How to Stay Focused During Covid-19

Have you found yourself saying, “I just can’t think straight lately!” One of the primary complaints associated with the Covid-19 pandemic is the inability to stay focused. Whether it’s work, school, or just having a conversation with a spouse or friend, it can constantly feel like a battle to pay attention, concentrate, and stay focused. 

Since February of this year there has been a 300% increase in people searching “how to get your brain to focus”. For most people, even if they try, it isn’t getting any easier and in many cases it’s getting more difficult. Here’s why:

The part of your brain that controls rational thinking, concentration, impulse control, and the ability to focus occur in the prefrontal cortex, which is located right behind your forehead. Both acute and chronic stress weakens the functioning of the prefrontal cortex and strengthens the primitive brain known as the limbic system, or what some refer to as the “Lizard Brain”.

When faced with stress or intense emotion, we are actually “locked out” of our prefrontal cortex. This is so all the body’s resources can be directed by the limbic system, which is needed to respond quickly to potential threats. To protect ourselves we may need to fight, flee, or freeze. So, when you are trying to be rational and thoughtful in a situation of high stress, your limbic system makes it difficult to access your prefrontal cortex. This is one reason you should not make major decisions quickly when you have experienced a traumatic event or significant loss.

Due to the ongoing nature of Covid-19’s threat of physical, financial, political, or emotional harm, our ability to focus is greatly affected. After all, your limbic system is “arm wrestling” your prefrontal cortex for control!

The three main factors that make Covid-19 stressful enough to cut off your prefrontal cortex are its invisibility (an enemy you can’t see that could be lurking anywhere), your lack of control and being forced out of your regular routines.

These threats not only lead to a lack of focus, but also a lack of motivation, which can lead to self-blame (“I’m so lazy!” “I’m no good to anyone!”) and consequently even weaker connections to your prefrontal cortex. But it isn’t hopeless!

These are two strategies I have been sharing with my patients nearly every day in recent months:

Practice Daily Relaxation – Learning to self-soothe helps to keep the Limbic system healthy. Deep breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Visualization can decrease limbic activity. Here is a link to some very helpful relaxation exercises. 

After successfully relaxing your mind and body the next strategy in improving your focus and stress resiliency involves learning how to...

Monitor and Modify Your Thoughts – Your thoughts strongly influence your emotions, and I have talked to people who express thoughts like:  

This Covid thing is going to ruin me and my business. Covid will never go away. No one knows how to lead us out of this pandemic. Covid is all a manipulative political ploy to gain power. I will die if I’m infected by the virus. I’ll never be able to hire back the help I need when this pandemic is over.

If thoughts like these dominate your mind, it will be impossible to feel clear-minded and hopeful.

Imagine how differently you would feel if your thoughts were adjusted:

This Covid thing is a real challenge, but I know I can deal with it successfully. Covid-19 will be controlled with a vaccine before too long. Those in charge will eventually figure out how to lead us out of this pandemic. It seems like some may be using the pandemic for political gain. If I’m infected by the virus there a high likelihood I will recover well. There will be many qualified people looking for work before too long.

Viktor Frankl (neurologist and psychiatrist) attributed his ability to survive the horror of Nazi concentration camps to the way he chose to think. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Here is a link where you can find more information about how to monitor and modify your thoughts.

It has become evident that the pandemic is likely to impact us all for some time to come, but every moment of every day you have the power and the choice to control your mind and come through this unusual time stronger than ever. 

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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