Colorado Supreme Court

Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel

Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.

Maintaining Focus in Trying Times

By Anita Caronna, M.S.Ed., LPC

As we ready ourselves for a return to office life, it is clear for most that pandemic living has changed us. Now, as we acclimate to a new way of living and working, let's take a closer look at how we might actually emerge from this experience with increased focus and attention.

It is true that everyone struggled with focus to some extent during the pandemic. However, for those of us who struggled with attention issues prior to lockdown, the stress of pandemic living presented more complex challenges. For some of us, it may have taken years to identify and implement strategies to successfully balance personal and professional obligations such as keeping up with emails and timely communication, meeting deadlines, planning personal celebrations or events, focusing on loved ones even when work is distracting, and making it on-time to meetings and court. In managing our attention concerns, we most likely became even more reliant on these techniques than the average person. Unfortunately, the pandemic upended our reliable strategies, layered on additional stressors, and did not provide the time or support to develop new systems for managing heightened challenges in focus and time management. If you can relate to this experience, you are not alone.

Research tells us that chronic stress triggers the survival-based part of the brain to take over and ensure that we survive. Part of this reaction enhances peripheral vision and auditory functions, making it difficult to focus on what is in front of us because we are looking and listening to what is around us instead for possible threats or “predators.” Those of us who naturally experience concentration issues are even more attuned to this response. Essentially, once the brain has become activated to focus on survival, everything considered unnecessary to “winning the fight” (or running from the fight) fades into the background. To manage the mundane details of our work and lives, our pre-frontal cortex must be online, as it is the part of the brain responsible for our judgment, attention, memory and focus. Our nervous system fights against us when it is chronically hyper-aroused, often leading to overwhelm, anxiety, depression, increased anger, and a general sense of hopelessness.

With pandemic restrictions lifting, we are again facing the need to acclimate to a new way of living. The following are suggestions to ease this transition for those struggling with time management and focus issues:

These techniques improve focus and attention because they activate portions of the brain in charge of problem solving, rational thought, and executive function, thus calming the survival part of the brain and into the pre-frontal cortex, where concentration takes place.