Focus with Clarity: Is it Brain Fog or ADHD?

Focus with Clarity: Is it Brain Fog or ADHD?

“I need to get off the phone before they disappear again.” 

I was on the phone with my husband while standing in the produce isle. At home he had mentioned a few items he wanted.. I forget this stuff all the time, so of course I wrote it down on yet another scrap of paper, which I promptly misplaced before driving off to town. 

There are times when things just won’t stick. It feels like I’m grasping onto a cloud that continues to drift past me, slipping through my fingers even as I give it all of my concentration. Standing next to the fennel, I had to get off the phone with Dave because the items he reminded me of were drifting away already. 

Other times, all I need to do is read, hear or experience something once and it tucks itself deeply in my mind, ie; anything to do with herbs, veggies or gardening; folktales and other wonderful stories. Essentially, anything I'm really interested in, which then often gets linked with emotion, smells or sounds and sinks deeper into my consciousness. Sorry Dave, groceries just don't make the cut! 

While being incredibly attuned to the needs of my body when I take a moment to listen, most days I wouldn’t actually remember to eat or drink if not reminded by my children or husband. Disordered eating is common with ADHD says Kathleen Nadeau who has studied the condition, specifically in women, for decades. ADHD increases the chance of poor diet from forgetting to eat to simply being overwhelmed by the planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning that it simply falls to the side. That then impacts nutrition, sleep and mood, which of course exasperates those ADHD symptoms. 

ADHD is a misnomer. The label ADHD includes H for ‘hyperactivity’ although most girls and some boys do not have the hyperactive tendency and are more classically known as ADD (although ADHD remains the official label). ‘Hyperactivity’ itself and ADHD in general carries a certain connotation; we often picture the high energy boy in class who couldn’t stay still, spoke loudly, was bossy or generally had a low level of self regulation. While this experience manifests in some girls, it’s much more common in boys and men.

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ADHD and Women

ADHD symptoms often arise in girls around puberty as hormones begin ramping up. This means their condition is rarely spotted in early years unlike their male classmates. Their teenage frustration can then ramp up with compounding changes. Rather than bouncing in their seats, they’re often chatting with their friends, doodling in their books,  or drifting off with creative ideas and losing track of what’s happening in class.

Girls tend to develop coping mechanisms in different ways than boys as well, using lists to keep on top of to-do’s, highlighters to remind themselves of what’s important, and they may proactively find podcasts, audio books or other tools like music that help them absorb information differently. 

While some girls with ADHD maintain excellent social skills, it’s common for them to experience difficulties with social interactions and miss social cues. While boys with classic ADHD symptoms often fit the energetic, risk-taking expectations of young boys and therefore seem to fit in more readily, girls with ADHD often (but not always) suffer from social isolation and deep fear over social rejection. 

ADHD is identifiable in brain waves, neuro chemical balance and the structure of the brain. While the prefrontal lobe of the brain is not fully developed until our early to mid 20’s, it can take much longer for those with ADHD and remains less stimulated at full maturity than others. 

As hormone fluctuations exacerbate ADHD symptoms, adolescent girls and peri-menopausal and women may discover a dramatic increase in symptoms. Stress, anxiety, poor nutrition and lack of sleep can also amplify symptoms. This means  that a growing number of women are receiving diagnosis in their mid 30’s to late 40’s and up until their 80’s; while adolescent girls with ADHD have a much higher tendency towards anxiety and depression.

 

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Do one of your family members have ADHD? It’s genetic so while you may find that you or someone you know fits the description very well, if there’s no one else in the family with similar tendencies, it’s unlikely that it’s ADHD. Do you have a relative who’s always scattered or cluttered or has changed jobs multiple times? Do they seem to be off 'in the clouds' a lot? Are there entrepreneurs in your family (30% of entrepreneurs have ADHD)? If so, it’s something to look into further. If not, toxin overload including mold can be the culprit. So can sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and stress. Either way, it’s a good idea to research the issue, eat clean, sleep well and look in your walls or basement! 

Do you still think you might have ADHD? There’s so many resources out there to help. From podcasts to books to bloggers and so many accounts on Instagram. They offer tools and reframes, they discuss challenges and superpowers and the pros and cons of medication as well as other strategies. 

I was speaking with someone recently about this and mentioned feeling like I had a super power. They assumed I meant the ‘super power’ that came from medication… but that wasn’t what I was referring to. I don’t want to romanticize ADHD by any means because it’s really a pain in the butt a lot of the time. Everything has a flip side though and this case, ADHD allows me to be super creative, a fast thinker, problem solver, risk taker, and an out of the box dreamer. When something lights us up, ADHD’ers can achieve hyper-focus and accomplish just about anything. It’s common for many with ADHD to believe they can be or do anything because they’ve tasted that hyper-focus and know how incredibly productive it can be. 

I personally feel as though I can accomplish anything, from minor plumbing and electrical to construction, sewing, cooking, education or career. Last summer I was considering getting my ducks in order to go to med school (herbalist + GP?!! Amazing)! But, expect me to tidy my house every day  and my mind melts while anxiety flairs. 

So, back to it. Focus! What can we do if we suspect or are diagnosed with ADHD?

There are some main pillars to be aware of and ones I strongly suggest we all work on regardless of diagnosis, medication or health status. 

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Nutrition. Eating a well balanced small meal/snack every 3-4hrs (for women especially) including an easily digestible carb (think veg, not bread), fat and protein. Especially for those on ADHD meds which can suppress appetite. A great idea here is having several snacks made ahead of time including hearty salads that are easy to dip into, pressure cooked beans, roasted or raw veggies etc. Check out Cait Mizzi https://www.instagram.com/caitmizzi/ or Kymber Malden https://www.kymbermaulden.com/ for great ideas on metabolic eating (eating for our bodies metabolic needs and avoiding big spikes and crashes).

