health

'Isolation brain fog': Why you're struggling to concentrate on anything right now.

If you spoke to anyone you know right now, and asked, “How are you going?” the answer would likely be very consistent.

They’re feeling stressed. They might be struggling to sleep. And they simply can’t concentrate on anything.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our lives in unprecedented ways, and the ever-changing updates and restrictions continue to flow in constantly, it’s no surprise that we’re all currently struggling a little more than usual to focus.

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Whether you’re working from home, or just trying to finish reading that one novel that’s been sitting on your coffee table for six months, you might have noticed that your mind is wandering a little more than usual right now.

Either way, it’s something that thousands of us are dealing with right now across the world.

In a tweet that has since gone viral, BBC journalist Emily Maitlis shared that she has been struggling to concentrate on menial tasks like reading.

“I’m finding it really hard to read at the moment and I usually devour novels,” she wrote.

“Is anyone else? Is it concentration span?”

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In response, thousands of people replied, admitting they too were struggling to focus on just about anything.

“I’m really struggling to work from home. My brain is in 12 different places at the moment,” one person responded.

“I’m normally an avid reader, but I’m too busy trying to keep up with the news updates on Twitter – I can’t concentrate on anything else,” another said.

“I feel very distracted and keep reading the same sentence three times over,” another commented.

Although lack of focus is something that many of us are experiencing right now, it can be easy to blame yourself for feeling “all over the place” or struggling to concentrate.

It’s important to remember that this current situation is something that none of us have encountered in our lives before.

This is an entirely new experience. We are living through a prolonged global pandemic and we are learning and processing new information each and every day.

In fact, it’s entirely normal to be experiencing stress and lack of concentration amid this global experience.

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Psychology-certified business coach, Alexis Rockley, reiterated that lack of concentration during this time period shouldn’t be considered a “personal failure”.

In a post shared to Twitter, she wrote: “Those ‘all over the place’ feelings you’ve been having? They are symptoms of stress, NOT personal failures of yours”.

“Do you feel flakey and inconsistent? That’s because your brain doesn’t know what news to brace for next, or what next month will hold,” she continued.

“Tired easily? That’s because your brain has temporarily shut down some functionality in your prefrontal cortex – the part that juggles complex tasks and planning – due to the stress response.”

You can read Rockley’s viral Twitter thread in full below:

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Speaking to Mamamia, Headspace Senior Clinical Advisor Rupert Saunders explained why many of us are currently struggling to concentrate or feeling “all over the place”.

“A lot of people’s routines have been significantly disrupted [by COVID-19],” Saunders told Mamamia.

“We as humans are rigid in routine. Our brains work best when we have a bit of familiarity,” he explained.

“But now that our routines are significantly out of whack, our brain is actually operating like everything is brand new. When your brain is dealing with a lot of new information, it has to work a lot harder and it has to process a lot harder.”

If you’re looking to make concentrating a little easier for yourself amid our ‘new normal’, Saunders explained that it’s important to create a new routine for our days in self isolation.

“People might be finding that they’re sleeping in later, rolling out of bed and then starting work or study straight away,” he said.

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“It’s best to try to create a routine or try to replicate the original routine you had previously. If you used to get up and go for a walk or exercise before work, try and continue to do that in the morning. Set up a space that you work from and don’t work from your bed or your couch in front of the TV.

“We need to get creative in how we structure our space and time to bring predictability back to our brains, which will help us concentrate better.”

Speaking to Mamamia, entrepreneur Sabri Suby, who is the founder of digital marketing agency King Kong, echoed Saunders’ sentiments.

“What I’m seeing and hearing from a lot of people is the mental toll of working from home is becoming quite intense. They’re not socialising with people, they’re rolling out of bed later, and when they wake up they go straight to the computer without exercising,” he told Mamamia.

“They might eat their lunch in front of their computer and work all day, before rolling over onto their couch and watching Netflix. That’s never going to create a situation where you’ve got lots of energy.

“Try to stick to those really important tasks early in the morning, and getting some exercise such as running or swimming in on a regular basis. Eat your lunch at the same time and make sure you go outside where possible to get some sun on your skin or have a walk around the block.”

Suby also shared some advice for staying productive while self isolating, adding: “Your productivity decreases significantly the longer you’re sedentary, so instead of treating the whole workday as a large block, break it up into more productive sprints of 30-45 minutes and take a break in between where you can concentrate on the kids, or simply take time out for yourself.”

As for managing stress during this time in our lives, Rupert Saunders from Headspace outlined a number of ways that we can better manage our mental health including exercising, remembering to eat well, drinking plenty of water, getting a good sleep, staying connected with family and friends, and keeping busy by trying to work on a new skill or hobby.

“We’re all doing the best that we can in the current situation,” Saunders said.

“We’re all learning, we’re all growing, we’re all adapting to the challenge of not being able to move as freely as we normally would.”

If you’re feeling isolated or stressed amid the current COVID-19 situation, Headspace have a range of online resources and support available. You can find out more here: https://headspace.org.au/

Feature Image: Getty.

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