There’s been a lot to adjust to in recent times, and if it wasn’t already hard enough to stay productive all workday long, it can be even harder now. Between new routines, new stressors, and new obstacles to overcome, many people are struggling to concentrate and stay on task.
Whether you are back in the office or still working from home, you aren’t alone if productivity, mental energy, and focus have been hard to come by.
If that sounds like you, then don’t worry. There are many things you can do to give your brain power a boost and bring more energy, concentration, and focus to your day for peak mental performance.
One of the most important things you can do for your brain is to move your body.
When you exercise or engage in physical activity, it helps release brain chemicals that boost cognitive function, promote new neural connections, activate areas of your brain involved in learning and memory, and increase blood flow to the brain so you can think better.[1-3]
Unfortunately, many people spend their nine-to-five sitting in a chair all day. That doesn’t do us any favors and can lead to mental and physical sluggishness and a lack of productivity.
If you want to stay on task, get focused, and hold your attention easier, then exercise is a key component to incorporate into your routine. Researchers believe that breaking up prolonged periods of sitting may actually lead to changes in the brain and body that can help us to be more productive, be more attentive, and think more clearly.
You’ll help yourself to think more clearly and stay focused if you make time for physical movement every day and avoid sitting for too long without breaks.
So, whether you take a few minutes to walk around the room a few times a day, do a short workout at lunch, go for a jog in the morning, or practice some yoga after a long meeting, make sure to get moving as much as you can.
Our diet can make a powerful impact on our brain health. Processed foods like sugar and fast food will only make matters worse, there are many foods that act as fuel to our brains, helping us to focus better, stay concentrated, and be more productive.
Certain dietary patterns that emphasize healthy whole foods, like the Mediterranean diet, are linked to better cognitive function and less cognitive decline with age.[1-2] But whether or not you follow a specific diet, what’s most important is adding in nutrient-rich foods as much as possible while limiting fast food, processed food, and foods with sugar in them.
Here are just a few of the top superfoods known to support better brain function:
Choose a few of the brain-boosting superfoods from the list above and make a plan to incorporate them into a few different meals in the coming week.
And if you haven’t already, cut back on and begin to eliminate sugar completely from your diet. Keeping your blood sugars balanced by removing sugar and refined carbs is a key step for achieving optimal mental performance.
You know how if you want to get stronger and build muscle, then you must put in time at the gym? Well, it turns out that we can do the same thing when it comes to building mental focus and concentration. If we put in time practicing meditation and mindfulness exercises, we can strengthen our mental muscles of attention and concentration.
Meditation and mindfulness are all about learning to focus our attention on the present moment and bringing that attention back to the present whenever our minds start to wander. It’s kind of like going to the gym, but you are training your brain instead of your body.
Practicing mindfulness has been shown to be effective in rewiring the brain and strengthening neural connections so that we are able to increase our focus, improve our attention span, boost our memory, and more.[2,8,9]
Researchers believe that mindfulness training may be particularly helpful for the unique challenges that come with working from home. So if productivity has been an issue for you while working from home, it may be well worth your while.
Even short bouts of mindful exercises like meditation or other activities can do wonders for your productivity and your mental wellbeing as well.
So, consider giving mindfulness a try, and carve out a few minutes each day to flex your mental muscles. There are many apps that can help teach you meditation, and there are also many guided meditations available online to choose from. Alternatively, you can practice less formal versions of mindfulness like mindful eating, mindful walking, or simply tuning into and observing your breath.
The next time you feel distracted or foggy, try taking a step outside and immersing yourself in the outdoors. Even just a few minutes in nature can help you to perk back up when you find yourself mentally fatigued.
Research suggests that exposing ourselves to nature can improve attention, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. In addition, time in nature can also help us to lower our stress and boost our mood.
As some experts conclude: “nature replenishes one’s cognitive resources, restoring the ability to concentrate and pay attention.”
