We’ve all zoned out from time to time. Even though your body’s sitting in that meeting, your mind is completely somewhere else. Instead of listening to your boss, you’re thinking about your grocery list, or how many emails you’ll have waiting for you when the meeting’s finally over. And we’ve all certainly used a good Netflix binge session to zone out at the end of a hard day. But sometimes, you’re left wondering “why do I zone out so much?”
The occasional bit of daydreaming when you should be working on something else is totally normal. And drifting consciousness for a moment while completing rote tasks is very common. But if the habit of being physically present, but mentally checked out is becoming a tad bit too regular, keep reading.
When you’re zoning out all the time, it means you’re overwhelmed, distracted, and need rest. It could also mean you have an underlying medical condition.
What Does Zoning Out Mean?
Zoning out is the phenomenon of losing your ability to focus on what you are doing or listening to. Your body may still be able to go through the motions of what you’re working on, but your mind is not present. Zoning out can feel like you’ve left reality behind for a brief time. Zoning out can include bouts of daydreaming, too.
You can zone out on purpose, as a means of self-soothing an overactive mind, or as a response to stress. This is what we do when we scroll on the phone mindlessly or watch TV without being engrossed in the plot of the show.
You can also zone out without meaning to. This is what can happen when you’ve repeated an action so many times that your body goes on autopilot. Ever wondered how exactly you got home from work since you don’t totally remember the last 15 minutes of your drive? Or started thinking about your grocery list in the middle of an especially boring meeting? This is the type of involuntary spacing out that often becomes frustrating (or even dangerous).
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Zoning Out Vs Dissociation
Zoning out is technically a very mild form of dissociation. Dissociation’s definition in psychology is to emotionally detach from your reality. When experiencing dissociation, one may have difficulty feeling like their memories or feelings are their own.
Typically, more severe episodes of dissociation are associated with several different causes, including trauma, anxiety, and depression. Dissociating from trauma is the brain’s way of protecting us from painful experiences.
Zoning Out Vs Brain Fog
Sometimes, we use the terms brain fog and zoning out interchangeably.
“So, what’s brain fog?” you may ask. Brain fog is a general term that people use to describe feelings of mental exhaustion and inability to think clearly.
There are many reasons brain fog can begin to cloud your mind. These reasons are similar to the causes of dissociating. These include anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Other medical conditions like diabetes, allergies, migraine headaches, and thyroid problems can also result in brain fog.
Often, people describe brain fog as “zoning out.” But they also may describe it as follows:
- Cloudy thinking
- Inability to perform everyday tasks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Wandering mind
- Chronic fatigue
- Tired eyes
- Feeling flat or unable to feel emotion
Why Do I Zone Out So Much?
In general, zoning out or spacing out is a temporary situation that sometimes can also be described as dissociation or brain fog. And sometimes, this inability to concentrate or focus on the task at hand can get really frustrating.
If you zone out a lot, especially for brief periods of time, it’s likely not anything to be seriously worried about. But it can still be rather annoying to want to focus on a conversation and not be able to. And there’s nothing worse than zoning out while driving — even if you’ve followed your route home every day for years. It could be very dangerous to space out when you’re at the wheel.
When you can’t focus on anything, you’re zoning out and staring, or having trouble being present in a conversation, it may be time to consider why you have trouble focusing.
Here are some of the reasons you may involuntarily space out so much:
1. Life Is Full Of Distractions
There’s a reason you’ve been hearing mindfulness as a buzzword thrown around everywhere lately. It’s because every part of our lives discourages presence — so we have to actively pursue mindfulness.
With urgent notifications constantly pinging our phones, and endless mindless distractions at our fingertips at all times, it’s easy to zone out. Our devices offer a quick and painless escape into the realm of distraction, and spacing out.
We’re all so busy all of the time. Then there’s the stress of being unable to actually disconnect from work. It’s enough to make just about anyone zone out.
