While being a fulfilling and worthwhile experience, attending university can also be very stressful. Many find the step up from school hard due to more challenging subject material and increased expectations. Mixing this with the difficulties of living away from home for the first time, can unsurprisingly lead to a lot of stress. The Department of Psychiatry has launched a new study earlier this month, inviting students from the University of Cambridge to take part in course aimed at reducing stress-levels through the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a technique for dealing with stress and negative thoughts, which draws in some of concepts that have been practised within Buddhism for thousands of years. Mindfulness exercises are a way of training yourself to attend to the present moment through breathing, meditation and specific patterns of thought. Practising mindfulness can help people become more aware of their emotions, thoughts and feelings. The application of mindfulness in clinical settings has gained a lot of attention over the past decade, with reports from research suggesting that it can be effective in helping to reduce anxiety, depression and stress.
A new study looking at the effectiveness of mindfulness on helping individuals to manage and cope with stress is soon to be carried out with a large group of students from the University of Cambridge. The study, which is headed by Dr Julieta Galante and Professor Peter Jones from the Department of Psychiatry, will include around 500 students. The researchers hope to assess how effective mindfulness training is in helping students to manage their stress-levels during exam time and to also investigate whether this impacts on aspects of daily life such as sleep and physical well-being. This is done within the University Counselling Service, so the setting of the study is a real-life situation.
Students will be offered a chance to enrol on the mindfulness course for free to take part in a series of group-based training sessions carried out across an 8-week period. The study will be conducted as a randomised control trial, with volunteers taking part in the study being randomly assigned to one of two groups – a group that receives immediate training and a separate group that will have their training delayed for a year.
The mindfulness training that will be used in the study has been adapted from Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s course book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. The training will involve a 90-minute introductory session followed up by seven weekly 75-minute sessions. In addition to these training sessions, participants will be given material to read in their own time and asked to do mindfulness exercises at home throughout the course.
Stress-levels during exam periods will be recorded by all students taking part in the study via a specially designed smartphone app that also picks up on their levels of physical activity and tracks sleep patterns. This information will then be compared across the two groups to assess whether differences in stress-levels exist between the group that received training this year and the group that did not.
We spoke to Dr Julieta Galante who is co-running the study, to ask her about the aims of the study:
“It is usually the case that the effort required to take up healthy habits puts people off. But many people and students nowadays seem very keen to learn mindfulness. Rigorously evaluating its real-life effectiveness to manage stress is key to understand the potential of offering mindfulness training at a bigger scale.”
If you wish to find out more about the study, you can do so at the mindfulness website.
If you are struggling to cope with stress, please contact visit the University Counselling Service website.
Written by Owen Parsons.