Why am I struggling to concentrate?
This article seeks to explore some possible reasons for struggling to concentrate and some suggested ways of addressing this.
As people have experienced the shock of the pandemic, it seems that we have been in survival mode, doing our best with an unprecedented situation. I find myself thinking about the grief cycle - shock, disbelief, denial, anger, sadness, bargaining and eventually - maybe - some kind of acceptance. The grief cycle is certainly not linear and is painful, messy and unpredictable. The experience of grief comes in waves, which sometimes overwhelm and debilitate. We may seem to be 'just getting on with it' but grief has an impact on our health and ability to concentrate.
A difficult year
There have been so many things to adjust to over the last year. We have been asked to listen, to assimilate and respond to multiple instructions on a daily basis.
We have hardly stood still long enough to recognise how much resilience and energy it has taken to survive, whilst carrying the heavy weight of uncertainty for an extended period of time. This too can affect our ability to concentrate and focus.
Whilst we have all appreciated technology, the reality is that this can be exhausting for our vision, emotions and bodies. At the end of a day staring at a series of small square boxes we may feel depleted. I think this can be exacerbated because sometimes we haven't met the people we are in conversation with and are trying hard to be fully present and not to miss anything.
Screen time misses the usual visual clues that we have when we are meeting someone in person - we can see the whole of that person and the intensity can be decreased as we are able to move our bodies and gaze, almost imperceptibly. We are also able to take in the whole of our surroundings rather than the limited background on a screen.
Perhaps as we move into new ways of working, we can have more flexibility, where possible, with how and where people do their work. If employers are able to consider ways to manage this in conversation with their employees this may help. It is vital that employees can express their needs without fear of being seen as being difficult or not committed.
I am aware too of the many people who have not been able to work at home and have been on the frontline - in hospitals, shops, the police and more - dealing with the stress and anxiety of the general public - all this is bound to take its toll.
We know that long commuting times are not ideal for people's health. However not having a boundary between home and work can bring it's difficulties too. Not everyone has a dedicated space where they can work from home.
Many people are now undertaking their professional development with webinars and other online training which requires an enormous amount of concentration. Being online long hours is not easy as we are trying to learn new skills and participate in breakout rooms. No matter how good these are they cannot replace meeting in person, in my view.
We miss and need walking around a venue, enjoying the snacks and lunch as well as the natural interactions we have with other people - talking for a while - moving away - sitting on our own - joining in a discussion - going for a walk before returning for more training. This is all part of the social interaction which is crucial for us as human beings.
We may have experienced the death or illness of our loved ones and not be able to take care of them in the way that we would have done before the pandemic.
We have all lost much in the last year and this will be unique for each one of us. These losses matter and need to be acknowledged and processed.
There is no escape from the trauma that is raging in other countries, notably India at the moment. We may feel great concern for the suffering of other people whilst being aware of our own suffering too. It may be difficult to know what to focus on and there may be a sense of powerlessness and helplessness.
We may have many feelings as we begin to emerge in the UK - how will we adjust to our work lives and being with people again. There may be excitement but there may also be some anxiety. For everyone it will be different and it is vital to take things at our own pace and not be pressurised by the expectations of other people.
When we are overwhelmed and have too many decisions to make we will struggle to concentrate. We may find ourselves having vivid dreams as our mind tries to process what is going on and what is happening to us.
Burnout is serious - we may think it happens to other people but it can happen to any of us. This is why self-awareness is so important. Once we have tuned in to check whether we are alright or not will we ignore this or do something about it?
What can I do?
Firstly I would suggest self-compassion. There is only so much that we can all deal with, no matter how strong, capable and able to multi-task we may think we are. Take some time to find a quiet place - out in nature can really help - and ground yourself. Give yourself praise for how far you have come. Give some thought as to what the most important thing is and then what is most important right now. This will help you to prioritise.
Check-in with yourself
Once you are in a quiet place, notice what it is that you are feeling. If you are unable to name the feelings notice what is happening in your body - work your way down from your head to your toes - gradually and gently. Can you feel tension in your body - maybe in your head, jaw, stomach, shoulders or somewhere else.
Self-care is a priority - if we don't take care of ourselves we won't be able to function well. It is important to eat well and exercise as well as get good sleep.
When we are well rested and able to set some boundaries we will be better able to concentrate and focus. Don't ignore what you have noticed because this is your body or mind telling you that you need to do something.
I find that stories and metaphors can be really helpful.
A small illustration - my car is being serviced today. I have just received a message from the technician advising me that my windscreen wipers are scraping on the windscreen - they need replacing. If I don't do this it is clear that I will damage the windscreen and when it rains I won't be able to see clearly. The analogy is clear.
If you need help do reach out to a professional.