In recent years, mindfulness has become increasingly popular as a method for managing feelings of stress and distress.
Mindfulness research has exploded in the past five years. A medline (the major medical literature search engine) keyword search on the topic today reveals 5,815 search results, with more than 70 percent of these in the last five years. The quality of this research is also increasing, with 584 systematic reviews (the strongest level of evidence that combines lots of similar studies) included in these results.
We also measured levels of psychological capital, which is a positive psychological state of development composed of four psychological resources: feelings of hope, optimism, resilience, and self-efficacy.
Psychological capital was originally developed in the field of positive organisational behaviour, and previous research has primarily explored how psychological capital influences workplace attitudes, behaviours and performance. In recent years, scholars have begun to explore how it may also influence educational performance.
Room for improvement
The study showed completing the mindfulness practice significantly reduced candidates’ reported levels of depression and improved their psychological capital. Perhaps just as importantly, these effects occurred even though study participants actually practised the mindfulness meditation much less often than requested.
The intervention group was asked to complete the 30-minute mindfulness intervention daily, a total of 56 practices over eight weeks. But the average number of sessions completed was 35.
An even greater effect may be possible if students practised more often. Alternatively, a daily practice may not be required in participants who are used to learning new complex skills so often. Or, shorter practices (such as 5-10 minutes) could be used with similar effect, such as those available through apps such as smiling mind.
Placing attention not only on the academic but also the psychological aspects of learning is key to successful outcomes and well-being. Self-help strategies such as mindfulness now have a proven place for supporting the PhD journey. Integration of these approaches with peer support programs such as the Write Smarter Feel Better program developed by the CRC for Mental Health provides a win-win to reduce loneliness on the journey to a PhD, and turn surviving into thriving.