The mental health of college students can be negatively affected by the stress of exams, papers and dynamic socio-environmental factors, such as living away from home for the first time and making new friends. Meditation can provide students with a tool to achieve optimal mental health and self-care.
Self-harm and suicidal ideation — both of which are steadily increasing among college students, according to a 2017 report by Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health — often stem from mental health issues. Maintaining mental health is just as important as maintaining physical health. Just as good nutrition and exercise can prevent stroke and heart attack, certain healthy practices can prevent problems with mental health.
As college students search for ways to maintain their mental health, they should consider meditation as a sustainable method.
In Judaism, meditation arose to help people reach tikkun olam, a Hebrew term translated as “order in the world.” The term describes a type of inner peace achieved through meditation amid personal stressors or communal crisis.
Meditation is also important to many other religions. In Buddhism, meditation is a way to reach enlightenment, or nirvana, through a communion with nature and cosmic order. Hinduism also emphasizes meditation — often through yoga — to achieve physical harmony with nature and focus the senses. Furthermore, Christian meditation provides opportunities to reflect on the self and one’s relationship with God.
Meditation can teach us to ensure mental health despite the chaos of our lives. One can hardly turn on the television or read the news without being confronted with horrific acts of violence, which can be unnerving on a deeply personal level. Meditation provides a mental escape from these burdens and can relax students as they confront the challenges around them.
The medical community has also embraced meditation as an important way to maintain mental health. One scientific study showed that 30 minutes of meditation per day for eight weeks led to increased brain thickening under neuroimaging; the positively affected brain areas are associated with emotional regulation, compassion, self-referencing and regulation of neurotransmitters. More studies are being conducted on the physiological nature of meditation’s effects.
Thus the medical community is using meditation to help manage the mental health of patients suffering from burnout, depression and suicidal ideation. A 2017 study of wellness education indicated that meditation can help maintain mental health of all students. Dr. Holly Rogers, a psychologist at Duke University’s student counseling center, stated that meditation can help students recover from failing exams, rejected love interests and other stressors often experienced by college students to maintain optimal mental health.
There are many types of meditation that one can try and choose. For some, meditation in silence may be the best meditation technique that provides optimal mental health benefits. Others may prefer a recitation or repetition of a particular phrase or tune that may help focus meditation or create a type of positive meditative atmosphere. Some may want to follow liturgical meditation that aligns with a prayer book or prayer formula. Students can also visit Student Health Services or Campus Ministry at Georgetown for recommendations.
Whatever your preference, it may not be a bad idea to set aside part of your day to engage in meditation and a form of personal tikkun olam.
Heerak Kim is pursuing a Master of Science in nursing. Dissecting Health Care appears online every other Tuesday.