Forget why you started an email? Unconsciously hopping from tab to tab without rhyme or reason? Doom Scrolling? If you’ve found yourself more distracted or stressed than usual lately, you aren’t alone. Two years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, inflation, supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine have pushed people’s stress in the U.S. to unsettling levels, according to new polls conducted by the American Psychological Association.
As a psychological state of worry, unrest, and fear, stress can interfere with relationships and self-care. People may experience stress as mood swings, lack of motivation, low productivity, feelings of helplessness and emptiness, self-doubt, intense negativity, or detachment from others, according to Dr. Lizz Kinyua, licensed MD and consultant for Oh So Spotless, a company whose mission is to teach the public the most effective ways to keep a home organized and clean.
For students and office workers, in particular, stress can make retaining and processing information excruciating. Stress can interfere with your brain’s ability to perform necessary tasks. It can manifest as emotional outbursts, feeling irritable, "shutting down" or avoidance, brain fog, and loss of energy, says Alexa Davis, owner of personal development and lifestyle blog Ambitiously Alexa.
It can be difficult to focus during stressful times because of the large cognitive load stress takes on the brain,'' Davis says. “When your cognitive resources are so preoccupied with stressful thoughts, it can be extremely challenging to focus on what's in front of you.”
Despite the many negative emotional, physical, and mental impacts stemming from stress, the good news is that there are a number of tactics that can be used to curb the toll that it has on our bodies, and improve an individual’s ability to remain focused.
Top stress management techniques
- "Brain dump" style journaling, which can help organize thoughts and express emotions.
- The Pomodoro Technique, which involves working for short bursts of time (25 minutes), followed by small breaks (5 minutes) until a task is completed.
- “Breaking up work in this fashion reduces overwhelm and burnout,” Davis says. “The breaks can be used to allow time to process what you are doing, which is an effective stress management technique.”
- Mobile digital health apps such as Headspace or Calm.
- “These apps have scientific data to support their success – with findings pointing to lower stress, boosted mindfulness, and more restful sleep for users,” says Daivat Dholakia, vice president of operations at Essenvia, a platform that offers regulatory teams a solution for managing the regulatory processes associated with medical devices.
- Switching off any online platforms: When you spend hours on end staring at screens during the workday, and the last thing you want is to load another app, consider unplugging from overstimulating technology to destress.
- “Reading a fiction book is a healthy coping mechanism when stressed,” Kinyua says.
- Invigorate your body: get active either by taking a walk, doing yoga, or aerobics. Keeping the body active calms the mind.
- “The best tool to utilize during stressful times is movement,” says Angie Berrett, owner and creator of Angie Berrett Movement, which focuses on coaching individuals using play and movements to release stored trauma in their bodies. “Movement shifts nervous energy out of the body allowing the rational brain (the cortex) to come back online. This ranges from taking a walk to putting on music and dancing.”
- A healthy diet keeps the body energized and balances the hormones.
- “You will feel better in general if you eat a regular, well-balanced diet,'' says Max Shak, chief financial officer at Abtron.com, which specializes in building relationships centering around computer hardware and supporting valued services from different vendors. It's also possible to “control your mood with a well-balanced diet. For energy, you should eat plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean proteins.”
- Proper time management: this can save an individual the stress of multitasking and last-minute deadlines.
- Utilize unique refocusing tools: new neurofeedback technology on the market, such as Narbis smartglasses (affiliate link), can help a user refocus by tracking a wearer’s brain activity and then using that data to determine if they’re distracted, at which point the glasses’ lenses to change tint, or focused, which causes the lenses to clear, rewarding a reinforcing the practice of attention.
Stress interferes with your life in so many ways. While at times it can feel unmanageable, it's important to tackle focus-breaking stress head-on. While there isn't one cure-all, these tips can help you overcome a lack of focus brought on by stress.