If you can, try to find a green space near you that you can visit whenever you need a mental pick me up. And make outdoor time a priority in your daily life, even if it is just for a few minutes at a time.
If it’s hard for you to access a natural space and actually spend time outdoors, then do what you can to feel connected to nature instead. Bring indoor plants into your space, put up photos of landscapes, or listen to natural sounds while you work.
Did you know that certain herbs can actually have positive effects on cognitive function?
There are a wide variety of plants and herbs that can help support brain power, and some of them are quite common and easy to come by. For example, sage, rosemary, and peppermint have all been shown in research studies to increase mental alertness.
Next time you are feeling sluggish, try out the power of herbal remedies to wake up your brain. One way is to simply smell herbs like rosemary, sage, or peppermint. Consider finding them fresh, dried, or as essential oils. You can also eat these herbs in your diet or take them as supplements.
The more time we spend on screens each day, the worse off our physical and mental health will become.
Aside from the other harmful effects of too much screen time (such as disrupted sleep), screens can also interfere with our ability to stay focused and attentive to the tasks we have at hand. In fact, research suggests that people who spend more time on screens tend to report more problems with attention and symptoms of hyperactivity.
Our brains don’t need another source of stimulus and distraction; there’s already enough demanding our attention and mental energy without excess screen time.
So put down your phone, stay off social media, and reserve your screen time for the tasks that are most essential to you in your day. If you have to use a screen a lot during work hours, then it might be even more important for you to find screen-free activities during your off time. Before and after work try grounding, calming activities such as reading, walking, listening to music, playing with your kids, cooking, or listening to podcasts or audiobooks.
The more we use our brains, the stronger they become. But it doesn’t have to be all work and no play. Mixing it up with fun, engaging activities that challenge your brain in a creative way is an excellent strategy to give yourself a mental boost.
Research shows that playing games, doing the crossword, learning an instrument, dancing, coloring, and drawing are all good for the brain and help us to stay sharp.[1,2,14-16]
Think about a handful of engaging activities that you can have fun with. It’s best if you can find activities that will stimulate your brain and give it the challenge of learning something new.
Consider things like card games, sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, arts and crafts, or learning a new instrument. And then be sure to set aside a few minutes every day to train your brain while having fun at the same time.
Last, but not least, don’t forget about basic self-care. If you want to be at your best when it comes to focus and productivity, then you’ve got to take care of your body with healthy habits.
It really all comes back to the basics. The more stressed, tired, and drained we are, the less clearly we can think. The more we reduce stress, prioritize sleep, stay connected socially, and nourish our physical and mental health the better our cognitive function will be.[1,2]
Take inventory of how well you’ve been taking care of yourself lately. What are your routines like? How are you spending your time? What do sleep, stress management, and social connection look like for you right now? If anything’s missing or out of balance, it’s time for a reset and it’s time to get back on track.
Ask yourself what needs to happen to prioritize your physical and mental health. And then identify a few small changes you can start making today to move yourself back towards a balanced lifestyle. Perhaps that may look like intentionally drinking more water throughout the day, moving your bedtime 15 minutes earlier, or getting back into a peaceful evening routine of reading and stretching before bed each night.
Soon, we will find ourselves deep in the middle of winter. There are some great things about winter to look forward to like the holidays, snow, winter sports, and cozy times at home. And there are also some drawbacks about winter that aren’t as exciting like shorter days, colder temperatures, bad weather, and less sun.
Less sun doesn’t just get in the way of activities like beach days and picnics. It also poses a potential problem when it comes to our health. You see, our bodies need sunlight in order to make vitamin D, which is an essential nutrient that plays many important roles in the body.
Along with colder temperatures, shorter days, and leaves changing color, fall brings with it a whole new set of fresh foods that are in season. Long-known as the harvest season, fall is a great time to get in sync with the seasons and fill your diet with flavorful and healthy seasonal produce.
So, let’s take a look at some popular fall favorites – and how these foods can support your health!