Recently, one of my friends confessed to me that she was taking ADD medication.
She personally didn’t like taking medication, but she’d been having trouble staying in school and working. She felt like she needed some help keeping her brain on track.
I was completely surprised—Annie was one of the most laidback, serene people I knew. Yet here she was, telling me that she felt like she was hurting her life because her brain was all over the place.
I started questioning myself: Why couldn’t I get things done, either?
You know—the fits of malaise that kept me from following through on things I said I’d do; the driftiness that made me shut my computer in frustration because I couldn’t make it through a sentence; downright irritability and exhaustion at times when I should have been the most motivated.
Some of this is human nature, of course, and clinical ADHD is not the same as everyday distractibility. But there’s no need to continue being frustrated by your inability to concentrate. If you know where to look for it, a lot of problems that interfere with your concentration are under your control.
Many problems in your environment, your body and your mental wellbeing can affect how your brain works—without you ever consciously noticing them. Another reason that developing your awareness is a healthy habit.
You already know to turn off your cell phone when you’re working, or not to eat too many processed sugars. But these reasons you can’t concentrate may be a complete surprise:
1. You have a brain allergy. Familiar allergies to dust and grass cause sneezing and rashes. But your body might have a “brain allergy”: an allergic reaction that causes emotional or mental symptoms, instead of more widely-recognized physiological symptoms. Common allergens are food—wheat, MSG, artificial flavors, dairy—but it could be dust, mold, anything your body has trouble handling. Many people with ADHD have figured out how to control their symptoms by controlling their exposure to allergens instead of taking medication.
2. You have nature-deficit disorder. We’ve all experienced the healing power of being in nature—trees, fresh air, that free feeling. According to author Richard Louv, it’s not just your perception—it’s a physiological reality. Research shows not only that focus and attention increase when people have more green time. Outdoor time is especially important for fueling that creative part of your brain that allows you to do the most worthwhile kind of thinking.
3. You have a new sofa. Or an old one. Modern furniture, office supplies, and building materials are full of “volatile organic chemicals” (VOC’s). These chemicals leach into your air, where they aggravate your lungs and brain. Meanwhile, old homes and furniture can be hotbeds of mold spores, dust mites, pet dander, and other allergens that also cause bad air quality.
Either problem can cause “sick building syndrome,” which encompasses all kinds of illness, asthma and allergies caused by bad air in your home or workplace. The newer your home, the stronger the chemicals will be in the air.
Poor air quality has been found to lower kids’ test scores and cause lost focus and dizziness in office workers—not to mention what it does to your health. (Check out the EPA’s website for just a sampling of the research). If you can’t clean up the source of your air problems, consider learning about air purifiers.
4. You have a vata imbalance. Ayurvedic yoga holds that everyone’s body and personality is a mixture of vata, pitta and kapha elements—air, earth and fire. Ideally we keep all three in balance, but we tend to favor one or two. If you have a vata (air) imbalance, your mind may be all over the place, you may have trouble sleeping, and you may find yourself feeling anxious and unrooted.
To balance out all that vata energy, create a consistent schedule for yourself with an early bedtime. Choose a meditative, even-paced yoga practice or other exercise, like this balancing yoga sequence. Try making a ginger tea, and make sure you get enough positive touch from the people you love (human touch is powerfully healing!).
5. You aren’t eating enough protein.If you’re trying to live mindfully, it should come as no surprise that diet has a major impact on how your body works. The science shows that protein triggers alertness in the brain, while carbs trigger drowsiness (despite that brief energy rush). Start the day with a protein rich breakfast and you’ll feel better all day long. It’s recommended that adults eat 45 to 70 grams of protein a day.
6. You’re unfulfilled. Stop for a moment and take a look at your emotions. When was the last time you paid attention to what’s really going on in your head and heart? You may be surprised. If you keep trying to get something done and just can’t go through with it, this may be your mind’s way of telling you it’s the wrong project. Put your energy towards something that sustains and feeds you, and you may start getting somewhere.
Darcy Higgins is a writer and environmental educator in Appalachian Ohio. Recently returned from living in Russia, she can tell you a thing or two about yoga classes in the motherland. Read more of her work at darcyohiggins.wordpress.com.
Editor: Ryan Pinkard