Rob Vanston is a student studying a Creative Writing MA at the University of Brighton, and has an unhealthy interest in cosmic horror. He is currently doing a writer’s residency for the Centre of Arts and Wellbeing where his aim is to explore the experiences and benefits of mindfulness on his creative work through this blog.


“True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.”[1]

–– Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks: Whispers of Now.


For the last few years I’ve been a full-time student at the University of Brighton with a BA in Creative Writing, now studying for an MA in the same subject. I’ve also been doing this whilst working full-time nights at a well-known supermarket in the city. I can tell you that’s it’s hard work but achievable. Just. How do I cope? Well, some days I do, and some days I don’t. Part of the Creative Writing MA requires students to participate in active placements in a working environment where their creative writing skills are put to good use through a community project that will benefit both the student and the work placement. I chose to do mine with the Centre of Arts and Wellbeing in order to explore the benefits of mindfulness and  on my creativity. This blog is all about how I try to balance work, study, uni and personal life is tricky, and what effect it has on my life. Through this blog I want to show my journey with mindfulness and what effects it has on me.


A normal week for Rob:

It’s Friday and it’s 6.30am and my alarm has gone off, but it’s not ringing me to get out of bed. Far from it, the sole purpose of my alarm is to remind me my shift has ended. I leave work, jump on a bus, go home. My dog Cooper is waiting for me at the door. He needs to go out, he’s been crossing his legs for the last hour. My partner is still in bed and refuses to go out with her make-up on. After the walk I jump in the shower. Working when you’re supposed to be sleeping messes with my body clock. I still can’t go to bed though because I need food, coffee, and for my brain to stay alert. 7.45am I have to be out of the house to get the bus to university. At this point of the day my body wants to curl up and die in one of the comfy chairs  in Elm House, but my screaming cerebral cortex needs several cups of caffeine to jump start it. I get to the lecture for 9am and somehow have to try and stay awake until the end, 12noon. I hop on a bus and head back home; Cooper still needs his second walk plus I still have to read five poems for John, and compile a list of 15 poems that inspire me. Me and my partner head out to the lagoon with Cooper. I need a break to get my head back to a cohesive strain of thought; that isn’t happening, it’s a hurricane of chaos. I have a blog to rewrite (again), poems to read and scrutinize, a short story to prep, as well as fit in a session of meditation to write about the experience. My temples hurt because I can’t organise the splattering of thoughts that are churning. I get back around 4pm and try to write, my thoughts are still on spin dry, and before you know it, dinner is ready, and the dog needs his third walk. My partner refuses to go out when its dark, she doesn’t feel safe at this time of night. 10pm I finally hit the pillow, and I’m out like a dim bulb.

Saturday morning I wake up around 7am, take Cooper out and again at 2pm, in-between I try to study. 2pm I’m back in bed as I work every Saturday night. If I can get just 4 measly hours before work starts I should be okay. This doesn’t happen, my mind is too wired, too focused on rewriting the fourth (or is it fifth, maybe even sixth) draft of this blog for Jess. She has sent it back several times saying it isn’t right. I need more of you in it, she says. 6pm comes and I’ve spent four hours tossing and turning, clockwatching via mobile phone. My wellbeing is suffering. I get up have a coffee, two coffees, and take Cooper out for his final walk of the day, so he can settle in front of the TV. The dog has better mindfulness than I do.

6.30am and my alarm goes off. Home time, walk Cooper, eat, try to sleep. Sunday is the only day I get  a full day’s kip, 8am to 4pm should be ample time to get a day’s sleep, but this doesn’t happen as insecurities of oversleeping cause me to stay awake panicking about getting up at the correct time. Police cars and noisy passers-by don’t help either, or the Deliveroo driver that has had to press every button on the entrance keypad because flat 11 has their music up so loud she can’t hear her tacos have arrived. The only good thing about Sunday is I finish early 4am next morning, giving me at least eight hours before I’m on campus, which whittles down to four hours sleep once factors like walking Cooper, eating and travelling time is considered. Having a beer at 4.30am suddenly seems like a good idea. After getting back from uni, typing up some words, walking the dog, and eating, it’s 10pm before I see the pillow. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday blur into one roller-coaster of sleep, work, uni, off, sleep, uni, sleep, work, before its time to go to uni on Friday morning once again. I have to do this because the student loan for my MA doesn’t cover all my bills, and living in Brighton during the current economic crisis is a financial struggle. [2] I’m sure this is true for other students elsewhere too, because the Office for National Statistics told me so.

