Distracted All the Time?

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Always distracted? Can’t seem to finish what you start, or remember what you did or didn’t do or say?

What does distraction say about your mental health, and when should you worry?

The meaning of distraction

We can all be distracted when many things happen at once. Sometimes it’s not even a bad thing, we just don't know how to navigate it. Or aren't used to the feeling. It can be a lot of positive news at the same time, or that we are confusing the excitement of going for a big life goal with lack of focus.

Being distracted becomes a problem when it stops you from coping on a daily basis, negatively affecting your work or school life, relationships, finances, and/or physical health.

Is it adult ADHD?

The first worry can be that you have adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But this is far from the only reason some of us are more distracted than others.

It's also important to note that ADHD does not suddenly develop as an adult. If this is your problem it would have been an issue since childhood. It’s just that some of us, particularly if we have a high IQ, can hide an attention deficit under being ‘special’ or ‘different’, until the demands of adult life make symptoms more obvious.

The basic building blocks of focus

It can be easy to assume focus requires a special talent. But the basics of focus are actually having a brain that is rested and has room to function.

So the first things to consider if you are distracted all the time lately can be practical lifestyle issues.

  • Are you getting proper sleep?
  • Do you have habits that can cause fatigue under control, like alcohol intake and eating junk food?
  • Is your work space quiet and comfortable?
  • Has anyone actually taught you how to focus? How to put aside distractions, prioritise tasks, create a time container to work, and get to it? Or do you need to do some research on how to work effectively?

Making headspace

A juggler navigating ten balls in the air can't then cook a three-course meal. And yet this can be the sort of expectation some of us put on ourselves.

Stress is the number one cause of distraction. Our brain is not endless. It has a limited processing capacity.

And yet sometimes we can be the last person to know we are stressed. We keep saying we are fine. We can handle it. But check in with yourself:

  • Are you saying yes to things you want to say no to? Forgetting to set healthy boundaries?
  • Does bed time keep getting put off as you cram more things into your day?
  • Have you been neglecting things that see you feeling good, like hobbies and fitness?
  • Are you putting off time with friends and family, or have people complained?

When anxiety has highjacked your brain

Sometimes we are distracted because our brain is actually out of our control.

Anxiety sees your mind hijacked by a repetitive loop of increasingly illogical, fear-based thinking, that leaves less and less room for anything else.

And these fear-based thoughts trigger your fight and flight response, which then triggers a series of possible physical symptoms. This can look like a racing heart, tense muscles, headaches, and an upset stomach. All of which also takes our attention and focus away from important things like getting work done.

Depression and brain fog

Distracted not because your thoughts are racing, but because you can’t seem to think straight at all?

'Depression brain’ is described as trying to function through a dense cloud, or wet sand, or through a fog.

No wonder you are distracted, depression has kicked your functioning onto low.

Are you actually an addict?

Telling everyone around you you need to get tested for ADHD? Meanwhile you are distracted because you are endlessly obsessing on whether the new guy you are dating is going to reject you? Didn't sleep as you were cruising porn sites all night? Or are late meeting friends as you made a secret trip to go binge on a dozen donuts?

Addictions are like a parasite camping out in your brain and taking up time meant for other things. And they are often things we lie to ourselves about, whether that is love addiction, porn addiction, shopping addiction, or food addiction.

Trauma, PTSD, and c-PTSD

It's now argued that many diagnosed cases of ADHD in children are actually misdiagnosed trauma. This accounts for how ADHD rates seem so much higher in families where poverty, neglect, and instability are an issue. Childhood trauma affects the way your brain develops, and can cause the same long term symptoms as attention deficit disorder, including an inability to focus.

As adults, it might be a recent traumatic experience that has left us with post-traumatic shock disorder. In such a case the brain is caught up in the fight or flight response and can be very distracted.

If you feel you lived through ongoing trauma as a child, you might have complex trauma, or c-PTSD, which can manifest as ADHD-like symptoms.

So what do I do if this is me?

All of these issues can benefit from talk therapy, not just the diagnosable disorders like PTSD and ADHD.

When it comes to things like stress and anxiety, a talk therapist creates a safe space for you to get to the root of what is upsetting you. But they can also teach you practical tools to manage your thinking and stress, such as mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, and charting your thoughts.

Time to stop letting distraction sabotage your life and relationships? Use our easy booking tool to find your perfect therapist and talk your way to clarity.

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