Why can’t I focus? The 5 common reasons

Work should be over long ago, but your thoughts are still focused on what you did over the weekend. Or maybe you are dreaming about your next vacation. The mind is prone to distraction. But then a colleague’s email bursts into your reverie. That’s all you need. The distraction is total.

Everyone knows such lapses in concentration. But sometimes there are also longer phases in which you simply cannot concentrate. The lack of concentration often goes back to childhood. Concentration problems are common and can have many causes.

Lack of concentration definition

What is lack of concentration? Lack of concentration is a tendency to disperse one’s thoughts and interfere with the tasks one is doing or, in children, with learning.

Lack of concentration: main symptoms

Lack of concentration and attention deficit

A concentration or attention disorder occurs when a child or adult is unable to focus on a task. For children, this often occurs at school, with problems following the course or retaining the lessons.

Lack of concentration leads to being easily distracted by stimuli, whether they are of internal or external origin.

In general, a distinction is made between a concentration disorder and a lack of concentration. The difference is that a lack of concentration is only temporary, whereas a lack of concentration lasts longer or is even permanent.

Concentrating on a task for a longer or shorter period of time corresponds to a mental performance peak for the brain, necessary for productivity. Concentration requires extra energy from the body. It is therefore normal that attention decreases after a certain time.

The amount of time one can concentrate varies from person to person and also depends a lot on age. For example, elementary school-aged children lose concentration after an average of about 15 minutes, while teenagers can manage about 30 minutes of learning or listening.

For adults, the limit is about one hour. Thus, if the attention decreases after a certain time, it is not yet a concentration disorder. Only if the ability to concentrate is significantly lower than the above-mentioned reference times, or if the distracted state lasts for days and weeks, can it be a pathological concentration disorder or a lasting lack of concentration.

Symptoms of poor concentration in children

Concentration disorders are identified by forgetfulness, inattention and fatigue. Children are easily distracted, quickly forget what they have just done, start many things at once and finish few.

Conversely, they may perform the same task twice because they do not remember doing it before.

You can easily test your child’s tendency to lose focus: talk to them about any topic while they are drawing or writing and observe their behavior. A child who concentrates well will continue to draw or write without being distracted by the conversation.

When thinking, children who are not focused quickly let their thoughts wander from the present subject to other subjects or “daydreams. Instead of thinking about the result of the calculation, they think about a beautiful memory, a sad experience or a story they are making up.

This contributes to a significant limitation in the quality of their work. Children’s resilience is also reduced. Those affected by the problem lack vitality and creativity, and feel weak, overwhelmed and apathetic.

Depending on what is behind the concentration problems, other signs of this disorder may appear. But the behaviors that result from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are mainly of two kinds.

Thus, the child can either present a motor agitation and botch his work at full speed, or conversely, work calmly but with an extreme slowness that resembles lethargy.

Tasks involving memory may be affected, as poor concentration impairs memorization; but there are also learning disabilities such as dysgraphia or dysorthographia.

In practice: the causes of lack of concentration

Concentration problems can have a wide variety of causes. In children and adolescents, for example, long television programs and computer games that cause excessive fatigue are among the main triggers.

Generally, an unhealthy lifestyle is identified (lack of sleep, unbalanced diet, lack of fluids, lack of exercise, stress, alcohol, nicotine, drug addiction, etc.).

In the elderly, age-related slowing of metabolism and general deterioration of brain circulation can also lead to poor concentration.

Possible causes of concentration problems in children and adolescents

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Allergies
  • Underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
  • Psychological causes: depression, anorexia

But factors such as excessive demands at school (or conversely, demands that are too low, too unstimulating), fear of failure, psychological stress in the family or difficult developmental phases (e.g. puberty) can also be associated with concentration problems.

Possible causes of concentration problems in adults

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Age-related dementias: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease
  • Depression or manic-depressive illness
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Allergies
  • Menopause
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Brain tumors
  • Burnout syndrome
  • Schizophrenia
  • Psychosomatic diseases
  • Iron deficiency
  • Sleep apnea syndrome (daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating)

To remember

It appears that the causes of lack of concentration and attention disorders can be multiple. If some of them are related to the brain and thinking, others have physical origins that it is important to determine. If the lack of concentration persists and considerably impairs the accomplishment of daily tasks or prevents learning at school, it is important to consult a specialist.

Focus on some common causes of poor concentration

We would now like to return to some of the causes of inattention, as these are the most common.

1 –  Stress and lack of attention

Whether it’s at work, at home or at school, when we rush from one deadline to the next, we often get caught in a vicious cycle. We usually only think about the next task at hand and have difficulty focusing our thoughts on the present moment and clear goals.

As a result, our brains are overloaded by the many stimuli and can no longer process information in an organized way. Stress can therefore lead to concentration problems.

What’s behind the concept of stress

When we talk about stress, it is because we feel that life and daily life demand a lot from us. This does not have to be a negative circumstance. Many people experience stress as enjoyable and long for the feeling of being challenged in many ways. In this case, it is positive stress (eustress).

