Is Zoning Out A Bad Habit Or A Helpful Brain Function?

February 14, 2020

Brain wave
Emmanuel Feranmi

Zoning out is quite common. Almost everyone does it. If you've ever spaced out while reading a particularly boring book, or while looking out the window of a train, or even during a boring board meeting, then you've zoned out.

It happens more often when you're bored or stressed. However, those aren't the only reasons people space out. There are other reasons, like grief, a breakup or other vicissitudes of life that could make one forget where they are and just space out. In situations like this, zoning out can be a great way to cope, and not necessarily a bad thing.

Why Do People Zone Out?

Many times, people zone out when their brain has switched to autopilot. This is because your brain recognizes that the current task doesn't necessarily need your full attention. So when you zone out while performing a task like folding clothes or walking, it is because your brain is in default mode.

However, there are other factors that you could consider.

Not getting Enough Sleep

Sleep deprivation could cause you to be foggy or even cranky during the day. You may feel slow, distracted or just not performing on the best mental wavelength.

This shows that not getting enough sleep can be terrible for your mental state. Of course, since your brain is the organ most preoccupied with tasks, this makes you more prone to zoning out. This can be particularly dangerous if you're someone who works with huge machines.

Stress, Grief And Trauma

Stress can take its toll on you. You may wake up feeling generally tired, and start moving through the motions of a routine, scarcely aware of what's happening around you. This is a foggy period, and when you finally emerge from it you may be wondering how much time has passed and what you've actually accomplished in that period.  

This is often a coping tactic by the brain. It helps to keep stress at bay until you feel like you have the mental stamina to deal with it. This tendency to zone out may even be more pronounced if you've recently dealt with trauma. In fact, it may even border on severe dissociation.

When severe stress sets in, there are many people who prefer to deal with it by shutting down. This can lead to an absence of presence, which many recognize as "zoning out".

Is Zoning Out Necessarily A Bad Thing?

Not necessarily. In fact, zoning out is a part of normal brain function and it could even be quite helpful.

So why is zoning out not a bad thing? Well, there are a few reasons.

  • Allowing your mind roam freely can make you more creative and allow you to think of ingenious solutions to problems.
  • Interestingly, zoning out could also mean that you're enjoying what you're doing. When you're involved with a task that you enjoy, it is easy to zone out and not notice what's around you. As a result of this, you may even come to enjoy the activity more.
  • That's not all. In 2017, a study that was researching the way that people felt about personal values found that there's a correlation between deep thinking and zoning out.

This isn't to say that zoning out is an entirely good thing. In fact, it can mean some not so good things too.

If you're zoning out to manage a difficult situation or problem, you may want to postpone the distress to avoid the problem. However, this may prevent you from dealing with the problems decisively as they come up.

There's also the problem of safety. It's easy to zone out while driving if you're plying a route that you've plied for several years, but if you zone out while driving a different route, you may come into an accident.

How To Get Back In The Zone After Zoning Out

The easiest way to avoid zoning out is to ground yourself. You can do this through minor exercises like jumping and stretching or by sucking candies with jarring flavor.

Another way is to know when you zone out the most. When you keep track of when you're most likely to zone out, it is easy to avoid it. It also helps to practice mindfulness. Since this allows you to increase your awareness of your environment, it makes it rather difficult for you to zone out.

There are other techniques that help avoid zoning out and some of them include actively listening, practicing self-care and others.

If you zone out a few times, it isn't something that you should be too worried about. However, if you find yourself often daydreaming or spacing out too often during serious situations, it may be symptoms of depression or ADHD. In that case, you may have to see a mental health professional.

Like many things, zoning out only becomes a serious problem when it gets excessive. If you just occasionally zone out, it's hard to see how that could be a problem. However, if you do it often, it may be time to get help. 

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