9 Unexpected Things Your Ability To Focus Can Reveal About Your Health

by Eva Taylor Grant
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An ability or inability to focus is not as simple an issue and diagnosis as it may seem. A variety of physical and mental conditions, as well as lifestyle factors, can lead to someone having trouble focusing. Whether a new doctor or just a new sleep schedule is needed, your ability to focus can say a lot about your health.

Struggling with concentration is more than just an inconvenience. Lack of focus can become first in a line of more serious issues. If you can focus, however, you're more honed into some important mental strengths. "The ability to focus increases your mental performance," Dr. David Greuner, of NYC Surgical Associates, tells Bustle. "You’re better able to problem solve and make decisions more effectively. It’s important to strengthen your concentration by bringing your wandering mind back to your point of focus [... and] when you’re struggling to focus, most likely it’s a sign that you’re under stress and need to slow down." If you struggle bringing yourself back to a point of concentration, then you may have an underlying health issue.

Even if you feel like you're simply too stressed to focus, that in an of itself can affect your health. It is important, therefore, to break down the variety of things that can cause focusing to become difficult, and check in with a doctor if you're noticing any serious changes.

Here are nine things your ability to focus says about your health, according to experts.


You Could Have A Hormonal Imbalance

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Hormones are a messaging system for your body. If you have a hormone imbalance, the messaging signals might struggle, causing you to lose focus.

"An inability to focus could be attributed to a hormonal imbalance," health and wellness coach Caleb Backe, tells Bustle. "Our hormones play a vital role in our brain function." If you have other symptoms of a hormone imbalance, going to see an OB/GYN or primary care physician can help you get the support you may need.


You May Be Experiencing Anxiety

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Anxiety doesn't just feel like worry. If you've noticed an inability to focus, perhaps coupled with racing thoughts, then you might be dealing with anxiety's other effects.

"When our brains are unable to sit comfortably with just one thought at a time, concentration is inevitably impaired," Backe says. "This can be down to anxiety or stress and can affect your overall cognitive performance." Anxiety relief techniques may help you rebuild your concentration skills.


You Could Be Dealing With A Lack Of Sleep

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Not getting enough sleep can be a pretty straightforward reason for struggling to concentrate.

"When your brain lacks sleep, connections between cells are weakened, leading to less cognitive ability," Backe says. "These could be disturbances that you don’t even pick up on, so it’s worth visiting your local doctor if you think you’re getting enough sleep but are always fatigued." Conditions like sleep apnea can cause interruptions you may not notice, and adults need seven to nine hours of sleep, even if everyone around you says they're getting five.


You May Be Feeling The Effects Of Chronic Stress

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Chronic stress is different than an anxiety disorder, but similarly harmful. Stress can also be a major factor when it comes to your ability to focus.

"While acute stress or anxiety over an exam or project that is due for example may cause us to focus more and get the work done, chronic stress [...] can make it very difficult to stay focused, sometimes on even the simplest of task," Adam Perlman, MD, MPH, FACP, an Integrative Health and Wellbeing expert at Duke University, tells Bustle. If you've found the stress in your life is adding up, it may be time to find a doctor and make a change.


You Could Be Experiencing The Effects Of Chronic Pain

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Most people living with chronic pain are familiar with the term "brain fog" — a serious cognitive side effect of long-term health problems. Pain and brain fog can be major factors that impede concentration.

"Certain health related conditions may make the ability to focus more difficult," Dr. Perlman says. "[...] Pain can zap our ability to focus and chronic pain [...] can directly impact our ability to focus as well as indirectly, through things like disrupting our sleep." Finding innovative ways to treat and care for chronic pain may help those experiencing these problems not also have to deal with issues like lack of focus.


You Could Have ADHD

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Unfortunately, the stigma around ADHD, and the misunderstanding of the symptoms of ADHD in women, means that sometimes, it takes a long time to get the diagnosis a person needs.

"[...] Attention deficit [hyperactivity] disorder or [ADHD] is a classic condition where one’s ability to focus is impacted," Dr. Perlman says. "Certainly, if ability to stay focused is a concern, this should be discussed with a healthcare provider." If a lack of focus has been bothering you, you deserve a proper diagnosis and treatment.


You Could Being Going Through Menopause

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Early-onset menopause happens, and can present similar symptoms to the menopause that others experience in their 40s and 50s. One of these symptoms is an inability to focus.

"Research from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that women entering menopause suffer from decreases in attention, working memory, and fine motor speed," Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD, co-founder of Neutein and Neuro Coffee, tells Bustle. "These effects were independent of distractions in sleep that often happen during menopause." If you have an inkling you might be experiencing early menopause, it's important to talk to a doctor.


You Might Be Iron-Deficient

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Being deficient in essential nutrients can cause a variety of physical and mental symptoms. This is worth noting when it comes to your ability to focus.

"Iron is an essential micronutrient that is needed for carrying oxygen throughout your body to the tissues that need it," Dr. Roussell says. "Iron deficiency is twice as likely to impact women than men and one of the primary symptoms is fatigue which makes focusing difficult." Luckily, iron deficiency can be diagnosed through a blood test and treated with supplements and dietary changes.


You May Have Thyroid Problems

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A final health condition that could be affecting your ability to focus is thyroid problems.

"Many people with thyroid problems experience issues with their memory span and ability to concentrate," Dr. Greuner says. Thyroid problems often have a variety of symptoms, and can also be diagnosed with blood work. These conditions are another reason that a prolonged inability to focus warrants a trip to the doctor.

An inability to focus can be due to everyday stress and fatigue, but over a long period of time can become a serious issue. Also, difficulty concentrating is often a common symptom of a variety of health conditions, usually coupled with other symptoms. If your inability to focus has been affecting your daily life, it's important to seek professional help and find the treatment plan you deserve.