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How Does Mindfulness Impact Stress in Students Prior to an Exam?

A study in the U.K. examined the impact of intervention strategies such as mindfulness in improving the stress experienced by students.

University education is a huge milestone for many people. However, it is also a period of increased stress and adjustment to changes. With the number of young people attending university is on the rise and a recent study, called the Mindful Student Study, investigated if mindfulness courses provide better resilience against the stresses encountered.

Mindfulness involves actively focusing attention to promote better mental health and is an approach which is popular among many university students. Previous studies were conducted wherein the efficacy of mindfulness training was considered for improving symptoms of mental health in those with conditions like depression or anxiety.

The study involved university students aged 18 or older at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. It was published in the Lancet Public Health Journal in December 2017. The students who participated in the study did not have a severe mental illness or crisis conditions, based on a self-assessment. They received an eight-week mindfulness course made for university students. The aim of the study was to evaluate if a mindfulness course would impact the stress experienced by students during the examination period during which stress levels hit a higher peak as opposed to other periods. Resilience to stress was indicated by a reduction in distress experienced during such a universal stressor.

The study team invited and enrolled the participants by sending them links to questionnaires. Following the completion of the questionnaires, the participants were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness course with mental health support or to mental health support alone. The participants were automatically informed of their allocation to either of these choices post completion of the baseline questionnaire. Seven courses were run in parallel during the university term and 30 students participated in each course delivered by certified and experienced mindfulness teachers. The sessions lasted 75-90 minutes and the students received a generic email before and after the sessions with materials that were relevant to the course. The students had the option to attend an alternative session if they missed the allocated one. Emails were sent to also check if the absence was due to any negative experience during the mindfulness courses.

Mindfulness Decreases Stress for Students

The period of most stress for most students enrolled in the study was from 16 May 2016 to June 10, 2016, as recorded by the Student Registry. The findings of the study showed that the mindfulness course improves well-being in participants and increases resilience to stress particularly during the summer examination period.  For the participants, the CORE-OM scores, which refers to Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation Outcome Measure was higher than the reported student norms. The scores for participants in the Mindfulness Student Study at the time of maximum stress fell towards the expected normal values of stress, while those who were in the mental health support alone group indicated that they experienced greater distress.

In terms of socio-demographic characteristics, the mindfulness training appealed to a wide range of participating populations in the study. Previous studies also indicated an improvement in performance when mindfulness courses were provided shortly before an examination. The promising outcome here is that a separate intervention strategy through mindfulness courses apart from specific mental health support services is beneficial to alleviate stress and can have wider application.

Written by Sonia Leslie Fernandez, Medical News Writer

Reference: Galante, J., Dufour, G., Vainre, M., Wagner, A. P., Stochl, J., Benton, A., … & Jones, P. B. (2017). A mindfulness-based intervention to increase resilience to stress in university students (the Mindful Student Study): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Public Health.



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