Almost halfway done with my last year at Princeton, I’ve found myself getting more stressed. That’s an unusual statement; most of my friends would likely say that my baseline of self-imposed anxiety is already relatively high. But still, I’ve found my stress levels rising above that baseline, for several reasons. I’ve been stressed about whether I took full advantage of my four years here, stressed about whether I’m doing everything I need to be right now, and stressed about what lies beyond the celebration of Reunions and graduation. I don’t think I’m the only one who has felt this way, particularly among the senior class. Thus, I urge my peers to turn to the same method I have to combat stress: mindfulness, especially surrounding our current environment and all that it has to offer.
A dear friend and I recently had a conversation regarding the extreme amount of anxiety about the future that comes with the approach of the second semester of senior year. She repeatedly mentioned how important she felt mindfulness was in combatting this anxiety. I didn’t understand this at first; how could meditation help me figure out where I’ll attend law school next year or get me to start writing my thesis? But I was misunderstanding her point: Mindfulness does not fix these problems, but it can help one realize that these problems are not all-consuming. Though they are important, there is a lot to be grateful for at this moment, if only we can take the time to notice it. This is where mindfulness comes in, as it provides the tools necessary to appreciate and understand our environment.
Mindfulness is defined as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something” by the Oxford English Dictionary. Often, it is used to describe a state of meditation, in which one tries to tune in with their body and their thoughts while blocking everything else out. Thus, I have always thought of mindfulness as an intense yoga class or sitting and meditating for an hour. Though these practices are under the umbrella of mindfulness, so is simply walking to class without listening to music or not looking at your phone every time it buzzes. The term “mindfulness” refers to the capability to tune in to the details of your own state and your environment in order to better understand them.
It is easy to let the constant stream of emails or deadlines dictate our moods or schedules, in a way that interferes with this capability. Nonetheless, I have found that putting these sources of stress aside for even a few minutes at a time allows me to take in the things I love most about Princeton: the way the leaves change in the fall, the architecture of the Firestone rotunda, the incredible sunsets at 5 p.m. throughout the winter. When one takes the time to notice the small details that make up these experiences, it is amazing how easy it becomes to appreciate the experiences as a whole.
Mindfulness also means sitting down with a friend and being present in a conversation. I might not have attended every interesting talk or student event throughout the past four years, but I can at least listen to the perspectives of those around me and try to understand them. This is just as important to taking advantage of the opportunities Princeton offers as any lecture. Maybe this means putting aside stress about impending final papers for an hour or so, or simply turning off my phone during the conversation. This may not seem like mindfulness in the same way that sitting to meditate does, but these interactions might be their own form of meditation, one that is just as impactful.
There is science behind this: meditation has been shown to increase long-term resiliency to stress by increasing the connectivity between certain regions of the brain. Though the study focused on stereotypical meditation, I believe that the finding would apply to the forms of mindfulness I mentioned above. By being more mindful and present about our current environment, perhaps the future will not seem as terrifying. We will not ever be able to understand everything in the world around us, particularly the ambiguity of the future. However, with mindfulness, we can appreciate the things we do understand: our own bodies, our own thoughts, and all that the environment we are lucky to be a part of offers.
Morgan Lucey is a senior neuroscience major from Scottsdale, Ariz. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.