This may be one year that we can say that we truly have experienced a ‘proper’ summer. We have had prolonged warm spells and holidaying abroad has become more feasible again. While the hot weather has undoubtedly caused some issues in terms of comfort and plans, it has at least felt like summer has happened.
Hopefully you will have had a break or enjoyed some of the warmer evenings and weekends. As I write this, I can hardly believe that that full-time work, the school term and a return to normality are looming or even present in some forms.
Whether you work or study, or have children or not, the end of summer certainly heralds a change of pace.
Regaining your focus
Some people like the return to routine but it can take a while to readjust and regain our focus. While sometimes considering whether we want to slip back into the status quo can be useful, if we are preparing to return to work, study, childcare or just a more indoor orientated existence, there are many ways we can ease the transition.
The benefits of Vitamin D
Most of us will have received a wonderful boost of Vitamin D over the past months. This vitamin is synthesised by the skin when it is exposed to ultraviolet light. The body initially produces cholecalciferol from a cholesterol derivative and then converts it in the liver and kidneys to a form of Vitamin D that it can use.
Vitamin D performs many functions in the body and low levels have been linked to low mood and depression.1 As the days become shorter, the intensity of the sunlight fades, and we spend more time inside, supplementing with Vitamin D may help us retain some of that sunshine feeling.
Sunshine is not the only benefit of summer and it can be helpful to include some of what we enjoy during holidays in our everyday life.
At a very basic level, when we relax, our parasympathetic nervous system becomes activated. Known also as the ‘rest and digest’2 system, it allows effective digestion, elimination, lubrication, repair and reproduction. Essentially it keeps us functioning on a daily basis.
Stress and the nervous system
When we experience stress, which can be anything from being stuck in traffic to a major life event, our sympathetic or ‘fight or flight’ response is activated. This shuts down digestion and other immediately non-essential functions and prepares us to escape by stimulating the adrenal glands, raising heart rate, increasing blood sugar and mineral levels and upregulating lung function by dilation of the small airways.
In theory, we move through our stressful situation and return to the ‘rest and digest’ state but unfortunately, prolonged activity and pressure can perpetually stimulate the ‘flight or fight’ system, leaving us with digestive issues and sleep problems as well as longer term health implications.
While we cannot always avoid the causes of stress, there are ways that they can be mitigated.
Nurture your vagus nerve
The vagus nerve is a major part of the parasympathetic nervous system and connects the brain to the gut, passing many of the major organs in the body on the way. In fact, this is why it is called vagus, as the name derives from the Latin word for wandering, which is also the root of the word vagabond.
The nerve can be stimulated by simple activities such as laughing, gargling, splashing cold water on the face or having a cold shower, massaging the feet, meditating, breathing deeply and slowly with a longer than usual exhale, in fact doing anything you find relaxing. It is also important to eat a really good wholefood diet.
All of this will help carry some of that holiday relaxation into everyday life. You could think about what you like to do on holiday, whether it be reading, enjoying culture, seeing friends, connecting with nature or lying doing nothing.
When you have established what it is that nurtures you, try and incorporate a bit of it into your daily or weekly routine. After all, when we are feeling relaxed and refreshed, everything seems a lot easier.
Herbs and nutrients can help overcome stress
Even with the best of intentions, life can get stressful and there are times when the pressure can become overwhelming. If this does happen, there are certain herbs and nutrients which can be used for immediate support.
Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) supports the production and metabolism of steroid hormones which reduce tiredness during times of stress, while liquorice, ginseng and iodine help the adrenal glands to function well.
There are two micronutrients in particular that I always associate with a vicious cycle of overwhelm as they are used up faster during times of stress and a deficiency of them can exacerbate stress symptoms due to their role in neurotransmission.
The first of these is magnesium3 which, despite being the second most abundant cation in the body, can be poorly absorbed due to a variety of factors. Medication such as diuretics, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and antibiotics or a diet high in sodium, calcium, protein, caffeine and alcohol can all inhibit absorption, as can some illnesses or even life phases including menopause, pregnancy or ageing.
The other group is the B vitamins, in particular B6 and B12. Supplementation of vitamin B6 has been shown to be a viable strategy for reducing stress4 while low levels of B12 have been linked to anxiety and depression.
B12 is sometimes hard to absorb due to digestive issues or a lack of intrinsic factor in the stomach which combines with the vitamin to allow it to be assimilated further down the digestive tract. If you choose to supplement vitamin B12 then methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin are active forms of this nutrient. Plus, they do not need intrinsic factor for absorption, and are always well utilised.
The adrenal glands contain some of the highest concentrations of vitamin C in the body. In fact, this is the reason why groups such as the Inuit’s who have a meat or fish-based diet traditionally consumed the adrenal glands of animals to ensure a good supply. For us, vitamin C is abundant in many foods and supports good adrenal function and is used in the synthesis of cortisol. This is the primary stress hormone, so vitamin C is used up faster in times of increased pressure.
Sleep and mood
Good sleep is important for mood, and magnesium can help as it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, regulates neurotransmitters and plays a role in regulating melatonin, which guides sleep cycles. Montmorency cherry is also a natural source of melatonin which can help us get into a good sleep routine. This may be particularly useful if travel schedules or time zone transfers have caused disruption. 5HTP can also be helpful. This is a precursor to serotonin, which itself is a precursor of melatonin.
