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Concentration is a skill that can be practised

Updated 29.9.: Info about the registeration added.

You repeatedly grab your phone while reading for an exam, struggle with starting your study assignments or find finishing your thesis overwhelming. Sounds familiar?

A surprisingly large number of students agree. Psychologist Johanna Vilmi, who works with students, also noticed this last year: more and more students have difficulty concentrating. As a result, assignments and study progress are delayed, which can cause anxiety.

“Many students worry they might have ADHD, but difficulty concentrating is a general symptom that may be due to a variety of reasons, such as depression, long-term stress or insomnia.”

Nowadays we also talk about ADT, a self-induced attention deficit trait where we teach our brain to perform short-term tasks. If we get bored or our mind starts wandering, we grab our phone and start flicking through social media just for fun.

“If we spend our time mainly with short texts and jump from one thing to another, the brain will adapt accordingly, which will make it harder to study long texts. Luckily we can also teach our brain conscious and deeper concentration.”

Taking a break from social media improves mood

Vilmi believes that anyone with difficulty concentrating may benefit from mind training, whether they have ADHD or a mind that is unable to concentrate. Vilmi and education specialist Veera Virintie run a company called Silta Education that organises coaching programmes to help FSHS students improve their ability to concentrate.

There are two kinds of courses: one takes place solely online while the second also includes weekly group sessions.

“The coaching programme is designed to help students understand themselves better and so find the best tools to improve concentration”, Virintie says.

Each course week has a different theme. During the motivation and self-understanding week students will reflect on what motivated them to choose their field of study in the first place and what they want to do after completing their studies. During the second theme week students will think about what they want and what they don’t want in their study environment in terms of study progression and what prevents them from dealing with distractions.

“Many students have mentioned their fear of missing out (FOMO). They don’t want to miss anything important and refuse to mute their phone even during assignments that require concentration”, Virintie explains.

During the coaching programme, many participants have taken a break from social media and realised that it improves their mood and sharpens concentration.

Exercise improves concentration

Vilmi and Virintie say that the course has helped many participants to find a sense of control and to understand that the situation is not hopeless: concentration is a skill that can be practised. One of the biggest take-home messages has been the positive effect of exercise on concentration.

“Exercise increases the production of agents such as dopamine, which is crucial for motivation, learning and concentration. Exercise also boosts concentration because it reduces stress and anxiety”, Vilmi explains.

A study showing the positive effects of morning exercise on schoolchildren’s ability to concentrate encouraged many course participants to follow suit.

“If you want to help your brain focus before studying for an exam, try doing moderate heart rate enhancing exercise such as running, cycling, swimming or keep-fit exercises for 30-45 minutes”, Virintie suggests.

Peer support from swarm intelligence

One of the course weeks deals with stress. Students will do breathing exercises, as there are a lot of similarities between calm breathing and practising concentration.

“We’ll also give stress a new meaning: it’s not just a negative state of mind but in small amounts can make you more efficient and productive. This fact could reduce stress-related anxiety”, Virintie claims.

Students can benefit from what’s called ‘swarm intelligence’, and peer support is something they’ve found empowering. It’s comforting to hear that there are others with the same concentration problems.

“We’re living in a competitive society, and social media in particular can make you think that while others succeed you’re the only one not achieving anything. In the group you realise that others too find it difficult to set themselves targets and stick to them.”

Vilmi and Virintie are delighted that 80% of the participants last spring benefited from the course. “Starting the course at the right time is crucial. Even though the assignments only take up 30-60 minutes weekly, students have to devote an entire month to the course. It’s good to keep an open mind and try new ideas to make studying easier”, Virintie says.

The courses are starting on October 17th, max. 30 people on both courses. Registeration for courses from Self online service.

Updated 11.10.2022: Unfortunately both courses are now full.

In 2022, the FSHS produces additional mental health services to reduce the harmful effects caused by the coronavirus pandemic in students of higher education institutions with a government grant from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The courses coordinated by Siltaeducation are part of this.