The way I originally found my way into the world of natural herbs and supplements was due to issues my partner and I would experience with focus. We are relied on for our creativity during the workday (we both work in advertising and content creation), and believe it or not, there is a lot of burnout in my industry. Keeping yourself motivated and inspired to create every day is definitely not easy, and it takes healthy habits and discipline to cultivate environments in which your mind can be the most focused and concentrated in can be.
A Note about Pharmaceuticals
In college I started taking Adderall. Did I need it? Probably not. But I was persuasive, and gave my doctor all the talking points he needed to hear to diagnose me with Adult-Onset ADHD. Having studied psychology in college and knowing full well that the majority of adult-onset ADHD cases are misdiagnosed, there wasn’t an inch of my body that believed his diagnosis – I simply wanted to get an Adderall prescription to excel in my exams. And while I admit that it did help me excel in school at the time, I experienced awful daily crashes, mood swings, and irregular eating habits.
Fast forward to my first real job in marketing, I still found myself occasionally taking these drugs to help with focus and getting work done. I quickly learned that while it would help me focus on one menial task for a decent amount of time, it totally killed my creativity. I feel like I became a less curious person, and feeling the temporary loss of this quality was scary for me.
A More Natural Solution for Focus
Having grown up with parents who fully believed in holistic medicine, including ayurvedic remedies (derived from the power of herbs and roots), I began to experiment with natural remedies to improve my concentration and focus. And guess what? Over time I discovered a plethora of natural remedies that work better for me than prescribed medicine. I’m able to stay more concentrated for longer, without these supplements killing my creativity or causing me mental burnout at the end of the day. In fact, I’ve found that many of them to be helpful with mental clarity, sometimes even increasing motivation and creativity. I hope to share a few of these with you.
I find myself writing a lot about ashwagandha, most likely because it is one of my personal favorites when it comes to ayurvedic herbs. This herb is probably best known for reducing stress, and is a small shrub that comes from parts of North Africa and India. Many studies have shown that ashwagandha not only is useful for relieving stress, but is known to improve concentration and increase energy as well. This trifecta of benefits is the perfect combination to cultivate a clear and focused state of mind. For me personally, I find ashwagandha very beneficial for focus when taken in moderate doses during the day, but also wonderfully helpful in promoting restful sleep. While you can take ashwagandha in tea, I mix the dry powdered root with warm filtered water for an earthy drink mixture. I can’t promise you’ll love the taste, but you will certainly enjoy ashwagandha’s benefits.
2. Ginkgo Biloba
If you’ve ever attempted to build your own stack of all-natural mind-boosting supplements, you’ve likely heard of Ginkgo Biloba before. This plant has been used for thousands of years in ancient Chinese medicine, and has many benefits on both the mind and body, ranging from anti-inflammatory and high antioxidant qualities, to promoting cognitive sharpness. Modern research studies indicate that this herb has the ability to increase mental performance in human adults, including measurable improvements on attention span, focus, and memory. In addition to these terrific cognitive benefits, Ginkgo has also been studied to reduce anxiety up to 45% in some experimental conditions.
3. Coffee with L-Theanine
Like most people probably reading this, I love coffee. But what I don’t love is the mental fatigue and fogginess resulting from a caffeine crash. I don’t want to have to be drinking coffee all through the day to enjoy caffeine’s benefits that I mostly feel from my first cup of the day. As a naturally-occurring substance in many types of tea, coffee, and other plants, caffeine can be great for concentration and energy, but most people crash after a while, requiring another cup. However, many have found that taking an amino acid called L-Theanine with coffee or tea can help provide prolonged concentration and energy without a crash. Studies have shown that L-Theanine aids with relaxation without causing drowsiness. Other studies have observed that the combined effects of caffeine and L-Theanine improved attention-related speed and accuracy tasks over individuals who only took caffeine without L-Theanine. For me, I find that it helps to balance out the effects of my first coffee of the day by eliminating jitters, while reducing (if not completely eliminating) any noticeable crash from the caffeine.
4. Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Tulsi (otherwise known as Holy Basil) is a popular herb derived from a leafy green plant originating from Southeast Asia. It is widely recognized for its numerous adaptogenic effects (helping the body to achieve a state of balance and homeostatic in stress-causing situations), but is also commonly regarded for the positive effects it can have on cognitive performance. One study found that Tulsi increased attention-related behavior in rats with dementia, providing evidence of this plant’s ability to stimulate brain functioning in beneficial ways. For me, I love a good Tulsi tea with organic raw honey shortly after dinner – very relaxing, delicious, and perfect with a good book.
Similar to Ginkgo Biloba, Ginseng is also native to traditional Chinese medicine, and is typically harvested for its fleshy and nutrient-rich roots. While most people might recognize Ginseng for its anti-inflammatory properties, it has also been studied and observed to have many positive effects on cognition and memory. In fact, another study performed on a group of healthy young volunteers revealed that a dose of 200mg of Ginseng significantly reduced mental fatigue during periods of sustained mental activity, revealing a perfect natural remedy for focus and concentration.
Rhodiola is another root that is considered to be an adaptogen, so it is widely recognized for its ability to help the body adapt to stress and avoid fatigue. This herb typically thrives in cold, mountainous regions of Asia and Europe, and is harvested for its roots. While it has been used by various cultures for centuries to treat anxiety and depression, some studies have revealed Rhodiola’s powerful effects on increasing the capacity for sustained mental work. In another study observing the effects of Rhodiola on the mental fatigue experienced by students, researchers found that the group who was given rhodiola placed significantly higher on controlled examinations compared to the group who did not take Rhodiola.
This marsh plant is another herb common to parts of India, and is often used as a substitute for pharmaceutical drugs used to treat ADHD. As an ideal natural remedy for focus and concentration, Brahmi has been found to improve memory and brain function in a number of controlled research settings. For example, a study performed in 2013 found that adults taking Brahmi were found to display improvements in their ability to learn and retain new information.
8. Yerba Mate
Any list about herbs that increase focus, attention, and concentration is not complete without a mention of Yerba Mate. Native to parts of South America, this plant is used for its leaves and twigs that are typically dried and steeped in hot water to create teas. Along with many incredible benefits ranging from antioxidants to nutrients, Yerba Mate can also boost and improve memory and focus. This is due to the fact that it contains, on average, 85mg of caffeine, which is slightly lower than coffee, plus added nutrients, vitamins, and minerals not found in coffee.
A Note on Moderation, Diet, Rest, and Precautions
As with any substance you put into your body, moderation is key. In fact, many of the studies I’ve read about the above herbs and plants show that they provide the best results when specific amounts are taken. Too much or too little might not produce the positive effects on focus and concentration you are looking for. Furthermore, it is equally important to remember that while supplements like ayurvedic herbs can help improve mental performance over a baseline, the best thing you can do to improve your cognitive performance is to eat healthy, allow your body the right amount of rest, and constantly put your mind to the test to keep yourself sharp and tuned. Finally, be sure to check with your doctor if you are already taking any prescribed pharmaceuticals to ensure that there are no potential complications or interactions when using these natural remedies.