9 Ways to Improve Focus and Avoid Burn-Out
One of the most common questions we get asked is “How do I get rid of brain fog?” or “I don’t feel like I am working optimally. How can I improve this?” Whether the problem is concentration or just burn out, here are some simple activities one can do to help optimize brain health, boost the mood, and enhance creativity.
- Riddle Me This, Puzzles and Focus:
Indeed, puzzles like Tetris, Sudoku, Cross-words, and even new trend in break out puzzle rooms, are all geared towards stimulating the mind without the stress. When we take time to do something difficult or creative that is a game, our mind has a tendency to let go of the stress of succeeding and just enjoy the task of solving a puzzle. This not only keeps our intellect sharp, it also teaches both our conscious and unconscious mind what it’s like to work on a task without feeling pressure. By decreasing stress we experience clearer thinking, longer attention spans, and an overall increased mood. Click the link above to see a local example of a puzzle room!
- Stand Up for Yourself
I mean literally! Prolonged sitting leads to mental fatigue and brain fog. If your job requires a lot of sitting, or you simply find yourself chair-bound for several hours while deep in a binge watching session, you can improve your focus simply by standing up. If your job permits you to have a standing desk even better. If a standing desk isn’t an option, we recommend standing, stretching, and marching in place (or something similar) for 5 minutes every hour to keep the blood flowing.
- Screen Out Tech:
Our lives are intimately tethered to our technology, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Too much screen time can affect sleep cycles and leave you feeling as drained as your cell phone’s battery at the end of the day. Remember to take periodic breaks from the computer and your phone throughout the day and avoid screens all together 1 hour before bed to promote optimal sleep patterns. The light from your screen affects your melatonin secretion, a key hormone produced by your body to promote sleep.
We all know we need it, we all know it can be elusive, and we all know what it’s like to go without it. Sleep is arguably the most important part of mental focus. When we sleep, our brain actually condenses ever so slightly to allow for better flow in and out of the brain. This process aids in the removal of waste products made naturally in the brain and allows nutrient rich blood to feed the resting brain. The best thing you can do for your sleep is to make a wind down routine starting an hour before bed and removing any sleep disturbances like light or noise. If you are a parent, it’s likely one of those disturbances likes to crawl into bed with you on occasion, which is why we recommend the whole house have a sleep cycle. Plan wind down activities, lower the lights and avoid screens all together. Spend some time in meditation specifically focusing on quieting your mind and preparing for sleep, this is not the time to begin making tomorrow’s To-Do list, it’s the time for you just relax and enjoy this time of quiet rest.
- Drink up!
The cardinal rule is approximately half your body weight, converted into ounces. So 100 lb person would need about 50 oz of water per day. Water is essential and often overlooked. Many people report getting the vast majority of their hydration coming from stimulant drinks such as coffee, tea, and soda. It is important when optimizing brain health to remember to decrease the use of stimulants, especially after 12 pm, and stick to just plain water. Overuse of stimulant drinks may make you feel better in the short term, but they deplete you and making you dependent on them. If you need to spice up your water, try adding organic cucumber or strawberries to the water to give it some flavor, but avoid adding sugary sweeteners as they destabilize your blood sugar and lead to a crash about 2-4 hours after ingestion.
- Healthy Fats:
Fish oils are important since our brain is made up mostly of Fat! It’s important to nourish the brain with healthy fats. The healthiest sources of fats come from plant products like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado. While animal based fats are good for you too, it’s important to get a diverse mixture of healthy fats from a variety of sources when optimizing brain health. We also recommend fish oil supplements since they can be purified of mercury, which bioaccumulates in our fish supply and is the reason there are often limitations recommended with fish consumption.
- Fiber: The Brain/Gut connection for health
You might not expect to see this one on the list, but adequate amounts of fiber, derived mostly from salads and green leafy vegetables can help with focus two fold. Firstly they promote regular bowel habits which prevent any toxins from building up in your body and slowing you down. Secondly, fiber can act as a pre-biotic, feeding our healthy gut flora who in turn may promote mental health. While we’re still researching the gut-brain connection, we know that 90 percent of our serotonin is made in our digestive tract and the GI system has almost as many nerve endings as the brain! So it’s important to keep a healthy gut in order to maintain a healthy mind.
- B Vitamins:
B vitamins are a diverse collection of water soluble vitamins that are used in our body’s biochemical and enzymatic processes. We derive most of them from the vegetables and grains in our diet and some, like B12, are found highest in meat products. If you eat a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and some meat, you are likely getting most of your B vitamins dietarily, but if you, like many of us who are busy, opt for convenience foods and skipping meals, you may be functioning with a sub-optimal level of B vitamins. If you are concerned about your B vitamin status we welcome you to schedule an appoint with us to talk about it or feel free to pop on in to the clinic and grab a quality-assured multi-vitamin from our dispensary which have been vetted and hand-picked by Dr. Wells.
- Solve Underlying Medical Conditions
Often times brain fog, fatigue, and an inability to focus can be a symptom of an underlying condition such a hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, or metabolic syndrome. These conditions may can be easily diagnosed or ruled out by your doctor through simple testing. All the supplements in the world won’t help if the problem is a specific disease. Routine physicals are great ways to catch imbalances early on. As naturopathic doctors, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t preach “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”