Study: Mindfulness helps college freshmen feel happier, drink less

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — If you’re about to enter college and feel like you need something to ground you for your impending journey, mindfulness training might just be a solution. A new study finds freshman who practice mindfulness are more content and have reduced levels of mental health ailments.

Researchers at Penn State University recruited 105 freshman students who attended the school, about half of whom were instructed to participate in a mindfulness intervention program that examined the effects of regularly partaking in a structured practice.

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College freshmen who practiced mindfulness during their first semester showed greater satisfaction in life and reduced levels of anxiety and depression.

First-time college students are thought of as being at particular risk for certain stressors as they often are leaving home for the first time, have to adapt to a more rigorous level of academic work, and are forced to make new friends.

The study, which provided eight mindfulness sessions to 52 of the student participants in their first semester, found that such a regimen significantly reduced depression and anxiety symptoms in the freshmen compared to those in a control group. The students who practiced mindfulness also reported greater satisfaction in their daily lives.

Mindfulness also inspired healthier habits, with an overall drop in alcohol use reported among those participants.

“We offered an experiential, practice-oriented training,” says lead author Kamila Dvorakova, a doctoral Compassion and Caring fellow in the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, in a university news release. “Rather than telling the students what to do, we had them explore and talk about how to be mindful in their daily lives and discover the benefits for themselves. We found that underneath the stress that students are experiencing is a deep desire to appreciate life and feel meaningful connections with other people. It is our responsibility as educators to create academic environments that nurture both students’ minds and hearts.”

Each of the eight courses was structured around a particular technique, embodied in the program’s acronym-based name: BREATHE. B stood for “body,” R for “reflections,” E for “emotions,” A for “attention,” T for “tenderness,” H for “healthy habits,” and E for “empowerment.”

Some of the broader skills that the mindfulness program taught included emotion regulation, self-awareness, and breath control.

“The beginning of the college career presents such a unique opportunity— all of these students are going through this same transition at the same time,” says Mark Agrusti, who led and coordinated the mindfulness program.

“These freshmen are beginning to acquire habits and perceptions that will shape their lives as students and adults, so it’s a perfect time for them to discover practices, such as mindfulness, stress management, self-care and emotional literacy skills,” he added.

The students’ perception over the program was overwhelmingly positive, as 98 percent of those who participated said they would recommend it to their peers.

Another recent study found that mindfulness was just as effective in reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms as psychotherapy was for patients.

The study’s findings were published in the Journal of American College Health.