The struggle to focus during a pandemic

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By Karen Marroquin 
Signal Staff Writer  

Amy Daniels wakes up, exercises, swiftly gets ready for the day and heads to her office in Santa Clarita.  

She meets with donors, sponsors and committee members to talk about events, create schedules and enjoy each other’s company. She heads back and continues her work from home without worry. 

This used to be Daniels’ life two years ago before the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

“That completely stopped for the better part of two years and as we’ve gotten through COVID, we started to rely on Zoom, and still do,” Daniels said. 

Daniels is the executive director of the WiSH Education Foundation in Santa Clarita, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to benefit the William S. Hart Union High School District. Though her work allowed her to work from home far before the pandemic began, she said that things quickly changed in 2020.  

“There was some anxiety and stress on getting started quickly again. We had to quickly restructure and figure out how to deal with all of the new and emergent needs,” said Daniels. 

According to the Bureau Labor of Statistics, nearly 33% of the U.S. population reported working from home between May and June of 2020 due to the pandemic. While this number decreased to 22% of workers by the fourth quarter of 2020, it was still 16% more than the previous year, when only 6% of the U.S population reported that they were working from home for a variety of reasons.  

After weeks of experiencing unforeseen circumstances, Daniels began to experience a lack of focus. 

“I think when you’re dealing with great stress and anxiety, that in itself has a huge factor in your ability to focus,” Daniels said. 

But she isn’t the only one who went through this change. 

Ashley Zucker, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, said, “What we’ve noticed, myself and psychiatrists across our region in Southern California that I work with, is that there’s been an uptick in adult patients in particular, coming in concerned about attention problems. It seems to correlate with people who are working from home.”  

According to a statement from Kaiser, the lack of focus stems from the stressors, burnout and anxiety that people experience from staring at a computer all day, responding to numerous emails and having the ability to “surf the internet.” 

However, Zucker said there are some things that people can do to change their quality of life when facing those challenges. 

“Keeping a steady schedule, creating a visual separation between work and home, getting up and getting dressed, etc., are good steps to take,” she said.  

For Daniels, there’s one particular thing that has kept her afloat. 

“I’m a very social person, so for me I think the only thing that kept me tethered to reality was my outside training and doing it with other people. Had I not had that, I think I’d be in a very different mental place.” 

Kaiser said in a prepared statement that one of the common misperceptions is that a person has ADHD. However, Zucker said that’s not always the case. 

“It’s important for people to recognize if their attention problem is brand new as an adult, it’s unlikely to be Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD,” she said. 

However, health officials also emphasized the importance of not ruling out any possibilities. 

“If a lack of focus persists, it’s important to identify whether ADHD is the source,” Zucker said. “Attention problems can also be the result of other medical or mental health conditions. They include thyroid dysfunction, anxiety, depression and more.” 

But no matter what the case may be, Zucker said that the most important thing is, “Making sure that we’re addressing our stress and anxiety. Certainly, if it’s gotten to the degree where it’s impairing people from being able to do their regular daily tasks, then that might be something where they need to seek professional help, speak with their primary doctor.” 

Health officials hope that fewer people will experience an inability to focus now that COVID-19 cases are starting to decline and more people are going back to work. 

As for Daniels, she said she’s excited for the opportunity to be with and meet safely with others again. 

“I think a lot of us were craving that — we all just need to be tolerant and non-judgmental of each person’s comfort level and approach as we transition.”

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