You know what anxiety is like: Your mind can’t stick to any one topic for more than a few seconds. You shift restlessly, as if settling your body might also settle your thoughts.
Stress short-circuits the mind in all sorts of ways. Before you can learn how to focus when stressed, you need to understand what’s going on in your brain.
Why We Lose Focus When Stressed
When you experience stress — whether the cause is a tiger chasing you or a snarky comment by a co-worker — a chain reaction happens in your brain. Harvard Medical School lays this out in detail, but what’s important is understanding how an emotion can trigger a fight-or-flight response.
Changes begin in the amygdala, a brain area that is responsible for processing emotions. The amygdala then contacts the hypothalamus, which acts as the brain’s command center. From there, the hypothalamus spreads stress signals throughout the nervous system.