When Anxiety Affects your Ability to Focus

June 2, 2020 Rizza Bermio-Gonzalez

Losing my ability to focus is a symptom of anxiety that I often experience. Anxiety is a physical response to a stressful situation, and when we experience anxiety, we experience an increase in stress hormones which makes it more difficult to concentrate.

I notice that it is difficult for me to be productive when I am very anxious. Not only do I have a hard time focusing and concentrating, but I have a hard time completing tasks that I need to complete. Or, I find that my attention is re-directed from what I am supposed to focus on to something completely irrelevant. For example -- have you ever found yourself suddenly reorganizing your closet or cleaning your bathroom when you meant to focus on something else? This is something I know all too well.

Tips for When Anxiety Causes You Lose the Ability to Focus

Throughout the years, I have worked on trying to keep my ability to focus intact. I stay centered when I'm very anxious. In the middle of everything that has been happening lately surrounding COVID-19, I have found that this has become even more important for me. There have been many instances in which I have found my thoughts clouded with uncertainty and worry, and, as a result, wandering all over the place. When this happens, the more I try to focus, the more I become frustrated because I can't, and the more anxious I end up feeling.

If you find yourself having a hard time focusing when you're anxious, especially during these uncertain times, try these strategies:

  1. Stick to your schedule. For tasks that you need to complete, it is helpful to schedule a time for them. Knowing that you have dedicated specific time for these tasks -- and limited yourself to a certain amount of time -- can help you to stay focused in the moment. I also find that it helps me to schedule in breaks. Taking breaks when working on something helps me to go back in and focus.
  2. Write out your recurring thoughts. When I try to concentrate and I find my mind clouded with worry, I write out the thoughts that I can't seem to escape from. This helps me to redirect and process my worries, and then I find that I am more effectively able to concentrate.
  3. Distract yourself. It sounds counterintuitive, but I actually find that distracting myself is a helpful way to bring back my concentration. When my thoughts start spiraling out of control, specifically when I am excessively worried about something, I turn to something to distract me. Sometimes this is exercising, sometimes this is reading, sometimes this is simply petting my dog. Distracting myself breaks that cycle of worry and I find that I am then able to center myself when I go back to the task that I need to complete.
  4. Slow down and breathe. In the past, I found that when I was in this state of mind, I would suddenly think of a million things I felt that I needed to accomplish. I would feel unsettled and as though I was not getting anything done. Allowing myself to think this way, though, only ended up exacerbating my anxiety. I have since learned the power of slowing myself down, taking the time to take slow, deep breaths, and tackling one thing at a time.

Are there certain strategies you use to help you increase your ability to focus and concentrate? Share those tips with myself and others in the comments below. 

APA Reference
Bermio-Gonzalez, R. (2020, June 2). When Anxiety Affects your Ability to Focus, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Rizza Bermio-Gonzalez

Lizanne Corbit
June, 3 2020 at 1:44 pm

I love your suggestion to write out your recurring thoughts. I think this is one area we see most with anxiety, repetition, or something playing over and over. It fuels the nature of anxiety's "spiraling" tendency. To sit down, and address these presses pause on that and allows us to really take it apart and look at it. Excellent tips!

June, 4 2020 at 11:30 am

Hi Lizanne,
Thank you so much for your comments! I absolutely agree that allowing those recurring thoughts and worry to continue unchecked can increase and intensify anxiety. Therefore, it is beneficial to address these thoughts in a healthy manner, such as in writing them out.
Hope you are safe and well!

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