If you are feeling increasingly absent-minded these days, don’t panic. You’re far from alone, and entertaining fears that your mind is going will only heighten your anxiety and make things worse.
The Covid-19 pandemic has done a number on everyone’s ability to focus. In the period spanning February through April of 2020, there was a 300% increase in the number of people going online to search for “how to get your brain to focus.” If you’re among this horde of absent-minded people, your best first step might be to cut yourself some slack for not having it all together.
After accepting that everyone’s productivity is taking a hit, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to scrutinize your memory lapses. If you can begin a written journal of “incidents”—without plunging into despair—then do so. In that same journal, list any memory-improving tips you try, along with your perceptions of improvement over time.
To get you started, here are 10 simple hacks to banish absent-mindedness.
1. Eat Right
We’ve known for decades that foods with unhealthy levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol are bad for the heart. More recently, researchers at Harvard uncovered evidence that LDL cholesterol is bad for the brain as well. LDL-saturated diets have been linked to the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, the same protein clusters that cause the brain damage associated with Alzheimer’s.
To counter this possibility, adjust your diet to include more mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains, and olive oil are all good sources of unsaturated fat.
According to the Mayo Clinic, research suggests a strong link between regular exercise and brain health. Working out not only boosts blood flow but can also reverse the reduction in brain size that naturally occurs as we age.
While some remain skeptical of a direct causal link between exercise and brain health, the obvious benefits of regular exercise—increased physical health, elevated sense of well-being, etc.—are beyond dispute. For starters, exercise can help you better handle stress, so you’re more likely to keep those temporarily misplaced car keys in perspective. If studies continue to show that exercise improves cognition and memory, well, so much the better.
3. Cut Back on Alcohol and Caffeine
While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional cocktail or cup of coffee, anxious times tend to cause our consumption of alcohol and caffeine to increase. A January 2021 Newsweek article reported that as a percentage of grocery bills, alcohol sales rose 686.9 percent in a two-month period last year.
While you may initially resist any call to delay “wine o’clock,” this is another area where journaling can be your best friend. Commit to tracking your alcohol consumption as an experiment. You’ll be able to correlate those efforts with any noticeable improvements in memory performance in the weeks to come.
There is a world of difference between doomscrolling Twitter and sitting by the fireplace with a hardcover edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
At least one vital distinction between these two forms of reading lies in how the brain reacts as it processes information. Hits of norepinephrine released by browsing social media keep your brain in an unhealthy state of fight-or-flight arousal. Time spent on a good novel, on the other hand, engages the imagination.
Screens are great for instant access to information, but they’re lousy for relaxing and recharging. Go ahead, invest in a real book made from paper. They’re still around.
In the era of texting, making good conversation is a skill that is rapidly declining, even as it’s been shown to increase empathy and give our brains a workout. So, make a habit of engaging in face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) conversation at least a few times each week.
If you’ve been classified as high risk for Covid-19, a videoconference call might do the trick, but calling in person is better. In person, we pick up on signals we often miss online.
6. Play Games
In addition to giving yourself a much-needed mental health break, games tend to sharpen brain skills. These include processing speed, decision making, response time, planning, and strategizing.
If your goal is reducing absent-mindedness, then be choosy about which games to play. Video games often—though not always—excite the brain’s amygdala and threaten to overwhelm. Something more traditional could be a better choice. Card games, chess, and strategy board games can be a lot of fun and recharge your brain at the same time.
7. Make Use of Strategic Visual Cues
One proven way to reduce your frustration over absent-mindedness is to “cheat” by sidestepping the problem entirely. If a friend has asked to borrow one of your novels, throw the book onto the passenger seat of your car the night before you head to her house. The idea is to “booby-trap” your life so that you almost literally trip over visual cues as you go about your day.
To make this tactic work, you need to act on your thoughts when they’re in the forefront of your mind. After you pour the last of the half-and-half into your morning coffee, don’t sit down to breakfast until you’ve jotted down the depleted dairy item on your shopping list.
Always be looking for ways to free yourself from the number of things swirling around inside your head. When you have fewer things to remember, you’ll be able to place your focus where it’s needed at any given moment.
Few things will contribute to improving absent-mindedness more than a good night’s sleep. Our brains need rest to process information and turn it into memory. When we deprive ourselves of sleep so that we can get more things accomplished, we are adding gasoline to the memory-loss fire.
While your brain can bounce back from an occasional all-nighter, an ongoing pattern of inadequate sleep will cause more problems than it solves. If you are having consistent problems with sleep, start journaling your experiences. Identifying insomnia triggers will help you take steps to improve your sleep hygiene over time or at least have a more informed conversation with your doctor.
9. Soak Up Some Sun
Time in the sun has been linked to the release of serotonin in the brain. That’s a good thing, as researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that reduced levels of serotonin transporters in study subjects who exhibited mild cognitive decline and memory loss.
While its impact on absent-mindedness isn’t fully established, serotonin is known to have a positive impact on a person’s mood, relaxation response, and ability to focus. So, start treating sunshine as a valuable commodity. Location, time of day, and skin tone will affect how much exposure to sunshine works for you, but it’s worth upping your daily dose.
10. Get the Help You Need
It’s a mistake to underestimate the impact the past 12 months have had on our mental health. No matter your age, the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns put tremendous pressure on everyone. Many of us were so preoccupied with our safety that we had to make several mental adjustments just to get through the day.
If you suffered the loss of a loved one, you’ve piled grief on top of information overload and fear. You need sympathetic ears, so be intentional about getting in touch with close friends. You might even consider a few counseling sessions until you feel you are back on solid ground.
Human beings are infinitely complex, and despite all of the advances in neuroscience, the inner workings of the brain are still somewhat mysterious. What works for one person may or may not work for another, and that’s okay.
As you battle your absent-mindedness, keep your journal close at hand. Review your progress at least once a week and tweak your routines until you see improvement.
More Tips on How to Avoid Absent-Mindedness
- How to Stop Being Absent Minded and Start to Be More Attentive
- 7 Ways To Train Yourself To Be More Mindful
- Why the Conscientious Mind Is a Successful Mind
Featured photo credit: Ellen Mi via unsplash.com
|||^||Washington Post: Pandemic anxiety is making us sleepless, forgetful, and angry. Here are tips for coping|
|||^||New Statesman: Why can’t we focus during this pandemic?|
|||^||Harvard Women’s Health Watch: Boost your memory by eating right|
|||^||Mayo Clinic: Want a strong brain? Exercise!|
|||^||Newsweek: How Alcohol Sales Have Shifted During COVID-19|
|||^||Psychology Today: The Neuroscience of Conversations|
|||^||ReadWrite: Mental Brain Puzzles Exercise Games – Which Can Help to Boost Your Brain|
|||^||WebMD: Sleep Deprivation and Memory Loss|
|||^||Johns Hopkins Medicine: Brain Scan Study Adds to Evidence That Lower Brain Serotonin Levels are Linked to Dementia|