Opinion: As student stress soars, colleges ought to teach meditation skills

A college professor says stressed-out students need to learn to practice meditation, something they can do for a few minutes a day. (Inara Prusakova/Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A college professor says stressed-out students need to learn to practice meditation, something they can do for a few minutes a day. (Inara Prusakova/Dreamstime/TNS)

In a guest column, a university professor urges higher education to address mounting stress on college campuses by offering students instruction in the proven calming effect of meditation. Research is increasingly showing multiple health benefits from meditation.

Steve Haberlin is a University of Central Florida assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the Department of Learning Sciences and Educational Research. He is author of “Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus, and Connect.” He has studied gifted education and now teaches doctoral students research design, adult learning theories and soon a new course called Meditation in Higher Education. His research focuses on the use of mindfulness and meditation in educational settings.

By Steve Haberlin

College has traditionally been a stressful time for students, as they leave home, cultivate new relationships, and face financial and academic pressures. However, studies suggest that students are reporting historically high levels of stress, anxiety and depression, unparalleled rates compared with previous generations. A number of factors for the even higher levels of stress are at play, including even more academic pressure and competition and increased awareness of mental health.

In recent weeks, college campuses, including those in Georgia, have become even tenser over the Israel-Hamas war, beefing up police presence and keeping a close eye on demonstrations.

Helping young people navigate an increasingly stressful society is the responsibility of education systems, including academia. What good is a degree or a well-paying job if an individual cannot manage the constant pressures and demands of living?

Steve Haberlin is a University of Central Florida assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the Department of Learning Sciences and Educational Research. He is also author of "Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus, and Connect." (Courtesy photo)

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Credit: Courtesy photo

For higher education students, besides causing physical and mental health challenges, excessive stress can result in lower grade-point averages, difficulty remembering content, and struggles with studying and getting assignments done. I’ve personally seen the impact of stress on students when I taught in the education department at Wesleyan College in Macon.

One method, which I have used in my teaching, and has been empirically shown in college-based interventions to reduce stress and anxiety and provide many other benefits, is the practice of meditation. Meditation can be considered mental training, where one cultivates deeper brain waves and becomes more familiar with one’s thoughts and emotions, including stress triggers. In recent years, there has been an increase in the resources available to learn meditation, including online guided videos and apps.

Nevertheless, even the idea of meditating can be stressful, as college students have been found to be resistant to practice. Common mental barriers include thinking meditation is too difficult, too boring, or takes too much time. Thus, higher education faculty and staff must work to show students the empirical research but also present meditation in a way that is user-friendly.

For example, we can help students understand that sitting, even for 10-15 minutes a day, has been shown to reduce stress, and is not a waste but rather an investment of time. We can also help students overcome the notion that meditation is too difficult or strange by providing campus workshops and group meditations, where experienced instructors can guide them through the process. Finally, students can learn that meditation doesn’t have to be boring and outdated. Rather, innovations around meditation include using technology-assisted devices such as brain-sensing headsets that provide real-time feedback.

If education is about preparing individuals to be productive and compassionate and live fulfilling lives, then we need to consider practices that help students handle the pressure of managing greater levels of stress as they graduate and take on more responsibilities, such as building a career, getting married, having children, or buying a home. We must expand our idea of what constitutes a “complete” education.

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