Academic life can be exciting, but it is often difficult to strike a healthy balance between the deadlines and distractions that naturally accompany university experience. The sheer number of seminars to attend, experiments to run, and papers to write can leave academics feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. To-do lists can take on a life of its own and spiral out of control, which only makes matters worse. Luckily, there are usually counselling services available on university campuses, but these are often oversubscribed.
A large randomized controlled trial from the University of Cambridge recently showed that training in mindfulness can be an effective alternative to promote wellbeing in higher education (Galante et al. 2018). There is nothing mystical about mindfulness, which simply refers to the awareness that comes from intentionally and nonjudgmentally paying attention to the present moment with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and acceptance (Kabat-Zinn 2003). The practice of mindfulness trains the mind to become more aware of everything in our lived experience – thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations – and literally rewires the brain over time, just as regularly going to the gym builds muscle and strength in the body. By training ourselves to be more mindful in daily life, we can more easily step out of autopilot mode and wake up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that make life worthwhile. It can help us to notice early on when we get entangled in difficult thoughts and can give us the tools to deal more skillfully with negative thought patterns.
Keeping in mind that it is not a panacea and might not be suitable for everyone, there are several resources on mindfulness available. It is important to choose wisely and look for teachers with proper training and experience, just as physical exercise should preferably be undertaken under the supervision of a trained professionals. The list below contains a small selection of good books, interesting documentaries, and evidence-based programs for anyone who wants to learn more about mindfulness-based practices. Enjoy!
- Otto Simonsson, Resident Mindfulness Scholar at the GRN
Goleman, D. and Davidson, R. (2017). Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body (New York: Avery).
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2006). Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness (New York: Hyperion Books).
Williams, J. M. G. and Penman, D. (2011). Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World (London: Hachette Digital).
Menahemi, A. and Ariel, E. (1997). Doing Time, Doing Vipassana [Documentary].
Moyers, B. (1993). Healing and the Mind – Healing from Within [Documentary].
Phillips, J., Kukura, A., and Stein, A. M. (2007). The Dhamma Brothers [Documentary].
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
Galante, J., Dufour, G., Vainre, M., Wagner, A. P., Stochl, J., Benton, A., Lathia, N., Howarth, E. & Jones, P. B. (2018). A mindfulness-based intervention to increase resilience to stress in university students (the Mindful Student Study): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Public Health, 3(2), e72-e81.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156.
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