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Stress and Concentration

By Trevor Dumbleton

Those who are under stress, yet refuse to get help for it, need to understand the relationship between stress & concentration in order to understand why they need to relax. This is because, at first, it seems though stress is an aid to concentration. However, this is not the case in the long term.

Long-term stress & concentration do not go hand-in-hand. In fact, the more that one is stressed, the less able they are to concentrate. However, people often keep themselves under stress in order to help their concentration, despite the fact that it is doing them absolutely no good. Usually, this is because they believe that stress is helping their concentration.

In fact, stress does help concentration for a short period of time. This is because the body is dumping chemicals into the brain to help it focus and throwing adrenaline into the bloodstream in order to heighten the senses. This helps the body hone in on its tasks and helps it to focus. This is, in the beginning, a good thing. Short-term stress really does help your concentration at first, which is very useful when you need to hammer out last-minute paper for school, a report for your boss, or you need to quickly fix some computer problems that are keeping others from getting their work done. Unfortunately, the short-term effects do not last.

As you spend more and more time under stress, your ability to concentrate lessens. The brain will have fired off so many neurons that it cannot replenish its supply of chemicals that helps the neurons fire. As well, that boost of adrenaline that helps people focus will start to heighten the senses to the point where the brain notices every little thing around, causing you to be easily distracted. Thus, the relationship between stress & concentration becomes an inverse relationship.

The problem, of course, is that the more stress you are undergoing, the more you need to concentrate in order to relieve the causes of the stress. This means that your brain is fighting against itself when you need to get work done. This is what we like to refer to as a bad thing and it can seriously injure your ability to get work done. Needless to say, the biggest cause of stress around is the fact that work needs to get done, so stress becomes a self-defeating cycle.

What can you do to escape this damaging relationship between stress & concentration? Well, there are a few things you can do. The best is, of course, to walk away.

That's right, just stop what you're doing. Give yourself a break. Put work on hiatus and do something else. Take a walk, get some exercise, make a sandwich, watch an hour of television. Just as long as you are doing something other than work. This will distract your mind from whatever was causing it stress, which is exactly what you need to do. After all, your mind tends to get used to being stressed after a while, making it less able to let go of its concerns. This means that you need to make a conscious effort to clear your mind, and the best way to do that is to clear all the problems out of your head before you drown in them.

If you are not able to walk away for some reason -- let's say that you are at work and the boss doesn't like to see people leave their desks -- you can still relieve stress and help your concentration by performing a quick relaxation exercise. Simply close your eyes (this helps, but it can be done with your eyes open) and take deep breaths. Concentrate on each breath as it fills your lungs, then concentrate on the breath leaving as you exhale. Focus your attention on your breathing until you are paying attention to nothing else. Then, once you are done, you should feel much more relaxed and able to concentrate. If you do not feel better, repeat the exercise until your mind is clear and uncluttered.

The big problem with stress & concentration is the simple fact that stress helps concentration in the short run, but hurts it in the long-run. Unfortunately, most people do not notice this transition from helping to hindering and they simply stay under stress and unable to focus. So when you notice that your mind is racing too fast to allow your brain to focus on anything, walk away or take a few deep breaths in order to calm your mind. Then, you will be able to escape the negative relationship between stress & concentration.

Copyright 2005 Trevor Dumbleton

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