I Can't Concentrate!!
“I can’t concentrate!” “Focusing is so hard!” “I can not complete any of my work!”
In the last couple of weeks, I have heard/seen many statements like this. Clearly, it is a side effect of the current state of the world, but why are these difficulties concentrating so pervasive? I think there are three main reasons.
1) Your amygdala is overstimulated - A constant lingering sense of fear and foreboding has hijacked your amygdala (among other brain functions). Stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released. Your rational brain, the frontal lobe, knows that you can’t fight or run away (flight) from a global pandemic, but the constant lingering sense that you have to do something remains.
Solution: Begin to notice your stress response. What triggers it? How long does it remain? For me, it was the news. The constant stream of articles and podcasts overwhelmed me, and I felt hopeless. I decided to read/listen enough to stay informed but not enough to overwhelm my stress response. Stressors differ for everyone, and I am not advising you to cut yourself off or remain uninformed, but I am encouraging you to pay attention! Recognize when your behavior is causing stress and do something about it. Going for a walk, reading a book, breathing, meditating, stretching, exercising, drawing, and journaling are all great ways to release stress!
2) You are spending too much time on your phone - There are mountains of compelling research articles detailing the adverse effects of phone usage on your concentration. Impulsive, inattentive phone usage will make it nearly impossible for you to sustain attention and complete tasks.
Solution: Begin to set intentions with your phone. Turn it off before bed, look at in the morning only after you have completed a task. If you pick up your phone, have a reason for doing so, and put it down when you complete your task. Download an app that tracks usage and set goals for yourself based on those numbers. Specific intentions are not as important as the act of setting the intention itself. Allow yourself to monitor and become aware of your behavior.
3) You have no structure & routine - Schools are shut down, work is done remotely, or there is no work at all. Suddenly, we have more time and less structure than ever. You use your surplus of time as an excuse to sleep in, stay up late, or watch hours of TV throughout the day.
Solution: Create a plan. It does not have to be elaborate, but it should provide a framework for the day. Create a to-do list and designate periods of the day for work. Include time to connect with loved ones and allow yourself time to relax. There is nothing inherently wrong with watching TV, but it becomes a problem when it is mindless, and used as a procrastination tool. A plan will provide guidance and direction. Discipline = Freedom!
There is no doubt that these are challenging times, but we are under no obligation to make them more challenging. Become aware of your behaviors, live with intention, and make the most of the situation. Be gentle with yourself if you don’t meet your goals and embrace the opportunity to be a little better tomorrow. We are all in this together, and we are more than capable of making it through happier, healthier, and more focused than ever!
If you have any specific questions or want tips and tricks for implementing some of these guidelines in your lives, please reach out! I am happy to help in any way I can.