05 Mar 2024

Why can’t I focus?

Having trouble focusing is a common issue that impacts most people from time to time. However, excessive struggles with focus could have an underlying cause. …

Having trouble focusing is a common issue that impacts most people from time to time. However, excessive struggles with focus could have an underlying cause. If you struggle to sit through a movie without picking up your phone and scrolling, have trouble getting work done or have problems staying on track in conversations – it can start to impact your day-to-day life. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the main reasons why you might struggle to focus, particularly if you have undiagnosed ADHD and when to seek professional help.

Could it be ADHD?

ADHD can affect people of all ages, usually the signs are first apparent in childhood, but your experience can change as you get older. If you are experiencing issues concentrating for the first time in adulthood, or as a response to trauma, your concentration difficulties may be due to other causes.

ADHD is characterized by patterns of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that is more severe than in neurotypical individuals. These traits have an overall impact on concentration in day-to-day life and can manifest in the following ways;

Difficulty sustaining attention

Individuals with ADHD may particularly struggle with sustaining attention for prolonged periods of time. This might be become more apparent when completing mundane tasks. For children, they might find it difficult to focus on school and on homework which may cause them to make simple mistakes with their work. Likewise for adults, work related tasks like data entry and admin can be difficult, as well as other daily responsibilities like housework.

Easily distracted

Both adults and children with ADHD are more likely to get distracted easily. Both by external stimuli like noise, clutter, other people and by internal stimuli. Internal stimuli are simply your own thoughts, and while someone who is neurotypical are usually able to focus on one topic, people with ADHD often describe their inner thoughts as racing and bounce from one subject to another – making it easy to become distracted even when there are no external distractions.

Find it difficult to stay organised

Organisation can also be difficult for someone with ADHD. Especially when it comes to time management, following instructions and prioritising tasks. Often people with ADHD will come across as forgetful, have trouble keeping appointments and be late for school or work. This is because they struggle to estimate the right amount of time it takes for tasks or travel, even when it’s something that they do often. It’s also likely that people with ADHD will struggle to keep track of their personal items and lose their belongings like their keys, wallet, or phone frequently.

Experience impulsivity

Impulsivity is another common trait found in people with ADHD. It can also lead to issues with concentration. People with ADHD might prefer to jump from one task to another depending on their mood which has a further impact when they need to focus on just one priority task.

Hyperfocus

People with ADHD can hyperfocus on a particular task or subject for a long period of time – especially when they find the subject particularly stimulating. This can have a knock-on effect in other areas of their life. For example, if someone with ADHD focuses on playing a video game or watching a TV series that they’re particularly interested in for an entire day, it can get in the way of their other needs like eating, drinking and sleeping – further impacting their ability to concentrate on other priorities.

What else can cause trouble concentrating?

In recent years, there has been more misinformation online about ADHD which is why it’s important to understand that symptoms of ADHD can overlap with other medical conditions, and also be impacted by your lifestyle.

Lifestyle impact on concentration

Trouble concentrating in the short term can stem from something as simple as not having had a good night sleep or being hungry, it might not necessarily mean that you need medical intervention. If you’re noticing that you’re struggling to concentrate more frequently, it could be related to your lifestyle.

Diet and Nutrition

Poor diet can significantly impact your concentration. Nutrient deficiencies such as Iron, Magnesium and Omega-3 play a major role in your cognitive function. Also, consuming high levels of sugar can cause spikes and crashes in your blood sugar levels impacting your ability to focus.

Hydration

Even mild dehydration has an impact on your concentration, as well as overall decision-making skills and memory. Adults need 2-2.5 litres of water a day to stay hydrated.

Sleep

Sleep deprivation can have more of an impact on your concentration skills than alcohol, getting a quality night sleep is essential for a healthy attention span, memory, and overall cognitive function.

Caffeine Dependency

Studies show that in small amounts, caffeine can help boost concentration. However, becoming dependent on caffeine can have the opposite effect, increasing stress levels and reducing concentration. Some people with ADHD may find that caffeine makes them feel less alert.

Physical activity

Regular exercise can help boost brain function by increasing blood flow to the brain and promoting the growth of new brain cells.

Environmental factors:

Your environment can also impact your ability to concentrate, for instance, a cluttered or noisy environment can be distracting.

Health related impact on concentration

You may not be able to focus because of a mental illness or neurological condition or a due to a developmental condition like Autism or ADHD.

Depression, anxiety and other mental health illnesses

Your mental health can have a lasting effect on your concentration levels. Typically, with depression, the persistent sense of sadness and lack of interest in activities can make it challenging to focus on day-to-day activities or tasks.

Other mental health illnesses like anxiety can result in excessive worry, which takes up a lot of mental energy. This preoccupation, along with worry, can make it difficult to concentrate on anything else.

Neurodegenerative disorders

Neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Parkinsons all impact the brain, causing problems with concentration as cognitive function deteriorates.

When to seek professional help

You should seek professional help for not being able to focus if your symptoms worsen over time or if your lack of concentration has an impact on your day-to-day life.

Speaking to a medical professional, like your GP, about your worries with focus can help you to rule out any physical illnesses or lifestyle implications.

How can the Autism Service help?

Here at The Autism Service, we offer the very highest standard in ADHD assessments, with clinics located across the UK. Our Assessments are NICE-guideline compliant, and carried out face-to-face, so that you experience a full diagnostic assessment.

As a leading ADHD assessor, we understand how important it is for you to have closure around your diagnosis so that you can get the support you need. Want to read more about our adult ADHD assessments? Learn everything you need to know here or find a clinic near you today.

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