A Glasgow college has introduced training for students in a form of meditation known as "mindfulness" to help them cope with exam stress, anxiety and depression.
The impact of the City of Glasgow College classes, run weekly at lunchtime, is being measured in the belief that if the 20 students taking part "give their brains a break", their mental health and well-being will improve.
It could also make them less likely to drop out, according to the lecturer leading the sessions.
Mindfulness is a technique for training the mind in concentration and calm. Students are taught how to draw their attention away from thinking and focus instead on their breathing, their present environment or tension in their bodies and encouraged to let go of thoughts and distractions.
The classes - led by practising Buddhist and communication, literature and psychology lecturer Dr Lyndsay Lunan, are set to run for 10 weeks. Students' levels of anxiety and well-being will be measured before and after.
The lunchtime sessions, which run for half an hour, can be topped up through mindfulness MP3s, available via the college's virtual learning environment for students to download.
"Talking informally, the students tell me they can't get to sleep, their brain runs away with them, they can't stop worrying," Dr Lunan said. "I hope this gives them a sense of being in control so they can choose when they want to think and when they want to stop and be quiet."
Some of the students were recruited through a poster campaign, but most were referred because of recognised problems with anxiety and depression. The majority are teenagers on National Certificate courses; mindfulness could be a particularly useful tool for this group, Dr Lunan said.
"For a lot of children, these courses are a second chance after a poor school experience. But often they drop out because they can't juggle learning and what's going on in the rest of their lives," she said. "Mindfulness should help them cope."
Dr Lunan first introduced mindfulness training to the college about a year ago by offering sessions to staff at lunchtimes and after work. Now about 50 staff attend.
"I thought it would be useful for staff in dealing with the stresses of the job," Dr Lunan added.
"It's about being able to pause in the midst of all the activity and wash through your brain with a bit of silence. It's refreshing - anyone can benefit from quietening down their mind."
The mindfulness sessions for students finish in two weeks and Dr Lunan hopes to reveal the findings of her research a month later.
LEARNING TO LET GO OF TENSION
Students taking part in mindfulness sessions at City of Glasgow College are encouraged to use the meditation technique before they get out of bed in the morning, when they are walking, eating, even when they have a cup of tea. Regardless of where they engage in the technique, they are encouraged to do the same things: pay attention to their breathing, clear their minds, let go of any tensions and live in the moment.
PEACE OF MIND
A number of research studies have shown that mindfulness has a significant impact on well-being and can help to manage stress, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
It has also been shown to improve attention spans, support students with behavioural difficulties and develop self-esteem.
In its guidance, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence recognises mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as a way to treat depression.
The first international conference on mindfulness in schools was held in London, in March.