Strategies to improve attention

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

“A clear vision, backed by definite plans, gives you a tremendous feeling of confidence and personal power.”
Brian Tracy, author Focal Point.

With increased time spent on remote and hybrid work/school environments many people are increasingly experiencing more difficulties with attention/focus.

In the book Answers to Distraction, Dr Edward Hallowell and Dr John Ratey discuss several strategies to improve focus.  Some of them include the following, with my comments in “[italics]”:

  1. Establish a structure, and routine. [Consider incorporating breaks, and a variety of tasks periodically throughout the work period].
  2. Make use of frequent lists [To do, and NOT to do lists can be helpful].
  3. Color code your physical environment, files, text, schedules etc. this can help make things more memorable.
  4. Rituals [Or routines around work/studying can be helpful for some people].
  5. Reminders [Using calendars, sticky notes, timers etc].
  6. Develop a filing system [This can help minimize clutter in your work space, as clutter can be distracting].
  7. When possible, only handle it once (OHIO), this can be helpful with small tasks because an ever expanding to do list can increase guilt, anxiety, resentment in some people.
  8. Build in some buffer time for projects and obligations to account for the unexpected.
  9. Embrace challenges. [If the work you are doing is not interesting enough, identify an activity, task, or project of your own choosing to spend some time on each day. This pre planned time can help reduce excessive social media usage, web browsing, email/message checking etc].
  10. Make deadlines. [In some instances, make them ahead of external deadlines, in other instances create them, this can help focus. I often suggest to students to ask themselves, “what is one thing (outside of daily routine/obligations) that you choose to do today that will help you  feel accomplished?”].
  11. Break down large tasks into smaller ones WITH deadlines attached to them.  Larger tasks can feel overwhelming, which can lead to anxiety  and procrastination. [For a student struggling to work on a paper due next week, a smaller goal of writing a paragraph each morning may be more doable].
  12. Prioritize rather than procrastinate. [When you get the feeling that you have a lot to do, identify the most important activity you need to do today or most pressing deadline, can help you channel your focus].
  13. Identify the physical environment, and conditions where you do your work best. [For some this may be a noisy café, or while listening to background music, for others, it may be a decluttered, quiet, space with little background noise].
  14. Identify tasks or activities that you are good at doing, and those you enjoy. [This could help you identify roles in team projects, type of job you choose, types of classes to take, selecting an appropriate major, etc].
  15. Take breaks. [Taking frequent breaks during the day to look at your schedule, and re-organize for the next time block can be helpful.  One such strategy is the POMODORO technique].
  16. Having a notepad [or a note taking app readily available whenever possible] taking notes on a fleeting thought or idea that comes to mind can help clear the mind to improve focus.
  17. Taking notes when reading can help improve focus but also reduce the “cascade of “other” thoughts”.

Other strategies to improve attention/focus:

Additional resources:

  • Answers to distraction Dr Edward Hallowell and Dr John Ratey
  • Focal point, by Brian Tracy
  • The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey
  • Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
  • Taking charge of adult adhd by Dr Russell Barkley

Campus resources:

  • Consider improving study skills through the OSU Dennis Learning center.
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Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

 

Meditation for attention, stress, and anxiety

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Life transitions can be times of increased stress and anxiety; which can also impact your attention and focus.  One of those transitions includes moving to campus, preparing for the beginning of the fall semester, adjusting to new routines, campus life, etc.

While there are many strategies to help with the transition process, meditation may be the 1 thing to consider because it can be quick, easy, and has low potential for side effects; and has the potential to benefit everyone.  It is practiced by some of the most successful people in the world.

A review of 13 studies showed improvement in ADHD symptoms with mindfulness meditation (1).

41 trials show mindfulness meditation helped improve stress related outcomes such as anxiety, depression, stress, positive mood, etc. (2)

A review of 14 clinical trials shows meditation being more effective than relaxation techniques for anxiety (3).

What are come caveats?

  • While there are many types of mediation techniques, mindfulness-based meditation is the most studied.
  • Different people may benefit from different types of meditation, and this area is being further researched.
  • Practicing regularly may lead to improved benefits.

How to learn meditation?

  • Various apps, books, videos, classes, and guides may be a useful introduction to meditation.

What else might help improve attention, anxiety, and stress related to the beginning of the semester?

What are some helpful resources?

