Mindfulness Tips for Online Students

Mindfulness Tips for Online Students

It seems anywhere you look these days, mindfulness appears. Countless magazine articles, news reports, books, and practitioners agree, mindfulness is good for us. From Anderson Cooper to Oprah Winfrey, popular culture has also embraced the benefits of mindfulness practices and meditation in particular. For the online learner, establishing a regular mindfulness practice appears to hold great promise for academic success, but regular practice is key when it comes to lasting transformation.

I often tell my doctoral students upon entering the doctoral research phase of their academic journey that stress and difficult emotions lie ahead. Even for the most dedicated doctoral learners who sail through their coursework, a dissertation or applied research project can seem insurmountable, isolative, and stressful. Wanting to give up, as any doctoral degree holder readily admits, is part of the process. Academic success, therefore, requires coping strategies to help keep you focused, regulated, and connected to a sense of purpose.

The balancing act required of online learners, graduate or undergraduate, as they attend to their academic studies while managing family, professional, social, and other obligations can be overwhelmingly stressful in the absence of effective coping strategies. A survey of school-based mindfulness training programs demonstrated positive impact on academic performance by helping students – even those with learning disabilities – focus, be more organized, plan ahead, perform better on exams, and think critically (Leland, 2015). Such findings are demonstrated in students from all age groups, at all academic levels. Mindfulness practice is also associated with improved mood regulation, stress management, and sense of purpose.

For these reasons, students should consider establishing a regular routine of self-care, including mindfulness practices.

What is Mindfulness?

There are a number of definitions of mindfulness, and the term is increasingly used interchangeably with meditation, which can create confusion. In essence, mindfulness involves intentionally sensing the present moment, in a curious, open, and accepting manner. It is a specific way of paying attention that doesn’t involve being caught up in ruminating thoughts over past or future encounters. 

The mind naturally and frequently wonders, therefore, in order to experience the benefits of mindfulness, it must be practiced. Some mindfulness practices are formal activities such as sitting meditation, systematic scanning of one’s bodily sensations, contemplative prayer, yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, or loving kindness meditation. There are also informal mindfulness practices, such as bringing attention to your breath or other bodily sensations. Informal practices can be brief and implemented at any time, while formal practices require a quiet space and a set period of time. Essential to effective mindfulness practice is maintaining an open, curious, and receptive quality to your awareness, while being kind to yourself whenever the mind wanders. It may seem silly from the outset, but over time your attitude begins to shift from resisting what is in front of you toward embracing challenges as opportunities that add to your sense of purpose and meaning in life.

Practice Makes Perfect

In their groundbreaking book, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your  Mind, Brain and Body,” researchers Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson survey the plethora of research on mindfulness meditation, dispelling common misconceptions, while underscoring the best empirical evidence associated with its long-term benefits. Among their conclusions: practice is key. The more you practice mindfulness, specifically meditation, the more you reap lasting, transformational benefits including improved mood regulation, increased focus, improved sense of wellbeing, and purpose. Regular practice is essential to lasting transformation.

References:

Goleman, D., Davidson, R. (2017). Altered traits: Science reveals how meditation changes your mind, brain and body. New York, NY: Penguin Random House, LLC.

Leeland, M. (2015). Mindfulness and student success. Journal of Adult Education. 44(1) 19-24.

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Written by Eric Muenks, program chair for the PhD in Human Services in the College of Doctoral Studies at Ashford University.

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