Can’t Stay Focused at School?

Can’t Stay Focused at School?


Do you tend to get distracted during class? Do you neglect to plan ahead for assignments and tests? Do you have trouble staying organized? Are you sick of people telling you to just try harder?

In my book Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades, I reveal that problems with focus may not mean that you aren’t trying hard enough. It may indicate that your brain isn’t working optimally. When your brain is balanced, you tend to be focused and organized. When your brain isn’t balanced—for whatever reason—you are much more likely to have problems with focus at school.

Your Brain’s PFC and Focus

The prefrontal cortex (PFC), located in the front part of the brain, is like your brain’s CEO. It is responsible for behaviors that are necessary for you to focus on and achieve your goals at school. When the PFC is healthy, people are able to supervise themselves and make good decisions. Brain imaging studies show that when there is decreased activity in this area, people tend to have issues with focus, planning, and organization. When the activity is too low, it can be an indicator of serious issues, such as ADD/ADHD.

Brain scans show that in a healthy brain when a person concentrates, activity in the PFC increases. In people with ADD/ADHD, however, it can be the opposite. When they try to concentrate, they actually have less activity in the PFC.

Sadly, many students with this condition are told by their parents, teachers, or school administrators that they just need to try harder. But as brain imaging shows, trying harder actually lowers brain function in these people. This can make you feel like a failure or that you aren’t smart enough.

That’s what happened with Emma. She came to see me when she was 19 years old because she had just gotten kicked out of college, and she was feeling depressed and anxious about her future. Emma had an IQ of 140, but she was so disorganized and scattered in her approach to schoolwork that she was always turning in assignments late and pulling all-nighters before tests because she hadn’t scheduled her time appropriately.

When we scanned Emma’s brain while she was resting, her PFC activity looked healthy. But when we scanned her brain while she was focusing on a concentration task, the activity in her PFC decreased. In a healthy brain, PFC activity should increase when concentrating. A decrease in PFC activity is a classic sign of ADHD, and with a comprehensive treatment plan, Emma was able to re-enroll in college. She got organized, came up with a study plan, stuck with it, and graduated with honors.

ADD/ADHD is Not Just One Thing

Having ADD/ADHD can seriously impact your ability to perform at your highest level at school and beyond, so getting treatment like Emma did is critical. But giving every student the same solutions will never work. It may make some students better, but it could make others worse. That’s because brain scans show that there are 7 types of ADD/ADHD:

Type 1: Classic ADD/ADHD

Type 2: Inattentive ADD/ADHD

Type 3: Overfocused ADD/ADHD

Type 4: Temporal Lobe ADD/ADHD

Type 5: Limbic ADD/ADHD

Type 6: Ring of Fire ADD/ADHD

Type 7: Anxious ADD/ADHD

Understanding which type you or your student have is the key to getting the right solutions for your needs.

Tips for Optimizing PFC and Boosting Focus

Not everybody who has issues with focus has ADD/ADHD. In Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades, you’ll discover 11 BRIGHT MINDS risk factors that can contribute to focus problems and what you can do to reduce your risks. Here are just a few of them:

Risk: Low blood flow reduces PFC activity.

Solution: Engage in physical exercise daily to boost blood flow and improve focus.

Risk: Exposure to environmental toxins, such as alcohol and drugs, but also many everyday items—think nail polish remover, perfumed bath soap, and foods sprayed with pesticides—can impact PFC function.

Solution: Reduce your exposure to toxins—eliminate alcohol and drugs, eat organic, and opt for fragrance-free, chemical-free products when possible.

Risk: Eating the typical student meals like pizza, doughnuts, and ramen noodles contribute to problems with focus.

Solution: Eat a higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diet.

You can find many more ways to improve your focus and reduce symptoms of ADD/ADHD in the book.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades is written by psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and brain health expert Dr. Daniel Amen and relies on the latest neuroscience and leading-edge brain imaging to show students of all ages how to strengthen the ultimate study buddy—their brain—to be more successful in school. 

If trouble focusing is hurting you or your child’s schoolwork and trying harder isn’t helping, it’s time to seek help. At Amen Clinics, we use brain imaging technology called SPECT to identify brain patterns associated with ADD/ADHD and other underlying brain issues as part of a comprehensive evaluation. With this brain-body approach, we have created personalized treatment plans that have helped thousands of struggling students regain their focus, improve their grades, and learn to enjoy learning. Speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit online.


1 Comment »

  1. I have been on medication for ADHD for many years. I am now 67 years old. my doctor terminate in my prescription when I was 65. I have struggled since that time in my job and my daily tasks at home. I have trouble getting up in the morning, attending to things in my home. I am hopelessly unorganized.My job add a church secretary has been more difficult. I am interested in alternative methods to help me stay focused and motivated.

    Comment by Barb — September 4, 2019 @ 4:31 AM

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