I tire very quickly on my nights off and I always fall asleep leaving my partner to watch Eastenders on her own, and when I try to concentrate on studying, it fizzles out because my eyes droop in front of my laptop. I get grumpy towards my work colleagues, and ashamedly get arsey and introverted towards my partner, simply because we are two cogs working opposite circadian rhythms. Some days I just want to be left alone but living in a two-bed flat that’s near on impossible to achieve.

It’s difficult for a day walker to understand a night owls’ body clock. It takes me about 60ish minutes to fully wind down and feel drowsy. You can’t just switch off. My body has adrenaline swirling around it’s system at that time of the morning, so a light meal and a couple of beers is my go-to sleep instigator. I don’t advocate drinking in the morning, but you have to remember this is my night-time. My partner used to invade the living room, open curtains flooding my vampire eyes with unnecessary UV rays, setting off a hormone called cortisol that shakes the brain from its slumber. To trick the brain into thinking it’s night-time I try to keep everything to a set routine as if it were, that includes closing curtains. I get on average about four full 8 eight sleeps per week, which amount to 32, and the rest comes in several 4-hour blocks if I’m lucky, averaging 40 hours weekly rather than the recommended 56 needed for the body and mind to fully refresh and recover. Good knows what Jess thinks every time I yawn during her lectures. If anyone needs mindfulness it’s me.

The results of poor mindfulness amongst students are staggering. In a recent survey released by the Cibyl Mental Health Study, it was found that out of the 12,796 students and graduates that took part in their survey, at least 39% reported a decline in their mental health after starting university.[3] And of that, 50% worry about their mental health daily or weekly. I worry about mine all the time. Another study, this time by King’s College London, revealed that multiple factors since the Covid-19 pandemic such as the cost-of-living crisis also has not helped students mental health, with many struggling to pay for rent and food even when in part-time work. The report also revealed that of the 30,324 students surveyed, 8,821 (29%) considered dropping out. The same study also revealed that female students had a higher rate of mental ill-health than their male peers, and that further data showed that suicide rates ‘skewed towards young men’.[4] Other data suggests that women are more likely to graduate than men with 530,170 graduating in 2022 with men 387,690 completing theirs.[5]

However, figures from Student Finance Loans revealed that in 2022/23 41,630 students decided to drop out, with The Independent reporting that on average a third of dropouts state that mental health is the main cause. That’s at least 13,800. I don’t want to be part of that last statistic when I graduate.

In 2023, The University of Jordan published results of a study designed to assess the degree of mindfulness and academic achievement based on gender amongst their students discovering ‘that practicing mindfulness can enhance cognitive processes, attention regulation, and working memory,’ and also ‘reduce stress and enhance psychological wellbeing’ among students.[6] The study concluded that there were ‘no significant differences in the total degree of mindfulness due to the gender variable’, but there were differences ‘in the total degree of mindfulness due to the variable level of achievement’ and were ‘in favour of those with high achievements’,[7] meaning, mindfulness helps you achieve more no matter who you are.

I had been aware of mindfulness for years. My partner has countless books on the subject written by everyone from Eckhart Tolle to Deepak Chopra. Occasionally I dip into them for a quote or too for an essay, but never took it seriously due to the ‘hippy stigma’ attached to it. My partner has been trying to nudge me into mindfulness for several years now, and so when this residency came up I jumped at the opportunity. I thought it was time to look after myself for a change and I want to share my experiences with anyone who is either thinking about doing it, or has not thought about it at all.

I recently attended a 45-minute walk-in meditation session at The Brighton Buddhist Centre. You are first led into a bright welcoming spacious room decorated with a massive portrait of Buddha, flanked with candles and tealights, more Buddhas, cushions and mats as you’d expect. Then our teacher enters and starts the session. Her demeanour is gracious but commanding and gets your respect straight away. She explained that the first part of the session is to get you to forget the outside world briefly and to help concentrate on bringing your mind to focus on the breath and if you feel uncomfortable please shift about until you are. Comfort is everything during meditation. The session begins with the soft clang of a singing bowl, then the teacher leads us in with soft spoken words to help your consciousness get to where it should be; the place where your mind can switch off and relax for a while. I have to admit I did find this a challenge at first because you’re in a room full of strangers, doing something that you would never do normally or have the balls to do before. All the pent-up anxieties, slowly disappeared, quelled, as the teacher who led the meditation knew her stuff, her voice was calming and that helped massively. I shut my eyes and let the natural action of breathing through the nose take over, cold air in… warm air out, leaving nothing but the haziness of natural sounds in the room slowly dissipate.

