As the new decade finds its beginning, the University of New Mexico is on its way to the end of its fall semester.
Finals — coinciding with the holidays and the change in the weather — often leave people feeling stressed, exhausted and irritable. Coincidentally, all three of these things are detrimental to a healthy life balance and achieving the desired grades.
In an effort to help college students everywhere stay a little bit saner, researchers across the globe have studied the best ways to reduce stress and the most effective study habits.
According to an article in the New York Times, much of what people think they know about effective learning and stress reduction isn’t actually helpful at all — and in some cases is actually a detriment.
The article cites that everyone learns differently and experiences motivation to learn and complete tasks in individualized ways. For example, one commonly accepted "healthy" study habit is the practice of studying in a consistent place, both quiet and familiar. Realistically, this practice is not the key to being a good learner or effective studier; rather, switching up locations for studying helps people remember information better.
"For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing," New York Times author Benedict Carey said.
Another study published in the American Psychological Association found that generally healthy life habits established outside of studying helped students reduce stress and anxiety while improving retention when studying. In other words, people who had previously established coping mechanisms such as eating a healthy breakfast or exercising would maintain these habits during high levels of academic, intellectual and emotional stress — allowing them to effectively cope with these feelings.
"For example, Wood and colleagues found that students in the midst of exams had less willpower and motivational energy, reverting to habits they had developed earlier in the semester," author Amy Novotney said in her article from the American Psychological Association.
She added that those who tended to eat a healthy breakfast stuck with this behavior even under stress, while those who reported often eating an unhealthy breakfast during non-exam weeks continued to do so during exams.
Another article in the New York Times examined the impact of smartphones on a persons’ anxiety, stress and ability to focus. According to the author of the article Catherine Price, the use of cell phones increases cortisol, a hormone released into the body as a stress response. Ultimately, excessive release of cortisol and chronic stress can result in a shorter life span — all because everyone’s eyes and minds are glued, possibly addicted to phones.
According to Price, the average American spends four hours a day staring at their smartphone and keeps it within arm’s reach nearly all the time, according to a tracking app called Moment.
The result, as Google has noted in a report, is that "mobile devices loaded with social media, email and news apps" create "a constant sense of obligation, generating unintended personal stress."
Smartphones cause an increase in multiple types of stress which people can never fully step away from because for most people phones are just an arm's length away. It serves as a distraction when trying to focus on studying and learning, compounded by all the other distractions that come along.
The Washington Post has also examined the place in which stress and academia intersect. Written by Anthony Cody the study examines the way negative stress impacts students at all ages. It is important to draw the line between negative stress — which discourages or disenfranchises — and positive stress, which motivates.
"These findings suggest that stress — in the form of negative classroom conditions — negatively affects the way children pay attention in class, stay on task and are able to move from one activity to another," according to the article.
This case studying is geared toward younger students. However, these conditions impact those who are learning regardless of their age. High levels of negative stress — according to this article — cause problems outside of just school and academia including social interactions, emotional stability and motivation.
Megan Holmen is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @megan_holmen