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References:

  1. Poissant, H., Mendrek, A., Talbot, N., Khoury, B., & Nolan, J. (2019). Behavioral and Cognitive Impacts of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Systematic Review. Behavioural neurology2019, 5682050. doi:10.1155/2019/5682050
  2. Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EMS, et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2014 Jan. (Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, No. 124.)Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK180102/
  3. Montero-Marin, J., Garcia-Campayo, J., Pérez-Yus, M., Zabaleta-del-Olmo, E., & Cuijpers, P. (n.d.). Meditation techniques v. relaxation therapies when treating anxiety: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Medicine,1-16. doi:10.1017/S0033291719001600

Digital Media and Inattention Symptoms

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

While there are many positive benefits of media consumption, excessive consumption can have negative consequences.

The average American consumer spends about 4.9 hours per day watching TV, 75 minutes per day on their smartphone and 62 minutes per day listening to radio (1). Many people spend most of their workday working on a computer.

TV and video gaming has been associated with adhd and related symptoms in a review of studies from 1987 to 2011 (2).

A recent study looked at many forms of digital media usage and adhd type symptoms (2).

Who was involved in the study? (3)

  • 4100 students ages 15 and 16 years were followed for 2 years.
  • Starting baseline and every 6 months, they were given surveys on digital media usage, inattention and hyperactivity.

How did the study define digital media (3)?

In this study digital media usage included using a variety of devices for social media, smart phone usage, streaming media, web browsing, messaging/video chatting, etc.

How did they define frequency of digital media usage? (3)

High-frequency (many times per day) vs other frequency levels (0, 1-2 times per week, 1-2 times per day).

What were the results? (3)

  • Among students with no adhd symptoms to begin with, those who used digital media at high frequency were more as likely to report symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity compared to those use rarely used digital media.
  • The most common high frequency media activity reported was checking social media.
  • Over 2 years of  follow up, the students who reported no high-frequency media use at baseline were half as likely to have ADHD symptoms across follow-ups vs students who reported 14 high-frequency activities.

What are some caveats?

  • This is a large study of young adults followed over 2 years.
  • They looked at many participants with little or no adhd symptoms to begin with.
  • While this study shows an association between digital media usage and adhd symptoms, it does not necessarily show that one causes the other.
  • This study was done on adolescents, which limits applicability of results to other age groups.
  • Further study is needed.

What are some negative consequences of excessive screen time?

Excessive screen time can (4):

  • Worse executive functioning
  • Increase aggressive behavior due to violent media content
  • Elevate depression risk
  • Decrease sleep quality.

Some individuals may also spend less time sleeping because of screen usage; which can worsen daytime fatigue and productivity.

Other studies show that screen time can also worsen the physical health of adults in many different ways.

Oftentimes, excessive media consumption can take time away from other self-care activities.

Are there some useful ideas around media usage?

American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on media use for children and adolescents advise to (6,7):

  • Prioritize activities that promote executive functioning and well-being, including
    • Sleep
    • Physical activity
    • Distraction-free homework
    • And positive interactions with family and friends.
  • Encourages discussions about pro-social uses of media, digital citizenship, misinformation, and persuasion awareness—are relevant to the cognitive and emotional reactions to digital media of adolescents.

Consider periodic breaks, and rules around how often and how much media you consume electively.

  • Consider limiting elective screen-time to less than 2 hours per day (5).  Focus on quality instead of quantity.
  • Some people find it useful to use a timer.
  • There are apps that can help you limit excessive screen time.
  • For other tips, go here
  • In some cases excessive media consumption may be a red flag for mental health concerns.

Any other thoughts on media consumption?

  • While there are no specific guidelines for adults, if most of your day studying or working in front of a screen, choosing to spend leisurely time spent on other electronic devices, phones, tablets etc. may not balance your life or your brain.  It may lead to increased stress and fatigue.
  • How much time are you spending on electronic devices? Is this making you productive or just busy?
  • How do you feeling during and afterwards?
  • How is this impacting your mental health, physical health, productivity, academics ?
  • Have you set limits on elective media consumption and should you cut back?
  • Should you be doing other activities to balance your life; such as sleep, exercise, cooking nutritious food, spending quality time with others, etc. ?

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References:

  1. https://www.statista.com/topics/1536/media-use/
  2. Nikkelen  SW, Valkenburg  PM, Huizinga  M, Bushman  BJ.  Media use and ADHD-related behaviors in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis.  Dev Psychol. 2014;50(9):2228-2241. doi:10.1037/a0037318
  3. Ra CK, Cho J, Stone MD, et al. Association of Digital Media Use With Subsequent Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adolescents. JAMA. 2018;320(3):255–263. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.8931
  4. Reid Chassiakos Y., Radesky J., Christakis D., et al: Children and Adolescents and Digital Media. Elk Grove Village (IL): The American Academy of Pediatrics, 2016.
  5. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/reduce-screen-time/index.htm
  6. Radesky J. Digital Media and Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adolescents. JAMA.2018;320(3):1–2. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.8932
  7. Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents. COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA.