How Does Anxiety Affect Concentration, Focus & Working Memory?

Lack of focus is one of the most damaging problems in our society today. We are constantly distracted by emails, our neighbors next door, phone calls, event invitations, advertisements, commercials, social media, and sometimes – ourselves. Anxiety is a significant contributor to the problem of lack of focus or concentration in our everyday lives. Then the question arises, what role has mental health played in our ability to focus on the task? Anxiety hinders your ability to focus, but how does anxiety affect concentration and memory? And Can anxiety make it hard to concentrate, to begin with?

First, to answer these questions, let us look at anxiety symptoms as specified in the DSM-V. These include:-

-difficulty concentrating,

-racing thoughts,

-trouble sleeping,

-muscle tension,

-no clear, recognizable trigger for their anxiety symptoms,


-muscle tension, etc.

effects of anxiety on concentration and focus
How Anxiety Affects Concentration, Focus, & Working Memory

How Does Anxiety Affect Concentration & What is Its Impact On Working Memory?

A study by Moran T.P demonstrates that people with anxiety, whether self-reported to induced, will show poor performance when it comes to activities involving working memory, but the results of numerous studies to provide a correlation between the two have been mixed. 

How Does Anxiety Affect Concentration & Make It Hard To Focus?

Difficulty concentrating is normal or a defining feature for most emotional and mental health conditions in the DSM-V. Emotions are pervasive and hence always have an impact, big or small, on your ability to concentrate.

As seen by the symptoms above, anxiety indeed hinders our ability to concentrate on daily tasks. It also triggers the “fight or flight” response in your body. It makes you nervous, irritable, hyperactive, and as a result, unable to focus in some cases. Anxiety is also aggravated by fatigue as being scatterbrained distracts and drains your energy.

While the symptoms of anxiety are escalating, even random thoughts increase your feelings of being anxious.

There are different conditions associated with anxiety. These include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, among others. You can learn more about them and how to tell the difference between stress and anxiety here.

A study by Lauren S.H confirmed and supported the increase of lack of focus as a symptom of GAD, which is one of the most common forms of anxiety. It also showed a relationship between lack of concentration and the severity of the situation.

Follow are some techniques to help you navigate a situation where you need to focus but are hindered by anxiety. They can also help you understand how can anxiety makes it hard to focus better.

What to do when anxiety affects concentration and makes it hard to focus?

-Take breaks

One of the reasons why anxiety makes it hard to focus is because you’re not managing your time well. Nobody is inherently good at planning their daily routine. You can only improve with practice, trying different things, and figuring out what works best for you. One way to do this is by introducing breaks in your routine.

Some ideas for breaks are self-care activities to relax and rejuvenate or meditation to keep your mind from getting overwhelmed. Many studies have shown the benefits of meditation for stress and anxiety reduction and other positive benefits for mental health.

-Ground your attention in the present moment

While meditation techniques ground your attention in the present moment, there are plenty of other ways. For instance, you can have solid physical stimulation or focus on how your senses as they function.

You could also direct your non-judgemental focus toward the feeling of anxiety that distracts you. Anyone who has mediated or tried to focus even a little will tell you that your mind doesn’t like staying stuck on one task for long. Chances are that you will soon be distracted from your anxiety itself and become able to focus on another task.

Focus on your breath

Breathing is usually automated by nature and the body but also benefits many mental health conditions. It is a superpower in situations like anger, nervousness, irritability, stress, and anxiety. You can use breathing to calm down, creating an opportunity to observe and think about what is distracting your attention.

Slowly but surely, you can form a habit of focus by being conscious of your breathing. Deep breathing exercises provide a sensation of newness and might also give you a new perspective on how you can deal with your anxiety.

-Try to focus on the root cause of your anxiety

Another way you can use your distracted time is to get at the root cause of anxiety, wonder what is causing your anxiety, and consult with professionals to help you navigate this situation. You can easily find online platforms for this and work out your problems smoothly. Focusing on the cause is also essential if your symptoms are getting hard to handle and decreasing your quality of life.

-Distract yourself with something fun or do something creative

If you’re distracted, you might as well have fun with it! We often judge ourselves for being distracted or forgetful, leading to more negative emotions, including anxiety. One way you can drive yourself out of distraction is to start doing whatever you usually enjoy and relate it to the work you’re putting off or distracting from. Through this practice, you can also focus on more meaningful work that provides variety.

-Improve focus and eliminate distractions

Eliminating all distractions and triggers of your anxiety after you’ve identified them can also make it easier to carry forward with tasks – improving your ability to work or study without being disturbed midway. This way, you can reduce dependence on stimulation or dopamine and might find other ideas to polish your day.

-Take out time to journal

According to a study by Joshua M.S, positive affect journaling for self-regulation can increase mental wellness for patients with some disorders or mental illnesses.
You can use journaling to record your anxiety, try to identify why you get distracted and the potential triggers for the same, or use it to write whatever you want to. You can also try to change your train your thought or make it more holistic through journaling.


Anxiety, other mental health conditions, or bad habits can take away your ability to concentrate on the task at hand. However, you can fight the state and take steps to regain focus and control how you spend your energy.

Some practical solutions include challenging your thoughts, grounding your attention in the present, and journaling to become more self-aware and develop a more optimistic attitude. Now that you’ve learned how does anxiety affect concentration, you can continue to battle anxiety by being more grateful for the people and things in your life. Gratefulness can help you weather tough times and be happier in life. Here is a list of apps to make gratitude a part of your daily routine.

Subscribe to Your Mental Health Pal for more advice about how to deal with anxiety and other mental health conditions that may trouble you.

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