Friday, January 19, 2018

Focusing While under Duress



I have only two methods of self-soothing that seems to work nowadays. One has to do with the purring of my cat, but he has a sixth sense for when I need him the most, and that usually ends up with my face getting bitten. He’s a little shit only in the way cats can be. You know the type.

The other is generally writing. It’s a staple in my life, something that gets me through the hard times. I can often use it—and the fantasizing about my career—to pleasantly distract me. I am most productive when I’m going through some hard times.

But recently it’s been different. For the last few days I would have done anything to focus on something else. I would love to tell you why I’m under duress—I want to bitch to the world, believe me. The need to keep it to myself is killing me. But the duress sometimes comes from nothing at all. Maybe blood sugar levels. Maybe being a bit too isolated. Maybe I’m more bothered by something I wasn’t aware of.

I just wish I could move on. That I could look forward to my career, write, meet my deadlines, and finalize some progjects.

Yet the duress hasn’t inspired me at all. It has made it impossible to focus, to sooth myself. I can’t even play videogames or watch T.V. I can’t sew, I can’t draw, I can’t even sleep. I don’t even feel like talking about it anymore. I’m just done, tired, and apathetic.

It’s not helpful, and so today I’ve come up with some methods—that appear to be successful considering this blog actually got up—to overcome my inability to focus when I’m upset about something I have no control over.

1. Fix your surroundings.

It often feels like we use “cleaning the house” as a procrastination tool, but it is a great way to get yourself up and doing something. Cleaning is a mindless activity, but, also as a visual one, it leaves you with a sense of satisfaction and better comfort. When you’ve finished cleaning, you feel like you’ve done something, which will inspire you to do more. It also makes you feel physically better.

2. Start one step at a time.

While under duress, you’re already overwhelmed. The panic is there, lingering below your other emotions, ready to burst at any ridiculous moment.

Instead of tackling something as a big project, find one thing to do. It’s difficult, sometimes, to not have to say, “But in order to make my bed I have to fold up the clothes on top of it and put them away, and if I’m going to do that, I need to make a path to my dresser which means I need to go get a garbage bag for trash…” If you do find yourself going backwards, when you finally find something you can do, focus only on that.

Step one: Go get the garbage bag.

Once you’ve done that, pick step two. Do not try to preplan anything. Do not allow yourself to get distracted mid-step either. You decide to get the garbage bag, get the garbage bag. Don’t stop to do the dishes, clean the litter box, or read that text message. Do what you set out to do, and then, you can decide if you want to change course once you’ve finished.

3. Stay away from what’s distressing you.

We often keep thinking of what’s bothering us in hopes to find a solution. Maybe something’s changed. Maybe you misunderstood. Maybe there’s a solution you haven’t thought of yet. There is a temporary solace in reinvestigating, but it will just exacerbate your pain, and make it last longer. It is encouraging your mind to keep thinking about it rather than start thinking about something else.

If you keep going back to the problem, whatever that problem is, stop it. Don’t keep looking at Facebook or rereading the terrible review, checking your phone, texting your friend about it, or anything else that has to do with the situation. If you can’t control it or solve it now, try to keep away from it. Stop thinking about what you will do or fantasizing about how you wish you reacted/how you’ll tell someone off, and start considering the present.

4. Fix your physical pains.

Duress manifests physically, anywhere from agitation of the skin, aching teeth (from grinding), headaches, stomach aches, a desire to cry, etc.

Even though it’s obviously not the physical pain that is the real issue, you become stronger when you fix it first, thereby enabling yourself to do what it takes to help yourself emotionally and mentally. If you can’t get invested in that movie because you have a headache, you will allow your mind to keep going back to the distressing subject every time you stop to consider how uncomfortable you are.

First, drink a glass of water. This tends to help give you energy, relieve aches, and change your internal temperature. If applicable, take medicine. This is the hardest advice to swallow for most, but the most important. I personally hate taking painkillers, but if you suck it up, you will be amazed at how much better you handle the stress when it’s not accompanied by real agony.

Ask yourself if you are hungry, and if you are, eat. If you feel grimy at all, take a shower, change your clothes, and put on something that makes you feel attractive, yet is comfortable.

The biggest problem is, of course, exhaustion, mostly because there is a difference between being tired and being lethargic. If you feel like you could actually lay down and take a nap, then do so. Set your alarm for fifteen to twenty minutes, then get up immediately once it goes off. The power nap will recharge you. If, however, you know that you wouldn’t be able to sleep, the best thing is to get up and be physically active. Moving is the best way to get rid of lethargy.

5. Finish something before moving on to the next thing.

In the same vein as taking it one step at a time, it’s important to finish each little project first. You will be tempted to jump around because you are struggling on focusing, but it will help you become immersed in an action if your goal forces you to complete that action. Once you decide a step, like throwing all the trash in the room away, you are not allowed to change your mind until all the trash is thrown away.

Not only will having one task keep you in the moment, it will help you not become overwhelmed and frustrated. Strangely enough, when you are upset, your mind is prone to boredom and seeking out the action that will make you feel the most good. But nothing is going to make you feel good right now, and so you go from T.V. show to T.V. show, article to blog post to making your bed to doing the laundry, each time your mind hoping the action will sooth you, and when it doesn’t, you become frustrated.


Finishing one thing at a time will help you feel productive and force your mind to stay on one subject. By focusing on the singular task at hand, you’re more likely to actually focus.



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