Why The Pandemic Has Destroyed Your Ability To Concentrate

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Why The Pandemic Has Destroyed Your Ability To Concentrate

Many (read: all) of us have found ourselves in a routine of isolation and minimal stimulation during the Covid-19 pandemic and it turns out it’s seriously impacting our concentration levels. 

If you’ve found yourself tuning out of Zoom meetings at an increasingly rapid pace or hovering your thumbs over your phone’s keyboard struggling to remember what it was you were about to say, you’re not alone. 

I, for one, have spent the last year struggling to stay focused in grocery stores, on phone calls, or even while watching hours of mind-numbing reality TV.

The brain is just like the body: if it doesn’t get enough exercise it struggles to keep up when you suddenly try to take it for a marathon of work meetings or school projects. Without our usual stimuli — or any stimuli for that matter — our brains don't get enough activity to keep them fit and focused. 

Then there's the added struggle of the pandemic itself which occupies our minds in invasive, often overwhelming ways, leaving little room for any meaningful concentration.

Marie Frohlich is a health coach who works with clients struggling to manage stress and anxiety on building more effective time management tools, but even she has found the pandemic particularly taxing on her mental health and overall concentration. She chatted exclusively with YourTango about how she is helping her clients and herself through this time. 

“I had to stop watching the news, take a step back and recalibrate my energy when I realized it was truly zapping my joie de vivre,” Frohlich tells us, acknowledging that the overwhelming news cycle has also played a role in our struggles to stay engaged.

“We are weary and worried,” she tells us, “The combination of those two is a blessing and a curse.” 

Your tiredness may be signaling to you that it is time to detach and refocus your energy, but doing so could also condition your brain into focusing even less than you were before. 

Research into the effects of the pandemic on our memories and focus is still in its premature days but one ongoing study at the University of California Irvine is investigating how people with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory — and yes that is an actual medical term — are coping. 

The earliest findings from the study have observed that subjects are finding it increasingly difficult to recall details and facts from their lives. 

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Social isolation is another critical factor that contributes to our decreased concentration levels.

Research examining the impacts of social isolation on a nine-person crew who spent 14 months in an Antarctic research center found that the crew members’ dentate gyruses, a part of the brain that plays a critical role in absorbing memories, learning, and focusing, had shrunk by an average of around 7% over the course of they stay.

They also performed worse on tests of spatial awareness and attention than they had before they left.

For Frohlich, the overreliance on screen-time for stimulation and socialization is a source of concern. She says many of us are spending too much time on screen and not enough time outside.

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She encourages people struggling with decreased concentration to be aware of how this impacts their mental health:

“Lack of stimulation should be a wake-up call if the effects of it start to bring you down emotionally.” 

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There are plenty of Covid-safe ways to improve concentration levels — and doing so can be a powerful form of self-care. 

Frohlich has found that the pandemic has posed new challenges for her clients but paying close attention to their unique needs has helped her create actionable steps to improve their overall well-being, both cognitively and physically. 

“We identify what truly nourishes us as we approach restorative strategies holistically, assess daily diet — the pandemic has made it all too easy to succumb to our cravings — and design doable and ideal coping skills along with self-care protocols that are easy and sustainable.”

Frohlich recommends not only taking more time outdoors but using this time wisely to rebuild your mental awareness in a soothing way, “Find nature, connect to a plant, make it your ally. Get outside for 20 minutes a day and notice what you hear, see and smell.”

If you’re missing social interaction, Frohlich recommends using expressive writing which is proven to improve focus by helping people work through distracting emotions. 

“Get connected to your inner self and develop a conversation with YOU. Use expressive writing for 10 minutes every day for a week about feelings you want to let go of and throw the paper away or burn it.”

Aromatherapy is another of Frohlich’s favorite techniques to manage stress and improve focus.

“I recommend Rosemary as an excellent herb for waking up the mind,” she says, “Use in a tea or take a few drops of essential oil in a carrier oil for a neck massage or add a few drops to  some distilled water in a spray bottle to spritz up your environment.”

Practicing kindness towards yourself during this time is also something not to be taken for granted. Our brains were not built for pandemics so they may just need more time to adjust to our new circumstances. 

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a generalist with an interest in lifestyle, entertainment, and trending topics.