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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
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance abuse
- Learning disabilities
- Physical illness
Tips on Improving Concentration
- Set reachable goals
- Focus on one thing at a time
- Break large jobs into small tasks
- Create checklists
- Re-examine your habits and routines
- Strengthen your organizational skills
- Eliminate distractions
- Get plenty of rest
- Review your medications for side effects
- Exercise regularly
- Improve your diet
- Watch your sugar and caffeine consumption
- Set boundaries with people who are distracting or stressful
- Visit a Marriage and Family Therapist to learn coping skills
- 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 sign of 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.
Reference material: [PDF Files]
Helpful resources:California Department of Mental Health
Renew - Stress on the Brain, The Franklin Institute
"Perceptions of the impact of depression and anxiety and the medication for these conditions on safety in the workplace” BMJ Journal