We all know the feeling – deadlines catching up with you, late nights revising for exams, and an endless juggling act between studies and social life. It can all get a bit overwhelming.
But did you know that meditation can actually improve your grades and help eliminate stress from your uni life?
If you think that sounds too good to be true, don’t just take it from us.
A recent study of students at George Mason University in California shows that meditation before classes might help university students to focus better and retain information.
The way the study was undertaken was by taking a random selection of students and comparing quiz results of those who meditated before the lecture with those who didn’t.
And indeed, the students who meditated before the lecture scored better on a quiz that followed than students who did not meditate. Using this method, it was even possible to predict which students would pass and which would fail the quiz!
The study, which was published in the journal Mindfulness, shows that mindfulness can improve mental clarity, focus and self-discipline, and meditation could be useful in a variety of settings.
So what is mindfulness?
It’s basically a form of active meditation which teaches you to slow down your thoughts, let go of negativity, and focus on your feelings and surrounding environment. The outcome is that you calm both your mind and body.
The researchers that carried out the experiment – Professor Robert Youmans and University of Illinois doctoral student Jared Ramsburg – suggested that other forms of active self-reflection like prayer, long walks, or quietly organising your day in the morning, could have some of the same positive effects as meditation.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways in which meditation can improve your grades.
Better concentration and focus
One of the best things about meditation if you’re studying at uni is that it can improve short-and long-term memory, which can only be a good thing for your exam grades!
Practising mindfulness helps to improve mental clarity and focus, so that when you’re taking in information you’re actually absorbing it, rather than zoning out and reading the same line a million times.
This level of concentration can be particularly helpful to people with shorter attention spans, or those who have ADHD and struggle to focus on longer tasks.
And, of course, if you’re more focused on your university work, the chances are that you’ll achieve higher grades.
Improved working memory
One of the cognitive benefits of meditation is an improvement in working memory.
Working memory, simply put, refers to the amount of information the brain can hold at any one moment in time. It’s a bit like RAM on a computer, which determines how many tabs we can have open at once without the computer crashing. (And no-one wants your working memory to crash!)
So how can meditation improve your grades and working memory?
Well, meditation, if practised consistently, can lead to a more developed prefrontal cortex, which handles processes like planning and problem-solving, which of course would have an impact on how your mind organises information. Meditation also leads to a higher density of grey matter in brain regions associated with learning and memory.
A study in Consciousness and Cognition revealed that participants who meditated for 20 minutes for four days experienced lower levels of stress and performed ten times better on a working memory task.
If you find that you can be quite impulsive when it comes to rushing answers on exam papers, then meditation can help you. It’s been found that meditation improves response inhibition and metacognition – how we think about our thoughts. That is, meditation helps us to plan, monitor and evaluate our learning, or our feelings.
Less stress, anxiety and depression
Another bonus related to regular meditation is that it can reduce your stress levels.
When stress isn’t managed properly, it can have a direct impact on how well you perform academically. Cognitive development and other brain functions such as short- and long-term memory can be impeded by stress, as the brain is already working at full capacity to combat the stress.
Meditation decreases cortisol levels, which help with stress management, and can help to beat exam anxiety!
Aside from the normal stress that comes with exam pressures and test days, some of the more on-going mental health problems like anxiety and depression can also be alleviated with the help of meditation.
Numerous studies have shown that meditation can substantially reduce anxiety. According to Harvard researchers, our minds wander around 47% of the time (that’s nearly half!), usually ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.
As anxiety is usually generated by worrying about the future, it makes sense that a practice which focuses on the present moment is the key to lowering anxiety.
Depression, which is often triggered by dwelling on the past, is also often alleviated by mindful zooming in on the present moment.
It’s even been suggested that meditation could bolster your resilience, making you better equipped to cope with stressful situations.
Of course, if you find that you’re experiencing severe symptoms of anxiety or depression, make sure you speak to the university counsellor or a trusted family member or friend who can point you in the right direction.
Improved self-esteem and wellbeing
One thing that’s not easy to control in today’s hyped up social media-influenced world, is a healthy sense of self-esteem. When you’re feeling bogged down by peer pressure, uni stress, or homesickness, it can be easy to scroll through your Insta feed and believe that everyone else is having a better time than you.
First of all, remember that that is just an illusion. Usually people only post about the positive aspects of their lives, leaving out the trickier bits that might be similar to stuff you’re going through. Remember, comparison is the thief of joy!
Secondly, it’s good to get a sense of perspective so that you don’t buy into the hype and start to think negatively about yourself. By meditating, you can start to refocus and get that perspective by concentrating on the present moment. You can also rid yourself of negative thoughts by focusing on positive emotions, which will help your overall wellbeing.
A healthy, happy mind is a much more productive mind – which means more academic success! (1)
Improved sleep quality
The key to crystal-clear focus and concentration is usually just a question of getting a good night’s sleep, but for so many uni students a restful sleep is something that eludes them.
The good news is that by incorporating meditation into your daily routine, you’ll probably find that you enter into a more profound and restful sleep pattern. Studies have discovered that meditation causes favourable brainwave activity during sleep.
If you can master your sleep pattern, you’ll see improvements in every aspect of your life – reduced stress, more energy, good general physical and mental health, and better academic results! (2)
Where to begin with meditation
So now that you know about how meditation can improve your grades, how do you get started?
Well, there are many different ways. You could join a meditation class and get started alongside other people, combining meditation with a social aspect.
Your student accommodation provider may even host mindfulness classes where you live. Here at our Novel student accommodation in Cork, for example, we have dedicated wellness spaces and wellbeing events, including mindfulness, meditation and yoga. It’s worth enquiring about such activities, and what’s more, they’re a great way to get to know people in your student residence building!
You could also use some of the guided meditation channels that are out there on YouTube. There are even apps to help you get started, one of the most popular being Headspace. Apps like this are great because they help you to track your progress and send you reminders so that you don’t forget to get in your daily mindfulness session.
There are loads of other ways to get started, such as books and audio recordings. The important thing is to make a start, and to stick with the habit. As with physical exercise, mental practice also requires a consistent routine in order to see results.
Practising meditation is like a muscle; it gets stronger with practice.
If you do decide to meditate by yourself, make sure you start by going to a quiet place with no distractions. As time goes on, you’ll be able to incorporate mindfulness practices into any setting or circumstance, but a quiet space will set the foundation for your practice.
With mindfulness, the most important thing is to allow thoughts to come and go; not to change them but to acknowledge them, while focusing on your breathing pattern.
So take your time and choose a way that works for you, and you’ll soon see how meditation can improve your grades at university!
Speaks from heart, always too passionate and driven by emotions. Spins the words with kindness & sharpness, intriguing your ever-inscrutable minds.