In this age of ubiquitous information, we are constantly bombarded by multiple demands for our attention, focus and energy. Answering texts, taking phone calls, writing emails, deleting spam, processing ads, talking to colleagues, meeting deadlines, and hunting down information. Everyone wants our attention. NOW. This pace can be exhausting and wreaks havoc on our nervous system. We are consistently on high alert, responding to our rapidly changing environment, and this causes our adrenal glands to pump out adrenaline and cortisol to help us cope with the stress. Most of us don’t have time to take a “time out” for ourselves and give our nervous system a break. And when we don’t take a break, this constant pace can lead to tiredness, poor sleep, ravenous or reduced appetite, increased propensity to sickness and even weight gain or loss. If we don’t have time to relax, and rejuvenate, we may rely on stimulants such as caffeine or energy drinks to give us a boost, or sedatives such as alcohol and over the counter pharmaceuticals to help us relax. In the short term, this strategy allows us to make it through the immediate stresses in our lives. But the long term consequence of this behaviour is continually worsening health and decreased ability to cope. Aside from taking a good long break and forgetting about our work and family responsibilities, what can we do?
There are certainly many things that can be done to improve our ability to cope with stress. The very first thing is to make time for yourself on a daily or weekly basis. Pick a time or an activity that is JUST FOR YOU and make this time sacred. If you choose to do an activity in this time it needs to be an activity that helps you to turn in, re-centre and release the demands and stresses of your environment. Running, swimming, yoga, dancing, meditation, journaling are all possible choices. As well as going for a massage, acupuncture, spa treatment, or something else entirely. The activity may change but the purpose should always remain the same: to feel rejuvenated and ready to take on another day. You need to make this time for yourself non-negotiable. It is what will help you to do your best in every other aspect of your life.
In addition to daily or weekly self-care, there are a variety of supplements that you can use to help improve your response to stress. Ashwaghanda (Withania somnifera) is an ayruvedic herb from India. It is classified as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are substances that help the body adapt to stressful environments and situations. This herb is commonly used to increase energy, decrease the physical feeling of being “stressed-out”, anxious or low, it can increase libido, and it supports the immune system and healthy body functioning. Ashwaghanda has a more supportive, nourishing function to the adrenal glands when compared to coffee or korean ginseng (Panax sp.). The latter two tend to be more stimulating to the system and are more likely tax your adrenal glands. In either case, please always check with your naturopathic doctor before starting a new health protocol.
Getting your proper compliment of B vitamins is also incredibly important for maintaining energy. B12 and folic acid help in the formation of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout your body and allow you to function on moment to moment basis. B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6 help in the breakdown and utilization of sugars, fats and proteins for energy. Usually a simple B50 complex provides the average person with a good compliment of B vitamins. Once again, it is important to check with your ND before starting any new health regimen.
To help with focus, fish oils, particularly high in DHA are important. DHA is one of the two major anti-inflammatory omega 3 essential fatty acids --- DHA and EPA. DHA has an affinity for the brain, and therefore is more suited to improving memory and focus. In addition a combination of ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) helps to increase circulation to your brain and can help with alertness. Again, always speak with your ND before starting a new health protocol.
For anyone who has trouble sleeping, first you should make sure that you are observing proper sleep hygiene. Lay down for bed at the same time every night. Make sure that you room is quiet and dark, with no distractions such as TVs, computers, or reading books. If you have sleep difficulties, your bed should be for sleeping. Period. There should be no other distractions. Wear ear plugs and a face mask if necessary, and make sure you are not too hot or cold.
To help you fall asleep, melatonin is the go-to supplement. It is a hormone made and released by the body before you fall asleep. Taking it about 15 min - 30 min before bed can help certain people to fall asleep. It has been associated with nightmares, so check with your health care practitioner before starting. To help you stay asleep, passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are two options. These invite your nervous system to relax and support deep restful sleep without any grogginess in the morning or addictive qualities. Again please consult your naturopathic doctor before use.
These four things: self-care, energy support, support for mental focus and restful sleep, can make a world of difference in your motivation, productiveness, happiness and wellbeing. For more information on energy, focus, and sleep, please book an appointment at one of my Victoria locations.
In health and gratitude,
Dr. Brewster Scott, ND