Mindless Daydreaming Or Anxiety? The Truth About Zoning Out

Are you zoning out lately? It is true that moments of distraction and daydreaming are common – and generally harmless – occurrences. But is zoning out a sign of anxiety? This is a question many of us ask ourselves, especially after a particularly stressful week or month.

Our minds sometimes escape reality, into little daydreams in attempts to avoid emotional triggers or combat the exhaustion of a hectic schedule. So is zoning out actually an indication of underlying anxiety or is it just part of living in a busy world? Let’s explore this topic to better understand if it is time to address our mental well-being or simply let our minds wander amongst the clouds.

Why Do We Zone Out?

We all have moments in which we zone out when our mind drifts away and we feel like we are in a daydream. This phenomenon is known as zoning out, and it happens for multiple different reasons. 

The first reason why we zone out is that our attention can wander due to boredom or fatigue. We can easily lose focus when the task is dull or mundane, or if it’s too difficult or overwhelming. If we don’t have enough energy or motivation to keep going, our minds tend to wander off elsewhere if there’s nothing interesting to hold our attention. 

Another common reason for zoning out is because of mental stress and emotional distress.

When we become overwhelmed with intense feelings such as sadness, anger, or anxiety, it can be hard to stay focused on the task at hand. Our brains naturally seek refuge from such emotions by wandering away into a daydreaming state that temporarily relieves us of these unpleasant feelings

Finally, zoning out can happen when there’s too much stimulation around us; this could be from loud noises, bright lights, lots of people talking all at once, etc. It can be hard to concentrate on anything in a chaotic environment like that. So, our minds may decide to switch off for a bit so that they can process all that information more easily. 

All in all, zoning out isn’t necessarily bad; sometimes it helps us relax and refocus ourselves on what needs to get done. However, if you find yourself zoning out more often than usual then it may be worth considering taking action. Whether that’s taking regular breaks throughout the day or planning ahead better so as not to get overwhelmed with tasks. So that you don’t become distracted every time something slightly taxing comes up.

What Is Zoning Out A Symptom Of?

Zoning out can be experienced by anyone, but it is particularly common in people experiencing a change in life. So what exactly is zoning out a symptom of? Here are a few common things:

  1. Sleep Deprivation: Sleep deprivation can also cause zoning-out episodes. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies become exhausted and our minds become foggy which can make it difficult to focus on tasks or conversations. This can lead us to zone out without even realizing it. 
  2. Medication Side Effects: Certain medications can cause side effects that include zoning out as well as other cognitive symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. If you suspect that your medication might be causing you to zone out more than usual, it’s important to talk to your doctor about ways you can lessen these side effects without compromising the efficacy of the medication itself.
  3. Fatigue: Fatigue can also be a major cause of zoning out. When we become overly tired, our minds can wander and it becomes harder to stay focused on the task at hand. This is especially true when dealing with complex tasks or concepts that require a lot of mental energy. Our brains may try to take shortcuts in order to conserve energy, leading us to zone out and let our thoughts drift away from the task.
  4. Dehydration: Dehydration can also be a major cause of zoning out. When our bodies are dehydrated, it affects the way that they function, including how well our brains process information. This can lead to difficulty concentrating and increased instances of zoning out as our brains struggle to keep up with the task at hand. It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day in order to keep your mind sharp and prevent episodes of zoning out.
  5. Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough of certain hormones. These hormones are essential for proper cognitive functioning, including concentration and focus. When these hormone levels drop too low, it can cause fatigue and difficulty concentrating, leading to episodes of zoning out. If you suspect that your hypothyroidism may be causing you to zone out more than usual, it’s important to talk to your doctor so that they can adjust your medication accordingly.
  6. Stress: Another common cause of zoning out is stress. When people become overwhelmed by stress and pressure, their brains can shut down temporarily in an effort to conserve energy. This can lead to zoning out, as well as other behaviors such as difficulty concentrating and memory problems.
  7. Other Disorders: Lastly, there are some other disorders that can cause people to zone out occasionally as well. These include autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with these disorders often have difficulty regulating their emotions and controlling intrusive thoughts, which can lead to frequent periods of zoning out during which time they become disconnected from reality.

