We’ve all done it. Whether you end an important meeting only to realise you’ve been daydreaming the entire time, or finish your morning commute and think “I couldn’t tell you a single thing about that journey,” most of us are guilty of zoning out at some point in the day.
Sometimes, though, struggling to stay focused can be a sign of broader health issues. The common behaviour is mostly harmless ― but in some cases, it can be a sign of everything from stress to hypoglycemia.
So, we thought we’d share some potential causes behind the phenomenon:
1) You’re exhausted or stressed
”Zoning out may happen more frequently when a person is mentally exhausted from prolonged cognitive tasks or inadequate rest,” Medical News Today shared.
“When the brain is tired or overloaded with information, it may seek moments of mental rest, leading to zoning out to recharge and reduce cognitive load.” So, if you’re having a lot of sleepless nights and/or stressful days, you might be more likely to zone out during the day as your brain seeks some “off” time.
In fact, extreme stress can cause you to zone out even when doing important tasks. If your sleep pattern or stress levels are seriously disrupting your day-to-day, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor.
2) You have hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can cause you to lose your attention span entirely for periods of time ― it can even make you faint.
Other signs of hypoglycemia include feeling dizzy, hungry, thirsty, sweaty, shaky, or having tingling lips.
3) You’ve got a migraine
If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to experience a migraine, you’ll know that it has some pretty brutal side effects. And, sometimes, they include losing focus.
“For many people with migraine, brain fog, and temporary memory loss are symptoms that come before, during, or after a migraine attack,” the American Migraine Foundation shared. In fact, it’s one factor that distinguishes migraines from regular headaches.
4) You’ve got hypotension
5) You’re experiencing a kind of mini-stroke
Rarely, zoning out could be a sign of something called a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), or a small stroke-like effect that’s caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain.
“This can cause sudden symptoms similar to a stroke, such as speech and visual disturbance, and numbness or weakness in the face, arms and legs. But a TIA does not last as long as a stroke. The effects last a few minutes to a few hours and fully resolve within 24 hours,” the NHS says.
Some people don’t remember having them at all. “It’s important to call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance if you or someone else has symptoms of a TIA or stroke. Even if the symptoms disappear while you’re waiting for an ambulance to arrive, you still need to be assessed in hospital,” the NHS adds.
6) You’re experiencing transient global amnesia
The term refers to “an episode of confusion that comes on suddenly in a person who is otherwise alert. This confused state isn’t caused by a more common neurological condition, such as epilepsy or stroke,” shared the Mayo Clinic.
You’re unable to form new memories during this time. “You can’t remember where you are or how you got there. You may not remember anything about what’s happening right now. You may keep repeating the same questions because you don’t remember the answers you’ve just been given. You may also draw a blank when asked to remember things that happened a day, a month or even a year ago,” the Mayo Clinic says.
They add that though the condition itself is usually harmless, it can be tough to tell it apart from other, more serious conditions that can produce similar effects. So, if you notice someone (including yourself) going from aware to confused by their surroundings quickly, you should seek medical attention.
Zoning out can also be caused by some seizures and narcolepsy.
I’m not sure if I have any of these. When should I worry?
As we’ve said before, occasionally zoning out is completely normal. But if it’s becoming regular with no obvious cause, if it’s affecting your day-to-day, if it’s accompanied by unusual behaviours or a loss of bladder control, or if it happens after an injury, you might want to get it looked into further.
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