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Concentration & Focus
The human brain is a three-pound supercomputer capable of an awe-inspiring power to learn, remember, and solve problems. Yet people often struggle with lack of concentration and loss of focus.
Why is it difficult for me to maintain concentration and focus?
Some people have an underlying condition called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that causes them to become easily distracted and interferes with their ability to pay attention. But many other factors can affect concentration and focus. Your age, your health, sleep deprivation, the environment, and your emotions all play a part.
Lifestyle habits often play an important role as well. For instance:
Multi-tasking. The ping-pong effect of switching focus back and forth between tasks takes a greater toll on brain power than focusing only on one task at a time
Digital distractions. People are constantly bombarded with texts, emails, Slack messages, and Smartphone notifications. The daily tsunami of digital distractions can challenge the brain’s attention-regulating neural networks.
Alcohol. Excessive drinking can slow brain activity and impair concentration.
Stress. Emotional stress weakens the ability of the brain’s prefrontal cortex to carry out its many functions, which include attention and working memory.
Medications. Some over-the-counter and prescription medications have side effects that affect attention and focus. Drugs that can cause these problems include:
- sleep aids, allergy medications, and cold and flu preparations containing diphenhydramine
- anti-anxiety medications
- anticholinergic medications, including some antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-Parkinson's drugs, and bladder control medications
- anticonvulsant medications
- cardiovascular drugs and beta blockers
- narcotic pain medications
- prescription sedatives and sleep medications
How can I improve my concentration and focus?
Everyone's brain is wired differently and some people struggle with concentration and focus more than others. People should see their doctor if they notice sudden changes in their ability to concentrate—for example, if they have trouble finishing routine tasks and chores, regularly misplace essential items, or make frequent poor decisions. These symptoms may be due to an underlying condition that needs medical care, like heart disease, depression, anxiety, or dementia.
Lifestyle changes to improve concentration and focus
Making certain lifestyle changes can help many people improve their concentration and stay focused. For example:
Do more aerobic exercise. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Examples include running, brisk walking, or swimming. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for focus and concentration.
Get enough sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep nightly. Try to go to bed around the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Consult your doctor about any medical issues that interfere with your sleep, such as obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, frequent nighttime bathroom trips, menopausal night sweats, or joint pain.
Eat healthier. Plant-based diets like the Mediterranean diet that emphasize eating more fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods while avoiding simple sugars have been shown to support brain health.
Review your medications. If you are having trouble with concentration and focus, ask your doctor if a medication you are taking could be contributing to the problem.
Habits and strategies to improve concentration and focus
Adopting certain habits and strategies also may help. For instance:
Work in blocks of time. Working in small chunks of time, with rest periods in between, can help with focus since attention tends to wane after a certain period. How long you can maintain focus depends on the person. Experiment with a time frame that works for you.
Avoid multitasking. Do one task at a time until it's completed, then move on to the next.
Remove distractions. Turn off the TV, set up website blockers, turn off the smartphone, or adjust the settings to block calls and notifications during certain hours.
Engage your brain. Practice activities that require focus and concentration, preferably ones that require a high level of attention. Try learning a new skill like learning to play a musical instrument or studying a new language.
Practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is about focusing attention on the present moment. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to rewire the brain to strengthen concentration. For a few minutes each day, sit still, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing and the sounds and sensations around you.
Stay social. Loneliness can lead to depression, anxiety, stress, and interfere with focus and attention, so stay socially engaged with friends or family to keep your mind active and sharp.
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