Many people feel they cannot concentrate to accomplish their day to day tasks, affecting their jobs and their personal life. Since ADHD has become a buzzword, many ask themselves if they might suffer from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While this needs to be evaluated by a professional, I want to provide some points that one encounters often in daily practice.
Importantly, there are many reasons that can impair concentration. One may categorise them as
For example, ADHD, depression, and anxiety can have biological elements, and they can all affect one’s ability to concentrate. However, whether I am in the right job or in the right relationship can have psychological aspects, and why I stay in the wrong job can have psychological and environmental reasons. Tiredness and a sense of inadequacy or low self-esteem and low self-confidence can have both, psychological and biological reasons. 5 Reasons You May Have Trouble Concentrating lists reasons that stem from the three categories.
On the clinical side, there are also several conditions apart from ADHD that can impact your concentration, such as depression, insomnia, a concussion, anxiety, dementia, and many more. On this website, you can find additional information on
A mental health professional can help you find out where the difficulties with concentration can come from. For example, it can be important whether the concentration difficulties had a recent onset or whether you have experienced them for a longer time period, or even your entire life. A recent onset would make ADHD less likely because the condition is believed to have a large neurodevelopmental aspect and manifests already at a young age. If your attention problems have just started more recently, another explanation may be more likely. How happy are you with what you are doing? Do you see enough purpose in it? Has your mood been lower (depression) or did you excessively worry (anxiety)? All these potential causes and more can affect your ability to pay attention and concentrate on a task.
Some practical tips on what you can do to concentrate better can be found in the article “Focus on concentration” published by Harvard Health. Having rests at intervals, practising mindfulness meditation, tracking one’s lack of attention, stopping distractions, training the brain, and watching what one drinks and eats are just some of the suggestions you will find in it. You may also find some useful information in the article Lack of concentration: what does it mean and how to overcome it published by Beecholme Adult Care. Reducing multitasking, getting better and more sleep, and switching tasks are other strategies you will find mentioned often. Improve your focus and concentration: 15 ways to build your skills provides another list of factors that can be helpful. You will find that lack of sleep is a factor that is often mentioned. You may want to look at some articles on sleep on this website: insomnia (low quantity or quality of sleep)
Stress can also play a significant role. The WHO has published a stress management guide, which you can download here.
Several public providers provide stress management classes or seminars at no fee. One example is the HSE in Ireland:
So what about ADHD? Individuals suffering from ADHD have difficulties paying attention because their mind often wanders off on a tangent, not necessarily to worries as in anxiety but almost anywhere. This can lead to losing things or forgetting appointments, excessive daydreaming, and a ‘little machine running’ when one lies in bed and wants to sleep. Typical is the person who leaves the house, gets to the car, and then goes back to the house because they forgot something. A certain immaturity and difficulties in controlling behaviour inappropriate for a person’s age are frequently present. ADHD is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder. Thus, problems in school (inability to concentrate and focus, inappropriate behaviour) and at home are frequent. Performance at school is usually affected by ADHD quite severely. Children often tend to be more affected in mathematics, but this is not necessarily the case. However, attention and concentration can be functional for activities which are found interesting and appealing. Some mild forms of ADHD, or traits of it, can become more obvious later in life when there is heightened stress or another psychological issue drawing more heavily on one’s mental resources. Very often in the latter cases, if one deals with the ‘comorbid’ issue, such as stress, burnout, anxiety, or reactive depressive episodes, the ‘ADHD symptoms’ seem to ease up or disappear.