What Mental Illness Causes Zoning Out?

Zoning out can be a symptom of many mental illnesses. While zoning out is not always indicative of a serious condition, it can become more frequent or severe in people who suffer from one of these conditions. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness that can lead to zoning out so that you can get help if needed.  So what mental illness causes zoning out? Let’s take a closer look at this issue.

Is zoning out a sign of anxiety


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental health conditions that can lead to zoning out. People with ADHD have difficulty focusing on tasks and controlling their impulses, which can lead to moments where they become easily distracted and lose track of their thoughts.

Zoning out can occur when someone has an intense emotion or reaction to something happening around them, such as a loud noise or an unfamiliar place. They may become overly focused on their thoughts and lose touch with what’s going on around them. 


Depression can also cause frequent episodes of zoning out. People who are depressed often feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts and feelings, which can make it difficult for them to focus on tasks or conversations. When they find themselves stuck in these negative thought patterns, they may begin to space out and drift away from reality.

In addition, depression can lead to fatigue and lack of energy, making it harder for people to stay alert and engaged in conversations or activities around them. 

Depersonalization disorder

Depersonalization disorder is another mental illness that can cause episodes of zoning out. People with this disorder often feel disconnected from their own thoughts and emotions, leading to a feeling of detachment from reality. This can cause them to drift away in thought or become unresponsive to the world around them.

One may experience dissociative episodes where they feel as if they are watching themselves or their surroundings from outside themselves, making it difficult for them to stay present and focused. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is also a mental illness that can cause zoning out. People with ASD often struggle with social interactions, which can make it difficult for them to focus on conversations or tasks. They may become easily overwhelmed and have difficulty processing sensory input, leading to moments where they drift away from reality or become unresponsive to their surroundings.

Additionally, people with ASD may be more prone to episodes of intense emotions or reactions, such as anxiety or panic attacks, which can also lead to zoning out. 


Schizophrenia is another mental disorder that can lead to frequent bouts of zoning out. People with schizophrenia often experience hallucinations and delusions that make it difficult for them to differentiate between reality and fantasy.

They may become lost in their own thoughts and be unable to concentrate on conversations or tasks, leading to moments of zoning out. Also, they may struggle with difficulty controlling their emotions and intrusive thoughts, which can also lead to zoning out. 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can cause frequent episodes of zoning out. People with PTSD often relive their traumatic experiences through flashbacks or nightmares, which can lead to moments where they become disconnected from reality and lose touch with what’s happening around them.

Additionally, people with PTSD may experience intense emotions or reactions when exposed to reminders of their trauma, such as loud noises or unfamiliar places. These intense emotional responses can also trigger zoning-out episodes.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is another mental illness that can lead to bouts of zoning out. People with OCD have difficulty controlling intrusive thoughts or worries, which can take up a lot of mental energy and make it hard for them to focus on tasks or conversations.

As a result, they may become overwhelmed and drift away from reality, leading to episodes of zoning out. Additionally, OCD can cause people to become overly focused on their thoughts, making it difficult for them to stay present at the moment. 

Bipolar disorder

Lastly, bipolar disorder is another mental illness that can cause frequent bouts of zoning out. People with bipolar disorder experience drastic shifts in mood and energy levels, which can make it difficult for them to stay focused on tasks or conversations. When they feel overwhelmed or have an intense emotion or reaction, they may begin to drift away from reality and zone out.

The periods of mania associated with this disorder often involve racing thoughts and hyperactivity, both of which can lead to zoning out.

Is Zoning Out A Sign Of Anxiety

Zoning out is often a sign of anxiety, especially when it occurs during times of stress and overstimulation. It can be difficult to stay present and focused on the task at hand when feeling anxious. Zoning out can help us take a mental break from overwhelming environments, allowing us to momentarily escape our anxious thoughts. 

