monday through Friday, 8:00am – 4:30pm on the 5th floor of the SSB.

Zaher is a government and European thought sophomore from Hudson.