As we transition into September the freedom of long, sunny days starts to wind down. With this begins new routines, new seasons and adapting to a new rhythm. This change can have us craving a slower-paced lifestyle, focusing inward and being more mindful of our schedules. This can pose challenges like finding motivation, staying creative and keeping on task but there are some easy and natural ways to support the brain as we shift our mindset into fall.
In my naturopathic medical practice, I often hear patients describe concerns around focus, concentration and memory. Sometimes it is described as brain fog, being forgetful, or feeling unmotivated. As a naturopathic doctor, there are several ways to investigate the cause of altered mental clarity and alertness, both deeper chronic conditions as well as more acute concerns. For example, thyroid function, hormone imbalances, digestive disturbances, and/or genetic predispositions can all potentially cause this kind of concern. Alternatively, I can look more superficially at what’s happening in the person’s day-to-day life. This means water intake, healthy eating, quality of sleep, stress management, exercise or movement, rest and relaxation, and social factors. All of which can contribute to a potentially cloudy mental state.
Habits To Increase Focus Naturally
There are healthy habits to adopt to daily life to help improve one’s mental state. Whether you’re working at the office, taking online courses, or creating a project at home, there are natural ways to clear the mind to refresh creativity and boost motivation. What motivates and energizes one person, may be too stimulating for someone else. Alternatively, what helps one individual one day may not be helping another day. It is beneficial to have multiple ideas and tools available to support on days when the creative juices aren’t flowing.
Here are my favourite habits to help improve focus and concentration naturally:
- Aromatherapy - Try adding Peppermint or Rosemary essential oils to your diffuser while studying, it may help improve memorization. While Sweet Orange essential oil has been shown to boost alertness and mental clarity short term.
- Change your mental state - I practiced this idea while in naturopathic medical school. It means to take a break when you are mentally overwhelmed from a task you are working on and do something else, engaging a different part of your brain for a while, and then come back to it. This might include picking up an instrument, going for a quick walk or sipping on an herbal tea.
- Physical Support - We often get neck and shoulder tension as a result of being stressed or having a busy mind. Prioritize time for yourself to stretch or sit in a warm bath. Try out a treatment like massage therapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, or acupuncture to help promote proper blood flow to the brain.
- Herbal Teas - My favourite way to clear my mind and refocus on what’s ahead of me is making an herbal tea and taking the time to slowly sip on it. As part of this ritual, I step away from my electronics and responsibilities and enjoy some quiet time with a calming or stimulating tea (depending what I need).
Herbs To Increase Focus Naturally
Discovering what above habits work for you and your mental focus best by balancing both external and internal practices will help to increase your productivity and mental focus for your lifestyle. Herbs can play a powerful role in creating positive and supportive habits, below are my favourite herbs to help with focus, mental fatigue, and motivation:
• Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) - This popular herb inAyurvedic medicinehas many powerful qualities. Bacopa contains properties to help improve concentration, medium and long-term memory, and overall mental performance. It also benefits the nervous system to keep the physical body feeling calm while it may be mentally overworked.
• Green tea, Matcha, Oolong, Black tea, White tea (Camellia sinensis) - All of these teas come from the same plant but they are grown or processed differently. Green tea becomes White tea when it is picked early, whereas Green tea becomes Black tea when it is fermented. The Camellia plant contains the balancing actions of caffeine (stimulating) and theanine (calming). The two components work in response to the body’s needs. Therefore, the body will naturally pick up on the caffeine in the morning when it wants to become more alert and alternatively it will be more sensitive to the theanine in the evening, when it is time to slow down. Try this tea when you’re needing a boost in creativity and productivity, while not wanting to feel overstimulated.
• Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) - This beautiful herb has the reputation of being brain food. It helps send blood to the brain to wake it up, while also calming the nervous system without being sedating. This is a nourishing herb on the overall nervous system and was definitely an herb I reached for as a student.
• Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) - Although this tree originated in China, it can also be found throughout the streets in Vancouver, B.C. The fan-shaped leaves will be familiar once you know what you are looking for. This strong herb enhances circulation to the brain and has been shown to improve concentration, short-term memory, and cognitive performance with long-term use.
• Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) - This easy to grow culinary herb is also very beneficial for our brain health. Research has shown it can help improve cognition, clarity and poor memory. Just from smelling Rosemary, you may notice you start to feel more alert.
As we switch gears into the fall, I hope these natural habits and herbs to increase focus spark interest in those looking to boost productivity and creativity naturally. Whether you are going back to school or working from home, it is important to support our brain health to keep the creative juices flowing. It really can be as easy as sipping on a cup of tea.
Dr. Deanna Weiss, ND
Disclaimer: This is not meant to offer medical advice. Seek a health care professional for herbal use and any prolonged sensations of mental fatigue, brain fog, or poor memory.
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