15 September 2020 ۰ Zen Maitri
Focus can be elusive at the best of times, but 2020 has taken the struggle to new heights. With a global pandemic, a seemingly endless stream of bad news, and our ever-closer relationship with technology, it’s no wonder our attention is being pulled in ten different directions at any one time.
Now we’re in the swing of September and many of us are heading back to work (following the wind-down of the government’s furlough scheme) or school. And all with those distractions still swirling around us.
What interrupts your focus most frequently? Maybe it’s your phone or social media; flicking through news sites… or the to-do list in your head that has so many things on it that you can’t choose which to give your attention to.
Wherever your head’s at, finding ways to come back to your centre and collect your focus is really important.
And all of that is crucial for supporting good mental health, too. Just as mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can affect memory and concentration, it works the other way as well. If you struggle to focus over a long period of time, there can be a knock-on effect on your productivity, happiness, and anxiety.
To help you come back to the present and concentrate fully, here are four natural ways to improve focus.
Herbal medicine & supplements
Herbs have a vast number of health-supportive qualities and active compounds that can help your body and brain feel calm, clear, and steady.
Ginkgo is used as an aid for concentration around the world; it works by dilating blood vessels slightly, which increases blood supply to the brain and interacting with the function of neurotransmitters. It’s a key ingredient in our Focus Capsules and our Focus Tea, which both give you the benefits of Ginkgo combined with other mind-boosting herbs.
The lesser-known Lion’s Mane mushroom is also rich in powerful medicinal properties and is known as a potent nootropic — a substance that has been found to enhance mental abilities. It can be cooked and eaten, but it’s more effective in supplement form. Lions Mane also acts as an immune system booster, while improving concentration and reducing anxiety.
Start taking your sleep seriously
You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again. Sleep really is incredibly important for your overall physical and mental health, and for your ability to focus. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation has a measurable effect on cognitive performance, impairing our attention, memory, and even our ability to make decisions. The longer a pattern of poor sleep lasts, the more it will affect your mental state.
So make sure you prioritise sleep. Lots of us stay up late and get up early to maximise the time we have to be productive during the day. But this is most likely counterproductive. If you’re tired, you’ll struggle to focus. And if you struggle to focus, you’ll be less productive.
Give yourself time to wind down in the evenings without work, screens, or caffeine. Understand your usual sleep patterns and make small changes to see what works. These can include going to bed an hour earlier or turning off all your devices at a certain time. That will help you discover what helps you sleep better. In other words, become your own sleep investigator, and allow curiosity to guide you towards a healthier sleep routine.
Herbs can also play a valuable role in improving sleep. Try our Lavender Essential Oil or Night Time Tea (a blend of calming herbs including skullcap, passionflower and lemon balm) as simple ways to begin incorporating herbal medicine into your wind-down time.
Structure your diet and don’t skip breakfast
Hunger and dehydration impair our focus. If you get up in the morning and rush out of the door without breakfast, you’ve already put yourself on the back foot. This is because your brain needs energy from food to function well.
The brain is also about 85% water, so all of the processes of the brain depend on good hydration to work; including the production of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine, which help you think clearly and make decisions.
Eat regularly and drink plenty of water to help keep your focus in check. And if you notice certain times of day when you feel a bit foggy or find it especially difficult to concentrate, try having a carbohydrate-rich snack and a glass of water half an hour or so before that time hits.
Certain foods are thought to work particularly well when it comes to boosting the brain — aim to include oats, berries, bananas, and leafy greens in your daily diet, with dark chocolate as a focus-enhancing treat.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness techniques have been proven time and time again to have a significant impact on how our brains work. Neuroimaging studies have found that meditation physically changes the structures of the brain, and regular practice can reduce stress and help to manage the symptoms of mental ill-health; increase happiness; and improve concentration and focus.
All these positive effects are connected to one another. The overall impact of meditation on a person’s emotional regulation, self-perception, and the ability to manage the challenges and tasks of everyday life can be huge.
One of the common benefits meditation practitioners report is clarity of mind. Meditation, after all, requires discipline and a special kind of focus. It’s no surprise that those who regularly practice it see benefits to their ability to concentrate on daily tasks and work.
Steps you can take today to improve your focus
Herbal supplements, lifestyle changes and meditation practices will have different effects for different people. If you try something for a while and it doesn’t seem to help your focus at all, don’t give up!
But if you want to go further and try meditation, we’re launching a new weekly online class in October called Rest. Relax. Recover.
The class will be every Friday at 5pm with Laurent Roure, and you’ll explore meditation, deep relaxation, Pranayama and Yoga Nidra (conscious sleep), ending the hour feeling refreshed and at ease.
To find out more and book your place, head this way.