Mindfulness Meditation and Its Effect on the Academic Performance

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Deciding to pursue my master’s degree in Counselling Psychology was not an easy decision. This commitment requires great time management skills and sacrifice. Although I am very excited for this knew learning experience, the higher level of commitment and online learning format does cause some negative emotions to arise. These feelings might be concerning for any new student, it is particularly concerning as a future counsellor. In an article written by Shapiro, Brown, and Biegel (2007) they suggest self-care is a vital part of training future therapist and can help increase self-compassion and reduce stress. Therefore, it is vital to practice self-care and manage negative emotional appropriately. According to Ontario’s Universities (2016) 46% of students reported having a low mood effecting their ability to fully function. A student’s mental health concerns can ripple into their future workplace and relationships effecting the health care system and the economy (Ontario’s Universities, 2016). This demonstrates the importance and severity of this project. Therefore, I decided to monitor my low mood and school performance variable of academic anxiety.

Low mood and academic anxiety are serious issues and can affect multiple areas of an individual’s life. Research suggests that depression and low mood can have a negative effect on a student’s academic work (Owens, Stevenson, Hadwin, & Norgate, 2012). Depressive symptoms, such as low mood, and anxiety are associated also with social isolation and loneliness (Ge, Yap, Ong, & Heng, 2017; Henderson et al., 2014)

Depression and anxiety issues have historically been treated with a variety of methods. The most common forms of treatment are psychological interventions such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or mindfulness-based therapies and pharmacological interventions (Newby, McKinnon, Kuyken, Gilbody, & Dalgleish, 2015). Williams (2010) conducted a study that indicated that the maintenance or emergence of a negative mood can be sustained or provoked by a lack of mindfulness. This research supports the use of mindfulness theory with low mood. Additionally, Brown, Ryan, and Creswell (2007) found that individuals who have a disposition to be mindful are, in general, less vulnerable to low mood states. This research further supports the notion of mindfulness theory and low mood.

Mindfulness can be defined as a heightened state of awareness or involvement in the present moment (Langer & Moldoveanu, 2000). Mindfulness has more recently become popular in the practices of psychotherapy over the past decade (Shapiro, 2009). Younge (as cited in Davis & Hayes, 2011) stated that mindfulness can improve an individual’s mental clarity and concentration. More specifically, mindfulness meditation has demonstrated to be effective at increasing cognitive flexibility and attentional functions. Additionally, Ramel, Goldin, Carmona, McQuaid (2004) found a correlation between mindfulness meditation and a reduction in ruminative thinking for individual who have been diagnosed with depression. Keane (2013) found that the implementation of mindfulness exercises as a therapist can actually improve one’s therapeutic skills and qualities, such as attention and empathy. Keane also suggests that the practise of mindfulness can positively impact the therapist’s ability to reduce stress and feel empathy or self-compassion

A meta-analysis conducted by Hoffman, Sawyer, Witt, and Oh (2010) found that mindfulness practises are effective at reducing anxiety and improving low mood. Additionally, Rosenzweig, Reibel, Greeson, Brainard, and Hojat (2013), conducted a study and found mindfulness practices to be an effective treatment for stress management. Chiesa and Serretti, (2009), conducted a meta-analysis and found that mindfulness is a successful means in reducing stress in healthy individuals.

Research Question and Hypothesis

Therefore, based on the research I prepose the following research question: Will engaging in 10-minute mindfulness meditations 4 times a week increase my low- mood and decrease my academic anxiety? I hypothesis that mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes per day 4 time per week will impact low mood, as measured by the Shortened Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (SMFQ) and will affect a school performance variable of academic anxiety, as measured by a self-adapted Anxiety Scale for Undergraduate Students (ASUS).

Method

Participant

The participant of this study included the researcher, a 23-year-old Canadian female. She is enrolled in her first year of the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology program at Yorkville University. The data was collected in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Design

The current study is a pre-post quasi-experimental design to examine the effect of mindfulness meditation (independent variable) on low-mood and academic stress (dependent variable).

Procedure

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A baseline measure of the dependent variables, low mood and academic stress, was taken prior to the implementation of the mindfulness intervention. Following baseline, a mindfulness meditation regime was implemented 4 time per week for a total of 4 weeks. Data was taken on low mood and academic stress once a week.

