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Staying focused in school and in other areas of your life can be a challenge, especially if you have a lot on your plate. Working on improving your concentration and achieving sustained attention can help you handle school and other responsibilities in your life more easily. Learn more about why you might be experiencing trouble focusing and what you can do to improve your attention span.

What Causes Poor Attention Span?

Many mental, physical, and environmental factors can affect your attention span. Certain factors, such as what you eat and how much sleep you get, can have an impact on how well you are able to concentrate. Medical conditions and mental health disorders can also cause poor attention spans. Knowing more about these factors and conditions can help you understand why you might have trouble focusing, so you can work on learning how to improve concentration.

Factors Affecting Concentration

What kinds of factors can affect concentration? Lifestyle habits, your environment, and other factors can all play a role in your ability to focus. Some of these include having a poor diet filled with unhealthy foods, not getting enough sleep, and not participating in regular physical activity. Having a stressful home environment or working under stressful conditions can also lead to a poor attention span. When you identify the specific factors that might have a negative impact on your concentration, you can make changes to help improve your ability to focus.

Health Conditions Related to Concentration

Certain health conditions and disorders are associated with poor attention span and trouble concentrating. Some of these conditions include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain mental disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. Concentration problems can also occur due to medical conditions, such as those that cause chronic pain. Sometimes, side effects from brain injuries can lead to poor attention span. Other possible causes of concentration problems include sleep apnea, vision problems, medication side effects, and metabolic disorders.

Tips to Improve Your Focus and Attention Span

What steps can you take to concentrate in school and in other areas of your life? Making some changes to your daily life and adding certain activities can help you improve your focus and increase your attention span. The following tips are simple ways to help boost concentration. If you suspect that a medical condition is making it hard to focus, you should talk to your doctor.

1.      Prioritize Sleep

Getting enough sleep is a big part of being able to focus in class or other situations requiring sustained attention. However, this can be difficult if you do not make sleep a priority. No matter how packed your schedule is, aim to get at least six hours of sleep per night, although seven or eight hours is preferred.

Prioritizing sleep involves creating a comfortable environment in your bedroom. Make sure your room is quiet, dark, and not too hot or too cold. Avoid napping and drinking caffeine later in the day. Going to bed at night and waking up around the same time every day can also help you sleep better.

2.     Exercise

Physical activity can boost brain health, making it easier for you to focus and pay attention. Ideally, try to get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise daily. While this might seem hard if you have a busy schedule, remember that you can break this time into shorter segments. For example, you might find it easier to do a few 10-minute walks per day rather than a 30-minute workout.

Getting physical activity does not automatically mean doing strenuous workouts. You can get exercise while doing an activity you enjoy, such as walking around your neighborhood to get fresh air or dancing in your living room.

3.     Eat Nourishing Brain Foods

The right kinds of foods can help increase attention span and improve concentration. Certain foods have antioxidants and other nutrients that support brain health and cognitive function, including your memory and ability to focus. Incorporating these foods into your diet is a great way to improve your attention span and boost your well-being.

Brain foods include salmon and other fatty fish, leafy greens, berries, and walnuts. Adding these kinds of foods to your diet and staying away from starchy or sugary processed foods can help your brain stay healthy and ready to tackle schoolwork and other tasks.

4.     Start a Meditation Practice

Meditation can help calm your brain and ease stress, making it easier to concentrate. Including meditation in your daily routine can help your mind feel more focused so that you can pay attention during class or at work.

Meditating involves letting your thoughts flow through your mind without focusing or dwelling on any of them. Meditation can also involve concentrating on a single thing, such as a candle flame or your breathing. It might take time to get used to meditating, but it should come easily to you after practicing enough. Consider doing a meditation session in the morning before starting your day or in the evening before heading to bed.

5.     Try Mindfulness Activities

Mindfulness activities offer effective ways to reduce stress and improve concentration. Being mindful means focusing on the present and avoiding worrying about the future or dwelling on past events. Being present helps your brain focus on what you are currently doing instead of getting distracted by other thoughts.

