I’ve got generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and I’ve also got some serious issues with concentration. As in, my ability to concentrate on almost anything for more than five minutes at a time stinks. There are some days when I can barely string two coherent thoughts together, and I swear my brain is turning into mush.
While it’s true that a lot of peripheral detail goes by the wayside, I have a core self that functions reasonably well in the world despite the stress of managing anxiety. Maybe I’m also just getting more comfortable with being a middle-aged slob. I don’t know. But I consider myself lucky that I function as well as I do. I know lots of others aren’t so lucky.
Concentration Problems From Anxiety Disorder Can Be Managed
In my opinion, managing concentration problems due to anxiety has two main components: getting started and not getting overloaded after getting started.
I’ve amassed a whole slew of tricks to help with this. A lot them are mental shortcuts that bypass my anxious brain’s tendency to freeze or disengage when I feel overwhelmed.
Here’s what works for me:
- Take lots of little breaks — I used to think being productive meant concentrating like crazy for hours on end. But since I can’t do that, I’ve found I can be reasonably productive by alternating short periods of concentration with short breaks.
- Build tolerance for focus — It may sound funny, but focusing in on one thing feels really weird to me. I don’t like it, and it’s uncomfortable. I’m learning to tolerate that discomfort better by stringing together more periods of concentration, knowing that I’ll also get relief via my breaks.
- Find balance between want vs have to do — I try to make sure my daily to-do list has some balance between what I have to do and what I actually want to do. Otherwise, what a drag, right?
- Break big tasks into smaller pieces — Do you think I just sat down and wrote this blog post? Ha. Getting this post written was actually about six smaller tasks that I did one at a time.
- Only focus on the task at hand — One of the most effective things I’ve learned is to not think of the big picture. It takes practice, but I’ve gotten pretty good at thinking only about what’s right in front of me.
- Laugh a little — I can even chuckle from time to time at the absurdity of life. It may not help me be productive, but it sure feels good.
As much as my anxiety disorder impacts my concentration sometimes, the good news is I can still find ways to manage the worst of the symptoms. And if my old, tired brain can learn some new tricks, yours probably can too.
by Greg Weber