In the past year, I have had a lot of trouble focusing and concentrating on projects both at home and at work. What could be going on?
There could be many reasons why you’re finding it hard to focus, but stress is a big one. Stress hormones reduce our perceptual and intellectual abilities, making it hard to focus our attention. Stress can also cause us to be sleep-deprived, and it’s harder to concentrate when we’re exhausted. Besides affecting the way the brain functions, stress hormones can actually shrink the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory. So a stressed-out brain finds it harder to remember new things and can even make us more susceptible to anxiety and depression. Stress can actually kill neurons in the memory center of the brain and cause memory loss. Inaccurate thought patterns are a main cause of stress. Everyone is under stress to some extent, but some people, due to distorted or biased ways of thinking, experience far more stress than others. For instance, if you tend to generalize (“I always fail”)…mind-read (“She doesn’t like me”)…accentuate the negative (“I am such a klutz”)…and/or catastrophize (“The worst is going to happen”), you will be assuming you are in a stressful situation when you may not be at all. A case in point: A patient in one of my communication groups thought another woman was angry with her because that person was frowning. Later on, my patient found out that the woman was just having a migraine. How can you change the negative thought patterns that lead to stress? Learning to empathize is a highly effective approach. Here’s why: To have empathy for another person, we must slow down and thoughtfully respond to the situation at hand. Giving and receiving empathy produces the neurotransmitter oxytocin, also called the love hormone. To produce the chemical change, just thinking empathic thoughts isn’t sufficient. The empathy needs to be expressed. The empathic connection, in turn, calms the brain and makes us have a wide lens to view the world. Stress reduces our vision and leads to narrow, black-and-white thinking. By slowing down and increasing your empathy for others, you’ll perceive situations more accurately—and experience far less stress. Once you’ve got your stress under better control, your focus and concentration are likely to improve! Also: For some natural remedies that help relieve stress, check out this article.