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Easily Distracted Anxiety Symptoms

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: February 9, 2021

Easily distracted anxiety symptoms descriptions:

Common descriptions for the easily distracted symptoms include:

  • You feel you have difficulty concentrating and are distracted easily.
  • You find you are easily distracted more than normal.
  • You find you have moments where your mind drifts away from what you were focusing on.
  • You find you have more difficulty forming thoughts and staying on track than normal.
  • You feel your short-term memory isn’t as good as it normally is.
  • You might also find your thinking feels like it is muddled and impaired.
  • You might also find it harder to focus than usual.
  • Some people describe this symptom as being foggy-headed.
  • It also might seem as though your thoughts are illusive and things that you once knew seem hard to comprehend or recall.
  • You might also feel like your normal intellectual tasks seem much more difficult.
  • You might also find that you have difficulty focusing on and carrying on conversations.
  • You might also start something and uncharacteristically forget what you were doing or what you wanted to do.
  • You might also have much more difficulty remembering where you placed things, who you just called, what you just talked about, what you are talking about, or what you were looking for or thinking about.
  • You uncharacteristically have difficulty focusing on or remembering what you just ate, phone numbers, names, or things you recently did.
  • It also may seem like you can maintain your focus and that you have a million thoughts going on at the same time all demanding your attention.

The easily distracted anxiety symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may be easily distracted once in a while and not that often, be easily distracted off and on, or be easily distracted all the time.

The easily distracted anxiety symptom may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

The easily distracted anxiety symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.

The easily distracted anxiety symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

The easily distracted anxiety symptom can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

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What causes the easily distracted anxiety symptoms?

Medical Advisory

There are a number of reasons why anxiety can cause being easily distracted. Two of the most common include:

1. Behaving apprehensively and its stress response consequences

Behaving anxiously activates the stress response. The stress response immediately causes specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in the body that enhance the body's ability to deal with a threat - to either fight with or flee from it - which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.

Part of the stress response changes include changing how the brain functions so that areas of the brain more critical for survival are enhanced and those less critical to survival are suppressed. For example, the amygdala (the fear center of the brain) becomes more active and the cortex (the rationalization areas of the brain) becomes suppressed. This change makes us more acutely aware of and reactive to danger but also reduces our ability to concentrate and focus, which can make it seem like we are easily distracted.

2. The consequences of an overly stressed body, including the stress caused by overly apprehensive behavior

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about. When stress responses occur too frequently and/or dramatically, however, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can result in the body remaining in a semi emergency readiness state. Remaining in this state can cause similar sensations and symptoms to that of an active stress response.

Being easily distracted is a common indication of persistently elevated stress such as that from behaving overly apprehensively and the semi emergency readiness state it can cause.

There are many more reasons why anxiety can cause the easily distracted symptom. We describe the rest in Chapter 9 in the Recovery Support area of our website.

Nevertheless, since an active stress response and/or stress is the cause of being easily distracted, this symptom needn’t be a cause for concern. It’s harmless in itself and is just an indication that the body is under stress or overly stressed.

How to get rid of the easily distracted anxiety symptoms?

When being easily distracted is caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this feeling should subside and you should return to your normal self. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When being easily distracted is caused by persistent stress, it may take a lot more time for the body to recover and to the point where this symptom is eliminated.

Nevertheless, when the body has fully recovered, being easily distracted completely disappears and normal concentration returns. Therefore, again, the being easily distracted anxiety symptoms needn’t be a cause for concern.

Reducing your stress, increasing rest, deep relaxation, getting good sleep, practicing relaxed breathing, and containing your worry about this symptom can eliminate it in time. Sure, being easily distracted can be intrusive. But again, when your body has recovered from the stress response and/or sustained stress, being easily distracted completely disappears.

If you are having difficulty containing your worry about this symptom, you may want to connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists, coaches, or counselors. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to overcome what seems like unmanageable worry.

For a more detailed explanation about anxiety symptoms including being easily distracted, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources:

Return to Anxiety Disorders Signs and Symptoms section.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including the easily distracted anxiety symptoms.