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Stressed-out students should turn to mindfulness

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Intense stress is almost an obligatory portion of the college experience. When embarking on a four-year journey on a university campus, students accept the fact that they are going to be stressed out from time to time, that they are going to have to balance busy academic and social lives and maybe even endure the occasional library-bound all-nighter.

Stress can be good for us, in the same way that chocolate or coffee can be good for us -- in moderation. Occasional bouts of stress might motivate us to get our work done and discourage us from further procrastination.

But when we see that students are skipping classes in order to get work done for another course, or that they're making their way Uptown on the weekends to drink themselves into oblivion, or that the rates of anxiety, depression and suicide for college students are rising significantly, maybe it's time to admit that these stress levels are no longer moderate.

Obviously one solution would be for students to take on a lesser workload, to quit one of their extracurriculars or drop a course or two. But I don't want to fault students for striving to do their best and get the most out of their college experience.

In an ideal world, every student would have access to mental health services, but Miami currently does not have the resources to accommodate the needs of the entire student body.

So I propose an alternate method for handling the stresses of college life: meditation.

Now before you turn the page to avoid the inane babbling of some hippie nutjob, keep in mind that meditation is not some insane spiritual technique that takes years to master. You don't have to be a silent Buddhist monk to practice it, nor do you have to sit cross-legged on a bamboo mat and annoy your roommates by chanting "OHMMM." Anyone can do it, even (nay, especially) busy, stressed out college students.

The basic practice of mindfulness meditation involves finding a quiet area, sitting comfortably with your eyes closed and focusing on your breathing. This will help you to focus your attention solely on the present, staving off anxieties about the past and the future.

Put into the context of a college workload, this can work wonders for a stressed out student. When you've got three papers due the next day, the best thing to do is focus on one at a time. If you can train your mind to do this without worrying about the other two at the same time, you can avoid stressing over your entire workload.

But there are other benefits to practicing mindfulness. If you learn how to truly live in the present, you become more appreciative of the world around you. You learn to notice every sight, sound and smell with deeper clarity. Constant stress can cast a shadow over your daily experience; mindfulness can make your world bright again.

Miami students can visit the Mindfulness and Contemplative Inquiry Center in McGuffey Hall every Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. - 11 a.m. for a Mindfulness Meditation session. And in our tech-filled world, meditation is more accessible than ever. Apps such as "The Mindfulness App" and "Headspace" allow you to simply grab your phone, pop in some headphones and clear your mind.

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I don't claim to be an expert or an authority when it comes to meditation. I haven't attained spiritual bliss or experienced nirvana. I first tried meditation only three months ago. But even in that short amount of time, I've seen results. My workload hasn't decreased at all, but it's certainly become more manageable.

Obviously, adding another activity to your daily schedule may seem like a counterintuitive solution to decreasing stress. But meditation takes only ten minutes a day and the head space it creates will ultimately help you complete your work faster; it's worth the investment.

As stated by a Zen proverb, "You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day -- unless you're too busy. Then you should sit for an hour."