Wake up, go to school, go to school and get assignments, worry about assignments, do assignments, and stress out. Stressing out in this day and era comes as second nature as breathing does. Everything around us causes stress which in turn stress can lead to many diseases and ultimately leads to a life not enjoyed to the fullest. There is one natural thing that can be done to alleviate the stress of our everyday lives, meditation.
Stress amongst college students is the worst. In a study given by Ruzhenkova et al. they highlight how badly stress can impact and individual student’s life. They claim that stress can lead to suicidal thoughts and even suicidal attempts. They conducted a study following medical students and stress and found that those between 45%-83% of students showing signs of stress had in fact suicidal thoughts. Students should be attending school because they have a desire to further their knowledge and understanding of the world and the cost of doing so should not be stress, it should not harm their health.
Is it inevitable to live a life with stress? Yes, and no, there is an incredibly small chance of finding someone who is not phased by stress but there are steps and precautions we can take to try and keep our levels of stress down. There is a myriad of prescribed medication that you can ask a doctor for to help keep your stress down, such as Xanax or Prozac, the down side to those is that there are costly. Costly not because of the monetary value but because they are highly addictive and in my cases people who are users of those pills end up over dosing and dying. Fortunately, there is a different approach to reduce levels of stress that is both natural and cost effective. Meditation has been researched and exposed as being a natural was to help cope with high levels of stress.
Before we delve in to explaining how mindful meditation helps achieve Zen we must first define what mindful meditation is and how it is practiced. Baer, Smith and Allen (2004) have a swell definition to mindful meditation, they explain that mindful meditation is the practice of focusing one’s attention in a nonjudgmental or accepting way on the experience occurring in the present moment.
This means that mindful meditation aims to help individuals focus on their inner being and inner soul to try and see their current situation as not a stressor or debilitating factor but rather look at their situation in a way that allows them to remain calm and focused and think of manners in which to resolve it without jumping to conclusions or creating stress.
Lutz, Slagter, Dunne, and Davidson (2008) also seek to provide a definition to mindful meditation. They rely on a more scientific approach and definition. They explain how the practice of meditation is basically the practice of Focused Attention (FA).
Focused Attention occurs when the individual practicing meditations chooses one specific item/thing that they focus their entire attention to. What usually ends up being this item that people tend to focus on is ones breathing. This is helpful because at the beginning of the meditation session, the individual will usually focus on their breathing going into their body and out of their body. The point of meditation is to let go of your stressful thoughts and overthinking so when the individual meditating realizes that they are starting to loose focus and think of other things they can get back on track by re-focusing their attention to breathing.
Mindful Meditation is recommended to be practiced in the early morning or whenever and individual first wakes up. It is recommended that they be in a place where the individual is alone and there are no distractions around. They should sit/lie down and close their eyes and focus on their breaths. Focus on when air enters their body and focus on the air when they exhale (Maiti, 2017). There are even guided meditation videos that can be found on the internet when someone will soothingly walk the individual listening through the steps that are needed in order to free their mind on harmful and negative thoughts that may enter. The overall goal of mindful meditation is simply to put he mind, soul, and body at ease and aid in relaxing the individual in their day to day lives and tasks.
There have been numerous studies conducted throughout modern times about the effects of mindful meditation on the mind. One the stands out particularly is a study conducted by Moore and Malinowski (2009), they examined subjects who were told to mindfully mediate for a while and then would record the effects that the meditation had on their brains. They found out that those who did in fact practice mindful meditation showed greater levels of attention and cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is the power we have to switch the way we think and process information. If someone has high cognitive flexibility then they have the power to change their thinking from a pessimist, negative view point to a more optimistic, positive outlook. This means that if they are able to change their cognitive thinking into a more positive forefront then they are able to process situations that occur to them in a lighter more effective way. Instead of stressing and becoming overwhelmed with their current situation they have made their cognitive flexibility switch that to allow them to remain calm and focused at the task at hand. This, having a calmer and ethereal way of processing our current situations is what mindful meditation seeks to aid in.
Park and Folkman (1997) came up with a model that helps to explain an individual’s outlook and intake on life and their experiences. They call this the Meaning Appraisal Model. They claim that individuals have an internalized global framework which is a way of saying that it is how an individual takes life, whether they take it with a grain of salt or life weighs down on them heavily. Park and Folkman express that an individual sets these guidelines through their beliefs, ingrained patterns of seeing the world, and their values. This framework dictates how their life pans out. For example, if an individual grows up thinking that black people are beneath them and are worthless and then later grow up and fall in love with someone who is black they might have negative experiences of themselves. They might loathe themselves because they have grown up believing that loving someone who is black is wrong yet here they are in love with someone of a darker skin tone, they will be conflicted and hurt.
Therefore, cognitive flexibility can provide guidance to an individual that seeks to change their outlook, their global framework. Overtime it has been proven that it is not easy to change the mind of an individual but nevertheless, studies have shown (Moore and Malinowski, 2009) that mindful meditation can in fact make the cognitive flexibility process of an individual that much easier than if they did not practice meditation. Suppose that the individual (mentioned above) who loathed people of darker skin was able to change their global framework (Park and Folkman, 1997) through cognitive flexibility from detesting black people to realizing that black people are no different than any other race. That individual would successfully lead a life where they realized that loving someone of a different skin color is more than okay, they would ultimately lead a better life. They would be in love and when someone is in love, life is so much more worth living. There is someone they look forward to seeing everyday and they have someone who they have to live for, thus reducing thoughts of suicide.
Having done extensive research on mindful meditation, I took the initiative to conduct my own small scale study. I decided to practice mindful meditation everyday for two weeks. I am a high strung person who is not in touch with her emotions and finds hard to not take situations that occur to me to heart. I am fairly young and therefore, have different things to navigate, from financial situations, friendships, school and even romantic relationships. It is incredibly easy to get stressed from any and all of the above mentioned situations. After, the first four days of mindful meditation I did not see a huge improvement on my global (Park and Folkman, 1997), however, after the first week I did notice myself getting much more calm about situations thrown to me, especially those situations regarding school. I am not so sure that my cognitive flexibility has changed drastically since it had only been two weeks but I did notice a different in the way I dealt with school assignments.
In addition, I conducted another smaller scale study on my peers at the University of California, Merced. I set up a survey that asked five questions, I asked if they mindfully meditated on a regular basis, how stressed they were at the moment, how satisfied they were with their life, if they believed they have a more pessimist or optimistic view of their life, and if they often felt overwhelmed by the pressures presented by life (the survey was distributed through UC Merced Classifieds page on Facebook and UC Merced Students and Alumni page also on Facebook). I received sixty-three responses. Of those sixty-three responses I only received nine that mindfully meditated which means that only 14% of those respondents mindfully meditated on a regular basis.
Those nine that practiced mindful meditation different than those that did not because overall they scored lower on how stressed out they were in comparison to those that do not mindfully meditate. The mindful meditators said they were more satisfied with life than those who did not meditate. Those that did not meditate believed that they had a slightly more pessimistic view of life than those that do mindfully mediate. The biggest disparity came in how overwhelmed they felt by the pressures of life. Those that practice mindful meditation said that overall they feel less overwhelmed with life’s situations while those that do not meditate recorded feeling more overwhelmed with life’s situations.
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