By Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.
The psychological complaint of our age is “I just can’t focus.”
I hear it from patients, friends, family members… and sometimes my own inner voice.
The source of this feeling is far from mysterious. Never before have we been so bombarded with distractions. The ancient evolutionary drive to take in information – an important survival trait – has been subverted by modern media.
That’s particularly true when it comes to internet marketers dangling “clickbait” before us.
Each time we click and look, we get a tiny dose of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates our reward and pleasure centers. Something similar happens when playing video games. Some researchers believe both net surfing and video gaming are addictive.(1)
I think they are right. In the modern age, millions of us are on the “dopamine drip.”
A vicious cycle begins. As we lose ourselves in distraction, we stress about responsibilities that we are putting off.
Less focus, more stress. Endlessly.
Two Ways Out
The first required change is bringing awareness to the behavior. I’m a fan of apps such as RescueTime that track how we spend the online hours, allowing us to set goals around various web-based activities.
If that’s too high-tech for you, a more straight forward plan is declaring days, or parts of days, screen-free and sticking to it. Even better are screen-free days spent entirely outdoors, which can be profoundly healing.
The second source of aid in our quest for calm focus is biochemical. Traditional healers throughout history have noted that ingesting certain plants improved the ability to focus and/or relieved anxiety and other stresses.
Here are four that science has confirmed are particularly safe and effective:
- Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri): Prized in Ayurveda for improving mental function,* this creeping perennial found in the warm wetlands of Australia and India was allegedly used by ancient Vedic scholars to memorize lengthy sacred scriptures. Its ability to enhance calm,* focused study appears to come partially from increasing cerebral blood flow. It may also offer the long-term benefit of reducing beta-amyloid concentrations,(2) which may be particularly relevant with aging.
- Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.): Another vital Ayurvedic herb, tulsi, also known as holy basil, exhibits a wide range of cognition-enhancing and anxiety-reducing effects, and has also been shown to lower cortisol, a hormone associated with stressful states.*(3)
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): This calming, restorative herb native to southern Asia has been shown to improve “executive function, sustained attention and information-processing speed.”*(4)
- L-Theanine: A component of green tea, several human studies have found it to be a potent calming agent, reducing both reported stress and cortisol response.*(5)
Fortunately, there is no need to choose just one.
To get the enhanced focus and stress reduction benefits of all four, I recommend a blend of these four agents as a part of an integrative approach to helping our patients better cope with stress.*
- Weigle P. Internet and Video Game Addiction: Evidence & Controversy. Adolescent Psychiatry. 2014;4(2):81-91. doi:10.2174/221067660402140709120337.
- Rajani M. Bacopa monnieri, a Nootropic Drug. Bioactive Molecules and Medicinal Plants. 2008:175-195. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-74603-4_9.
- Giridharan VV, Thandavarayan RA, Konishi T. Ocimum sanctum Linn. (Holy Basil) to Improve Cognition. Diet and Nutrition in Dementia and Cognitive Decline. 2015:1049- 1058. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-407824-6.00098-7.
- Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Bose S. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. Journal of Dietary Supplements. 2017;14(6):599-612. doi:10.1080/19390211.2017.1284970.
- White D, Klerk SD, Woods W, Gondalia S, Noonan C, Scholey A. Anti-Stress, Behavioural and Magnetoencephalography Effects of an l-Theanine-Based Nutrient Drink: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial. Nutrients. 2016;8(12):53. doi:10.3390/nu8010053.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.