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Academic Coaching and Study Skills

Working-memory, stress and learning during COVID-19

I’m sure many of us are feeling stressed and finding it hard to focus right now. This is a new situation for all of us that can bring on many different anxieties grabbing at our attention.

Research has shown that being faced with a new stressful event like the kind we are experiencing now with COVID-19, can reduce your working-memory capacity (Shields, Doty, Shields, et al., 2017). A lower working-memory capacity makes it harder for us to take in and learn new information and impairs our ability to read and problem solve (Jena & Acharya. 2019).

Don’t be too hard on yourself! If you find yourself struggling and not being able to concentrate or think as clearly in such a stressful time, understand that there is a physiological/psychological reason behind it, and the Academic Success Centre has tools and supports to help!

What can you do?

Managing your stress levels can help improve your attention and clarity. To cope with the emotional stress and anxiety this is having on us, reach out to friends and family with on FaceTime and Zoom. Use this as a time to be creative or play video games online with your friends.

Also, set a goal for yourself each day. A daily goal can be something like working on an assignment, reading a chapter from your textbook, or even just attending your online class. Making a day planner can add some structure to your day, and for more information, read our blog on time-management skills

Our blog series has other study tips to help you work from home such as our managing stress through mindfulness and how to deal with testing-anxiety. Check out our testing anxiety blog the mindfulness blog and the emotions blog! Research shows that if you can cope with the stress you are going through, your working-memory capacity will return (Moran, 2016).

Cody and Chelsey


Check out our blog on Testing Anxiety:

How Can I Learn with Working-Memory?



Jena & Acharya. (2019). Effect examination stress on working memory in first year medical students. International Journal of Applied Research, 5(4): 302-305

Moran, T. P. (2016). Anxiety and working memory capacity: A meta-analysis and narrative review. Psychological Bulletin142(8), 831–864.

Shieldsa, Dotyb, Shieldsc, Gowerd, Slaviche, & Andrew P. (2017). Recent life stress exposure is associated with poorer long-term memory, working memory, and self-reported memory. Stress, 20(6): 598–607. doi:10.1080/10253890.2017.1380620.