Attention focusing

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Have you ever become so involved in one activity that you didn’t notice what was going on around you? For example, maybe you were playing a video game and you didn’t hear your mom call you for dinner. Or perhaps you were really focused on a book you were reading and didn’t notice the colour of the chair you were sitting in.

As we go through the day, our attention is constantly shifting. Sometimes we pay attention to a lot of things at once, but other times we get caught up in a single thought or activity.

By turning your attention to something else, you can block out unpleasant or stressful thoughts. In the case of cancer, focusing your attention on something else can help reduce your symptoms and the side effects of your treatment. The trick is to become as focused and involved as possible in whatever it is you choose to concentrate on.

You can use attention focusing to:

  • take your mind off stressful or worrying thoughts
  • move your attention away from pain and nausea
  • help you get to sleep faster
  • make time move faster if you’re waiting or don’t have much else to do

Learning how to focus your attention

Here is an experiment you can try to focus your attention.

Focus on your breathing. Notice how each breath moves your chest and stomach in and out. Notice how your breathing sounds and how the air moves into your nose or mouth. Now begin to breathe more slowly. Take a deep breath in and very slowly release it.

Think of three pleasant things that you can focus on that are more interesting than your cancer or how you’re feeling. They might be places such as a cottage or a beach somewhere warm. They might involve special events such as going to a concert or watching your favourite sports team. Or they might involve doing fun activities with friends or family.

You can also try a mindful eating exercise to focus your attention away from how you’re feeling. Eating something that brings a taste or sensation to your mouth can distract you, such as sour candy or a hot drink. Try the following steps to practise mindful eating:

  1. Examine the food with your eyes, noticing the colour, texture and shape.
  2. Hold the food in your mouth without chewing, letting it move around all the areas of your tongue.
  3. Slowly begin to chew the food. Notice any sensations such as a tangy feeling or warmth.
  4. Swallow the food and think about how much you enjoyed the experience of eating.

Click through the following interactive for more ways you can use your five senses to distract yourself.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019