Over the years, I’ve navigated activities in a way that made the best of focus, minimised negative stimulus and reduced anxiety. Here’s a list of things I do – hope they help you. If you are struggling to sustain your focus and having anxiety, 1 or 2 of these may be worth a go, to improve your day to day. While I focus well when something fascinates me, I often use this to sustain my attention in conversation, so can sometimes be a little intense. Hyper-fixation can work to our advantage when immersed in things we enjoy, though make other activities tougher to manage.
In overly-stimulating places, my anxiety tends to spike. Parties growing up were like escape rooms – loud, hot, bright – a combination of 80s music and the scent of beer, perfume and meat. When the kids were younger, I shopped quickly so we could linger in a tucked-away cafe. If my Grandad accompanied us, cappuccino came before we set foot in a shop!
Now I have alternative ways to handle those things. I keep to smaller groups when socialising (where possible), in quieter or nature-based settings. I use online ordering or visit local independents. I keep paragraphs shorter, here and in journal entries, so that it’s easier to absorb when reading. Explore your options. Carve a little slow living into your life – even though society moves fast. This list will give you a place to start. It runs a little long, so I’ve batched it into 3 parts…
- Incorporate activities, study and work in topics, areas or subjects that fascinate/stimulate you, where you find it much easier to sustain your concentration. This uses the hyper-fixation in a positive way.
- Set reminders for eating and resting, for times when you are deeply focussed.
- Avoid the negative side of the hyper-fixation by minimising exposure to negative stimulus, such as entertainment, apps or news that triggers strong feelings of distress (that you don’t need to be experiencing).
- Have a worry or anxiety notebook, where you write down what is stressing you. At a more convenient time you can sit with the thoughts/feelings and decide on some actions to minimise or resolve the issue.
- Have clear boundaries that are easy to maintain in relationships, so you can be open with those you wish to.
- Keep any plans, schedule, projects streamlined, so you can break each part into smaller steps, to reduce overwhelm.
- Always start from a place of accepting reality as it is, as this provides a solid foundation beneath shifting emotions.
- Engage in conversation in a slower, more back and forth manner, so you have time to process and listen more fully, when the other person is speaking. Example: Fuelled by a fear of my attention dropping out while I’m in the middle of expressing a more complex thought, I try to “get it all out” in one go, though it can seem like I’m hogging the conversation! My solution to this, is often to break down what I want to say in two or three parts, expressing them one at a time then waiting for the other person to respond to each part, before I speak again. This may sound awkward, though within a handful of conversations it becomes easier and over time, an effortless habit.
- Try the rule of 1-2 and apply it (1 for work, 1 for leisure for instance), and break larger things into parts where feasible.
- Have short lists for each day where you can chunk household tasks, work or study tasks that you need to repeat on a regular basis – the habit will form of doing them together in time.
- Over-simplify initially, when struggling to express emotions in order to start talking, then elaborate. Example: “I feel up today, I did some reading though still feel agitated… I’ll go to bed early and journal.”
- Meditation helps expand “sustained” focus. Explore various styles and find one that suits you.
- Take some deep, slow breaths whenever focus wanes or anxiety spikes. Make the exhale slightly extended compared to the inhale and don’t fight the pause between the breaths. It is relaxing though sharpens your awareness.
Try leaning into 1 – 2 of these at a time and adapt them to suit your own lifestyle. It can help you reconsider how to structure your week. People tend towards hyper-activity or hypo-activity. I simplify this with my kids, by talking about feeling UP or DOWN. UP is agitated, fidgety, unable to stick with one task to completion. DOWN is a foggy, disjointed thought process and weighted exhaustion. It feels like every single thing requires a mammoth effort.
I have activities to bring me down when I’m up (journal, meditate, read), and up when I’m down (clean, dance, garden). Because these activities are included regularly, anxiety is reduced and focus improved, for the most part. Though like everyone currently, I’m deferring what isn’t essential or splitting tasks into smaller actions, to get things done. Intensity often recedes with observation. Not everything requires action – sometimes it’s enough to notice then move on. If you need to make changes, do so. This lets more harmony into life.
I hope this list helps, as we ride the eddies of lockdown fatigue. If you have any tips you’d like to share – leave a comment 🙂