Harnessing The Power Of Technology: A Key Strategy To Prevent Academic Burnout

Academic stress management can be aided through personalized digital platforms dedicated to mental health.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | July 1, 2023

A new study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that technology can effectively help individuals manage stress, particularly in academic settings. The study also highlights the need to avoid overload and practice patience when dealing with stress.

"In our research into the use of appropriate technologies for academic stress management, we found that digital mental health platforms are particularly appropriate for students" said Maria-Pascale Lukenga of the University of Mons in Mons, Belgium, the lead author of the study. "They can provide stress management resources for students such as mindfulness exercises, breathing exercises, guidance on managing academic expectations, and links to mental support services."

In addition, these platforms facilitate the creation of communities where students can share their experiences and support each other.

The study gained its insights from 11 female students at the University of Mons, who were divided into two focus groups based on whether they experienced high or low stress according to the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-10). Both focus groups were then asked specific, predetermined questions around how they dealt with academic stress.

The discussions from the focus group sessions were analyzed by the researchers to observe the main themes that emerged.

Results showed that while students adopt coping strategies to deal with stress, many of the traditionally accepted coping strategies often fall short when it comes to effective stress management.

"Students often do not use the 'traditional' health services (e.g., discussion groups, psychological consultations) available to them within universities due to the stigma associated with mental difficulties, or the inaccessibility of these services with regard to their cost or waiting time, or lack of awareness of the existence of the service," commented Lukenga.

When it comes to real, functional improvements to how one copes with stress, the study found that the participants were generally optimistic about using technology, like portable biofeedback devices (including sensor-loaded wearables), to record their physiological and psychological data — which could gather more accurate, objective, and real-time data compared to subjective self-report measures.

However, it's important to note that although technology has the capability to generate detailed reports, it doesn't automatically imply that utilizing it is the most appropriate course of action.

"It is essential to avoid overwhelming students with excessive information or promoting a state of hypervigilance towards stress, as these factors can potentially worsen their situation," warned Lukenga.

In order to leverage technology for effective academic stress management, Lukenga offered four pieces of advice to students:

  • Understand that technology is just one tool among many. Technology is one tool in the stress management arsenal. Students should not overlook other methods that work for them, such as stress management workshops, psychological counseling, physical exercise, or conversations with family and friends.
  • Identify and focus on resources that help your specific needs. Identify reliable stress management resources, focus on those that specifically address individual needs, and avoid information overload.
  • Set up a time and create a suitable environment. Take precautions that will allow you to fully focus and experience the benefits of stress reduction. Committing to an environment conducive to stress reduction will enhance your ability to cope with academic stress.
  • Be patient and persistent. Similar to any change, using technology for stress management requires time and adjustment. Also, grant yourself the opportunity to explore various tools and techniques, adapting your use of technology based on what suits you best.

Lukenga gives four suggestions to educational institutions and policymakers looking to integrate technology to help students deal with stress:

  1. Create a centralized online platform that offers comprehensive information about students' academic journeys and maintains their well-being. This tailored platform would alleviate students' stress levels by providing personalized guidance and support.
  2. Customize these platforms to align with students' unique academic profiles, including their faculties or course curricula. Traditional stress management programs provided by universities frequently overlook individual backgrounds and experiences.
  3. Acknowledge the intricate nature of students' mental health concerns. Co-design the platform's content and functionality in collaboration with the students themselves. This can help understand their specific needs and promote adherence to stress management programs. Co-designing also allows for regular evaluation and adaptation of the content to effectively contribute to students' well-being and stress reduction.
  4. Digital mental health platforms can offer the opportunity to accurately measure and manage academic stress. By taking physiological and psychological aspects into account and providing students with personalized resources for stress management, institutions and individuals can help students beat academic stress.

A full interview with researcher Maria-Pascale Lukenga discussing their research can be found here: Research suggests new ways to enhance college students' mental health