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Concentration Difficulties: Why You Have Trouble Focusing

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at your desk and your mind starts to wander, even though you’re facing a tight deadline. While it’s normal to feel occasionally distracted, brain fog can become a persistent condition, which may indicate something more serious.
 
So if you’ve been asking yourself “why can’t I focus?,” it’s time to dig a little deeper. In the long run, trouble focusing tends to create feelings of frustration, failure, and helplessness, throwing your work/life balance into chaos.

Many of the specific symptoms related to concentration difficulties are ambiguous, vague, or simply labeled as personality traits. That’s why it’s important to pay close attention when you’re experiencing what’s considered out of the ordinary for you. Signs of concentration difficulties include:

  • Inability to focus on simple tasks
  • Feeling overwhelmed by everyday things
  • Impulsiveness
  • Poor communication skills
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Trouble forming complete thoughts and ideas
  • Inability to manage to-do lists
  • Having intrusive thoughts
  • Trouble focusing on a single thought

Certain types of concentration issues may be chronic and will require lifelong maintenance. However, you can try specific medications, along with behavioral and lifestyle modifications, to help improve your focus in other areas.

  • Pregnancy

Although temporary, many pregnant women report experiencing fogginess and forgetfulness when they’re expecting.

  • Stress

This can include both physical/bodily stress as well as emotional stress. If you’re constantly in stress-response mode, your body’s being overexposed to cortisol (aka the stress hormone). You’re taxing nearly every body system, causing mood and concentration impairment. 

  • Lack of sleep

Everyone has different sleep needs, but a chronic lack of sleep leads to significant cognitive impairment. This includes rigid thinking patterns, difficulty synthesizing new information, and trouble with innovative decision-making.

  • Poor diet 

Lack of proper nutrients and poor dietary choices negatively impact brain health and mental functioning.

  • Multi-tasking

In a fast-paced world, multitasking is a critical skill. But keep in mind that it actually reduces overall brain function.

  • Alcohol/drug abuse 

Many substances, recreational or otherwise, depress your central nervous system. They greatly diminish cognitive response and lead to memory loss, shortened attention span, and learning difficulties.

  • Brain injury

A traumatic blow to the head could cause chronic memory problems, cognitive issues, and other possibly short-term symptoms.

  • Anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder

Concentration difficulties are actually one of the most common diagnostic criteria for many mental disorders, especially those related to mood and anxiety.

  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

Often diagnosed during childhood, you’re unable to regulate your attention or have trouble focusing on appropriate tasks.

  • Hypothyroidism

This condition is triggered by low levels of thyroid hormone, which produces poor cognition, exhaustion, memory impairment, and general brain fog.

  • Sleep disorders

Chronic sleep disorders like narcolepsy or insomnia can drastically impact focus and attention span.

  • Hypoglycemia (in diabetics)

Your body, as well as your brain, lack the necessary amount of glucose. This shortage diminishes your memory, attention span, and ability to focus.

Certain medications list concentration difficulties as a side effect, particularly when they’re taken by the elderly. Drugs that commonly impair cognitive function include:

  • Anticholinergics
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Antipsychotics and mood stabilizers
  • Prescription sedatives

There are numerous tests your doctor may need to perform in order to clarify and fully diagnose a concentration disorder. Initially, they’ll do a complete medical history and physical examination. They’ll ask what your “normals” are, when you first noticed changes, and whether the situation has worsened. Lifestyle choices, family history, and regular medications and supplements should come under discussion as well.

Next, your doctor might schedule you for blood work, a CT scan, or electroencephalography (EEG). Blood work seeks out hormonal or nutritional imbalances, while a CT scan or EEG takes a look at brain features and electrical function.

Note that cognitive issues are often diagnosed via process of elimination, so try to be patient. If brain imaging and blood test results come back normal, you’ll have to consider lifestyle modifications. Such treatment varies greatly from one individual to the next. Potential treatments and modifications include:

  • Sleep-promoting drugs
  • Nutrient rich dietary changes
  • Exercise
  • Sleep scheduling
  • Screen time reduction
  • Therapy
  • Stress management
  • Medications (new or adjusted in dosage) to treat chronic conditions

As mentioned, concentration difficulties may point to a larger, underlying problem. So it’s important to seek medical treatment urgently when you notice any of the following: 

  • Developmental delays
  • Failure to thrive
  • Learning or physical disability
  • Temporary or permanent paralysis
  • Permanent cognitive impairment
  • Permanent loss of sensation
  • Personality changes

Many who experience chronic trouble focusing report career challenges, frequent job changes, or poor performance evaluations. Relationships and extracurricular activities can also be negatively impacted.

Once you and your doctor have devised a course of action, consider doing these things at home to get your cognitive health back on track:

  • Keep your mind active and stimulated by playing brain games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles.
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Challenge your mind with a new language or hobby.
  • Improve your diet by consuming more healthy fats, cutting saturated fats, and staying hydrated.
  • Decrease your multitasking.
  • Lower caffeine and alcohol consumption.
  • Prioritize your tasks and focus on the biggest one first.
  • Explore time management techniques and apps.

Seek medical attention immediately if you’re having trouble focusing and experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • Numbness or tingling on one side of your body
  • Severe chest pain
  • Severe headache
  • Unexplained memory loss
  • Confusion regarding where you are
  • Loss of consciousness

In the absence of major symptoms, keep a close eye on cognitive patterns and difficulties. Contact your doctor if you observe the following symptoms:

  • Memory that is consistently or noticeably worse than usual
  • Diminished performance at work or school
  • Unusual tiredness   
  • Regular difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Inability to enjoy activities or life the way you used to

To some extent, trouble focusing is a normal part of every person’s life. But never ignore continued signs that you aren’t functioning at your desired or optimal levels, particularly when you’re making good diet and exercise choices. If you find yourself wondering “why can’t I focus,” see your doctor to design a care plan that’ll get you back to where you want to be.

https://www.jurmainehealth.com.au/brain/concentration-problems/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/

https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/brain-and-nerves/concentration-difficulty

https://www.alcohol.org/effects/

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