How To Stay Focused During Uncertain Times: Lessons From Sufferers Of Anxiety

Are you struggling to stay focused? Perhaps you’re in a fog, and the days either drag or fly by? Perhaps your typical strategies to stay focused, like checklists, aren’t working–or you’re not feeling the sense of purpose you normally do. All that is happening in the world with the coronavirus pandemic can feel overwhelming. To the point where we are having a hard time concentrating and possibly seeing widespread anxiety at a clinical level. Clients are calling me afraid that if they can’t focus at work, they will lose their job. And others who are looking for a job can’t summon the mental clarity to find them.

I have a friend who seems largely unaffected by this global crisis. She is focused. Getting things done. I called her because I wanted to know her secret.

“I’ve lived with anxiety my entire life,” said my friend. “I have a ton of tools in my tool belt to manage when things get fuzzy for me or when I start to feel that I am not in control.”

Think about this: nearly all of us are experiencing unusually high levels of anxiety. It’s a normal, nearly universal response to a crisis. People who live with chronic anxiety disorders experience “crisis-brain” all the time, and it can be debilitating. But it’s also possible that these same high-anxiety folks have insights and tools we can all leverage when the world outside is apparently every bit as unbalanced and scary as the one in our heads.

Our brains have a hard time distinguishing between something that is happening to us versus happening to someone else. It is why scary movies are scary. Your neocortex, with its language and logic, knows we are watching an on-screen fiction. Our wordless, emotional limbic systems, however, struggle to distinguish reality from a movie.

What if we could learn tips from those who suffer from clinical anxiety and other diagnoses to help us during this tremendously uncertain period of time?

Our team assembled tips and tools people use to deal with stress. May some of these ideas help you regain greater focus and control over your work and time.

Let me offer a disclaimer: I am not a clinician and none of this is meant to be medical advice.

How To Combat Inability to Focus

Here are the basics that we all should be doing all the time. Reminders of what we can get back to if we’ve moved away from these well-being tips.

  • Eat well-balanced meals and reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates.

  • Avoid skipping meals or eating a lot of junk food.

  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake.

  • Take a walk or exercise every day.

  • Get enough sleep each night.

These are items that might be new to you that we found on different resources to help individuals with clinically diagnosed anxiety, depression, PTSD and panic attacks.

  • Trick your brain into thinking you’re running to safety by talking a very brisk 10-minute walk.

  • Reach out to people who love you through Facetime, Zoom, or Skype.

  • Have a Netflix Party and watch movies with your friends and family at the same time.

  • Care for a pet. Pets can bring joy and companionship (and having another living thing depending on you is great for forcing you out of “me-mode”). Reach out to your nearby humane association or animal shelter to see if you could foster a pet during this period of social isolation.

  • Use the 5-4-3-2-1 approach. Notice five things you can see. Four things you can touch. Three things you can hear. Two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This helps to bring your mind back to the present and away from your fears.

  • Eat an ice cube. When your body goes into fight or flight mode, it stops producing saliva (digestion becomes a “nonessential job”). Eating an ice cube forces you to start producción saliva and tricks your body into thinking the danger has passed.

  • Use the HALT method and take a minute to assess if these things are behind the lack of focus: Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?

  • Use Progressive Muscle Relaxation and start with your toes. Tense your muscles as hard as you can and hold it for ten seconds, then relax. Move to your calves. Tense those muscles as hard as you can for ten seconds, then relax. Continue throughout your body until you begin to feel better.

We found these tips from different online resources like WebMD, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and HelpGuide for mental health and wellness.

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