wE'Re AlL mAd HeRe

Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Panic… and the rest!

Concentrate.. you’re anxious!

I could be described as a restless person. Easily distracted and I often find it a challenge to organise my thoughts. It’s hard to explain in basic terms.. It’s as though I’m running down a crowded street trying to reach the end. The street is filled with people who are screaming out to me, “Claire stop here! Talk to me” and so I do.. but only for a few moments because another person shouts louder and so I turn my attention to them. Eventually the noise becomes so loud that I can hardly understand a word. I begin to feel irritable and flustered. I just want everything to stop, and so I react. (This is where we enter reality again). If I’m at work, I’ll browse the internet for a few minutes. If I’m at home I’ll watch TV. Day dreaming is one of my favourite tactics, I used to do it all the time as a child. It was the perfect escape. I’d much rather be away with the fairies (literally) than deal with the real world. But the problem with the real world is it never buggers off!
So when I return to my desk I’m once again greeted by the street and hosts of shouting people.

Hopefully this extensive and unnecessary metaphor is making sense?

My point is, an inability to concentrate is a common symptom of anxiety, one that is overlooked, (even by me). Up until recently I presumed myself to be a lazy cow. But how could that be true? Have you ever found yourself to be buzzing with energy without any idea of what to do with it? Well that’s me five days out of seven. My brain sparks into life like a sports car, but I just can’t seem to guide it.

According to Calm Clinic my problem stems from ‘rapid thoughts.’ “Rapid thoughts are caused by your body becoming overly activated to the point where it starts processing all thoughts as rapidly as possible, only to end up focusing on nothing at all.” Yep, that sounds about right.

In general concentration isn’t an easy skill to master. The world is full of distractions… Game of Thrones for example. Monday’s episode left me sobbing like a child. I’m not even kidding, Dan had to hold me for a good five minutes. HOW COULD THEY DO THAT?!

Focus requires a great deal of mental energy. My problem isn’t a lack of effort, in fact I do concentrate.. just on the wrong things. Despite focusing on the task at hand initially, my attention quickly shifts to how ‘stressed I feel’ and the rising physical symptoms. As a result my anxiety claims 100% of my mental energy.

So the question is how should this be tackled? Well for the first time in a blog post I’m NOT going to suggest distraction techniques, mainly because this is an issue that can and should be addressed head on. “Many people use distractions to cope. For example, you may find yourself browsing the web more at work because browsing the web relaxes you, so that you’re unable to focus on your work because you’re too busy trying to distract yourself from your anxieties with the things that give you some stress relief.” Thank you again Calm Clinic!

In a nutshell, I need to channel the restless energy and direct it towards something concrete (in a non hippy shit way).

If like me, you also have concentration issues then here’s our game plan:

  1. LISTS! Write down all of the things that need to be achieved that day and work through it. One for work and one for your personal life. This might sound basic, but I’ve just done it and I cannot believe how much of a difference it’s made.
  2. Write down any anxious thoughts. I don’t mean long sentences, keep it snappy. “I need to get this done and I can’t focus” “I’m shit at everything” – basically get them out of your head and into the cold light of day. Give the thoughts centre stage for a few minutes then disregard them.

  3. Belly breathing. When I’m restless I tend to do shallow breathing (from the chest), which only makes me feel worse. Sixty seconds of calm belly breathing will help to clear the head and flood the body with extra oxygen.
  4. If possible, remove all distractions. Unplug the TV, turn off your phone and disconnect the internet. It’s surprising how relieved you feel once temptation is removed.
  5. Practise! As with all new skills in life they take practise. Don’t be disheartened if you find yourself falling into old habits (I’m saying this mainly for my own benefit). Take a few belly breaths and get yourself back on track.

If anyone can suggest some good concentration training exercises then please feel free to share. Just so long as they don’t involve chanting.. I’m not a chanter. SANS CHANT!

Categories: Anxiety

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9 replies

  1. I practice Vedic meditiation. And I promise you, it involves no “oooommmmms”, rather a mantra(and eaqually that used to be anathema to me, but it’s actually just a word, personal to you, that you repeat silently in your head). Obviously it’s better done in silent or natural backgrounds, but trust me it can be done ona tube or wherever. I know people who have missed planes as a result! It has done wonders for me. Ironically, it doesn’t come cheap – unless your google searching techniques are better than mine) but I’m happy to point anyone in the right direction. You have to remember that practice makes perfect (and I’m talking years), but you will notice a difference straight away.
    And here endeth the sermon 🙂

  2. Hi Claire,

    You are definitely right about lists.

    It has order and a sense of proportion out what seemed an overwhelming mountain of things to do many a time for me.

    Have a great week.


  3. One thing I use myself (as well as teaching it to clients) is to securely ground myself – it’s really simple because it just involves noticing your feet on the ground, how they feel, where the balance point is (find it by shifting your weight a little from side to side, then forward and back, before settling into a balanced stance). And when you are really paying attention to your feet, sending down some roots into the earth, strong and long, nourishing and stabilising. Keeping your focus on your feet can help to stop the flyaway feelings. And then BREATHE! As you say, Claire, belly breathing. Or heart breathing can be good, too – one hand on your heart and bringing the breath into your heart space, nice and deep and slow. 🙂

  4. Bit of a long one here so bear with me…

    I saw an interview with the noted and controversial psychiatrist R.D. Laing, in which he spoke of a patient who presented with severe depression symptoms and his inability to overcome them. Laing asked him “when do you last remember being happy”. The patient said he felt at his ‘happiest’ when whistling to himself while walking through the park. Laing then got him to talk for the next 45 minutes, not about his depression, but about whistling in the park. During this ‘distraction strategy’, the patient’s mood visibly improved.

    At the end of the session, the patient called out Laing for not treating his depression. Laing said “but we did treat it by getting you to forget about it”.

    So you’re absolutely right, distraction techniques work wonders. In my case total immersion in creative output together with a spot-on course of medication has worked wonders on me the last six months, but that’s another story.

    PS Game of Thrones is rubbish…

  5. Thank you for sharing. I can relate to this post 100%, seriously and don’t know why I feel so distracted. I will try your techniques, so far I’m trying to “understand” it myself so have no suggestions 😌!

  6. i know i can concentrate when focusing on my breathing, but it takes a yoga class to do this. how i translate this to the working day when as you say claire my mind gets cluttered with panic and symptoms analysis, i am still lost. i will try yours and the other suggestions though- a brilliant post and so important with regards functioning in the workplace for me 🙂

  7. we also chanted in yoga yesterday which was lovely, sorry 🙂

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