Emotions and attention: the art of maintaining balance

Tamara Kryvorotko, Invited Expert March 19, 2024

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window by Vermeer

We tend to focus on things that trigger a strong emotional reaction or are the most prominent among our current options. Yet, our emotions also play a role in determining how wide or narrow our focus of attention is. Positive emotions can expand our attention, make us more flexible in thinking, and fuel our creativity. On the other hand, when we experience stress or anxiety, our focus narrows, concentrating only on the source of our concern and ignoring other aspects of our lives.

Life’s complexity often calls for us to rally our inner resources, as we encounter diverse challenges that necessitate our focus, energy, and alertness for effective management. These challenges may range from demanding work tasks that need thorough analysis and careful resolution, to significant conversations with loved ones where empathy and comprehension are crucial.

Narrowing the Focus of Attention: A Problem or a Necessity

A narrowed focus of attention can be beneficial in situations that demand deep immersion or the completion of a task requiring a high level of concentration and attention to detail. Additionally, in scenarios where a quick response to potential dangers or stressful situations is key, focusing attention on a specific aspect can help respond faster and more effectively.

For instance, whether you’re solving a complex mathematical problem or retreating from a snarling dog, a narrowed focus of attention can help you avoid distractions and concentrate on the task until its completion. Therefore, concentrating on challenging aspects for some time can be beneficial: this focus can aid in analyzing the roots of a problem, devising strategies for solutions, and implementing necessary measures to navigate through obstacles

Despite the benefits of such mobilization of the body, this state is only useful for a short amount of time. To live comfortably, it’s essential to adapt to various situations and process different kinds of information seamlessly. However, this adaptability is compromised when our attention remains narrowly focused on specific issues. Consequently, when negative emotions persist over time and become a constant presence, they can lead to adverse effects on our well-being.

For example, constant stress caused by task overload, conflicts, or disappointment can lead to burnout and depletion of cognitive resources. A person may experience difficulties with concentration, decision-making, and task execution, which ultimately can lead to reduced productivity, errors, and dissatisfaction with work and life. A lack of flexibility in switching attention can lead to missing important information, opportunities, and even lead to social problems.

The Key to Successful Adaptation

Certainly, a narrowed focus or sustaining it for too lengthy a period can lead to adverse effects. However, in scenarios demanding swift action, such focus is essential for the successful resolution of tasks or escaping potentially dangerous situations. Thus, it’s crucial to strike a balance: mastering the ability to shift and direct our attention as needed.

Managing attention is a sophisticated process that necessitates deliberate control and practice to reach peak effectiveness. Self-analysis and evaluating our responses can appear daunting, particularly under the sway of intense emotions that may skew our focus. Anima analyzes your attention and allows you to explore your response to various situations, providing you with a tool for better control over your life.


  1. Manfred Diehl, Elizabeth L. Hay, and Kathleen M. Berg. The Ratio between Positive and Negative Affect and Flourishing Mental Health across Adulthood. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3158962/
  2. Eddie Harmon-Jones, Philip A. Gable and Tom F. Price. Does Negative Affect Always Narrow and Positive Affect Always Broaden the Mind?