I tested Cambridge-approved mindfulness techniques before supervisions and here’s how it went

‘Sorry I didn’t complete my supo reading, I was too busy colouring’

Wellness trends. They’re everywhere. And since the pandemic hit, Cambridge University has been REALLY keen on reminding us of the importance of mindfulness; an email from Toope without a reference to them is a rare scene these days. Who needs a safety net, or fully-funded mental health services when we can have a yoga subscription and a meditation guide, right?

Finally worn down by the relentlessness of the promo, I decided to find out if these ‘mindfulness activities’ have any positive impact on our mental health and University work. I tested three University-of-Cambridge-approved wellness activities directly before a supervision and rated them on a range of factors.

1. Guided meditation

The University seems to frequently emphasise the importance of meditation, so I tested a ’10 Minute Meditation for Stress’ that my tutor sent me. I won’t lie, it was a bit weird, but there are lots of other meditations on YouTube which might suit you better.

The concept is simple. You just lie down and close your eyes while the speaker describes a peaceful scene, and tells you how relaxed you are. If you take it seriously (which I failed at doing for the first half), then it does a quick job of relaxing you. Once you’re in the right headspace, the guided meditation keeps you focused on relaxation and stops you thinking about all that reading you haven’t done.

Accessibility 4/5: A quiet space to lie down is pretty helpful, but this isn’t always guaranteed at home. However, once you have your space, there are hundreds of guided meditations free on YouTube or apps like Headspace (which some colleges have subscriptions to) which you can use.

Enjoyment 2/5: The guy talking was American which wasn’t doing it for me personally.

Impact on mental health 4/5: I felt very relaxed… maybe too relaxed. Don’t do this one right before a supervision – I almost fell asleep.

Impact on supervision 4/5: I went in feeling really calm, but minus a point because it made me sleepy.

Overall: Though it’s an effective rest for only 10 minutes, this one might actually be better in the evenings when you’re trying to wind down and fall asleep.

2. Breathing exercises

This was another video on YouTube and was just as simple. You follow directions written on expanding and contracting bubbles whilst following guided breathing. I did find my thoughts kept creeping away to other things without the constant guide so this one might not be the best if you’re easily distracted. Though, clocking in at under 5 minutes, it’s great for a super quick reset.

Accessibility 5/5: If you can breathe, this one is for you.

Enjoyment 3/5: Minus 2 points because I got an ad for Grammarly halfway through.

Impact on mental health 4/5: The Grammarly ad did some damage, but other than that this one totally de-stressed me.

Impact on supervision 5/5: Unlike the guided meditation, I was calm but not sleepy. It made me feel really put together.

Outcome: Exercises like this can bring down your pulse rate and clear your head which makes them perfect for pre-supervision prep.

3. Mindful colouring

What a masterpiece (Photo credit: Beatrice Bullough)

‘Mindful colouring’ can apparently lower levels of depressive and anxious symptoms (according to a study at the University of Otago), so I figured it must be a good idea. Being no artist myself, I used an old colouring book that I’ve had for years under my bed and found that trying to stay in the lines did take my mind off things. If you want to focus your energy outside of work and have half an hour doing something completely different, then this is great.

Accessibility 2/5: You need a colour-in sheet and pens for this one.

Enjoyment 4/5: Top points for making me feel like I was in year 4 (the year I peaked). Minus 1 point because I’m a bad artist and that annoyed me.

Mental Health Impact 5/5: This was definitely the exercise that took my mind off things the most, and I’d do it again if I ever need a distraction.

Supervision Impact 1/5: I didn’t see any difference in the supervision except the fact that I didn’t get to finish the drawing before the call started so I was actually a bit annoyed.

Outcome: As you can control how much time or effort you put into it, I’d recommend this to take a break from work. But remember not to care too much about the end result!

And the winner for best pre-supervision mindfulness activity is…

Breathing exercises!

This one was the quickest, most effective and in less than 5 minutes, I felt calm and in control for my supervision. It’s fuss-free and you don’t have to put in much effort to get a lot out of it. I’m actually going to keep this one up as part of the University’s advice on a mentally healthy lifestyle.

All of these exercises are a good idea if you’re looking for a pre-supo relaxation. While I’m not conscious of any real change to my mental health, they stopped me from overworking, over-stressing and overthinking in the short-term. I found taking the moments before a supervision to ‘ground myself’ meant that I actually went into them a lot calmer. Easy, accessible to most, and helpful to living a healthy lifestyle, they could also work as a break from writing essays, watching lectures or reading.

However, at the same time, they are just wellness exercises, and not a replacement for professional mental health services. Right now, the world is facing a mental health crisis and these activities won’t address the larger problems that the university population are facing and the DRC is experiencing.

Nevertheless, these exercises can be an entry point to looking after yourself more. Though we’re all in different places right now (mentally and physically), these exercises teach us how to mind our relationship with uni work.

If you are struggling with mental health-related issues the University of Cambridge recommends contacting your DOS, tutor or the University counselling service. 

Featured image credit: Author’s own and Matilda Head

Related articles recommend by this author:

• Eight quick hobbies you can pick up this lockdown without having to sacrifice your degree 

• Camfesses about mental health issues have tripled in the last year and we need to talk about it 

• Cambridge University introduces mental health testing for students