Academics are a thinking bunch, with most spending hours sitting at a desk, thinking deep thoughts on specific topic areas. And they are also planners, thinking ahead of their next research paper, as well as lectures.
They think back to their previous papers and lectures. What went well? What did not go well? Often, they worry. Will they get tenure? Will they get that grant?
For as much thinking as they do, they are rarely self-reflexive in the present. They rarely live in the moment, which, for many reasons, is very problematic.
As Socrates declared at the trial which lead to his death, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.
That might be drastic, but there is some truth in it. What is life (or academic life) if it is mostly spent worrying and moving from one thing to the next without any deep reflection? Why do people do what they do? How are they making a difference?
Burnout in academia is no secret. For some, only a few years in academia can end with one running for the door. Others find themselves 40 years old going on 70. Should they really feel like cashing out mid-career?
Due to a lack of job security, limited support from management and the weight of work-related demands on time among the risk factors, academics face higher risks of mental health issues than those of other professions.
They continually find themselves distracted, un-centred and anxious – all the emotions or characteristics that have negative health outcomes and which sometimes don’t make them the best people to be around.
There might be a way to lead a more peaceful, impactful and fulfilling academic life.
Making mindfulness a daily conscious practice
While this certainly entails many practices and, likely, several changes – the practice of everyday mindfulness might help academics deal with the vicissitudes of academic life.
Mindfulness is not just meditation, and that must be understood from the beginning.
Mindfulness can be practised and integrated into every aspect of life. It is about noticing the present moment.
This philosophy comes from Vipassana, or “insight”, which is the crux of the Buddhist Theravada tradition. You do not have to be Buddhist or adhere to any specific religion to engage in mindfulness practices.
We often hear from colleagues and others that they do not have time for mindfulness or meditation, which signals something very off in the first place. That’s understandable: most could easily fall into that exact same trap.
But the good news is that being mindful does not require massive amounts of time or energy.
And as mindfulness has been scientifically shown to reduce anxiety and stress, the benefits might quickly be seen. Mindfulness can also increase psychological functioning, self-control and social connectedness.
It could easily be integrated within your day: You could start with a mindful meditation before heading to campus, and follow this with a mindful walk in the afternoon. Finally, you can finish off the day with a mindfulness meditation.
A mindful lifestyle and meditation has differential success across the population, as not everyone responds the same. But, the science is behind it.
There is now a substantial knowledge base that mindfulness practices can have significant benefits to people – and academics are no exception.
Dr Chad Posick is Associate Professor at Georgia Southern University. He received his doctorate from Northeastern University. There, Chad completed his dissertation which examined the overlap between offending and victimisation in 30 countries.