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Difficulty concentrating can manifest as forgetfulness, inattentiveness, problems with concentrating on important matters, and problems with time management. Difficulty concentrating may be due to several reasons and is usually a temporary problem. It can be caused by stress, pain and problems with sleep, among other things, and occurs in conjunction with almost all mental health disorders.

Difficulty concentrating may be due to depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, anxiety, schizophrenia or other psychotic disorder. If difficulty concentrating is congenital and continuous, it is probably due to a developmental neuropsychiatric disorder, the most familiar of which are ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) and ADD (attention deficit disorder). Difficulty concentrating may also be caused by a brain injury, brain disease or other physical condition.

Key in the assessment of difficulty concentrating is to find out the onset and duration of the symptoms and their effect on ability to function. A diagnosis of ADHD requires that the symptoms have begun and have been noticeable in childhood, are persistent, occur in many different situations, significantly impair ability to function, and cannot be explained by other conditions, substance abuse or medication. Symptoms of lack of inattentiveness usually improve in adulthood when people have more experience of life and have developed successful coping mechanisms. In some cases however, difficulty concentrating may become more problematic in adulthood in persons who did well at school and survived challenges thanks to their intelligence and support from others.

Difficulty concentrating commonly causes underachievement, low self-esteem, risk-taking, substance abuse, social detachment, and mood symptoms. Proper understanding of the symptoms and appropriate treatment help to prevent these additional problems.

Self-care instructions for difficulty concentrating

  • Evaluate your situation: Is there too much stress in your daily life? Is there any way to reduce stress? Have you been able to create routines to help you take care of things?
  • Assess yourself as a learner: What are your best learning methods? Which factors influence your ability to concentrate? Are your study strategies clear?
  • Pay attention to your time management. Use a diary to manage time, set realistic goals and interim targets, and take breaks during work.
  • Familiarise yourself with the Pomodoro technique.
  • Keep to a healthy lifestyle, exercise, get sufficient rest and adopt a regular daily rhythm.
  • Avoid intoxicants.
  • Try incorporating oily fish or other sources of omega-3 fatty acids into your diet.

When should you seek treatment?

You should seek treatment if difficulty concentrating is persistent and is significantly affecting your ability to function. When seeking treatment, be prepared for the reasons behind the problem to be comprehensively examined and causal connections sought from many different viewpoints. Finding the factors behind your difficulty concentrating will hopefully help you to understand yourself better and to create successful survival methods for situations requiring the ability to concentrate.

Treatment of difficulty concentrating

The treatment of difficulty concentrating depends on its causes. Treatment decisions will be based on any diagnosed mental health disorder and may include medication, psychotherapy, neuropsychological rehabilitation, cognitive remediation or adaptation therapy, neuropsychiatric training, or other therapy.

During treatment, you’ll be provided with information that explains the causes and effects of difficulty concentrating and will make your daily life as easy as possible in terms of concentration. If you have study-related difficulties, supportive measures regarding your study environment can be planned together with university staff.

Information sources: Duodecim Terveyskirjasto, Mielenterveystalo.fi (MentalHub.fi), ADHD-liitto, adhdtutuksi.fi

FSHS Psychologist / 07 November 2019

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