You rely on concentration to get through work or school every day. When you’re unable to concentrate, you can’t think clearly, focus on a task, or maintain your attention.

Your performance at work or school could be affected if you can’t concentrate. You may also find that you can’t think as well, which can affect your decision-making. A number of medical conditions may contribute to or cause an inability to concentrate.

It’s not always a medical emergency, but being unable to concentrate can mean you need medical attention.

Being unable to concentrate affects people differently. Some symptoms you may experience include:

  • being unable to remember things that occurred a short time ago
  • difficulty sitting still
  • difficulty thinking clearly
  • frequently losing things or having difficulty remembering where things are
  • inability to make decisions
  • inability to perform complicated tasks
  • lack of focus
  • lacking physical or mental energy to concentrate
  • making careless mistakes

You may notice that it’s harder to concentrate at certain times of day or in certain settings. Others may comment that you appear distracted. You may miss appointments or meetings because of a lack of focus. Sometimes, people call this brain fog.

Many health conditions can make it hard to concentrate. Here are just a few:

Lifestyle factors that can affect your concentration include:

  • lack of sleep
  • hunger
  • lack of exercise
  • fatigue
  • stress

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Being unable to concentrate is also a side effect of some medications. Drugs that can affect the way you think include:

If you have new medications, read the insert carefully. Contact your doctor or pharmacist to determine if your medications may be affecting your concentration. Don’t stop taking any medications unless your doctor says to.

If you’re having trouble focusing these tips might help:

  • Remove distractions. Clear up desk clutter, switch off notifications, and only listen to music if it helps you focus.
  • Notice when you lose attention. Identifying a pattern might help you resolve it, and it might prompt you to concentrate better.
  • Review your medications. Some drugs and supplements can affect your thinking.
  • Practice time blocking. Make a plan to work for one hour then rest or stretch for 5 minutes, for example. Put “busy” on your calendar so people know when is a suitable time to approach you.
  • Eat fruit rather than sugary snacks. Sugar can cause your blood glucose levels to spike and dip, making you feel less energetic after a while.
  • Keep your brain active. Do puzzles or other activities that keep you thinking actively.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation. This can help train your thoughts and bring them back to center.
  • Check the side effects of medications. A number of drugs can cause sleepiness or brain fog.
  • Look after your body: Exercise and a varied diet that is rich in essential nutrients can boost your physical wellbeing and may help enhance your mental health.
  • Makes lists and set achievable goals. Written lists, plans, and goals can help you prioritize and remember the tasks you need to do without them cluttering your mind.

However, if you’re lacking focus because of a health condition, you may need medical treatment.

Here are some tips for focusing your brain when you feel you are losing concentration:

  • stop and do a breathing exercise, such as box breathing
  • be aware of how your brain is wandering and decide which way you want it to go
  • shift to a new task and come back to the present one later
  • take a break, for example go for a walk or do some stretches

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Make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience the following symptoms:

  • memory problems that are worse than usual
  • decreased performance in work or school
  • difficulty sleeping
  • unusual feelings of tiredness

You should also make an appointment to see your doctor if problems with concentration affect your ability to go through daily life or enjoy your life.

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms in addition to being unable to concentrate:

  • loss of consciousness
  • numbness or tingling on one side of your body
  • severe chest pain
  • severe headache
  • sudden, unexplained memory loss
  • unawareness of where you are
  • problems with speaking

These may be a sign of a stroke, heart attack, or other condition that needs urgent attention.

Diagnosis can involve a variety of tests because there are many possible causes.

The doctor will most likely:

  • ask you about any symptoms
  • discuss your health history with you
  • ask questions such as “When did you first notice this condition?” and “When is your ability to concentrate better or worse?”
  • review any medications, supplements, and herbs you are taking to see if they could affect your concentration

With this information, your doctor may either make a diagnosis or recommend further testing, for example:

  • blood testing to determine hormone levels
  • CT scans to assess for brain changes
  • electroencephalography (EEG) to measure electrical activity in the scalp

There are many reasons why people find it difficult to focus, and it can take time to find a diagnosis.

Sometimes, lifestyle related changes can help, such as:

  • reviewing your diet and switching to one that includes more whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and oily fish
  • getting more sleep
  • reducing caffeine and alcohol intake
  • taking steps to reduce stress, such as meditating, writing in a journal, or reading a book

Specific foods that may support brain health include:

Other treatments will depend upon your specific diagnosis.

For example, people with ADHD may need several different treatment approaches, including medication and behavior therapy. This includes behavioral therapy to limit distractions or medications to improve concentration. It can also include parent education.

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Why can’t I concentrate and focus?

Loss of focus can happen for many reasons. They include mental and physical health problems, stress, the use of some medications, and a lack of sleep or and inadequate diet.

How can I improve my concentration?

This will depend on the cause of the lack of focus. Options range from getting treatment for an underlying condition to practicing mindfulness, or just clearing your desk.

Do any foods improve concentration?

According to some research, nutrients that may help include omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins B1, B6, B12, B9 (folic acid) and D, choline, iron and iodine. These foods may help protect the brain and the nervous system. They may even improve performance in tasks that involve thinking, but more research is needed.

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There are many reasons why you might find it hard to concentrate, including stress, a range of chronic diseases, and the use of certain medications.

If you’re having trouble focusing and it’s affecting your daily life, speak with a doctor. They may be able to help by addressing an underlying problem or recommending therapy.