Picture this: you’re thinking about your next fancy vacation abroad, can almost taste that dish you had many years ago, are just making some plans with your friends, only to be brought back to reality. Now, it’s perfectly okay to let your mind wander, after all, it does need a break. But, it does pose a problem when you find yourself getting distracted a little too often.
According to Bhavya Arora, an internationally-certified psychotherapist, practising in New Delhi, your attention may seem to stray for one or all the reasons below:
• Sensory Overload: Your senses feel overloaded with information units at all times due to your digital exposure and environment. Given the amount of input your senses are exposed to at any given time, (for example, increased screen time for your eyes with headphones in the ears), your mind and body struggle to interpret, prioritise, and integrate sensory information. This may lead to irritability, restlessness, agitation, mood swings, etc.
• Distraction-Filled Environment: Having environments filled with distractions, for example, the internet, social media, and streaming platforms available at the click of a button is one reason our brain does not feel wired to staying focused. Also, through your screens and devices, you are continually exposed to movement be it through movies, reels, or repeated scrolling. This continuous movement outside can condition you to feel that movement is normal, hence making anything “still” or “at rest” feel uncomfortable. Greater attention requires stillness of focus and concentration.
• Cluttered Inner Space: Your inner space feeling cluttered is another reason for lower attention spans. Your emotions tend to influence our selective attention, as well as your motivation for behaviours. Lower emotional regulation has been linked with lower attention spans.
Does it make sense to completely cut off from distractions? To be honest, with the times we are living in, it isn’t entirely possible to shut off the distractions. How then, can you increase your attention span? Here are some strategies, as suggested by Arora:
1. Healthy sleep: A well-rested mind and body promote greater focus, concentration, and attention. Build a healthy sleep cycle. One of the simplest ways to go about this is to set a ‘down-time’ every night, where you put away all your gadgets at least 45 minutes before you hit the bed. It helps you fall asleep faster.
2. Stay hydrated: Very easy, but also equally easily forgotten. Healthy hydration is important for healthy brain functioning. You could start with setting timely reminders on your phone to drink water throughout the day.
3. Take breathers: Take breathers often. Allow your body to take in oxygen to feel refreshed. So every time you feel distracted or overwhelmed, take a break and get back to the task at hand.
4. Chew gum/anything with taste: Movement of the jaw along with taste as sensory activation has been known to increase attention span and productivity, according to various studies that have been conducted. However, be mindful about what you consume, and stick to something small as a munchie.
5. Take active breaks: Taking breaks after every 40 minutes tends to set the mind and body up for greater productivity and increased focus. Try and incorporate movement during these breaks like a quick walk or a stretch.
6. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness helps one be more “present” in the moment, increasing greater awareness of self while engaging with a task. This improves our attention span. When you get distracted, close your eyes, take deep breaths, and focus on your current situation. Do this till you feel a sense of calm, and get back to work.
7. Meditation: Through meditation, you can train your mind to redirect your thoughts and regulate their frequency. This can greatly boost your attention span.
8. Therapy: Somatic-based interventions or behavioural therapy have been proven to be effective in increasing attention span. Reach out to a mental health expert, if you feel your mind does not feel at rest.