The students in our college and universities classroom right now are more anxious and distracted than ever (Clabaugh et al., 2021). According to organizations such as the American Institute of Stress and American Psychological Association, rising stress and anxiety rates among higher education students are due to increased academic pressures, social media influence, less sleep, and concern over societal threats (e.g., mass violence, climate change); additionally, more students may be reporting mental health challenges because of decreased stigma around the subject. Students also appear more distracted than ever due to technological devices, namely cell phones. For example, McCoy (2016) found that college students check their cell phones on average for non-class related information at least 11 times during a typical school day (a number I suspect might be higher these days).
In light of this “new” generation of stressed-out, distracted students, the reality is professors need to expand their pedagogical toolbox to include strategies to help students to focus so they can learn content and calm the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with the fight-flight-freeze response. While these skills are incredibly important to higher education teaching, it’s not enough to be able to craft engaging lessons, weave technology into instruction and assessment, and hold interesting class discussions. So what tool can faculty use to ease anxiety without taking up too much instructional time?