Mind zone out to break free from anxiety

According to research conducted by the University of Michigan, people who experience frequent episodes of zoning out tend to have higher levels of anxiety than those who don’t. The study found that people with higher levels of anxiety were twice as likely to zone out in stressful situations compared to those with lower levels of anxiety. Furthermore, the study revealed that zoning out was most common in situations that involved a lot of talking or complex tasks. 

In addition, research from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) suggests that zoning out is linked to attentional control deficits in people with high levels of anxiety. The study found that individuals with elevated levels of anxiety experienced difficulty maintaining their focus on certain tasks and activities, leading them to become easily distracted and eventually zone out. In other words, it’s often harder for anxious individuals to direct their attention away from negative thoughts or unpleasant emotions, resulting in zoning out as an escape mechanism

Overall, there is strong evidence suggesting that zoning out is often a sign of underlying anxiety.

While it can be a normal coping mechanism for some people, if you find yourself zoned out more frequently or for longer periods than usual then it could be worth considering seeking professional help if needed.

What Does Anxiety-Induced Zoning Out Feel Like

Zoning out from anxiety can feel like being in a fog or dream state where you are disconnected from your physical body and environment. Thoughts may seem distant and jumbled up, while feelings of confusion and disorientation are common. It can be difficult to stay present at the moment or focus on a task, making it difficult to engage in conversation or other activities.

You may feel like you’re just watching life go by without being able to participate in it. 

Zoning out due to anxiety often happens when someone is feeling highly stressed or overwhelmed and their mind needs a break from the overwhelming stimuli. These few common things that might happen to you during anxiety-induced zoning out:

  1. Mental Fog: Anxiety-induced zoning out can feel like a mental fog that blurs and dulls your senses, making it hard to concentrate on tasks or conversations. You may find yourself spacing out for long periods of time without any sense of awareness. Thoughts and feelings seem distant and detached as if they’re happening to someone else.
  2. Physical Discomfort: Zoning out due to anxiety can also cause physical discomfort in the form of a racing heart rate, heavy breathing, and muscle tension. Your body can feel tense and agitated, while your mind feels numb and unfocused. In some cases, zoning out can even lead to dizziness or lightheadedness.
  3. Loss Of Control: The feeling of being out of control can also be a symptom of anxiety-induced zoning out. You may feel disconnected from your own body and mind as if you’re floating outside yourself. This lack of control can make it even harder to focus or stay present at the moment.
  4. Difficulty Concentrating: Zoning out due to anxiety can make it difficult to concentrate and remember information. You may find yourself forgetting words or having trouble following conversations. This can be especially true when you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress or emotions.
  5. Mental Fatigue: Anxiety-induced zoning out can also cause mental fatigue, making it hard for you to keep up with your usual activities. Your mind feels tired and exhausted as if it has been running nonstop without any rest or break. It’s important to take time for yourself and practice mindful relaxation techniques in order to manage this mental exhaustion.
  6. Social Withdrawal: Zoning out due to anxiety can also lead to social withdrawal. You may find yourself avoiding conversations and interactions with others, as it can be overwhelming and draining. It’s important to take steps to address your anxiety in order to overcome this type of avoidance behavior.
  7. Emotional Reactions: Zoning out due to anxiety can also lead to unpredictable emotional reactions. You may find yourself feeling overwhelmed or angry for no apparent reason, leading you to lash out at others or become overly defensive. This can make it difficult for you to form meaningful connections with those around you. It’s important to practice self-awareness when feeling anxious in order to manage these emotions before they begin to escalate.
  8. Increased Anxiety: Lastly, zoning out due to anxiety can lead to increased feelings of stress and worry. It can be difficult to get back into the task at hand or return to reality once you’ve zoned out, which can cause further feelings of anxiety and fear. Unpleasant thoughts and emotions may become more disruptive and intense during these episodes, making it difficult to manage or cope with them effectively.

