Taking Breaks in School
Research demonstrates that student well-being (SWB) is an important dimension of education – higher levels of SWB is correlated with better life outcomes even after school (Bryzcki & Bryzcki, 2019). Particularly during this period when COVID-19 has led to increased stress for university students (Teo, 2020), SWB becomes even more salient. To that end, our team focused on studying mindfully, which includes doing mindful revision and breaks – core aspects of student life.
As Kabat-Zinn (2013, pp. xxvii) explains, to cultivate mindfulness is to pay attention “on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Importantly, mindful breaks and revision have been found to increase self-control and lower stress for students (Tatter, 2019). Accordingly, incorporating mindfulness into a student’s breaks and revision could improve SWB. Here, we will offer several feasible exercises for SOSS students to consider.
Overview of Mindfulness
Mindfulness has been found to have a positive effect on the perceived stress levels of university students (Bamber and Schiender, 2015; Edwards et al, 2018). This positively impacts their grades (Hall, 1999); higher grades may be attributed to improved ability in reading, concentration and creative thinking (Tarassch et al, 2016; Ding et al, 2014). Such improvements are crucial to undergraduates’ academic success since pre-class readings and group projects are important components of the pedagogy adopted in SOSS.
When mindfulness is done at the beginning of a study session, students are able to focus and learn better during the session (Jian and Li, 2018). This is useful when dealing with content heavy modules; students can revise and retain the materials better, leading to a more effective study session (Quach et al, 2015) Such practices when done consistently enhances the benefits from mindfulness practices (Bakosh, 2015).
Taking Mindful Breaks
Every semester is a hectic rush of deadlines. Amid this rush, it is beneficial to take mindful breaks to reset and centre our focus. You might face constant stressors, which will impact your ability to focus on your work or experience mental fatigue. To have more effective studying sessions, take a mindful break by trying the following activities:
During a study session, if you start to feel fatigued or distracted, take three minutes to practice mindfulness meditation. Even a short break has been proven to re-engage your focus (Kühnel et al, 2017). Listen to this guided meditation exercise that lasts for three minutes, conducted by Marta Patterson, certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Instructor at UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness.
If you prefer to practice mindfulness without audio assistance, set a timer for three minutes. Then, bring attention to your body and how it feels. Close your eyes if it helps to deepen your concentration. Notice the weight of your body and the intensity of your breath and bring your awareness to all the limbs of your body, one limb at a time. If your mind wanders away, bring the attention back to your breath. Keep doing this until the timer goes off. Take one last breath, open your eyes and begin your studying once more.
If you are severely pressed for time, this is the perfect meditation practice for you. When walking from one class to another, or the journey to or from school, try walking meditation. Try to find a route that is relatively empty of distractions to maximise the effectiveness of this practice.
When you find the perfect route, practice this form of meditation for 5 minutes a day. When walking, focus on your body and your breath. Notice how each foot lifts off the ground and how it lands back down. Observe the swing of each foot in every step you take and how your weight shifts.
This process will seem very slow and awkward at first, but with enough practice, you will find that your actions become more deliberate and natural. Through this meditation, we will be able to slow down our pace and take a breather from rushing around campus.
If you have longer breaks, consider going to Fort Canning Park to engage in open awareness. Take the time to engage in walking meditation, look at the surroundings, and appreciate the greenery. Alternatively, if you have less time, you can head over to the KGC library’s rooftop, which oversees the park. Here, you can engage in open awareness as well without having to commit to heading down to Fort Canning.
If you prefer to go somewhere nearer, head to the campus green. Do bring a friend along if you feel uncomfortable doing so alone. Set a timer for 10 minutes and devote your full attention to the view in front of you for the entire duration. Focus on what is in front of you - pay attention to the shade of greenery, feel the occasional wind blowing on your face, observe what the people around you are doing.
We advise students to engage in open awareness activities that include greenery specifically because the colour green has been scientifically proven to reduce strain on our eyes and calm us down. This will be restful for the eyes, which would have been strained by the numerous hours of looking at the computer screen during classes.
Practicing Mindful Revision
Feeling exhausted or distracted during the revision period before finals is common as many of us try to rush through as much revision as possible. To revise effectively for examinations, we recommend practising mindful revision. One should first understand their surroundings and then break down revision sessions into intervals.
Once you have chosen a place to study, take a quick one minute to practice mindful meditation. You can choose to listen to this guided meditation exercise conducted by Marta Patterson, a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Instructor at UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, to help you reset and be aware of your breath. This practice should help bring attention to your breath and orient yourself to the environment, cultivating attention before starting your revision.
To begin, set a timer for 30 minutes to solely focus on revision. Try to give your full attention to the content that you plan to revise. The timer should help keep track of when you lose concentration, as if you find yourself distracted before the timer goes off, you would know that you have lost focus. If you have the urge or find yourself being distracted or stressed before the timer goes off, take a few deep breaths to help you return to the present moment of revision. Do remember that distractions are inevitable. Acknowledging them non-judgmentally is paramount so that you will not be frustrated when you catch yourself being distracted.
Subsequently, set a 5-minute timer to allocate time for a short break between revision sessions. You can choose to practice the 3-minute meditation as mentioned above if you feel fatigued or any activity of your choice.
Understandably, a competitive environment like university brings much stress. Mindfulness can help students to slow down, decrease stress levels, and study more effectively. Further, these exercises can be tailored to your schedule - exercises can be one minute or one hour, depending on your needs. Ultimately, it depends on yourself, and what works best for you.
By Cheryl Chew Ming Qi, Ashley Ang, Melanie Foo Yan Ni, Stephanie Wei-ling Adelman, and Chong Haoyang
Bryzyki, E. J. & Bryzyki, H. G. (2019). Student Wellbeing is More Important Than You Think. eCampus News. https://www.ecampusnews.com/2019/01/14/student-wellbeing-is-more-important-than-you-think/
Jana Kühnel, Hannes Zacher, Jessica de Bloom & Ronald Bledow (2017). Take A Break! Benefits Of Sleep And Short Breaks For Daily Work Engagement. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 26:4, 481-491, DOI: 10.1080/1359432X.2016.1269750
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (Revised and updated edition.). Bantam Books.
Patterson, M. (2020). 3-Min Mindful Moment by Marta Patterson. UCSD Centre for Mindfulness. https://soundcloud.com/ucsdmindfulness/3-min-mindful-moment-by-marta-patterson
Patterson, M. (2020). 1- Min mindful moment by Marta Patterson. UCSD Centre for Mindfulness. https://soundcloud.com/ucsdmindfulness/1-min-mindful-moment-by-marta-patterson
Tatter, G. (2019). Making Time for Mindfulness. Harvard Graduate School of Education. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/19/01/making-time-mindfulness#:~:text=A%20new%20study%20suggests%20that,academically%20and%20avoid%20behavior%20problems.
Teo, J. (2020). Some Driven to Breaking Point by Stress During Covid-19 Pandemic. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/driven-to-breaking-point-by-stress-during-pandemic