Mindfulness activities include writing a gratitude list, focusing on a single task instead of multitasking, and concentrating on your surroundings. For example, you can practice mindfulness while going for a walk, eating a meal, or gardening. The key is to keep your mind focused on what you are doing and avoid distractions.

6.     Use Music to Enhance Focus

For some people, listening to music while trying to study or handle other tasks can be distracting. However, others may find that they can focus better with music playing in the background. If you are one of these people, try listening to music while working on school assignments or studying.

The kind of music you listen to might affect how well you are able to concentrate. For example, you might find that instrumental music or softer music helps you focus more, while dance music or louder music is distracting. Create a playlist of songs or music that helps you concentrate, so you can easily put it on while studying or doing schoolwork.

7.     Schedule Frequent Breaks

Trying to focus for long periods of time can be mentally tiring, especially if you already struggle with concentrating. Taking frequent breaks can help prevent your brain from becoming exhausted or overwhelmed and give you a chance to unwind so that you can get back to your tasks with renewed energy.

Set aside time for these breaks in your daily schedule. Otherwise, you might forget to take them. These frequent breaks can be short, such as 10 or 15 minutes, which can make them easier to fit into your schedule. During these breaks, avoid thinking about the tasks or projects you are currently working on.

8.     Practice Attentive Listening

When you have trouble focusing, remembering what you hear during class or in other situations can be difficult. This can cause you to miss out on important information or make it harder to understand what you are learning. Practicing attentive listening can help you pay close attention to what you hear.

You can practice attentive listening in several ways. While interacting with someone, ask questions, avoid interrupting them, listen to what they are saying instead of thinking of what you want to say, and make eye contact while they are speaking. You can also repeat what you heard them say or paraphrase it to show that you understand.

9.     Use a Planner or Calendar

Trying to keep track of deadlines and due dates in your head can be incredibly difficult. Using a calendar or planner can make it much easier to do this. Setting up reminders can also help since you will have a heads-up when due dates or test dates are getting close.

Write down important dates, such as upcoming tests and exams, in a planner or calendar, so you can make sure you study for them. You can also use a planner or calendar to write down due dates for school assignments and projects, personal appointments, and other important dates.

10.  Break Big Projects Up Into Small Steps

Tackling large projects when you have problems focusing can be challenging. You might feel overwhelmed before you even start, leading you to procrastinate and further add to your stress and concentration problems.

When you need to work on a big project, break it up into smaller steps. Having smaller steps to focus on makes it easier to get started and stay on track until you complete the project. Breaking a large project into smaller steps can also help you feel less stressed about it overall.

11.    Focus on One Task at a Time

Multitasking might seem like a good way or the only way to ensure you finish all your tasks. However, approaching them this way can be harder on your brain. You might have trouble deciding how to juggle multiple tasks, or you might take longer to complete each task while trying to focus on more than one at a time. Plus, most experts agree it is literally impossible for you to effectively multitask – so stop trying.

Focus on one task at a time instead. When you devote your attention to one task, you should find it easier to complete. You can then move on to the next task on your to-do list.

12.   Assess Your Social Media Usage

Checking your social media pages or feeds throughout the day might seem harmless, especially if you only spend a few minutes at a time on them. However, your social media usage might make it harder to pay attention to other tasks. Social media can be a big distraction, and you might spend more time on it than you realize.

Cut back on social media usage if you find that you spend too much time on it. Turning off notifications for social media sites and apps might help you avoid using them as much. Set aside a scheduled time for checking social media and keep it short.

13.   Seek Mental Health Support

You might find that you are still struggling with concentration problems, even after making changes to your daily routine and habits. Seeking mental health support can help you get the help needed to improve your focus, especially if you have depression, anxiety, chronic stress, or other problems.

If you feel stressed or need more tips on improving your concentration, Post University offers counseling services. Our Center for Mental Health and Wellness provides in-person appointments, hotlines, and other mental health resources for students and their family members. Please contact Post University for more information about our Counseling Center!