Natural remedies for mental clarity and calmness
Your heart flutters. Your palms feel sweaty. You can’t seem to find the words when you speak. There’s this sensation of tightness in your chest that makes it hard to take a deep breath.
It’s part of being human to suffer from anxious feelings and a muddled brain from time to time. But for some people, these feelings get in the way of their daily life. When it all gets to be too much, we can make excuses for avoiding certain circumstances or places that trigger these feelings, whether that’s driving on the motorway or talking to our boss at work or making excuses to not attend an upcoming social gathering.
Rather than avoiding unpleasant situations due to anxious feelings, there are certain natural remedies we can take to help our minds feel more calm and clear.
L-theanine - this is an amino acid derived from green tea, which stimulates the brain messenger GABA that may promote a sense of calm and clarity. This can be taken in supplement capsule form as caffeine free. A great daytime remedy when taken as recommended, it may keep your mind focused and energised.
Inositol - otherwise referred to as vitamin B8, when taken in higher doses studies indicate this may even help with panic attacks. This is available in supplement capsule form. This is also a great daytime remedy.
Passionflower - a great one to take during the evening when you want to feel calm and drowsy, available in liquid or capsule form.
Kava - a great plant from our Pacific neighbours, that is available in liquid herbal tincture or supplement form, especially for more severe anxious feelings or to promote drowsiness at night.
Adaptogenic herbs - these are herbal remedies that help our hypo-pituitary signals to our adrenals function optimally. Many of these remedies have been used by ancient cultures worldwide, such as India and China. Some herbs that help with mental clarity and calm include: ashwaghanda, Siberian ginseng, rhodiola, licorice (avoid if high blood pressure) and maca.
Vitamin B complex- a formulation of a variety of B vitamins not including inositol (refer to this remedy above), when taken a few times throughout the day may benefit mental clarity as well. This comes in liquid or capsule form.
Magnesium - in the form of chelate/taurate, glycinate or citrate for optimal absorption, may be taken twice daily (morning and evening) to promote calmness. Available in capsule or powder form. This essential mineral is deficient in New Zealand’s soil. If you find yourself having strong chocolate cravings or vertical ridges on your nails, magnesium deficiency may be the cause.
Dietary recommendations include limiting caffeine and alcohol (surprisingly, alcohol initially may calm then have a bounce back stimulating effect, which is why it can sometimes cause insomnia). Keep blood sugars stable throughout the day by snacking every few hours on protein (such as a handful of nuts, seeds, heaping tablespoon of nut butters and hummus or protein shakes) between meals. Prepare for work or school with snack baggies and set mobile phone or e-calendar reminders for snacking. Don’t skip breakfast (a coffee is not a complete breakfast!) as this can cause an energy crash with resulting anxiety. Avoid eating processed sugars and simple carbohydrates commonly found in sugary treats, fruit juices, white breads and pastas.
The way that you breathe impacts your heart rate, respiratory rate and mental clarity as well. Those with anxiety often breathe from their upper chest. Practise breathing from the abdomen. The 8-8-8 breathing technique may help in times of stress. Breathe in deeply from the abdomen for 8 slow counts through the nose, hold it for 8 slow counts, then exhale through the mouth while dropping the jaw for 8 slow counts. Repeat twice. This technique may be repeated as often as necessary to centre your mind and calm anxious feelings.
Exercise is also important to keep the mind calm and clear. 30 minutes 4-5 times weekly preferably outside doing something you enjoy, such as walking, swimming, tennis, cycling, or anything that gets your body moving.
Don’t forget that sharing your feelings with those you love and trust can also help ‘vent’ inner tensions that might be getting in the way. The more we keep in and bury, the more anxious we can feel.
So don’t hold back and let anxiety and brain fog get in the way. Get on that motorway, ask your boss for that promotion or go to that social function that you’ve been worrying about. It’s all possible when your mind feels more at ease, and natural remedies might be just the ticket to get you there.
Kathleen Wills practices natural and nutritional medicine in Whangaparaoa, New Zealand. A passionate advocate for whole person health, she regularly speaks at corporate and educational organisations and lends her expertise to wellness retreats around New Zealand. She holds a US doctorate degree in Integrative Medicine (I.MD). She was named as one of New Zealand’s sought-after wellbeing experts by New Zealand Herald’s Viva magazine (September 2014).
This article isn’t intended to substitute for medical advice. Consult your health professional for advice on, or treatment for, particular conditions.
Dr Kathleen is not a registered GP in New Zealand and as such does not act as your primary health provider or prescribe pharmaceuticals.