Stress can be a major problem with devastating effects on university students, who are under great pressure for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, in recent decades a powerful tool has emerged to combat it: Mindfulness .

In this article we will see the example of the best universities in the world when using Mindfulness based programs to reduce stress in students .

What are the “academic stressors” that college students face?

Academic” stressors can be classified into two groups, which are as follows.

Internal stressors

Self-imposed pressure , that is, the height at which each student sets the “bar” of efficiency as well as his or her expectations of achievement.

External stressors

Situations in the environment that generate tension and demand, such as for example, exams, oral presentations, group practices , difficulties in assimilating the contents of the syllabus, time management, lack of socialization with other classmates, making work compatible with studies in order to pay for them…

What are the warning signs of stress?

Some of the symptoms are reflected in the body, have physical effects:

  • Drowsiness , due to lack of sleep.
  • Insomnia or sleeping difficulties.
  • Tiredness, fatigue .
  • Headaches.
  • Stomachaches and/or irritable colon
  • Bruxism (tension in the jaws)
  • Backaches.
  • Muscle contractures.
  • Tachycardia or palpitations.
  • Increase or decrease in appetite .
  • Frequent colds, due to a lowering of the defenses.

Other symptoms have an impact on mood and on cognitive and emotional aspects:

  • Constant worry.
  • Sadness, discouragement.
  • Low motivation.
  • Lack of concentration or difficulty in concentrating
  • Difficulties in thinking (getting blank or blocked)
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Frequent memory problems, forgetfulness or forgetfulness.
  • Irritability .
  • Fear of not meeting objectives or expectations.
  • Anxiety and/or frequent crying

There is also a third type of symptom that affects behavior:

  • Irascibility, tendency to argue with others.
  • Isolation, need to be alone .
  • Use of drugs to stay awake or to sleep
  • Increased consumption of coffee and/or tobacco .
  • Skipping class.
  • Prioritize other activities over the study.
  • Stop doing regular leisure or sports activities, due to reluctance, lack of energy or lack of motivation.

How does Mindfulness help to better manage student stress?

In recent years, Mindfulness has become a proven tool in many scientific studies to reduce stress levels and increase resilience, which helps to improve the well-being of students.

Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention to what is happening, as it is happening , as an impartial observer, without adding value judgments that alter our perception of reality, without avoiding the feelings, emotions or thoughts that may arise, even if they are unpleasant, all this added to a kind attitude towards ourselves and towards others. This special way of facing life has countless advantages, which could be summarized in four areas:

  • Performance in studies : more capacity of attention, concentration and memory
  • Psychological well-being : reduction of stress and more resilience
  • Physical well-being : greater awareness of the body and less suffering from pain.
  • Better interpersonal relations , promoting empathy and a compassionate attitude.

It is precisely by increasing the levels of attention to the mind and body – a skill that is trained through the practice of Mindfulness – that students can become aware of their general state, preventing or regulating their stress with self-care measures, preventing their academic performance and physical and psychological well-being from being seriously impaired.

The practice of Mindfulness is neither difficult nor complex : it consists of a series of exercises of attention, concentration, relaxation and meditation, it being sufficient to dedicate a few minutes a day to create the habit, so that its effects are more powerful and stable over time.

It is very important that Mindfulness training is done with a properly accredited instructor, with extensive experience and personally committed to the practice. It should be borne in mind that Mindfulness requires practical and experiential learning , based on the experience of each person with the accompaniment of a qualified instructor.

The best universities in the world bet on Mindfulness

In recent years, the world’s most prestigious universities have implemented Mindfulness programs to improve student performance, reduce anxiety and increase resilience.

The best universities in the world (Harvard, Yale, New York, Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia in the United States; Cambridge, Oxford, London School of Economics in the United Kingdom and Melbourne in Australia, among others) have incorporated a variety of Mindfulness programs and workshops into their student welfare programs throughout the year. To give concrete examples, let’s see what some of them propose:

Harvard University

Harvard University offers meditation sessions every day of the week in specially equipped rooms, its own 4-week program and the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program , in two annual editions, in addition to other audiovisual resources and a specialized blog. The Harvard Law School Mindfulness Society provides resources and organizes meditation groups.

Stanford University

Stanford University, programs a specific course for freshmen of 6 weeks, in two editions during the course. Second and third year students also have Mindfulness workshops that provide them with credits in their curricular path. In addition, there are also weekly meditation sessions.

Cambridge University

The University of Cambridge also has a very varied and daily offer for Mindfulness practice, providing 8-week stress reduction courses (MBSR) and a series of quarterly workshops focused, respectively, on enhancing attention and concentration, managing exam anxiety, relaxation and rest, and conscious decision making to better manage time and meet deadlines.

Oxford University

The University of Oxford offered its first full attention course in 2011-12 and since then, hundreds of students have participated in the MBSR programs, with very positive results .

Benefits in evidence

Evaluation of all Mindfulness programs provided in these university settings clearly indicates that they increase students’ resilience, self-awareness, and attention and concentration, helping them to improve their learning experience and manage their work more effectively.

A University of Cambridge study involving over 600 students concluded that the introduction of eight-week mindfulness courses at UK universities could help prevent mental illness and increase student well-being at a time of growing concern about mental health in the higher education sector. University mental health services have seen a huge increase in demand. The number of students accessing this service increased by 50% between 2010 and 2015.

According to the study published in The Lancet Public Health in December 2017, the prevalence of mental illness among first-year students is lower than among the general population. These levels increase when young people are in their second year of college.

In view of this, consideration should be given to introducing welfare schemes for students so that their academic training is accompanied by solid personal preparation through personal development resources such as Mindfulness.

Author: Ferran Garcia de Palau Garcia-Faria

Responsible for the Mindfulness and Personal Growth Area of PSICOTOOLS.
Accredited Instructor of the MBSR Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massaschussetts.
Certified Trainer of mindfulness for children and adolescents of the Eline Snel method (Academy for Mindful Teaching – AMT).
Member of the Professional Association of Mindfulness Instructors – MBSR
Member of the Spanish Association of Mindfulness and Compassion (AEMIND).
Member of the Welfare Committee of the Mental Health Institute of the Lawyer.

Bibliographic references:

  • Polo A, Hernandez J M, Poza C Evaluation of academic stress in university students. Anxiety and Stress Magazine. 1996; 2 (2-3): 159-172.
  • Reig A, Cabrero J, Ferrer R I, Richard, M. The quality of life and health status of university students Alicante. Miguel de Cervantes Virtual Library; 2001. Available at:
  • Galante J, Dufour G, Vainre M, Wagner A, Stochl, J, Benton, A, et al. A mindfulness-based intervention to increase resilience to stress in university students (the Mindful Student Study): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Public Health, articles | VOLUME 3, ISSUE 2, PE72-E81, 01 February, 2018.