After the first wave of Covid ended, the biggest concern I had as a college student was to deal with the lack of concentration that resulted due to months long quarantine. After multiple failed attempts, I realized I can’t possibly be the only one going through this, so I decided to talk to some people about the matter. Upon talking to some of my friends and a few work colleagues it became very clear that this is not something I’m struggling with alone, almost everyone has been dealing with the exact same problem (I say ‘almost’ because there are a few people who didn’t encounter anything like this at all.)
After Covid, it became increasingly difficult for me to sit down in one spot and study for a few hours straight, which was not the case for me before. I have always been a night owl, I am used to studying for 4–5 hours straight with only toilet breaks in between, so all this was very concerning to me. I’m particularly using the case of studying because I feel like this is the most common one among the masses. Some of you might have had to face the same problem with work or just being productive in general.
I would like to make it clear at this point that this is not an article about a post-grad student ranting about their lack of concentration and focus on a pandemic (maybe it is to some extent?). But nonetheless, I genuinely believe there are a lot of people still going through this, the goal of this article is to provide assurance to those people that their problems are in fact very common and they are not alone.
I would like to now put forward a few theories which might be able to explain why this problem exists in the first place.
One thing that I quickly noticed is that lack of physical activity was one of the biggest contributors in the weakening of my focusing skills. I have been a regular at the gym since 2018 and it has become an innate part of my daily routine, during covid when the gyms were shut down, I realised how much it helped me to stay active and focused during the day. While in my case it was working out in the gym, for you it might be the inability to run or go for a walk, etc. Physical activity plays a huge role in relaxing the brain. According to an article published in the UCL, University College London’s website, “Doing any type of intense physical activity causes blood to flow to the brain, this in turn fires up your neurons and promotes cell growth, particularly in the hippocampus”. (Hippocampus is a complex brain structure, it plays a major role in learning and memory)
Availability of “too much” time also played a major role in weakening my concentration. No college, no tuition, no gym, all this basically allowed me to procrastinate more and not feel guilty about it because in the face of it I wasn’t technically skipping anything. Social media, gaming, Netflix and other streaming services just added more to the problems, getting that quick little dopamine hit every time my brain craved for it was very easy. I realized that I was starting to get addicted to this “easy dopamine” and doing more difficult tasks just seemed pointless.
I would like to insert an excerpt from one of Dr. Jordan B Peterson’s speeches in which he beautifully explained the Taoist symbol. He explained that ‘experiences’ are essentially made of chaos and order and we are ideally supposed to be right on the border of the two, it is stable enough and it is engaged enough. So that we’re not only doing what we should be doing, but we’re doing it in a way that increases the probability of us doing it better tomorrow. He explained why being in the right place at the right time is so important, because it might be the antidote to existential suffering. The reality of existential suffering is anxiety and pain. When we are at the right place at the right time, there’s a dopaminergic activation in our brain. Dopaminergic systems are unbelievably ancient and archaic, they are activated when we are optimally positioned to be incorporating new information, which is what human being do. It is embedded in our very nature.
When we compare all this with what happened during Covid, it becomes relatively easier to understand why the quarantine affected our brains the way it did and as much as it did.
It is also very important to note that it did get better with time for me. As I started to slowly shift into my old schedule, I noticed I was having less trouble getting things done. If any of you are still going through something like this, I suggest talking to someone about it. Keep a positive approach and start taking things one step at a time, sometimes it can get very overwhelming when you try to focus on multiple things at once, so its ideal to not rush the process.