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When our parents were yea high, the distractions in their lives included flies buzzing at the screen door and this newfangled invention called a ‘television.’ Mastering concentration was a lot less difficult back in the day.

We are considerably more ADD’d than our folks: electronic alerts inform our every move (Facebook wall post! New Spotify playlist! Face Time!). Skype has inverted our body clocks. And instead of midnight oil, stress – real aching stress – burns in our screen-blue eyes. It’s also likely that you can’t focus because of reasons you’ve never considered: undiagnosed ADHD, lack of exercise and/or exposure to sunlight, or an uninspiring major.

Today, we’re listing 10 possible reasons your concentration is at an all-time low, while your social media presence is at an all-time high. But rest assured, we’re not in full-on Debbie Downer mode – we’re also bringing you 10 solutions to boost your focus and concentration.

Problem #1: The Internet

There isn’t much that goes on today without the assistance of the Internet. Professors post to Tumblr, you unwind after class with Netflix, and Wikipedia teaches you everything you know. Add to this the hilarity of/constant updates to Reddit, Imgur, StumbleUpon and Hulu – well, it’s no surprise you’re not getting anything done!

Solution: Download a blocker for your browser

Blasphemy, I know. But if you can’t go anywhere that’s not your school’s internal server, your energy will channel itself into the work in front of you. Create incentives for lifting the blocker: for every 1 1/2 hours you study, you get to watch thirty minutes of YouTube, or read ‘The Onion.’

Problem #2: Tech Overload

A few years ago, most everyone had a cell phone and an MP3 player. Today, we’re on track to universal tablet acquisition, purchasing every new toy Apple waves at us, and sunglasses that change colors as your iPod loses power. (Okay, that last one isn’t real, but you get the point.) Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we get a USB drive, then a charging cable, and then a power strip for our power strip.

Solution: Create tech-free zones in your schedule  

Resist checking your phone in class. It might aid in your studying. Put away all electronics when you study – textbooks still exist, and it might be more liberating to take notes in longhand.

Problem #3: Stress

The economy is in the tank. Your significant other is studying abroad. Your history professor gets an evil gleam in her eye when she assigns a 15-page paper, due the same day as your stats final exam. Being young in the 21st century is filled with all kinds of stressors, and there’s no need to deny that you’re overwhelmed.

Solution: Implement daily relaxation tactics  

Pull out construction paper and scissors and markers and crayons – relive the third grade. Nap. Take a yoga class, and don’t judge yourself when you slip out of downward-facing dog. Sit in the nearest park sans book, iPod, homework. Host movie night and watch something funny together (‘Arrested Development’ is always a good bet, plus it jump-starts the quoting marathon). I highly recommend going to the movies; there’s nothing like unwinding, after a long day, with strangers in a huge, dark room, enthralled by the image in front of you. (So long as the movie isn’t, you know, ‘Twilight.’)

Problem #4: Coffee

I can visualize the hate mail now. Yes, it’s how you function. Yes, it’s how you kill your headache/panic attack. Yes, without it you’d never show up to class. A cup or two in the morning is fine. If you think back to D.A.R.E., however, you’ll recall caffeine too is a drug. So treat it with respect, and don’t let it run your life. It’s not your job to subsidize the lives of Starbucks executives.

Solution: Minimize your caffeine intake

Again, one or two cups in the morning is fine. After three PM, make a strenuous effort to drink decaf or herbal teas. Better yet, buy a Klean Kanteen and chug water. Cleansing your system will keep your skin healthy, rid your body of bacteria and germs, and reduce chances of catching a cold.

Problem #5: Sleep deprivation

I don’t know anyone in the 16-29 age range, male or female, who gets enough sleep. Staying up late to argue Kantian ethics or catch up on ‘SNL’ is understandable, but the health benefits of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day are enormous. I speak from personal experience when I say that this one adjustment quickly becomes second nature. And once your body achieves this rhythm, it can focus on keeping you alert and confident throughout the day.

Solution: Start scaling back your bedtime

Try going to bed 20 minutes earlier every night for the next few nights, until you set a proper bedtime. Some people can function with six to seven hours, but everyone is different, and you’ll need to find a cutoff point that is proportionate to your energy level the next morning.

Problem #6: Poor diet

Fudge Stripes. Soda. Potato chips. French fries. Pizza. Milk chocolate. Chocolate milk. There is nothing wrong with helping yourself to come Cadbury Fruit & Nut, but you have to remind yourself that being unkind to your body now will cause considerable difficulty when you’re older. Think diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and so on.

Solution: Eat better, you fools

Brown rice instead of white. No Chinese food delivery after 6 PM. No delivery more than once a week period. Whole wheat crackers instead of potato chips. Carrot sticks and hummus. Fruit – all the fruit you want. One square of dark chocolate a day, for people with insistent sweet tooths. If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. Read the damn nutrition labels and put it back if you see HFCS anywhere. Put. It. Back.

Problem #7: Depression

Ah, that most fickle of young adulthood’s headaches. It’s easy to mistake over/under-sleeping, low energy, lack of enthusiasm and skipping class as existential angst. If you notice this or a similar pattern, soundtracked by Elliott Smith or Radiohead, however, it’s likely clinical. No need to assume you need meds, but don’t let this fester either. Depression is known to spiral out of control and cause all sorts of life-interrupting misery, the worst of which is fatal.

Solution: Sunshine + Comedy + Counseling

First, get thee to the campus health center and schedule an appointment. University therapists are well-equipped to deal with the stresses of college life, and will take you seriously. If they say medication will help, listen to them – they’re not in cahoots with Big Pharma and have your health in mind. Watch funny TV shows and movies and add silly, horrible music to your iTunes playlist. The Spice Girls are not the female reincarnation of The Beatles, but belting “Wannabe” is a perfectly acceptable way to greet your morning.

Problem #8: Low satisfaction with your coursework/major

Feeling uninspired as pre-med? Wish you were learning about international relations as you sit in stats? Want to read ‘The Wealth of Nations’ instead of ‘Moby-Dick’? The problem may lie with your major. Everyone complains about intro classes, but if you dread going to intermediate/advanced courses in your major, the next four years are only going to make you feel worse.

Solution: Consider a different route

Find out who your adviser is and make an appointment. Few relationships are as beneficial as the one you have with your adviser/assistant dean of students. Tell him/her what makes you honestly happy – numbers, words, history, animals – and map the rest of your college life from there.

Problem #9: Too little exercise

Exhaustion, sleep deprivation, poor diet are all major contributors to cut-rate health, but a sedentary lifestyle is pretty bad for you too. Weak muscles and poor blood circulation lowers your immunity’s defenses, not to mention causing discomfited Golden Years.

Solution: EXERCISE

But engage in activity that doesn’t feel like punishment. If you hate running, dance, or ride your bicycle everywhere. Ask a friend to be your workout buddy – exercising with a friend will hold you accountable, and you can encourage one another.

Problem #10: ADHD

Short attention spans aren’t just a George W. Bush punchline anymore. If you find you really can’t focus on anything longer than a few minutes, ADHD may be to blame. The condition often goes undiagnosed during childhood because of general hyperactivity. But college is all about securing your health so your studies don’t suffer. ADD/ADHD will – and does – interfere with both.

Solution: Counseling

Again, get thee to the student health center. A doctor’s advice (and medication) will help you deal with a potential diagnosis. Don’t be afraid to share this with friends and/or family – anyone who loves you will take pride in your proactive attitude regarding your health.

Do you have any other tips for mastering concentration?


Featured photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc