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Study Indicates Why Worry Influences Concentration on Everyday Tasks

A recent research has demonstrated that worry affects regions of the brain that are crucial  for concentration. The study was conducted by researchers from the Department of Psychology in the University of Roehampton, London. Professor Paul Allen and his colleagues from the Department have examined how worry influences ‘attentional control’ or the brain areas that are involved in concentration.

The study involved the assessment of the participants for determining how often and how intensely they face worrying thoughts. They participants were made to undergo a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scan while carrying out a task requiring different levels of attentional control. The scan results indicated that, whilst all participants were able to effectively complete the task, higher levels of worry were associated with greater activity and reduced connectivity in the attentional control regions of the brain. This was evident particularly in the frontal cortex. This shows that worry impair attentional control particularly when task demands are high.

Professor Allen said “Everyone worries about things from time to time—some people more than others. Psychologists have known for some time that worry can affect our concentration, especially when we need to focus on difficult tasks. This finding suggests that worry can lead to less efficient use of neural resources and may explain why worry affects our ability to concentrate on everyday tasks.”

The study has significant implications for the understanding of how the brain and its ability to function normally are affected by emotions like worry and anxiety.

Also read:
Five Ways to Boost Your Concentration

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Five Ways to Boost Your Concentration

Concentration is the ability or power of directing one’s attention to something. But we live in a world full of distractions, where we often feel overwhelmed by the ever-increasing demands from our personal and professional front. These distractions may or may not be paltry but they tend to make it difficult for us to maintain and improve concentration and do the things that really matter. Here are five ways that can help you overcome distractions and concentrate better:

1. Establish a daily routine: Creating a daily routine and sticking to it, is a great strategy to improve your concentration. Having a random routine wastes a lot of your time in just deciding upon what to do and when. But once you establish your routine, you will start doing the day’s tasks automatically. Creating a routine would save your time and energy that goes into thinking about what to do and in what order and thus helps you focus your energy and increase productivity.

2. Rank your tasks: You can improve your concentration by prioritizing your tasks and attempting the most important tasks first and leaving the smaller or comparatively less important tasks for later. While performing all the tasks together is neither realistic nor possible, thinking about all of those pending tasks can be daunting as well as overwhelming. Ranking tasks in order of merit, on the other hand, can prove to be an effective tactic for staying focused on the tasks at hand.

3. Practice Meditation and Mindfulness: Many studies have demonstrated that meditation helps reduce stress and anxiety, and improve focus. Practising meditation and mindfulness makes you aware of when your mind wanders off track and aids in bringing it back to the desired point of attention. Both meditation and mindfulness train your brain to stay attentive for longer periods of time.

4. Listen to Music: Music has a profound effect on not just your mood, but blood pressure and heart rate as well. According to a study conducted at the Stanford Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Laboratory, listening to short symphonies engages the parts of the brain that controls an individual’s attention span, ability to make predictions, and update the event in memory. Though music boosts these brain functions and improves concentration, it’s the short period of silence between musical movements that maximizes brain activities.

5. Turn off notifications: Last but not least, the best way to improve concentration is to turn off the notifications of your personal devices. Research has shown that although a notification appears to only briefly divert your attention, it disrupts your thoughts for much longer, making it harder to bring them back on track. Irrespective of whether you interact with your cell-phone or not, checking out notifications in between can significantly impact your attention. Therefore, you should use your cell-phone judiciously and schedule some time away from the screen to be able to devote yourself single-mindedly to the tasks you do.

Also read:
Researchers Explain Neurophysiological Link Between Breathing and Attention
Step-by-Step Guide to Diaphragmatic Breathing

Step-by-Step Guide to Diaphragmatic Breathing

The purpose of various relaxation techniques like diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, yoga, mental imagery is to help the body reach homeostasis in states of heightened arousal. Whenever, we face a stressful or anxiety provoking situation, our body reacts by going into state of heightened physiological arousal both at neurological as well as hormonal levels, and the sole purpose of these techniques is to help reach physiological calmness. Diaphragmatic breathing is one such relaxation technique and perhaps the easiest one to learn and practice in day-to-day life. It is easy because breathing is an act that we perform without any hesitation or thought. But factors like stress, poor posture, clothes that cause restriction of movement, lead us to breathe from our chest instead of from diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing is controlled deep breathing and involves the movement of lower abdomen, whereas, normal breathing emphasizes on the expansion of the chest.

There are lots of benefits of diaphragmatic breathing and it plays an important role in meditation which helps in managing stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) etc. It also helps lower heart rate and has been highly recommended for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The beauty of diaphragmatic breathing technique is its simplicity; it can be performed anywhere and at anytime and does not require special equipment.

