As our semester hurdles toward the dreaded week of final exams, I’ve noticed that a number of my friends have struggled with overwhelming stress, test anxiety and jittery nerves.
We all have our hands full with class projects and exams, and the damage that these can inflict on our bodies is surprising. A number of health issues arise from intense stress and anxiety, as these bodily defenses ultimately hinder our immune systems.
Limited amounts of stress can benefit a person, making him or her more aware, more focused, more productive. In small doses, stress can be a positive reaction our body has to outside stimuli, but as this stress increases with added responsibilities and requirements, it can also cause significant harm to our mental and physical health.
People have their own ways of dealing with that stress, including ignoring it altogether. In the past, I haven’t dealt with stress well. In fact, I’ve had to acknowledge that my stress has grown to unmanageable, unhealthy levels. I tried running. I tried socializing more. I tried taking stress-relieving vitamins. None of these options worked for me, though they may work for others. I got to a point where I was truly desperate to find any method I could to help decrease my stress, which is about the time I took Environmental Psychology with Dr. Kurt Hoffman.
As an assigned project, Hoffman instructed his students through a method of walking meditation. Most, if not all, of the students were unfamiliar with meditation, and I’d guess that most were daunted by the requirement.
We had to spend 3 hours over the course of the semester walking through nature while meditating. Hoffman specified that this meditation needed to elapse in 30 to 45 minute sessions — because we were inexperienced in meditation — and occur in nature, removed from all forms of technology, including cell phones and iPods.
I can’t answer for other students, but I was excited about the project from the beginning. I have always enjoyed hiking, so the opportunity to feel academically accomplished while taking a hike through the Pandapas Pond paths seemed exhilarating to me.
I had little background knowledge of meditation and even less experience with it. Having taken yoga classes previously, I knew a few techniques that people use during meditation, but Hoffman instructed us further: Quiet your mind, focus on your breathing, count to an arbitrary number if thoughts enter your mind and mentally repeat “breathing” if counting doesn’t work.
Over the semester, I visited Pandapas Pond four times, partaking in walking meditation for 45 minutes each visit, and even those few times opened my eyes to the benefits of meditation. During and after the meditation exercise, I felt calm, relaxed, detached from stress and more easily focused.
I felt physically and mentally refreshed by nature and the meditation exercise, so I continued even after the semester’s end. I joined a meditation group that meets every other Monday for an hour. I researched meditation techniques — downloading a number of free, guided meditations online — and meditation benefits, noting the effects these exercises had on my mind and body.
I’m not stress-free by any means; I’m not sure any student could accomplish that feat, but my stress has decreased to a manageable if not insignificant level.
And stress reduction is not the only benefit to people who practice meditation. As I mentioned before, those who meditate experience a number of mental improvements as well as physical benefits. Hoffman’s class exposed the increase in self-awareness that develops meditating, an effect that can help people who suffer from eating disorders.
The list of positive effects meditating has on a person continues on, far past my introductory knowledge, but I highly advise playing with meditation. Quieting your mind and focusing on your self-awareness for 30-45 minutes a couple times a week could be exactly what you need as the week of finals approaches.
Whether you meditate by yourself or join a meditation group, I guarantee you will experience the vast benefits.