3 simple strategies to help you focus and de-stress

Do daily distractions leave you feeling unfocused and stressed? Take a breath. Here are three great ways to start taking back control.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Does it seem like you can't complete even the simplest task without being distracted? Texts, emails, social media alerts, noisy colleagues, ringing phones... Friends, you are not alone.

Distracted thinking — aka daydreaming or mind wandering — affects everyone. In fact, researchers have found that people think about something other than what they're actually doing — or supposed to be doing — almost half of the time. Turns out that a wandering, easily distracted mind is actually the default mode for the human brain.

Succumbing to distraction over and over, though, can build stress, foster unhappiness and even lead to depression. So if you're one of the many looking to figure out how to handle distractions and improve your ability to focus, take comfort in the fact that research has shown a way forward.

One word: mindfulness.

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness of where you are and what you're doing. At work, for instance, it means you're focused on the project in front of you; walking with a friend, it gives you the ability to really focus on your surroundings and your conversation. Scientists have shown that you can actually train your brain to become more mindful. Like anything else, it just takes practice.

Ready to get started? These three practices have all proven useful in building mindfulness.

1. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)

MBSR training has become a recognized way to help people learn to avoid distractions and increase their attention on the task in front of them. It can also help improve memory, motivation and autonomy — all things likely to make you (and your boss) happier. MBSR programs typically include breathing, stretching and awareness exercises.

2. Meditation

Meditation aims to increase your awareness of the present moment and help you develop a gentle, accepting attitude toward yourself. Regular meditation practice has been shown to actually alter the brain — in a good way. One study showed that the area of the brain dedicated to regulating your emotions was significantly larger in meditators. In other words, in a world determined to trip you up with distractions and unpleasant surprises, meditation can help you stay more positive and more focused.

3. Mindful movement

The hallmarks of mindful movement, or yoga — structured breathing, controlled movement, mental focus — make it sound like the perfect antidote to stress and distracted thinking, but does science back that up? Yes, over and over again. Many studies have found that, after beginning a yoga program, people feel less stressed, more focused, even more optimistic. In fact, yoga's been found to be even more beneficial to people who're highly stressed.

In today's so-called attention economy, the world is actually being designed to distract you. Everybody wants your attention, and they want it right now. But you can take back control of your focus, shed that stress, and wake up happier to meet your day.

Ready to commit to becoming more mindful? Great, go for it!

May 23, 2019 See more In-depth

See also

  1. 3 ways to become more stress resilient
  2. 3 ways to learn patience and amp up your well-being
  3. 4 proven ways you can feel happier
  4. A Very Happy Brain
  5. Adapt to put stress in its place
  6. Anger management: Your questions answered
  7. Are your holidays a dietary free-for-all?
  8. Balancing work and life responsibilities
  9. Being assertive
  10. Bridge pose
  11. Can yoga help me keep caregiver stress in check?
  12. Caregiver stress
  13. Caregiver stress
  14. Cat/cow pose
  15. Chase away the winter blues
  16. Child's pose
  17. Cobra
  18. Control email to regain control of your life
  19. Coping with excess information
  20. Coping with job stress
  21. Coronavirus grief
  22. COVID-19 and your mental health
  23. Coping with unemployment caused by COVID-19
  24. Destress with breathing
  25. Denial
  26. Downward-facing dog
  27. Dreading a family holiday gathering?
  28. Ease stress to reduce your psoriasis flares
  29. Feeling overwhelmed? Take a break
  30. Forgiveness
  31. Great expectations: How to keep them from creating unhappiness
  32. Have you had a good laugh today?
  33. Holidays don't have to break the bank
  34. How decluttering your space could make you healthier and happier
  35. How sharing kindness can make you healthier & happier
  36. How to focus on the present for long-term progress
  37. Job burnout
  38. Job satisfaction
  39. Laugh more, stress less
  40. Learn to reduce stress through mindful living
  41. Learn to say no and enjoy the holidays
  42. Lifestyle strategies for pain management
  43. Manage stress through problem-solving
  44. Manage stress to improve psoriatic arthritis symptoms
  45. Mountain pose
  46. Need better work-life balance?
  47. Stress-relief tips
  48. New School Anxiety
  49. Perfect holiday? Forget about it!
  50. Pet therapy
  51. Positive thinking
  52. Problem-solving
  53. Resilience
  54. Say no, to say yes to less stress
  55. Seated spinal twist
  56. Setbacks and criticism — Don't let them derail you
  57. Slide show: Yoga poses
  58. Social support: Tap this tool to beat stress
  59. Spirituality and stress relief
  60. Standing forward bend
  61. Stress and technology
  62. Holiday stress
  63. Prevent stress setbacks
  64. Stress relief from laughter
  65. How to say no
  66. Stress relievers
  67. Stressed out? Skip the late show
  68. Stressed? Set yourself up for success
  69. Support groups
  70. The power of positive thinking
  71. Tired of feeling hassled? Try these tips
  72. To manage anxiety, start with the way you think
  73. Use the 80/20 rule to manage time and reduce stress
  74. Warrior 1
  75. What is hot yoga?
  76. What is reflexology?
  77. Why aromatherapy is showing up in hospital surgical units
  78. Work-life balance