Focus…Focus… Squirrell!

I was an A-type personality. I enjoyed organizing. I usually planned a month or more ahead for activities at work. My personal calendar was full of events and people to visit. I would plan and then plan some more. I had lists and then lists for the lists… Okay, maybe not that bad…

Post-concussion is a game changer for anybody like me. You’ve got to slow the train and harness that overachieving self! With your brain constantly firing on all cylinders, it is hard to stay on task when everything equally distracts you. It is difficult to tune out the noises and action happening all around you and stay focused on the task in front of you. How many of you have tried to read something when there are people having a conversation in the other room, your daughter has the TV on in her bedroom, and the dog is playing with his squeaky toy? All I have to say is good luck! The toy’s sound will drive you crazy all on its own! You’ll be curious about what the people are talking about in the other room while simultaneously wanting to go watch whatever is on TV. Your brain can’t separate the sounds and instead of concentrating on one thing, you’ll want to be involved in everything. Then suddenly, you’re feeling tired and frustrated, and you don’t know why.

This was totally me! I used to be amazing at tuning sounds out and diving into whatever I was working on. I could do a few tasks simultaneously while staying on track. Now, it is definitely a lot harder. I am back to the point that I can tune things out for a bit if I’m deep in thought, but this can also be dangerous because then I don’t pay attention to the symptoms creeping up on me either. As I’m typing this, I didn’t realize that my phone had vibrated a couple of times or that the squeezing feeling in my head was starting. It wasn’t until my husband came home from work and diverted my attention that I saw I had missed a text from him, and that my head was feeling gross. So, a word of warning for you to be careful and make sure that you are taking the necessary breaks every so often to give your brain a rest. I’m taking my own advice.

Here are some steps to help you retrain your brain to focus more again:

  • Try reading for 1-5 minutes in a book without stopping or getting distracted
  • When you can handle that, switch to a newspaper. With so many random stories scattered throughout, it can be harder to focus on one thing.
  • When this task is easy to do, start playing some soft classical music in the background while trying to read
  • Then incorporate music with lyrics
  • Once you can read and handle music with lyrics, try putting on a couple of radio shows simultaneously and reading
  • Or, try going to a coffee shop and reading there for a bit

Do this in stages. I’m not saying to do this one right after another. Take it a week at a time and don’t progress to the next step until you don’t have symptoms within that 1-5-minute period of trying the exercise. You may feel symptoms as you are doing the task or they may creep up after. Give yourself a bit of time to see how you feel afterwards. If after practicing one step for a bit and you feel good, progress to the next step. If you feel good by the last stage and you’ve conquered the time limit, increase your time or try doing different tasks. In time, you’ll begin to build stamina and be able to handle a busier environment again.

Multi-tasking isn’t necessarily great for you so don’t try to make that your goal. Focusing on one thing at a time and doing it well is the best method for anything. However, I hope that these exercises will allow you to be able to handle the outside world a little better. Hopefully after practicing this for a while, you’ll be able to go out to the café or restaurant with a friend and manage the conversation with background noise a little better and a little longer.

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