Directed Attention Fatigue, or DAF

What is it?
According to Dr. Rachel Kaplan, Dr. Stephen Kaplan, Dr. Bernadine Cimprich, and colleagues at the University of Michigan, we are showing signs of Directed Attention Fatigue, or DAF, when we temporarily feel unusually distractible, impatient, forgetful, and cranky, and there is no physical cause.

It sounds simple, but it can throw many parts of our lives off track. And if we keep getting DAF repeatedly, it may be harder and harder to recover from it.

Again, note that DAF is TEMPORARY, and that it is FATIGUE-- caused by overuse of a specific system. And if we want to make ourselves immediately susceptible, we just slack off on sleep. Sleep helps replenish our ability to concentrate.

What causes it?
DAF is caused by having to concentrate too much in the midst of external or internal distraction.

What are some signs of DAF?
Directed Attention Fatigue can show up in an number of areas:
Input --We may feel more distractible, have trouble listening, hear things wrong, or miss things.

Thinking-- We may have trouble focusing, leave things half done, forget things, lose things, find it hard to think, get confused more easily, think less creatively. Or we may get stuck on certain ideas, thoughts.

Acting -- We may act on impulse, take chances, act impatient, make more mistakes, blurt things out, jump to conclusions, overindulge, impulse buy, have trouble knowing when to stop.

Emotions --We may feel more irritable, bothered by small stuff, find it harder to handle noise and commotion, feel more moody, or emotionally unstable.

Difficulties in these basic areas can spread into the more complex social and planning arena.

Planning-- We may find it harder to make plans and decisions, take steps in the right order to follow plans, do more than just react to events. We may find it hard to get moving, or stick with dull chores. We may lose our perspective.

People-- We may be more likely to take offense, laugh or cry or talk too much, or at the wrong times. We may miss cues, act hopeless, or silly. We may be less likely to help out, be considerate, give other people a break.

The items toward the end of this list rely on more complex mental activities, break down more easily, and may take longer to recover. But they CAN recover, given some help.

What might help?
1. Reduce external distractions. Noise, danger, time pressure, interruptions can all be distractions. Reduce these and make an environment appropriate for our specific tasks, whenever we can.

2. Clear our minds of internal distractions as much as possible. Unfinished business, worry, anger are some internal distractions.

3. We may not even feel our concentration slipping until it has gone way too far. So we can learn how long we can go without a break. And learn to recognize when we are starting to lose concentration. Then actually take a break, or do something else that requires less focus for a while.

4. And get enough sleep. What is enough? One rule of thumb is to get enough so that we wouldn't fall asleep the next afternoon in a warm dark room during a boring lecture. Yawn.

Directed Attention Fatigue is nothing to fool around with. To save your brain and prevent future difficulties, deal with DAF as soon as you can.


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