Thursday, July 30, 2015

What's Killing Your Concentration?

Experts agree that multi-tasking is not really the best way to get a lot done as it only serves to interrupt concentration. This was a surprise to me and may be to you too. I am a master at doing several things at the same time, but studies indicate that I'd actually perform better and get more done in the long run by concentrating on one thing at a time. If you're like me, you may find that switch difficult to make, fear boredom setting in, and need some help on how to improve concentration to be able to just focus on a single project. Psychologist Lucy Jo Palladine, PhD suggests logging out of social media accounts, email accounts and either turning off cell phones or checking caller ID. If a call is not critical, let it go to voice mail. Then set up break times throughout the day to listen to those voice mails, catch up on email and check in on social media. The break times can also be used as an incentive to help you get through tasks that don't hold your attention well. Decide on some type of reward you'll "earn" if you stay on task and get the boring work out of the way. With these tasks that have difficulty holding your concentration comes an ideal time for the mind to wander. We start thinking about things we still need to do, situations that we haven't resolved, family or social obligations and so on. This mind wandering slows us down, makes it hard to focus, and adds stress to the day which only serves to put further drain on our concentration. If this is a problem for you, consider writing up a list of all these type things so you won't have to worry about forgetting something important later. Set up time during the day or the week to get these tasks and errands taken care of. That allows you to let them go for now and concentrate on the task at hand. If the thing running around your mind is an unresolved problem, use a journaling style writing to get it all out of your system and maybe plan a time into your day that you will talk with whomever you need to in order to resolve the problem. You can also write out ways that you will handle the problem or script things that you might say in the scenario. If stress is interfering with your concentration, take a few minutes to do some meditation, deep breathing or yoga. You may think that you don't have the time to spare on these techniques if you are already feeling scrunched, but the opposite is really true. By taking a few minutes to drain off some stress you will improve concentration and be able to focus better on the task you need to finish.

Improve Concentration with Food
There are many studies showing the value of eating breakfast and how it helps with improved memory and learning. For the brain to work at its best, it needs the right fuel. The brain demands a lot of nutrition to keep it working properly, but it also is protected behind the blood brain barrier which makes it more difficult to get the nutrition it needs to it. Glucose which is the brain's main source of energy, essential fatty acids and specific amino acids are all necessary brain foods. This means eating protein, healthy fats like monounsaturated and essential fatty acids, and complex carbohydrates in particular. As important as what you are eating to help out your brain function, is what you should not eat. For example, a study in the U.K. reported damage to neurons from eating a diet that was high in saturated fat. Here is a list of a few foods that are particularly good for feeding the brain.

Healthy Fat Foods
Essential fatty acids are those that we have to get from foods and the brain needs a lot of healthy fats such as these to function properly. Oily fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines are a great source of getting these fatty acids. Walnuts are not only a good source of omega-3, but also of antioxidants which help maintain cognitive function as we get older. Walnuts also have tryptophan which helps in producing serotonin, the brain chemical that produces feelings of calmness and happiness and regulates mood. Monounsaturated fats from foods such as olive oil and avocado not only help feed your brain, but can help in reducing belly fat, help reduce buildup of plaque, support healthy blood circulation, keep blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels stable, and fight off inflammation and stress.

Protein Foods
Protein is another necessary component for good brain function and for raising levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Eggs are not only a good source of protein which the body converts to amino acids that can pass through the blood brain barrier, but are also good sources for zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin B-12. The yolks have lecithin which is good for memory and concentration as well as iron that the brain needs to function well. Cheese is another good brain food packed with protein and nutrients for brain health as well as for healthy bones and teeth. Cordyceps mushrooms are also rich in proteins, plant sterols, polysaccharides, antioxidants, and nucleoside derivatives for a variety of benefits for brain health.

Fruits and Veggies
According to Alice Park from TIME, many studies, such as one from the Annals of Neurology, report eating berries such as blueberries and strawberries are good for your brain and help keep memory and focus sharp as we age. Fruits such as bananas, kiwi, and dried fruits help the brain with energy and have the fiber that will stay with you throughout the day to improve concentration. After all it's hard to focus if you're feeling hunger pains. Kiwi also has more vitamin C than oranges which helps us absorb iron that the brain needs from foods. Dried fruits make a great snack during the day as they are full of iron and help give you an energy boost. Beets contain natural nitrates that aid the flow of blood to the brain and green leafy veggies such as spinach which has the antioxidant lutein are reported in studies to help keep cognitive abilities sharp as we age.

Complex Carbs
Glucose is the sugar your body makes by digesting carbohydrates and that your brain needs. Complex carbs are healthier for you than simple carbs so adding whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, beans, peas and lentils to your diet will help feed your brain. Glucose is a small enough molecule to be able to pass through the BBB, but these molecules must first be paired with the appropriate proteins before they will be allowed to pass so pairing protein and complex carbs in the same meal is especially helpful to brain function. Carbohydrates that are high in fiber also take longer to digest and it is easier for the brain to concentrate on tasks when it isn't having to direct energy for digestion. Starting the day off with healthy grains or cereals that have no or low sugar gives your brain a morning boost. Wheat germ gives you choline needed for the body to produce acetylcholine which is a memory boosting neurotransmitter. Another good source of choline is eggs.

AFA Bluegreen Algae
AFA bluegreen algae especially the form with the cell wall removed gives you the glucose, essential fatty acids and amino acids to feed the brain. Bluegreen algae is a rich source of phenylalanine, an amino acid that crosses the blood-brain barrier faster than any other amino acid and has all 20 amino acids our bodies need for the building blocks of healthy nerve cells and neurotransmitters needed for proper brain function. It also provides a perfect ratio of essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, helps maintain normal, healthy blood chemistry that feeds the brain, and provides an ideal balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, complex sugars, and fiber. In addition to AFA bluegreen algae alone, another whole food supplement that lends support to the brain is this supplement that has the added ingredients of bee pollen, vitamin A, enzymes, antioxidants, gluten-free wheatgrass juice, Hawaiian noni, eleuthero, ginkgo, and turmeric. Bee pollen is reported to have a high amino acid content useful for stimulating memory and concentration. Wheatgrass juice has been found to provide nutrients that support brain health and clearer thinking. Gingko has been used for a long time to promote increased memory and mental concentration by increasing circulation and providing increased oxygenation of brain cells. Curcumin, found in turmeric, has been the basis of much research and found to have benefit for enhancing memory, for enhancing nerve growth in areas of the brain and as an antidepressant.

Feed your brain the nutrition it needs, make some changes to how you work and approach tasks, and use whole food supplements to fill in any nutritional gaps and you'll find you get your work done faster and better, leaving you more time for play. Can't beat that!

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Image courtesy of  David Castillo Dominici  /  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sources:
http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/ss/slideshow-top-concentration-killers?ecd=wnl_wmh_013115&ctr=wnl-wmh-013115_nsl-ld-stry&mb=Xenvmz6dAtHtkRjp7Is6CeHnVev1imbCfXusP2Lh3sM%3d
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-112210/Seven-superfoods-help-boost-childs-brain-power.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/23/brain-food-superfoods_n_1895328.html

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