Ko, Kua, and Fones (1999) found that approximately 50% of students in university were stressed, 80% had trouble with academic works and readings, 66.5% experienced difficulties with lessons and 61.6% reported having little time for personal activities. Around 16% of Singaporeans experienced depression and anxiety-related disorders, but only a mere 48% of them sought treatment (O’Brien et al., 2012).
There is a growing need for students to find ways to practise habits that improve their mental health but more importantly, one that fits in with their tight time schedule. A transport report shows that at least 68% of students in Singapore commute to school via some mode of transportation (MRT/Bus/Car) (Singstat, n.d.), making commuting mindfulness a potential practise for mental wellness that can be quickly adopted by students.
Why do we need to practice mindfulness on our way to school?
Mindful individuals fare better in academics and socialising with others, with reduced tendencies of feeling agitation, pressure and burnout (Meiklejohn et al, 2012). As we spend most of our time at school, it is essential to take care of our physical and emotional well-being in order to remain focused, productive and adaptable in such a highly-stressful environment. By incorporating mindfulness on our journey to school, we can be better prepared mentally by diverting our attention to the day’s task. Mindfulness helps us be present, re-energise, lower stress and enhance productivity and communication with our friends at school.
Let us say you have a reading quiz scheduled and you were not able to finish learning the required content. You are feeling worried and anxious because we all know how long social sciences readings can be. You try to speed read but nothing registers due to the anxiety. Here is what you can do. Before entering your school compound, take a few moments to practise mindful breathing, focusing the attention on your breath with every in-breath and out-breath. This practice helps with giving us a greater sense of control and allows us to remain calm and prepared for the day.
[Joey] In the beginning, it was challenging for me and can sometimes be overwhelming, especially since I am someone who likes to plan out my day. It becomes even more stressful when I oversleep and have to rush from one place to another, worrying about whether I will be late or if I will have the time to complete whatever I have planned for the day. When I was trying to practice mindfulness on the train to school, I realised that I was constantly thinking about everything except my breath. It gets even more inundating when the environment is noisy because it adds to my level of stress and I can no longer focus on my breath. However, after regular practices and acknowledging that my mind can and does wander, which is perfectly fine, I try to bring myself back to focus on my breath each time my mind drifts. After some time, it becomes easier for me to focus solely on meditating and my breath.
Why do we need to practice mindfulness on our way back home?
Although we might prepare ourselves for school, things still may not go according to plan; surprise tests, misunderstandings, bad presentations and so on. Processing and leaving these bad experiences behind can start when we are commuting, and not only when we get home. This is important so that we can prepare ourselves to be more present when we are home and around our family members who deserve our attention as much as we ourselves deserve peace. Stressful life events and internalising depressive and anxiety symptoms are especially relevant to college-going students, given the constant shifts in relationships, responsibilities and unstructured time during this period (Arnett, 2007). Mindfulness helps us deal with such changes by allowing us to remain in the present moment (i.e. we embrace change around us and leave painful moments to memory) as mentioned before.
If school has been stressful for you after you had a bad presentation that day, you probably feel uneasy and anxious about the presentation grades. As you are exiting the school compound and headed home, you can start practising walking meditation to keep yourself grounded in the present and leave behind the worries you have with every small and purposeful step you take.
After entering your commuting vehicle, make yourself comfortable by finding a seat or standing by a backrest. Be aware of your body — your body posture, fidgeting hands, etc. Look at your surroundings, such as the posters and listen to the sounds, such as the doors opening and closing or the announcements. Once you feel calm, you may choose to listen to some music or read a book for the rest of the journey but your primary focus should still be on your commuting journey (observing sights and sounds).
Affectionate breathing exercises can also be done in the commuting vehicle. If the bad presentation still bothers you, with each breath, recognise your worries. Physically or mentally pat yourself and silently tell yourself that you will be fine and it is alright to feel disappointed. Then, let the emotion go with a nod and a smile, acknowledging that it is all a learning experience that is crucial for growth.
[Yi Ping] I had trouble practising mindfulness on my commuting journey as it was during the peak hour. On 2 occasions, there was a person who spoke loudly on the phone. On the first occasion, I got nervous as I focused on the sound and noise of the person on the phone. Hence, on the second occasion, I plugged in my earpiece and played some calming music. I continued to be aware of my body — adjusted my posture, did slight stretches in the areas where I had aches or felt stiffness — and observed my surroundings. My mind felt refreshed by the end of the commuting journey as I put aside the worries I had in school and prepared myself for what I would be doing when I get home.
How should we feel or what can we take away from it?
The aim of the aforementioned mindfulness practices are not only to reduce stress, but to get closer to acknowledging our natural responses to external triggers, and then acting in a manner that does not hurt ourselves (or anyone else). It is not about what we should feel, since that requires a level of premeditation that in itself can be very exhausting. It is about acknowledging and fully experiencing whatever we naturally feel. For example, if you are sad, be aware that you are sad but do not force yourself to become happy. The idea is for us to feel whatever we feel, fully, so that we do not extend these emotions to other settings (i.e. home or school). Travelling therefore gives us the time that we otherwise may not have, and works as a medium, not just of a physical movement but also a mental one, from one place to another.
By Amanda Goh Yun Sze, Kueh Jinyan Justin, Lim Yin Yi, Mallareddy Dharia, Ong Yi Ping, and Toh Jie Yu Joey
Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen. 2006. “Suffering, Selfish, Slackers? Myths and Reality About Emerging Adults.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 36(1):23–29.
Ko, S. M., Kua, E. H., & Fones, C. S. (1999). Stress and the undergraduates. Singapore medical journal, 40(10), 627–630.
Meiklejohn, J., et al. (2012). “Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education: Fostering the Resilience of Teachers and Students.” Mindfulness 3(4): 291-307
O’Brien, A. P., Cho, M. A. A., Lew, A.-M., Creedy, D., Man, R. H. C., Chan, M. F., & Arthur, D. G. (2012). The Need for Mental Health Promotion and Early Intervention Services for Higher Education Students in Singapore. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14623730.2008.9721768
Singstat. n.d. “Transport.” Retrieved April 15, 2021 from https://www.singstat.gov.sg/-/media/files/publications/ghs/general_household_survey_release2/chap1.pdf.