The second meditation starts and it’s deeper than the first. Time did not factor into this part; it seemed longer, but wasn’t. After twenty anonymous minutes she chimed the bowl for the final time. My brain had shut down and entered a subconscious state, similar to a REM cycle. There is scientific evidence that shows that the brain controls your metabolism by decreasing it and your blood pressure during these periods.[8] How many times have you been asked a question during the day, and you find yourself knowing the answer but not being able to unlock it? Then without warning when you haven’t been thinking about it for a few days the answer suddenly pops into your head. That’s because your brain rebooted overnight and was able to find the data, amongst the mind clutter. It didn’t have moving body parts and cognitive thinking to distract it, just the act of pure data retrieval.

The meditation brought about a serenity that was strangely energising, my thoughts returned to the things which were bothering before the session (bearing in mind I had little sleep before starting my nightshift the day before, and had gone straight to uni after work which left me sluggish and worn out), I felt like I could deal with them in an organised way.

So, if you are feeling overwhelmed by assignments and deadlines, and are struggling to fit it in with your daily life and other appointments, I highly recommend giving meditation a try. And if you are worried about the ‘hippy stigma’, don’t be; everyone I met was there for the same reason as me: to switch off from their busy lives and regain inner peace.


Read Rob Vanston’s other blog posts in this series –

Writer in Residence | Rob Vanston | Mindfulness: The Problem of Men Asking for Help

Writer in Residence | Rob Vanston | Mindfulness: Reverie–The Calm after the Storm



The Brighton Buddhist Centre 

Daily walk-in meditation classes Monday to Friday. By donation (they take cash or card and have even said if you can’t afford it you don’t need to pay or donate).

Address: 17, Tichborne Street, Brighton BN1 1UR



Bodhisattva Kampa Meditation Centre

Lunchtime meditations Tuesday to Friday 12.30pm to 1pm £3 per person.

Address: 3, Lansdowne Road, Brighton, East Sussex, BN3 1DN.





Alomari, Hassan. ‘Mindfulness and its relationship to academic achievement among university students’, Frontiers In Education [Online], Volume 8, 28th June 2023. Available at: < >. [Accessed on 9th February 2024].

Davies, Jeanie Lerche . ‘Meditation Balances the Body’s Systems’, WebMD [Online], 1st March 2006. Available at: < >. [Accessed on 7th February 2024].

‘Nearly two in five students say their mental health has declined since starting university’, FE News [Online], 2nd November 2023. Available at: < >. [Accessed on 9th February 2024].

‘Student Mental Health in 2023’, King’s College London [Online]. Available at: < >. [Accessed on 9th February 2024].

Tolle, Eckhart. Stillness Speaks: Whispers of Now (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2003).

[1] Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks: Whispers of Now (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2003) p. 7.

[2] ‘Student Voices: Experiences of the rising cost of living’, Office of National Statistics [Online] 6th September 2023. Available at: < >. [Accessed on: 13th February 2024].

[3] Nearly two in five students say their mental health has declined since starting university’, FE News [Online], 2nd November 2023. Available at: < >. [Accessed on 9th February 2024].

[4] ‘Student Mental Health in 2023’, King’s College London [Online]. Available at: < >. [Accessed on 9th February 2024].

[5] Andrew Fennell, ‘Graduate Statistics for the UK’ Stand Out CV [Online], March 2023. Available at: < >. [Accessed on 13th February 2024].

[6] Hassan Alomari, ‘Mindfulness and its relationship to academic achievement among university students’, Frontiers In Education [Online], Volume 8, 28th June 2023. Available at: < >. [Accessed on 9th February 2024].

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jeanie Lerche Davies, ‘Meditation Balances the Body’s Systems’, WebMD [Online], 1st March 2006. Available at: < >. [Accessed on 7th February 2024].

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