Meditation reduces stress

Meditation can help overstressed students cope with the pressure of college life.

by Rania Abuisnaineh

Imagine stillness; complete silence. Imagine prolonged moments of “non-doing.”
Many of us probably can’t. In fact, the art of multitasking is perhaps the one skill all students share. With the hustle and bustle of college life, meditation or self-reflection becomes a luxury students cannot afford. And this comes with consequences.
A surge of research studies suggest that meditation — when done consistently — carries the potential to rewire our brains, taming them to be optimistic, compassionate, calm and stress-free in difficult times. Conversely, those who neglect their “inner-self” are at risk for more stress and anxiety than their meditating counterparts.
Professor Erik Storlie is an affiliate of the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality & Healing as well as supervisor of the Mindfulness for Students Club. His 48-year engagement with Zen meditation renders him an expert in mindfulness-based stress reduction. He told me that toward the end of his University meditation classes, his students will express noticeable changes in their stress levels. “They tell me that they usually go crazy during the end of the semester,” he said. “They can’t sleep, they experience anxiety and panic attacks.” Storlie’s students told him after months of meditation, they were experiencing high levels of placidity and calm, as well as increased self-awareness — feelings unfamiliar in their college lives.
While this revelation isn’t particularly groundbreaking, it bears repeating. There are more than 1,826 patients seeking treatment at the Boynton Mental Clinic, according to a recent Minnesota Daily article. University police also noted that last year they received 34 more crisis calls (resulting from mental health situations) than the year before. With midterms approaching (and soon, finals), this number is bound to grow. The need to provide students with stress-reducing services has never been more imperative.
Christine Ojala is a University faculty member who teaches yoga and meditation to students, nurses, doctors and health-care professionals. She said that on the first day of class each semester, she sees “a lot of depression amongst students, a lot of weight gain — people who seem energetically stuck.” The difference between those in her meditation classes and the average college student is that those in meditation classes are self-aware. Aware of their stress and anxiety, they seek meditation as a remedy.
Students who practice self-care from their first year of college can prevent chronic stress that catches up with many graduating students. But why aren’t more students enrolling?
There was a time when the word “meditation” conjured an image of spiritual devotion: dimmed rooms, burnt incense wafting through the air, a circle of fabric-draped monks “ohm”-ing softly. The sight was exotic to American culture, perhaps mystically alluring. But within the past decade, “meditation has become as American as Coca-Cola,” Ojala said.
What Ojala notes to be the cause — and I agree — is resistance. Students refuse to slow down. Juggling full-time credits, jobs, relationships, and social and family life, we are conditioned to equate meditation with slowing down, and slowing down with lack of achievement.
“Equanimity after meditation comes from learning to let go,” Ojala said, “to be the observer and see more … to not get sucked into the drama of student existence.”
Stress and anxiety are concerns all students share, but without any awareness or self-care, our lives may continue to suffer.

Rania Abuisnaineh welcomes comments at [email protected]