Difficulty having focus and big mood shifts, is it normal?

I feel like I have so much trouble concentrating on my studies, it was never this severe in high school. I have the motivation to do my work, I really want to but I feel like there's just this thing in my head preventing me from focusing. I keep my phone away to prevent distraction, I lock the sites I do not need for a period of time, I tried meditating but once again it is very difficult to focus. I don't know what to do at this point.
Asked by Poetornot

Online study can be a real struggle, especially since covid hit and everyone is more isolated. That has an impact on motivation, and if you are experiencing a lack of social input, reach out to friends, even if it is only online. It sounds like your work is imporant to you, and you made a big step in reaching out. I hope to leave you with a few ideas, whether you choose to go with online counseling opt out, or choose another counselor, I'm going to include several techniques below. I hope some of them either spark with you, or inspire you to come up with a few ideas of your own. 


Changes in diet, sleep and exercise can lead to distraction. Too much caffiene can cause distractability instead of honing your focus. Lack of restful sleep can make eanyone distracted. Exercise can be helpful, but not at night. I'll get into that more below. Play detective. Look at your day, and see what is different than a time when you were able to focus better. Rule out the obvios, and then the less obvious. 

It could be an internal change of neurotransmitter relase, and I will get into that more in a bit, too. 


You already started on distraction minimization techniques, and we can delve a bit deeper into that too. Here are a few ideas. 


  • What is your reason for studying? We all have different reasons to study. Some do it because they think it is interesting or important. Others do it because they feel forced to or feel guilty if they don't. Identify your motivation.

  • Start with the tasks that are most interesting and most important to you.

  • Before you start doing a task, think about what makes this activity fun or interesting. If it is boring, think about why it is important to you. 


  • Set specific, clear, and achievable goals for the day: A goal that says "read" is too general and vague, and commits you to nothing. How about "read chapters 4 and 5 and write an intro to my essay, citing 2 quotes."

  • Be realistic: 10 hours of studying isn't a realistic time frame, but 4 hours at a time, or 2 might be, with breaks along the way. Even knowing a break is coming up can help get you through and studying harder in the meantime. One hour at a time, 25 minute break. 

  • Make a prioritized to-do list. 

  • You have already begun managing your environment. Turn off your phone or put it on "do not disturb", make sure your study space is organized, make sure you have a snack and water nearby. 

  • Try to avoid online multi-tasking. Finish one thing at a time to avoid a low completion rate.

  • Do not exercise late at night. The endorphin release before bedtime will not help you sleep, but do try to include exercise in the morning or afternoon. That can help get you through your studies, and by bedtime the physical work will have helped to exhaust you for a better nights sleep. 

  • Try not to eat before bedtime as that can lead to a lethargy, but a restless sleep. 

  • You seem to know your weaknesses, look at your strengths, and see if you can see anything when you compare the two, to spark an idea using your strengths, and minimizing your weaknesses, for a more productive day. 

  • Use your logic to approach these tasks in regulating your day, your mind and body. Practice. Practice creates habits. Habits condition our brains. 
  • Online study may not have a schedule. Give yourself one. Our bodies and brains want homeostasis and our brain will fight our body for it. You may be experiencing an incongruity because you are not in a regulated daily pattern.

You mentioned feeling blocked, in your head. If you try distraction minimization techniques, focus honing, self-sioothe, eat, sleep and exercsie right, attend to any changes between now and when you were able to focus better, maybe it is time at that point to see a professional in person. They can at least help you to rule things out, like depression or anxiety, or consider medication if they think you might not be producing enough seratonin, or if it seems you have adhd and need focus medication. That isn't seomthing we can do here on this platform, and in no way am I pushing you towards meds. It's a thought to have in the back of your mind, if life does not become managable after you have exhuasted all other resources, just to consider. And hopefully, you will find techniques that help before you get to that cross roads. 

It is a little different, to write about techniques, knowing less than 100 words about you, so if anything doesn't resonate with you, just skip over it and look to the next idea. I wish you the best of luck on your journey and I hope I hit on something you find useful.