Mental health impact of interruptions

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

While there are benefits to having roommates, living with others, electronic devices, studying with others; even brief interruptions of work can have drawbacks.  A study (1) by Mark and colleagues looked at this issue.

What was the study?

  • Mark and colleagues (1) studied the impact of interruptions via phone or interruptions via instant messaging on 48 college students, average age 26 years old.
  • Participants were given information and asked to answer related emails as “quickly, politely, and correctly as possible”.
  • During the task, participants were subjected to phone or instant messaging interruptions related, or unrelated to the task or no interruptions.

What were the results?

  • Mark and colleagues (1) found that people in the interrupted conditions experienced a higher workload, more stress, higher frustration, more time pressure, and effort.
  • Depending on the type of interruption, they also found that it could take upto 23 minutes to return to the original task (1).

What are some potential strategies to minimize interruptions?

  • When studying minimize/turn off unnecessary notifications on your electronic devices.
  • Students may want to time some of their studying around the schedules of others in their living situation (house with family members, roommates, etc); and parts of the day when there are fewer interruptions by others.  It may be helpful to proactively communicate with others about your wish to not be interrupted for certain times of the day.
  • Identify study areas on campus that have few interruptions.
  • Some students may benefit from white noise or instrumental music to help maintain focus others may prefer a quiet space.
  • It may be useful to study or do a key task or two first thing in the morning before using electronic devices or doing other tasks.
  • Try keeping a notepad handy to make a note of any ideas or thoughts that may occur while you are working on a task.
  • Experiment doing 1 task at a time for with various chunks of time, to determine how long an ideal chunk of time is for you to stay focused on a single task.  This may help you schedule things more effectively in the future.
  • Consider meditation practice to improve your focus.
  • Consider the OSU Dennis Learning center to improve your study skills.
  • For stress management and mental health: Go to our mental health support options page: https://ccs.osu.edu/mental-health-support-options/

Other thoughts:

  • This is a small study and further research in this area is needed.
  • It is possible that some people may work better in high interruption environments.
  • It is also possible that interruptions have a different impact depending on the type of work you are doing and they type of interruption.
  • Further research in this area is needed.

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

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. Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudith, and Ulrich Klocke. 2008. The cost of interrupted work: more speed and stress. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’08). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 107–110. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/1357054.1357072

 

Study skills to improve memory

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

To do well in exams, students need to study material and retrieve this material at the time of exams.

This post discusses a strategy to quickly improve memory followed by other strategies to improve memory.

A small study of 36 healthy young adults conducted by Soya and colleagues, found immediate improvements in memory after just 10 minutes of low-intensity pedaling on a stationary bike (1,3).

How intense and what other type of exercise could be helpful?

A quick, light workout—which they liken in intensity to yoga or tai chi or 30% of each person’s maximum rate of oxygen consumption during exercise—was associated with heightened activity in the brain’s hippocampus, which helps us remember facts and events (1,3).

Earlier studies by Soya et.al. in rodents that found increased activity in the hippocampus and improved performance on tests of spatial memory after a light-intensity run on a controlled treadmill and more intense exercise didn’t offer the same memory boost (2,3).

How was memory assessed?

Memory was assessed using a memory test while researchers captured their brain activity by high resolution fMRI (1,3).

What were the results?

Participants made fewer errors on the image recognition test after they completed 10 minutes of very light exercise than when they only rested on the bike (1,3).

What did the brain scans show?

Brain scans of people during memory testing showed that improved memory performance was accompanied by increased activity and connectivity in the brain.

What are some caveats?

This is a small study and further research is needed.

The observed benefits of just 10 minutes of very light exercise were seen in healthy young adults (1,3).

It is not clear if longer exercise duration is more beneficial.

What else can you do to improve memory?

  • Get atleast 8 hours of sleep per night because sleep deprivation can impact many aspects of brain functioning.
  • Minimize distractions such as music or loud noises when studying, and study in an environment with minimal clutter even when you are not studying.
  • Eat healthy foods to fuel your brain.

Strategies to improve short term memory:

  1. Study frequently, in smaller chunks, and review material every few days to weeks.
  2. Entry and exit: review the hardest material first, and last.
  3. Create a meaning out of what you are learning, such as turning it into a story or a picture, linking the study material into something familiar, etc.
  4. Rearrange and combine material to make it easier to learn.
  5. Use mnemonics or memory tricks. Example, ROY G BIV stands for the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.
  6. Turn studying into a game such as flash cards, give yourself a test that you make, word matching, quiz, and exams.
  7. To watch a video on this, go to the Dennis Learning Center: https://dennislearningcenter.osu.edu/short-term-memory/

Strategies to improve long term memory:

  1. Structure information into a map or pattern (schematizing).
  2. Study frequently, in chunks, and review material every few days to weeks.
  3. Turn studying into a game such as flash cards, give yourself a test that you make, word matching, quiz, and exams.
  4. Picking out relevant information (main ideas such as chapter/paragraph headings, 1st sentence of paragraph/page, bold/italicized items) that helps you remember the bigger chunks of information (abstracting).
  5. Add something new to the information to make it stick, such as writing the information in your own words, write questions, and own examples (elaboration).
  6. Re-organizing information into diagrams, charts, or other structures that make sense to you (organizing).
  7. To watch a video on this, go to the Dennis Learning Center: https://dennislearningcenter.osu.edu/long-term-memory/

Most importantly, invest in study skills by reading books, exploring online resources on study skills.

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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.

References

  1. Rapid stimulation of human dentate gyrus function with acute mild exercise. Suwabe K, Byun K, Hyodo K, Reagh ZM, Roberts JM, Matsushita A, Saotome K, Ochi G, Fukuie T, Suzuki K, Sankai Y, Yassa MA, Soya H. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Sep 24. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. Long-term mild exercise training enhances hippocampus-dependent memory in rats. Inoue K, Hanaoka Y, Nishijima T, Okamoto M, Chang H, Saito T, Soya H. Int J Sports Med. 2015 Apr;36(4):280-285.
  3. https://directorsblog.nih.gov/2018/10/02/study-suggests-light-exercise-helps-memory/