2. You Haven’t Slept Enough
Self-care is another buzzword that’s cropped up recently, and there’s a good reason for that. In the weeds of your to-do lists and responsibilities, it’s easy to forget that taking care of your basic needs and health really needs to come first.
Statistics suggest that over a third of the U.S. population doesn’t get adequate sleep on a regular basis.https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html This means their ability to focus is compromised.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain can’t function properly, and it’s more prone to zoning out.
3. You May Have An Underlying Medical Condition
It’s important to note that zoning out can be more than just daydreaming or losing focus when your kid’s giving you a tour of her Minecraft world. It’s sometimes more than a coping mechanism you intentionally engage in at the end of a stressful day where you’ve engaged your brain to the point of exhaustion.
What is zoning out a symptom of?
Zoning out, dissociation, and brain fog can be a symptom of or response to:
- Thyroid disorder
- Insulin resistance
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Periods of stress
- Sleep deprivation
How To Stop Spacing Out
We wouldn’t want to permanently discourage zoning out forever and always. After all, don’t some of your best ideas and a-ha moments come to you when you’re zoned out in the shower or walking the dog? Maintaining a state of focus at all times is impossible for the human brain to sustain.
But still, actively pursuing the improvement of your ability to concentrate and focus is certainly worthy.
Assuming that you don’t have an underlying medical condition that’s resulting in brain fog…
If you want to stop zoning out in class, forgetting someone’s name the moment they give it to you, and improve your overall concentration and focus, here are some ideas.
1. Improve Your Concentration With Grounding Techniques
Grounding exercises can help you to manage negative thoughts or feelings. They can also be great tools for improving your presence when you find yourself dissociating or spacing out. Grounding exercises, when practiced regularly, can help you cultivate mindfulness and improve your focus.
Grounding techniques work differently for different people, but the basic idea is to ground yourself in the present moment by forcing your brain to focus on one, small, specific thing.
Some examples of grounding exercises:
- Savoring a small bite of food by chewing it thoroughly and noticing flavors and textures
- Narrating your actions in detail as you perform simple, everyday tasks
- Visualizing something pleasant or rewarding happening
- Repeating comforting or motivating affirmations to yourself
2. Try Boosting Brain Power With Games
Playing the crossword puzzle, challenging a friend to a game of chess, or even playing video games can help you improve your focus.
In fact, studies show that brain training can improve concentration, memory, and cognition.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4055506/https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26333022/
And it’s even possible that the much-maligned video game can help foster an increase in focus and attention.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5438999/https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00047/full
3. Find Your Focus With Nootropics
Certain supplements can help you increase your ability to focus on the task at hand and stop zoning out.
Research indicates that certain nootropics like citicoline https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26179181/ and L-theanine https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21303262/ may help with improving concentration and attention.
4. Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Getting enough sleep and exercise are crucial to ensuring your brain fires on all cylinders at all times. And resisting the urge to numb out at every chance you get by tilting your head towards your phone could also help curb the habit of zoning out.
Research indicates that exercise may increase concentration for up to an hour afterward.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006899312004003?casa_token=4VvVk8VEeEQAAAAA:RNAGs9jDIA2bu13i47PjgMIbP1Axyeov0GNcUGGPu_U_zqPkvOSGhiCvg0Gl9ogOreE26QUfZpQ And there’s also some evidence to suggest that the more fit you are, the better you’re able to concentrate.https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-020-09484-w
And there’s no benefit to sleep deprivation either. Studies show that attention, working memory, and the ability to concentrate are all affected by lack of sleep.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/ So don’t feel guilty about getting in those crucial 7-9 hours every night.
Supercharge Your Focus And Concentration
When you’re doing everything right…getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, practicing grounding techniques, and untethering yourself a bit from your devices — but you’re still not able to master concentration the way you’d like, nootropics can give you a helping hand.
Figuring out where to start with supplements that could unlock the focus you crave can be overwhelming at first.
Which is why we’ve developed a 2-minute quiz that will tell you exactly what nootropics to stack together to finally find your focus.
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