[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he pressure that accompanies university exams can be both excruciating and debilitating. Fortunately, U of T offers plenty of resources to help students destress. These include puppy therapy, massage sessions, and yoga.

However,intense university schedules can limit the number of activities students are able to attend. As a result, students find themselves juggling classes, work schedules, studying, and engaging in extra-curriculars, instead of using these resources.

In order to tackle the issue of stress, the root causes must be addressed first. One of the major motivators of students’ misfortune is the tendency to procrastinate.

Procrastination is a habit that a majority of students are guilty of. Most students, however, are unaware of the reasons why they procrastinate to begin with. The belief is that the more distractions there are, the more likely one is to procrastinate. However, it is actually how the brain views the task at hand that hinders the studying process.

If you sit down to study for an exam, and instead find yourself heading over on Facebook and checking the latest posts on your timeline, or scrolling through your Instagram feed, it is not social media itself that is the problem. In fact, the stress accumulated from negative thoughts, or apprehensions, about upcoming evaluations has a bigger role to play. As a result, students tend to flock to other, less important tasks, subconsciously avoiding thoughts of the upcoming deadline.

[pullquote]When it comes to mental wellness, mindfulness meditation is a valuable tool.[/pullquote]

An effective approach to clear these thoughts and affirm a better mind-set is through the practice of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is the non-judgmental nature that characterizes a deep awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness meditation offers plenty of benefits that are essential not only for your academic career, but also for your mental health. Studies show that mindfulness meditation improves cognitive functioning and memory; it increases focus and reduces the likelihood of mind-wandering.

An analogy that helps illuminate the effect of mindfulness meditation is to consider the brain as a snow globe. The thoughts that occur within the brain — in this case, the snowflakes — are the result of the snow globe shaking. What mindfulness meditation does is simply set the snow globe down, allowing the brain to release the unnecessary, destructive, and paralyzing thoughts that affect both your grades and your mental health.

When mindfulness meditation is practiced for 12—15 minutes daily, within weeks, you will be surprised at the improvements. You will find  thought-patterns sharpening into focus, ameliorating your ability to study, as well as your stress and anxiety levels. Research suggests that along with the increase of endorphins and regulation of emotions and sleep patterns, mindfulness meditation also changes the brain’s structure by increasing signal connections,improving and working to prevent depression and anxiety. There is a stigma often associated with meditation due to misconceptions, particularly its religious or spiritual connotations. Others may feel that meditation requires excess time and effort, or that it is simply an unusual thing to do.

On the contrary, mindfulness meditation is essentially the focus of the body’s breaths — it allows you to patiently let go of any unwanted thoughts that intrude into the mind. Although meditation in general is embedded in Buddhism, and has historical roots in religious practice, meditation does not affect, and is not impacted by, your religious or spiritual beliefs. And though some may find meditation difficult at first, it is crucial to be perseverant and self-compassionate throughout your efforts. If, by any means, you find it difficult to begin the practice on your own, the Health and Wellness Centre offers beginner meditation sessions throughout the academic year, where students are able to drop-in and learn the basics.

It is crucial that students take advantage of the resources they have available to them. When it comes to mental wellness, mindfulness meditation is a valuable tool.

Manuel Augusto is a second-year student at Woodsworth College studying sociology, Buddhist psychology and mental health.