Negative stress, the one we most often talk about, occurs when we feel we cannot cope with a situation. When this situation lasts, it puts a strain on the body and can have considerable physical and psychological consequences, especially on our mental capacities and our concentration.

What happens in the body during stress

Our heart races, our breathing quickens, our muscles tense: under stress, we react with a mechanism that makes us able to survive in difficult situations. Our brain releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones put the body and mind on alert. We are very focused.

This stress response process is positive as long as it can be completed. Then the stress hormones are broken down again and the body releases endorphins: we are proud of our achievement.

In the case of permanent stress, on the other hand, stimuli and information can no longer be transmitted as well due to the permanent increase in the level of stress hormones. This results in problems with memory and concentration.

Stress hormones can also block the ability to remember and think. This can also happen with depression or burnout.

2 – Sleep disorders and lack of attention

Lack of concentration is sometimes linked to fatigue, which has a negative impact on the brain and brain capacity. Lack of sleep and lack of concentration often occur at the same time, during the same periods of life.

People who get little sleep suffer from fluctuating attention during the day. The explanation lies in the functioning of the brain, where certain regions control attention. These are the ones that are most affected by a lack of nightly recovery.

Today, statistics show that one out of three French people on average suffers from sleep disorders. 10% suffer from severe insomnia. It is important to identify the causes in order to find a solution.

3 –  An unhealthy lifestyle

First of all, it is an inadequate or deficient diet. The brain needs sufficient carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water to function optimally.

Irregular or insufficient intake of carbohydrates, for example (in case of anorexia), leads to fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This can lead to a decrease in performance and a lack of concentration.

A deficiency of essential nutrients such as B vitamins, iron or magnesium can also lead to concentration problems.

Next is lack of exercise. In many cases, the lack of concentration is due to the absence of regular physical activity. When you don’t move enough, your body is deprived of an excellent way to improve and stimulate blood circulation. The brain is less well supplied with oxygen.

4 –  Attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity

Children, but also adults, can suffer from attention deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity. This disorder is associated with concentration problems, among other things, because certain regulatory circuits in the brain are disrupted, particularly those that control attention.

6 –  Hypotension

Problems concentrating are typical symptoms of low blood pressure, as blood flow to the brain is reduced. Lack of performance, fatigue, palpitations and cold hands and feet can also indicate low blood pressure.

Some tips to avoid lack of concentration

In many cases, you can do something about a lack of concentration yourself. The following general tips can help both children and adults. By doing these exercises regularly you can boost your concentration

1 – Ensure good nutrition

Eat a balanced and varied diet to provide your brain with all the nutrients it needs.

2 – Drink enough

Drink about two liters of fluid a day. Water, mineral water and tea (unsweetened) are the best drinks. A “thirsty” brain cannot function optimally, resulting in poor concentration.

3 – Take regular breaks

Make sure your body and mind can recover from time to time – especially if stress and overwork are possible causes of poor concentration. For example, it’s a good idea to take walks outdoors as often as possible.

4 – Healthy sleep

Make sure you get enough sleep to eliminate or prevent concentration problems. If possible, keep a set bedtime and wake-up time.

5 – Relaxation techniques

If you are very stressed and agitated in your daily life, and have sleep problems related to nervousness, relaxation methods such as autogenic training, yoga or progressive muscle relaxation can help.

6 – Consume media in moderation

Limit media consumption (TV, computer, smartphone, etc.) and excessive sound (stereo, headphones, etc.). If the brain has to deal with too much external stimuli, you will find it increasingly difficult to focus.

7 – Ear massage

You can increase your concentration with an ear massage. To do this, vigorously knead the lobes with your fingertips for one minute.

8 – Breathing exercises

Studies proved the positive effect of breathing exercises on attention. The following exercise, designed to improve concentration and reduce stress, should be done several times a day: sit upright with your feet side by side on the floor. Place your hands on your thighs, close your eyes and breathe in and out slowly and deeply.

9 – Medicinal plants

Ginseng root extracts or Bacopa Monnieri are often used to treat fatigue and mild concentration problems in middle and old age. Ginkgo extracts are also said to improve cerebral blood circulation, which is why they are recommended for concentration problems due to Alzheimer’s disease or insufficient cerebral blood circulation.

10 – Essential oils

A scent lamp with a few drops of essential oils can help you combat concentration problems. For example, lavender, bergamot and rosemary oils are ideal. However, caution is advised if you are prone to allergies!

11 – Homeopathic remedies

Homeopathy knows various remedies for concentration problems, for example Avena sativa D3 (poor performance and exhaustion), Kalium phosphoricum D6 (for forgetfulness) and Aethusa cynapium D6 (poor concentration).


We hope that this article has clarified the main aspects related to concentration problems and lack of attention. By knowing the causes, it is easier to take the necessary steps to regain normal cognitive abilities.

Similarly, if your child has trouble concentrating and is having trouble keeping up in school or learning lessons, you can apply some of the techniques suggested.

Are you experiencing concentration problems? What are the causes? Do you suffer from stress or even burn out? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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