Measures

Low Mood. Low mood was assessed by using the by the Shortened Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (SMFQ; Appendix A) developed by Angold et al. (1995). The SMFQ is has 12 questions and uses a 3-point Likert scale (0- not true, 2-true). Questions ask about negative automatic thoughts, energy levels, and level of enjoyment. The higher scores imply greater symptoms of depression. Angold at al. (1995) suggest that scores above 12 may indicate that depression may be present in the participant. Additionally, the research has demonstrated the SMFQ has internal construct validity (Sharp, Goodyer, & Croudace, 2006).

Academic Stress. Academic stress will be measured through a self-adapted version of the Anxiety Scale for Undergraduate Students (ASUS; Appendix B) developed Singhal (2015). I have adapted the scale due to the unique nature of taking courses online. The ASUS was designed to be implemented on undergraduate students and ask questions regarding peer pressure and student completion which I do not feel apply to my situation as I am not in the typical classroom setting with any of my classmates. The adapted ASUS is a 26-item questionnaire and uses a 5-point Likert scale (1- Strongly disagree, 5-Strongly Agree). Singhal demonstrated the scale to have construct validity and internal reliability.

Data Analysis

Data was collected over a 4-week period. Each measure was scored according to the assessment scoring instructions. After the intervention period, data was analyzed through graphs to see the change across time.

Results

Low Mood

Baseline data was taken on low mood and then once week for 4 weeks during intervention (Appendix C). Scores on the SMFQ can range from 0-26 with a higher score suggesting the presence of depression. Baseline data was taken one week before implementing the intervention and was a score of 16, which demonstrates the possibility of depression according to the scale. During the final week of intervention, the SMFQ was scored at a seven. Therefore, low mood was reduced by 9 points with a 43.73% improvement. This displays an evident decrease when the mindfulness meditation intervention was implemented.

Academic Stress

Baseline data was also taken on academic stress prior to the implementation of the intervention. The self-adapted ASUS possible scores ranged from 26-130, with a higher score demonstrating higher academic anxiety. The baseline score was 108 and the final score after intervention was a score of 80. Therefore, academic anxiety reduced by 28 point in total, resulting in a 25.93% reduction. However, Academic anxiety did spike in the last week of intervention. Week three on intervention had scored a 72 and was raised in the last week to a score of 80.

Discussion

I first hypothesize that mindfulness meditation for ten minutes per day four time per week will impact low mood and will affect a school performance variable of academic anxiety. After a visual examination of the data it can be concluded that mindfulness meditation was successful in decreasing low-mood and academic anxiety. Low mood had a total decrease of 43.73%, and academic anxiety had a total decrease of 25.93%. These results are significant deductions considering the short window of time that the intervention was implemented for. The results of my self-study are in congruence with the findings of a study conducted by Bueno, Kozasa, Da Silva, Alves, Louzã, & Pompéia (2015). Bueno et al. found that individuals who participated in mindful awareness practices had an increase mood. Additionally, my results are similar to Kumar and Tiwary’s (2014) study, which demonstrated the use of mindfulness to reduce academic anxiety.

Recommendations for Future Students Starting the MACP Program

New students can experience feelings of being overwhelming, roll strain, or academic stress. On top of these feeling, new students have to continue to uphold their daily responsibilities such as working or parenting. Due to the added stress it is easy to stick with what you know; however, I encourage new students to step out of their comfort zone and explore new therapy techniques that they might not be as familiar with. This is where learning occurs. I had never done any previous research on mindfulness and learned so much during this process that benefitted me during the study and will benefit me throughout my time and a student and into my career. Stepping out of your comfort zone not only fosters learning but also can increase confidence in yourself. Additionally, I encourage students to find time for self-care and self-check-ins. It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day routine and responsibilities that we do not check in with ourselves. It is important to make sure we are doing well and see what we could be doing better or things we need to start doing. This is a demanding program and it is important to form good and healthy habits early.

Reflection and Application of Safe and Effective Use of Self as a Counselor

Use of self in therapy is considered to be one of the core concepts in providing therapy. When a therapist is self-aware and use self in an effective and safe manner it can impact the effectiveness of treatment, enhance the therapeutic relationship, and strengthen client-therapist interactions (). The first step to apply safe and effective use of self is self-reflection. Upon reflection, I concluded that, despite the positive effects of mindfulness demonstrated in the self-study, I would benefit from more mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is a skill that needs to be trained and practiced. Upon reflection, due to work responsibilities, social obligations, and family demands I was not able to commit a large amount of time to mindfulness meditations. Additionally, I found it difficult to commit to mindfulness for the required amount of time each week. Through reflection I understand the

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