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What is difficulty concentrating?

Are you easily distracted or perhaps make mistakes even when you try to do your best? Do you sometimes forget to bring the one thing you'll need most for a task or activity? Is it hard to sit still and listen to someone talk? If this sounds like you, you might be having difficulty concentrating.

Trouble focusing and a worsening attention span are signs of poor concentration. Trouble concentrating can result in problems with keeping a job, learning new skills or information, and with relationships with other people. 

“A lot of times I have every intention of giving someone my full attention, but before you know it, my brain checks out and I literally don’t hear the words that are being spoken to me.”

Trouble concentrating can occur for many reasons, including an injury, such as a traumatic brain injury, dealing with chronic pain, or severe headaches. Some Veterans may have difficulty concentrating due to anxiety or stress, depression, or painful memories from military service. You may find other people don’t understand your difficulties with concentrating. They may assume you are not trying very hard or you don’t care. This lack of understanding might make you feel frustrated, angry, or depressed.

If I’m having trouble concentrating, what can I do about it right away?

  • Avoid distractions like loud music or the television when you want to concentrate.
  • If you’re in a meeting or a classroom, sit close to the front; and try to remove distractions, such as your cell phone, from your seating area.
  • Use a planner and make checklists to help you stay organized.
  • Develop a routine and try to stick to a regular schedule.
  • Divide your tasks into smaller steps.
  • Take regular breaks to prevent feeling tired.
  • Avoid overstimulating your brain with large amounts of caffeine or energy drinks.
  • Minimize the need to multitask by focusing on one thing at a time.

If you have trouble concentrating, talking to your family and friends can be an important step to reduce frustration and misunderstanding. If you share what you're experiencing with your family and friends, they can avoid distracting — and that may help you focus on the task at hand.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with useful resources and effective treatments to improve their concentration. If trouble focusing is affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage difficulty concentrating even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for more information about Veterans dealing with concentration difficulties.

Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to difficulty concentrating, such as stress and anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, and effects of traumatic brain injury.

Polytrauma/TBI System of Care
The VA Polytrauma System of Care provides comprehensive care and tailored rehabilitation for Veterans and returning Service members with TBI and other injuries to more than one physical region or organ system of the body.

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Poor concentration may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.