By David Schultz
First days of college are exciting times, but college is an ever-changing world. However, there are two things that will always remain constant, stress and homework. Sadly, there is nothing you can do about the homework but there are things you can do to alleviate your stress. Each student suffers from some sort of stress and that stress strangles a student’s attention. Research has shown that ordinary chronic stress limits the flexibility of the student’s attention. Also stress temporarily reduces the connectivity of the attention regulating area of the prefrontal cortex. (1) Considering attention is one of the main processes that drive cognition, stress is going to be a huge issue for student’s grades. Attention is commonly referred to as a spotlight, and stress is shown to be like smoke, limiting the effectiveness of the spotlight. High stress could be like trying to use the spotlight during a soupy fog. But exams and tests are not the only issue that students face during stressful times. Being able to pay attention to the questions asked on exams are not the only effected area. But stress can affect the amount of information that a student can collect during lecture. It is common to see students bored by lectures or drifting off during reading assignments, we all have done it at least once. This is yet another why that attention is impaired by stress and there is data to support that. Research has shown that a person who is suffering from even acute stress can be imparted in attention allocation and distractibility during situations that involve information collection. (2) Stress can pull your ability to focus on the information in lecture and next thing you know you are in a daydream.
Now stress effects are not universal among everyone, and some people can handle stress more effectively than others. The ability to handle stress is more based on someone’s lived experiences. Being exposed to high-stress environments train an individual to handle the stress of college life. Data shows that the psychological effects of stress are subjected to someone’s lived experiences. (3) There are students that add to the student body that are not fresh out of high school, some are coming back to finish a degree or completed terms of service in the United States Armed Forces.
Anxiety is also a factor, because tests and exams in the classroom can give students test anxiety. For some students even being in classroom causes anxiety, the expectations of passing the class causes anxiety to swell up. Stress is a common trigger for anxiety and some data shows the effects of both on attention. People who are under high stress situations and suffering from anxiety test lower than while they are in training for the tests. (4)
But there is hope! Stress can be managed in many ways.
1. Physical Health: There are multiple steps someone can help to reduce their stress and improve their attention. Staying active is one way, going to the gym or maybe a hike. That way endorphins are released and promoting your own well-being. Also, a healthy diet will work in conjunction with being active. Lastly, avoiding bad habits will promote your physical health. Do not over do it on caffeine, avoid drinking, and avoid illicit drugs.
2. Take Time to Laugh: Laughter has positive effects on a student’s mental health. Laughing will take a weight off one’s mental load and cool down your stress receptors. Professors who include humor into the class are a huge plus!
3. Yoga and Meditation: Meditating and yoga has been shown to be an effective method of decompressing from a stressful day. These activities are a way for someone to take their focus off their stress triggers and gives their mind a chance to breathe.
4. The Power of No: Sometimes being able to say yes is an effective way for someone to skate by. Saying yes to everything may seem like a way to keep the peace and limit the amount of social drama. But in some situations, this may cause someone more stress. So, its ok for you to say no!
5. Creative Therapy: Music and art is an amazing way to lower your stress levels. Playing music can lower your stress and takes your mind away from stress, same goes with creative art.
6. Talk It Out: Counseling is something that has a negative stigma that surrounds it. But there is nothing wrong reaching out, even if you just need to vent your frustrations. Just talking about what is on your mind to a parent, friend, professor, or a councilor alleviate some of your stress. (5)
So, be cognizant of your stress levels and take the time to use some management tools to improve your attention. You do not want to be the person in class that’s caught gazing out of a window and not paying attention to lecture. Your attention is a limited resource and you want your spotlight focused on the things that matter most. So, lower your stress levels and at the end of the semester. Your GPA will thank you!
(1) The Dana Foundation. (2009, February 10). Chronic Stress Disrupts the Brain’s Ability to Shift Attention. From The Dana Foundation: http://www.dana.org/News/Details.aspx?id=42911
(2)Sanger, J., Bechtold, L., Schoofs, D., Blaszkewicz, M., & Wascher, E. (2014, October 9). The influence of acute stress on attention mechanisms and its electrophysiological correlates. From Europe PMC: http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/25346669
(3) Palacios-Garcia, I., Villena-Gonzales, M., Campos-Arteaga, G., Artigas-Vergara, C., Jaramillo, K., Lopez, V., . . . Silva, J. (2017, November 22). Immediate effects of psychosocial stress on attention depend on subjective experience and not directly on stress-related physiological changes. From Biorxiv: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2017/11/22/223909
(4)Prinet, J. C., & Sarter, N. B. (2016, December 20). The Effects of High Stress on Attention. From Sage Journals: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1541931215591331
(5)Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016, April 21). Stress relievers: Tips to tame stress. From The Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relievers/art-20047257