15 Tips For Dealing With Anxiety-Induced Zoning Out

Anxiety-induced zoning out can be a difficult and frustrating experience. It’s important to recognize when it is happening in order to find ways to better manage your symptoms. Here are 15 tips for dealing with anxiety-induced zoning out:

  1. Take deep breaths – Taking a few moments to focus on your breathing can help you regain control of your thoughts and emotions.
  2. Practice mindfulness techniquesMindfulness can help bring your attention back to the present moment, allowing you to move past intrusive thoughts or feelings.
  3. Create a distraction – Listening to calming music or doing something creative can be helpful in redirecting your focus away from anxious thoughts or feelings.
  4. Exercise – Getting some physical activity can help release stress and tension, making it easier for you to gain control of your anxiety-induced zoning out.
  5. Talk it out– Talking with someone about what you’re going through can often provide valuable insight into how best to manage it.
  6. Write it down – Writing out your thoughts and feelings can help you make sense of them and develop a plan to cope with them more effectively.
  7. Take a break– Taking breaks throughout the day can allow you to recharge and regain your focus.
  8. Avoid multitasking – Trying to do too many things at once can lead to further distractions, so focusing on one task at a time is often beneficial.
  9. Make lists– Making lists of tasks or goals for the day can help keep you on track and organized, which can reduce anxiety-induced zoning-out episodes.
  10. Get enough sleep – Not getting enough rest makes it harder to manage stress and emotions, so making sure you get enough sleep is important.
  11. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants – Caffeine and other stimulants can increase anxiety levels, making it more difficult to stay focused.
  12. Stay hydrated– Staying hydrated can help keep you energized and alert throughout the day, which can reduce stress-related zoning-out episodes.
  13. Practice relaxation techniquesRelaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation can help to relieve tension and bring your focus back to the present moment.
  14. Talk to a professional – A mental health professional can provide additional advice and support in managing anxiety-induced zoning-out episodes.
  15. Find healthy ways of coping – Finding healthy ways to cope such as journaling, talking with friends, or engaging in hobbies can help reduce stress and anxiety.

It can be difficult to manage anxiety-induced zoning-out episodes, but with the right approach, it is possible to overcome this problem. By taking these tips into consideration, you can begin to find relief from your anxious thoughts and feelings and gain more control over your life.

Zoning out can be managed once anxiety it dealt with

Once you’re able to manage your anxiety, it will become easier for you to connect with others and stay focused on the tasks at hand. With a little bit of effort and dedication, you can find peace within yourself and reclaim the joy that may have been lost in moments of anxiety-induced zoning out.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my anxiety make me zone out?

Anxiety can make it difficult to stay focused on tasks or conversations, often leading to episodes of zoning out. This is because anxiety can cause your mind to become scattered and overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts or feelings, making it hard for you to concentrate.

Is spacing out a symptom of anxiety?

Yes, spacing out can be a symptom of anxiety. It is often the result of being overwhelmed by anxious thoughts or feelings and not being able to focus on one thing for an extended period of time.

Why do I keep zoning out randomly?

It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of random episodes of zoning out. However, it may be related to feeling overwhelmed by anxiety or stress, and not being able to concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time.

Is it dissociation or zoning out?

Zoning out is often a symptom of anxiety or stress, whereas dissociation is more severe and can include feelings of detachment from reality. If you are unsure which one you are experiencing, it is best to talk with a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Is zoning out a trauma response?

Yes, zoning out can be a trauma response. It is often the result of feeling overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts or feelings related to traumatic experiences. If you think that your episodes of zoning out are related to past trauma, it is important to seek professional help for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.


Camilleri, J. (2022, December 26). Is Zoning Out A Symptom Of Anxiety? How To Stop Dissociation Anxiety? Therapy Hunter. https://therapyhunter.com/anxiety-zoning-out-dissociation

Darcy, A. M. (2022, October 26). Known to ‘Zone Out’? The Dangers of Dissociation. Harley TherapyTM Blog. https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/dissociation.htm

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