Mindfulness is the skill of learning to pay attention to one’s present experience without judgment. It boosts wellbeing by significantly reducing anxiety and stress while improving mood. Now, students at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry (UKCD) are practicing mindfulness too.

When the school launched a pilot program for first-year students in the fall of 2014, 75% of its participants used mindfulness techniques during the following semester. They described increased focus and attention in addition to less stress.

Also, the students studied more effectively, regulated their emotions better, and saw a decrease in negative physiological reactions to stress. Specifically, students who had moderate to high levels of anxiety before starting the program showed a decrease in anxiety levels later.

“Because I have personally utilized mindfulness and know the benefits, I will most definitely, as a future dentist, use and introduce this to my patients,” said UKCD student Bethany Burton.”

After the pilot program, assistant dean of student affairs and adjunct faculty Christine Harper and Dr. Pam Stein VanArsdall, UKCD professor of oral health science, began instructor training in the Koru mindfulness method. Targeting college students and other emerging adults, Koru offers mind-body skills such as abdominal breathing and guided imagery, as well as insight meditation practice, that quickly reduce distress and build motivation to practice stress management.

“Our students have a massive amount of information to absorb, as well as the difficult task of learning and perfecting their hand skills to perform a variety of oral surgeries and procedures. It’s very challenging, and we try to find ways to help students manage their anxiety and stress,” said VanArsdall.

“Using an evidence-based practice, such as mindfulness, can help improve their quality of life while they are at UKCD,” VanArsdall said. “It’s truly a life skill they can use after graduation to help manage the stress and challenges of being a practicing dentist as well.”

UKCD now offers its students an elective 4-week mindful meditation course. In groups of 10 to 12, students meet once a week for 75 minutes to discuss assigned reading and learn and practice mindfulness techniques. They also are asked to practice techniques for 10 minutes each day and keep a journal.

During the course’s first session, students are asked why they are taking it. Common responses include the desire to relax between classes, the need to manage anxiety before tests, and a longing for help in balancing everything. TED talks on meditation also inspired some students to try the class, which is growing in popularity.

“I’m very glad that I participated in the mindfulness course and have already recommended it to my classmates, especially if they are dealing with stress, poor sleeping habits, jumbling thoughts, or any other problem,” said UKCD student Austin Delpont.

“To get the full benefit of mindfulness exercised, you have to buy in completely,” said UKCD student Troy Miller. “But if you fully immerse yourself in it, it will make a difference in your daily life.”

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