Are you suffering an attention shortfall at the moment?

by Penny Tyndale-Hardy | 15 May 2020

Penny Tyndale-Hardy, Senior Trainer of The Mental Health Toolkit by Suffolk Mind, writes about protecting your attention capacity and making sure we have enough to go round at home.

Anyone else feeling more tired and irritable than usual? My emotions seem more volatile and I’m definitely less patient. I get frustrated that simple things take so much more time. And while I crave privacy, I’m lacking the energy or motivation to do anything useful or fulfilling in my downtime. Sound familiar? If so, it’s likely you’re suffering an attention shortfall.

Our capacity to give attention is not an inexhaustible resource. Don’t underestimate how much more you need to give everyday life right now. New situations demand more attention, and right now even familiar tasks have become unfamiliar.

For example, I’m normally pretty good at socialising, from workplace chat to family gatherings or a cuppa with friends. But right now my phone or computer is the only way to manage this, from meetings, to catching up with people, joining quizzes, watching live gigs…

This demands attention in a very different way from face-to-face contact. Not only is the screen more visually stimulating (and therefore tiring), but there are additional demands, such as learning the tech, coping with pixelated pictures and intermittent sound, seeing six (or more) people with six different backgrounds, the etiquette of who talks when – all while tuning out the barking dog or the arrival of the postman. It’s exhausting!

This is just one of the ways in which the familiar has become unfamiliar.

We’re all learning new hygiene skills – not just washing our hands more often and more thoroughly but wiping down surfaces, maintaining social distance, cleaning the shopping before putting it away. I’ve not yet worn a mask, but that’s another new protocol that will take effort and attention to become habitual.

Here are some tips to protect our attention capacity and make sure we have enough to go round:

  • Just recognising the increased demand on your attention can help you feel better. It’s not simply cabin fever – the Covid situation really does alter how much we need to use this essential resource.
  • Keep clear boundaries. Doing everything from home makes things muddled. Set clear time and space boundaries for different tasks where possible so your attention isn’t pulled about by competing things. A good routine will help.
  • Take time in the day to reflect – how are you feeling today? What’s working well? What needs are being met? Have a look at the different ways you can meet your emotional needs on our dedicated webpage
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques (see our video on Mindful Breathing). By directing your attention to techniques that physically calm both body and mind you’ll have more control over how you direct your attention – which makes it go further.
  • Prioritise your sleep – good sleep helps you recharge and regenerate your attention capacity.
  • Move away from screens to rest your screen-stimulated brain – gardening, drawing, reading, exercise, puzzles, board games, meditation, knitting… whatever works for you.
  • Expect things to take longer. We’re in a new world and simple things take more time. Accepting and allowing for this will make it less frustrating.
  • Don’t forget that everyone else is also managing this increased demand for attention. Talk with others about how it’s working and agree ways to help each other.
by Penny Tyndale-Hardy

Penny is a Senior Trainer at The Mental Health Toolkit.

The Mental Health Toolkit is a really intuitive way of looking at mental health. I love delivering this training as it helps us talk about mental health and wellbeing in a really useful and accessible way. It’s great to see attendees having those lightbulb moments during training and seeing how they can use our approach to help others and themselves.”

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