Our 5-week Mindfulness course, organised by the School of Economics, but open to all students in the University showed that there is an increasing appetite for these kinds of tools to support learning.
The course, facilitated by Mindfulness practitioner Lorrainne Millard, had over 50 registrations.
‘The dimensions of the course that seem to have helped students most were dealing with feelings of anxiety, the ability to focus and feelings of happiness and joy.’ convener Dr Adelina Gschwandtner told us. ‘Most participants were women, 50% from a BAME background. 45% percent were studying at a postgraduate level and most of them came from the School of Psychology (48.5%) followed by the School of Economics (24.2%) and the School of Politics (9%). The overwhelming majority preferred that the course was run online offering more flexibility.’
Tiffany Akurut an MSc Economics student had not taken part in anything regarding mindfulness or mental health before but was persuaded by the virtual nature of the course.
‘No one could see you during the exercises, so you could just let go and just be yourself.’ Tiffany told us ‘Going into a room with other people, I don’t like being in such situations, just cause I’m shy. But if you wanted to speak up, you could and if you didn’t want to, you could just be quiet in the background and just listen.’
The course came at an ideal time for her.
‘Around the time when we were approaching exam season, we had multiple deadlines and I experienced a lot of anxiety that meant I was unable to focus. Then I would feel I didn’t deserve to sleep because of how little I have accomplished during the day. So then I am more tired, which makes me more stressed. So I end up in this cycle that I’m really unable to get out of.’
Portia Chere expressed that travelling to the UK from Botswana to study a financial economics MSc was overwhelming at times.
‘Yeah, it has been a culture shock, but it was also an exciting opportunity for me to travel from Africa because it is my first time travelling Internationally.’ Portia left her son and husband at home for the year while she studies. ‘I think maybe because being an international student, having to come here alone without my family, was a bit of a challenge to settle in so I really needed something that could keep me motivated throughout the my journey in learning.‘
Gladness Sebifelo has been studying an MSc in development economics after studying for her undergraduate at the University of Botswana ten years ago.
‘When I arrived in the UK. I had to start teaching myself to learn again, and because I arrived two weeks late, I couldn’t catch up easily, you know? So that alone gave me a lot of stress. Like, will I make it? Just being in a different environment was stressful. So I was always asking myself what can I do? Where can I get help?’
Before this Gladness’ only experience of mindfulness came from social media ‘-just the memes that you always read that encourage people.’
‘I think I had a stubborn mind. I was like, ohhh will it work?’
‘But I was like, 5 weeks. One hour a week. It wont hurt.‘
The structure of the course was varied.
‘It was a mixture of everything. So you do a practical exercise with everyone, like breathing techniques or like a physical exercise and then, Lorraine, would you usually go into the theory behind it,’ Tiffany explained ‘Then you would go into breakout rooms and discuss the weeks homework, what you did, if you’re able to do anything, what you’re accomplished, how it made you feel.’
Participating alongside others who are also struggling with stress and anxiety turned out to be helpful in and of itself TIffany found.
‘I think sometimes you think that you’re the only person feeling this thing, going through this, but when you talk to other people, you understand you are experiencing the same thing. It’s great feeling that you’re not alone in this.’
‘However we respond to situations, we hold that power ourselves.’ Gladness Sebifelo
‘I know now it’s me who is in control. Nobody else. So if I don’t control the situation I’m in, nobody else will come out and and and do it for me. So it’s all about me and how to tackle my situations.’
Portia suggested that the course would be suitable for anyone ‘I don’t think it’s there’s somebody who is tailor made for it, because I think it it cuts across so many things, whether it’s to improve on your relationship with your family, your communication, your wellbeing. So I think everybody can use this course.’
Due to the tremendous positive feedback and the large number of registrations this year we are planning to organize the course again in 2023-2024.
Read about Lorrainne Millard’s book Mindfulness and Wellbeing for Student Learning.