Difficulty Concentrating

We live in a fast-paced era. People wear multiple hats due to work, school, families, volunteer responsibilities, and social and personal relationships. With such constant demand, our minds become overloaded and sometimes we find it difficult to concentrate. Stress radically reduces our abilities to concentrate.

If you feel that you have difficulty focusing, it may be symptomatic of a bigger issue. From boredom to lifestyle choices, from medication to health conditions, your first step is to identify if your difficulty concentrating is based on an internal or external cause. Once you understand the cause, you have the power to control it.

Internal causes include:

  • Physical - exhaustion, hunger, medications, drug or alcohol use
  • Psychological - avoidance, intimidation, boredom, overload, daydreaming, fear, guilt

External causes include:

  • Environmental - noise, visual stimulation, activity, lighting, temperature, pollutants
  • People - colleagues, family, spouse, neighbors

Mental Health Conditions That Impact Concentration

  1. Anxiety
  2. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  3. Bipolar disorder
  4. Depression
  5. Stress
  6. Substance abuse
  7. Learning disabilities
  8. Physical illness

Tips on Improving Concentration

  1. Set reachable goals
  2. Focus on one thing at a time
  3. Break large jobs into small tasks
  4. Create checklists
  5. Re-examine your habits and routines
  6. Strengthen your organizational skills
  7. Eliminate distractions
  8. Get plenty of rest
  9. Review your medications for side effects
  10. Exercise regularly
  11. Improve your diet
  12. Watch your sugar and caffeine consumption
  13. Set boundaries with people who are distracting or stressful
  14. Visit a Marriage and Family Therapist to learn coping skills
  15. Visit your physician to eliminate illness as a factor

What You Can Do Right Now

  1. Start at the Beginning.
    Determine the cause of your inability to concentrate and then take the first necessary step to gain control of the cause. For example, if your inability to focus on your homework is due to a noisy neighbor, you can find a different place to study, ask your neighbor to hold down the noise, or wear a pair of earplugs.
  2. Ask for Help.
    If you believe your lack of focus is due to a medical condition or the side effect of a prescription drug, you should contact your primary care physician immediately. If you suspect your inability to concentrate is a signof a more serious mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, seek help from a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. A Marriage and Family Therapist can also help you learn better coping skills.
  3. Break it Down.
    When overwhelmed with a large project or challenge, break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks or components. What may seem daunting in its entirety can often be readily managed piece by piece. A checklist can help keep you on track.
  4. Set Boundaries.
    Stick up for yourself by setting realistic and fair boundaries. While you should consider the needs of others, you do not have to accommodate them. Because it's human nature to fear not being liked, it's sometimes hard to tell someone that you can't help them or that you need quiet time. A therapist can help you learn how to communicate directly and honestly so that you can more easily protect your boundaries.

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Donna J. Shanahan M.A.

Donna J. Shanahan, MA

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 
Pasadena, CA 91101

I am a Marriage and Family therapist in private practice. I work with individuals, couples, and families in short and long-term psychotherapy. We work together to explore memories of the relational dynamics of the individual’s family, the feelings those dynamics created for the individual as a child, and how the individual now relates to those feelings and memories.

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