How to concentrate if lockdown has turned your brain to mush

One common symptom of lockdown appears to be a complete inability to concentrate on anything.

The big things, the small things – even watching a mindless TV show can be a challenge.

At a time where everyone on Instagram seems to be flying through classic novels, listening to podcasts, writing poetry, sewing pillowcases and baking complicated bread – why is it that half the time you feel like you only have the brain capacity to stare at a blank wall?

It turns out, a lack of concentration and an inability to focus on a single task is completely normal in times of high stress, anxiety and uncertainty. Which is a pretty accurate description of life during a global pandemic.

Mindset coach and NLP practitioner Rebecca Lockwood says lots of people have told her they are feeling dazed and unfocused right now. She says it can feel like the grogginess you get when you’ve been asleep for too long.

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‘When you are constantly in your mind thinking of things and worrying it can leave the brain feeling foggy and unfocused making it hard to concentrate,’ says Rebecca.

‘This is often recognized as “brain fog”. Brain fog can leave you feeling like you are unable to concentrate for long enough to do anything productive.

‘It can also leave you feeling as though making the smallest of decisions is hard, can cause headaches and heightened stress and anxiety levels.’

So, it’s a normal feeling.

But, while it’s all well and good telling people it’s OK to do nothing right now, it’s OK to not be productive, it’s OK if you’re not achieving (which it is by the way), not everyone has that luxury.

Many people still need to work from home, or they are attempting to squeeze work responsibilities in around childcare. People need to earn money, and need to be able to focus on work – for at least part of the day.

So, we asked a couple of experts for their top tips on how to find some focus – even if only in the smallest of ways. Which could help you feel less anxious about your mounting to-do list.

How to focus

Take regular breaks

Rebecca says it’s important to give yourself time to reset, and to not try to push yourself too far.

‘If you are feeling like you need a time out, then take one,’ says Rebecca. ‘Have no expectations of yourself and what you should be doing and allow yourself to honor the feelings you have.’

Life coach Nadia Rafique suggests using the Pomodoro Method. This is essentially all about sticking to an allotted time.

‘Set a timer for a short amount of time (start with ten minutes) focus only on what you are doing for that time,’ says Nadia.

‘When the timers goes off, have a four-minute break. Try to increase the time you set the timer gradually for, so eventually you can focus for 45 minutes at a time and have a 15 minute break.

‘Building up strength to focus bit by bit in manageable chunks.’

Eliminate distractions

‘Move your phone out of your awareness, and eliminate any other distractions that may tease you into doing something else instead,’ says Rebecca.

She suggests taking time away from digital screens altogether.

‘Starting at screens a lot can cause you to go into foveal vision too much. This is when you are only focused on the thing right in front of you.

‘This alone can heighten stress levels and cause you to feel less motivated to do much else.

‘It is the opposite to this is peripheral vision. When we are in peripheral vision, we are able to focus on all of the things around us at the same time, this leaves us feeling calmer and more grounded within ourselves.’

Nadia says it’s really easy to get distracted when you have a lot on your mind.

‘Often, something will pop into your head mid-task – and we have the urge to go and check that thing out right there and then.

‘Write down any thoughts or actions that pop into your head when you’re in the middle of a task. Tell yourself you can give those things your attention once you have your break.

‘This should help fight the urge to become too distracted.’

Start small

Nadia says ease yourself in with smaller, simpler tasks – things you know you can accomplish quite easily. Maybe just sending a couple of emails, or making a phone call.

‘Once we have done these things, our brain will feel successful and that motivates us to keep going,’ explains Nadia. ‘This can help alleviate the brain mush and get you back on track to stay focused.’

Use mindfulness techniques

Nadia says she practices mindfulness throughout the day to make sure her head is where she wants it to be.

‘Mindfulness is just being totally present in the moment and feeling every thought, emotion and sensation at that time,’ says Nadia. ‘This helps to expand your attention span and can help to fight against distractions.

‘If you get the urge to go off and do something else or if your mind wanders – you can bring yourself back to the present and only focus on what’s happening in that moment.

‘You can practice mindfulness throughout the day, when you are eating, washing your  face, going for a walk.’


Nadia adds that meditation is a great way to allow your mind to cleanse and re-focus. Rebecca uses meditation as a way to check in with herself too.

‘Listening to yourself and your desires is very important always,’ says Rebecca. ‘We should always aim to tap into our thoughts and feelings daily.

‘This can be as simple as placing your hand on your heart and breathing deep into your heart and asking yourself “who am I?” not expecting a response.

‘Feel grateful for your body, for your heart and the simplest things such as the wind on your face, the sounds of the birds.’

Rebecca says it’s important to bring yourself into the present.

‘Feeling into your feet can help you feel grounded and back in the here and now,’ she says. ‘This will help you stop your mind wandering and you will be able to check back into what you are doing.’

It’s important to celebrate the little wins. So if you manage six hours of focused work, or just ten minutes – take the time to appreciate your effort and mark your progress.

And don’t forget that you’re not the only one struggling to concentrate right now. What you see on Instagram isn’t a true reflection of everybody’s mindset – and you’re definitely not the only one with ‘brain fog’.

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