Ashwagandha is another useful consideration and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Its botanical name Withania somnifera gives us a clue about one of its benefits as ‘somnifera’ means sleep-inducing.
However, it goes further than this as it has been historically revered for its adaptogenic properties and dual ability to energise and calm. While this might sound like a contradiction in terms, think of the feeling you can get when you are very tired: wired and totally exhausted at the same time. Ashwagandha may help with better sleep and calmer mood while also enabling sustained energy during the day.
CBD is becoming increasingly well known as a source of phytocannabinoids. The brain and nervous systems contain an endocannabinoid system (ECS) which is an essential part of maintaining homeostasis whether the imbalance is caused by stress, pain, lack of sleep or illness.
The ECS regulates and controls many of our most critical body functions such as learning, memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses and eating too. The phytocannabinoids bind to the receptors in this system, activating an appropriate response and helping us to deal with life’s pressures and contributing to restful sleep.
Managing stress – know your limits
It is worth mentioning here that while nutrients and herbs are invaluable in supporting our bodies, we still have to be aware of our natural limits. If stress is prolonged or an acute adverse situation occurs, you may need to seek support to deal with the emotional and psychological aspects to prevent them running on unchecked and causing a chronic stress response which is harder to resolve.
The interplay of physical and mental is neatly encapsulated in a commonly used trio of homeopathic remedies which are used for exhaustion. Picric Acid is quite simply an organ support remedy for the brain where there is mental overwhelm. Phosphoric Acid is used where there is emotional strain which precedes physical collapse, while Muric Acid is indicated where physical exhaustion results in emotional breakdown as the person cannot function as they need to.
Nutrients to help with focus
One of the challenges of returning to daily routine is persuading the brain that we need to focus again. Fortunately, there are several nutrients that can help with focus.
Interestingly, Ashwagandha, CBD and l theanine have all been linked to better focus. A calm mind is less likely to be distracted by worries or overwhelm. Omega 3 improves cognitive function5 which is vital for concentration as well as mood. It is also anti-inflammatory and membrane stabilising which protects the brain cells. The antioxidant vitamins A, C and E are also important in this respect and boost blood supply to the brain.
Techniques to help maintain focus
There are also certain techniques that can be helpful.
How often do we sit down to a task, only to be distracted by a call, a message, thoughts, such as suddenly remembering that the washing needs to be put out etc. While some of these activities may be immediately important, often they are just procrastination and a whole day can disappear quite easily.
In the 1980s, a student called Francesco Cirillo found that he could work better when tasks were divided into short time allocations.
He used a kitchen timer shaped as a tomato, which gave rise to the name ‘pomodoro technique’.6 Essentially, it involves setting a 25-minute task, working at it for the allotted time, using the timer, and then taking a break.
This way, focus and productivity can be improved. On a very simple level, an old saying about ‘all work and no play’ gives us a good indication that we need balance between doing and resting. The to-do list is seldom complete but it is important to make sure we get enough breaks to keep our focus sharp when we need it to be and allow the nervous system to relax.
Stabilising your energy can support concentration
You can also help your ability to focus by ensuring that you have stable energy.
This means eating regularly and consuming high fibre foods which regulate blood sugar levels. Intermittent fasting is fine provided that the liver is functioning well so that it can store glucose as glycogen when blood sugar levels are higher and release it when they drop.7
One of the joys of a holiday is often some level of over-indulgence, but your liver might appreciate a bit of support to make sure it is performing well. Milk thistle, dandelion, burdock, turmeric and artichoke all support the liver and the B vitamin choline also promotes good liver function. If your digestion is not optimally functional then taking digestive enzymes or probiotics can be beneficial, especially if you have been eating foods which are unfamiliar to you. This will also help the vagus nerve as gut health directly impacts its healthy function.
Stephen Covey, an author, said that:
‘the key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities’.
Ensuring that physical, mental and emotional wellbeing are firmly embedded in our daily routine ensures that we have the energy and capacity to achieve what we want to.
About the author
Kelda White was inspired to qualify in homeopathy over 15 years ago after experiencing how effective and life expanding it can be. She works with remedies, flower essences, herbs, nutrition, gut support and intuitive reflection to foster natural health. As well as treating clients online and in Malvern, she is senior tutor at the Midlands College of homeopathy, runs a student clinic and supervises other homeopaths.
If you have questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters, please do contact our team of Nutritional Therapists.
- Vitamin D: Benefits, Sources, Deficiencies (2022). (Accessed: August 22, 2022).
- The Parasympathetic Nervous System Explained (2020). (Accessed: August 22, 2022).
- Pickering, G. et al. (2020) “Magnesium Status and Stress: The Vicious Circle Concept Revisited,” Nutrients, 12(12), pp. 1–21.
- Stough, C. et al. (2014) “Reducing occupational stress with a B-vitamin focussed intervention: a randomized clinical trial: study protocol,” Nutrition Journal, 13(1).
- Six foods that help to improve concentration – Nutritionist Resource (2013). (Accessed: August 22, 2022).
- Nöteberg, Staffan. and Cirillo, Francesco. (no date) “Pomodoro Technique illustrated : the easy way to do more in less time,” p. 141.
- The Liver & Blood Sugar :: Diabetes Education Online (no date). (Accessed: August 22, 2022).
Last updated on 20th September 2022 by cytoffice