Lockdown has killed our attention span – here's why we are struggling to focus

You’d think three national lockdowns would have given us the time to achieve more than ever before.

But, in reality, most of us have struggled to get through a book in one go or keep up a new hobby. Even everyday ‘normal’ tasks are hard.

Our attention spans have taken a hit over the past 12 months and we’re finding it difficult to focus.

And now, with the news that lockdown is set to end for good over the coming months and that freedom is (finally) in sight, there’s more buzzing around our brains than ever before.

But why has the pandemic brought about a complete inability to concentrate for such a long period of time? It turns out there are some simple explanations…

Prolonged flight or fight response

One key reason is the fact we’ve been operating on a flight or flight response for almost a year now.

This means our bodies are ready for action all the time – so focussing on a task is proving difficult when we are constantly on edge.

Psychologist Emma Kenny tells Metro.co.uk: ‘After a year of being told to be afraid, and worrying about losing the people that you love, or the business that you run, or the impact that lockdown is having on your kids’ education, it is completely normal to feel more anxious than normal.

‘Because anxiety often makes you feel on high alert, you can find concentrating and focussing more difficult than usual.’

Mindset coach and trainer Ruth Kudzi explains the science behind this in a little more detail.

She says: ‘Research shows that stress interferes with our memory and our capacity and ability to retrieve information – leading to forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks – this is sometimes referred to as “brain fog.”

Our minds are overwhelmed 

Another simple explanation as to why we can’t concentrate anymore is the fact the sheer amount that’s going on around us.

Life coach Carole Ann Rice said: ‘People are feeling overwhelmed at the moment – there’s a lot going on in our minds, we have a lot of time for overthinking and self-reflection which isn’t good for you.’

Dr Sumera Shahaney, head of clinical operations at Thriva, agrees that there’s a lot for our minds to be dealing with right now – plus the fact this over-stimulation has been going on for so long.

She said: ‘There is so much change at present that it’s difficult to comprehend and process everything that’s going on and this can affect our attention spans.

‘There are a lot of things vying for our attention – whether that’s home schooling, finances or health uncertainties – and this coupled with a lack of control and a lack of the usual support systems to be able to cope with it can create a perfect storm.

‘In addition, the extended time period that this has now been going on for, means that people are less likely to be able to deal with it.’

Technology isn’t helping

We don’t even have a commute to break up the day anymore, so we’re pretty much on our devices from dawn until dusk.

This means our brains are switched on all the time – and it’s knackering.

‘Aside from all these very real reasons for feeling a little lacklustre where attention and focus is concerned, there is the added technology fatigue to add into the mix’ Emma adds.

‘Sitting in front of your computer all day and jumping from one Zoom meeting to another really can exhaust your brain – this can also mean you struggle more with sleep, which further makes day to day activities just that little bit more challenging.’

Groundhog Day is boring

‘Our productivity can also be hindered by this feeling of Groundhog Day,’ adds Ruth.

Everyone feels like they are replaying the same day over and over again at the moment.

Lockdown life is currently monotonous and dull and this is going to impact our attention spans, mainly because we are all bored out of our minds and are constantly looking for a distraction.

Tips on how to stay focussed in lockdown from psychologist Emma Kenny:

  • Create a routine. When you repeat actions you form habits, which helps to embed your memory and also means that you feel a level of control over your environment. Repetition is very important where memory and focus is concerned, so your daily routine and habits help to embed your behaviour. These habits have been fundamentally altered and this means the repetition has been interrupted leading to less clarity around and within your day-to-day life. 
  • Stay hydrated. Believe it or not when you feel unable to focus, having a cold drink of water can be just the remedy.
  • ‘Break tasks into mini goals. Set yourself up for a series of small wins. Knowing that you have set yourself achievable tasks means you can celebrate every milestone, instead of overwhelming yourself with the big picture.
  • Get outside for at least an hour every day. White light is essential for a healthy brain. Even when it is cold and rainy, wrap up and go for a brisk walk, you will sleep better, feel happier and find that your concentration improves.’

To talk about mental health in an open, judgement-free space, join Metro.co.uk’s Facebook group, Mentally Yours.

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