Here’s step by step guide to diaphragmatic breathing:

1. Take a comfortable position: Start by taking a comfortable posture. With your eyes closed you can either sit in a comfortable chair or preferably lie down on your back on the floor. It is recommended for the beginners to wear loose clothes, especially around the neck and waist. To begin with, it is recommended that you keep your hands on your stomach so that you can feel the rise and fall of your abdomen. Once you have mastered the technique, you can perform diaphragmatic breathing almost anywhere and at any time—while driving, standing, or while talking to someone.

2. Concentration: Just like other techniques of relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing also requires concentration. For the beginners, it is recommended to practice the technique in a quiet place with less interruptions and noise. While practicing, you might experience that your thoughts begin to wander. This is normal. Whenever you feel this happening, bring your attention back to breathing. You can in fact imagine these thoughts leaving your body as you exhale metaphorically.

Whereas, normal breathing is an involuntary and not-a-conscious activity, diaphragmatic breathing is a conscious and voluntary one. Concentration can be enhanced by focusing your attention on the components of each breath. Each breathing cycle is composed of four phases–inhaling; slight pause; and exhaling; followed by another slight pause before inhaling again. When performing this technique, isolate and recognize each phase and try to control the pace of each phase-breathing thereby regulating your breathing. During the phase of exhalation, body experiences the highest form of relaxation, so try to focus on this phase and experience how light and relaxed your body feels during this phase.

3. Visualization: This can be easily attached to diaphragmatic breathing and can enhance the effects of this breathing technique. The two most commonly used visualizations along with suggestion are discussed below:

(i) Breathing clouds: Start by closing your eyes and try to focus all your attention on your breathing. As you inhale, visualize the air being inhaled as pure, clean, fresh, rejuvenating, and with healing power. Imagine this whole air traveling throughout your body from your head to toe. Now as you exhale, visualize the air leaving your body as some dark cloud of smoke comprising stressors, tension, and toxins that are inside your mind and body. During each phase of inhalation and exhalation, feel the clean, fresh air with healing power circulating though out your body and all the stress and tension leaving your body as you exhale. Repeat this breathing cycle for five to ten minutes. As you perform the breathing technique, observe that your body becomes more relaxed, stress-free and tension-free. Also, the color of the exhaled cloud becomes light in color from dark to light, which is a symbol of your body becoming relaxed and cleansed from all the negativity.

(ii) Alternate nostril breathing: This technique may require some practice. Start by closing your eyes and concentrate on the breathing. Inhale through your nose or mouth and feel the air entering your body and reaching down your lungs and experience a rise in your stomach as you breathe in. Now feel your stomach descending as you exhale. As you become relaxed, through breathing, take a slow deep breath again. This time exhale solely through your left nostril. After you take out all the air from your body through left nostril, begin inhaling only through your right nostril. Repeat this breathing cycle for fifteen to twenty times. Breathe in through your right nostril and breathe out through your left nostril. After fifteen to twenty cycles, now shift the passage of breathing cycle; start by slowly inhaling through your left nostril and exhaling through the right one. Repeat the cycle for fifteen to twenty times. As you do, visualize the air as it flows through your body. Use your fingers to control inhaling and exhaling, it will also helps you better visualize the air flow.

(iii) Energy breathing: This is a breathing technique in which you breathe not only through nose or mouth, but through your whole body. This helps vitalize the body. In this breathing, the whole body in a sense assumes the role of one big lung. This technique can be performed while sitting or lying down on the floor. This technique has three phases. First, attain a comfortable position; now imagine a hole at the top of your head. As you inhale, visualize energy entering the top of your head in the form of a light beam. Now as you inhale, take this energy down to your abdomen. As you breathe out, let it (energy) go out from the top of your head. Repeat this ten times. As you perform this technique, let the light touch all the inner parts of your upper body.

Now move on to the next phase; visualize that the center of each foot has a hole. Again imagine energy in the form of a light beam. As you breathe in from your diaphragm, let the flow of energy move up to your abdomen from your feet, while focusing only on the lower parts of the body. Repeat this ten times. As you do, let the energy in the form of light reach all the inner parts of your lower body.

Now uniting the movement of energy from the top of your head and feet, direct it to the center of your body while inhaling with the diaphragm. Then allow the flow of energy to reverse direction as you breathe out. Do this ten to fifteen times. Every time you circulate the energy in your body, feel each body part and each cell getting rejuvenated. This technique, however, requires practice.

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