Undergraduate students experience a variety of stressors in their day-to-day lives, including strict(er) deadlines, presenting academic work, writing an undergraduate thesis, social pressure to pursue a career, and investments of time and money without guarantee of a profitable or even reasonable return.
Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs), more globally and colloquially known as meditation, have been shown to be an effective and cheap way for universities to help students deal with stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms. While this relation is well established, its mediators are not. Similarly, there is conflicting evidence on how the amount of practice influences overall success.
To better understand how mindfulness alleviates stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms, and specifically the effectiveness of brief MBIs, researchers from Portugal and Brazil collected data from 34 senior students enrolled in a variety of undergraduate programs at a university in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil who were taking a “writing my undergraduate thesis less stressfully” course.
The study’s results show significant reductions in depression, anxiety and stress among the students following MBI. Impressively, 31 of the 34 students scored “normal” on depressive measures, 23 on anxiety and 21 on stress, compared to just 20, 15 and 9 before intervention. The number of individuals experiencing severe symptoms also dropped substantially. Indeed, before the study, there was “a remarkably high proportion of senior students with levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.”
Most importantly, however, the study found that there was “no significant correlation between the number of meditative practices performed” and improvements in anxiety, stress and depression.
This contributes to growing bodies of evidence on both sides, as some studies have demonstrated a correlation to number and frequency of medication practices and others not. Understanding why the amount of meditation has an effect on overall success in reducing symptoms in some cases and not in others is a crucial next step in refining its use.
Nonetheless, the fact that in many cases even brief intervention led to marked improvement is in itself encouraging and of great scientific value. As more universities implement such measures—made all the more affordable by their brevity—specific mediators will become more clear, helping researchers and counsellors to identify candidates for either brief or intensive MBI.
The study, “Effects of a Brief Mindfulness-Based Intervention on Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in Senior Students”, appeared in Trends in Psychology in July, 2020.