Sleep. We’re often prioritizing exercise or meditation OVER sleep needs and that’s not a healthy approach. As one of my friends pointed out to me, “you’re not struggling with getting up early, you’re struggling with going to bed at the correct time”. Our glymphatic system (the lymphatic drainage system in our brain) does it’s best work while we sleep, so if we want all that plaque buildup and toxins that have crossed the blood brain barrier to be flushed out, we need a good, deep sleep. If we don’t get a good 7hrs sleep, our cognitive function and emotional resilience falters severally. Check out Jessica White Sleep Solutions or Catherine Wright of RECOOP Care for some great tips, free workshops and one on one consultations on sleep strategies (for all ages). 

Nervous System repair is crucial for ADHD. Well, it’s huge for everyone really but it’s been found that when the nervous system is overwhelmed and in a sympathetic state (fight/flight/freeze/fawn), logical reasoning goes out the window in what is termed as amygdala highjacking. Aside from the loss of logical reasoning and emotional intelligence being thwarted, being in a sympathetic state can overwhelm the senses and lead to a much higher rate of distractibility. On top of that, it contributes to difficulty in sleeping and making rational choices in terms of nutrition (see above!!). So, taking several small moments to calm the nervous system throughout the day can add up to a big difference. Try 4-5 deep breaths before eating to engage proper digestion, spending time in nature, exercise, working on changing your perspective of stress are great options. I reference the perspective piece here because stress is NOT avoidable. Many studies have shown that ‘happy’ and ‘successful’ people do not experience any less stress, they simply interpret stress differently, viewing it as the discomfort that comes with expansion, or as thrilling, or as a sign to do some deep journaling, rather than seeing is a BAD or NEGATIVE. 

Exercise. It’s been shown that regular exercise highly improves the cognitive function of those with ADHD for several hours. All those wonderful chemicals released into the body through movement help to light up that frontal cortex. If you have a busy day or are going into a meeting or a long day of work, try exercising for even 20 min first. The effects last 2-4hrs so this may mean doing some jumping jacks mid-day as well or just planning your exercise around your focus-driven work. Do this exercise in nature for a double whammy. 

Nature Exposure. Studies have shown that being in nature and breathing in all that fresh air and those healthy, stimulating microbes help to light up the brain and greatly improve the focus of those with ADHD. This combines movement with nervous system repair and has the added bonus of strengthening immune health. Gardening, or spending time in the dirt where mycorrhizal fungus and healthy bacteria live and where we can breathe it into our lungs, significantly improves mood and cognitive function. Sue Stuart-Smith, in her book A Well Gardened Mind digs (hehe) into this phenomenon and its use in therapy. 

Toxin Reduction + Lymphatic Drainage. Our bodies are constantly flushing toxins, no matter how healthy our lifestyle. We can make choices that ease that load though and free our bodies of excess garbage. When our bodies are over-run with toxins, our digestion isn’t able to properly break down and absorb nutrients (even all those expensive and home made organic meals) and our lymphatic system can get clogged up!! Many of the toxins in our food, cleaning and beauty products, new vehicles, fabric furniture, new houses and old ones with hidden mold, accumulate in the system and many can cross the blood brain barrier. These toxin loads can greatly impact cognitive function. As Zack Bush says, a ‘leaky gut’ also means a ‘leaky brain’, meaning that if we’ve destroyed our gut lining with glyphosate (found in most processed foods) and other toxins, we’ve likely done the same to our brain. Even our new C-vid Vaccines’ lipid nano particles (tiny fat particles carrying the RNA) have been found to cross the blood-brain barrier (not stay local as promised) and are gathering in the brain, lymph and ovaries/testicals without full understanding of long term effects. Lowering our toxin load and assisting our bodies in the flushing of toxins with the aid of gentle massage, exercise, herbs and hot/cold water therapy can greatly aid our cognitive function and prevent a worsening of symptoms. 

Herbs for ADHD mostly focus on the calming of the nervous system, whether there is hyperactive tendency or not. Nervines (herbs that tone the nervous system) and adaptogens (herbs that expand our stress tolerance) are best used regularly and include herbs like California poppy, Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Oats, Skullcap, Rhodiola, Tulsi, Valerian, Red Clover, Ashwaganda, Roseroot, Ginseng and more. Mild brain stimulants include peppermint, Rhodiola, Bacopa, Gotu kola and Maca. 

Micro-dosing Psilocybin. Some theorize that ADHD symptoms are caused by dysfunctional neural transmissions that could be addressed with psychedelic medicines to offer a potentially more effective and safer solution than treatment with common pharmaceutical stimulants.” ~ Psychable.com. Psilocybin, found in ‘magic mushrooms’ has the ability to build new neuro pathways and light up parts of the brain including the frontal lobe (often under-active in those with ADHD). Micro-dosing is the practice of taking 1/10 to 1/20 an active (hallucinatory) dose, once every 2-3 days to enhance cognitive function without getting ‘high’. With regular use, these new neuro pathways become stronger and more easily accessible with or without psilocybin. 

Emotional freedom technique (EFT) is an alternative treatment for physical and emotional distress. Also known as tapping or psychological accupressure, this technique can be wonderful for helping to ease anxiety and fear, and for setting intentions for the day or for the task at hand. It's a gentle and easy strategy one can use anywhere, at any time. 

Medication. For the great majority of people, psycho-stimulants like Ritalin, Adderall, or Vyvanseis can be extremely helpful. Medication often takes effect in 20-40min and runs its course in 6-12hrs. There are side effects including loss of appetite (which can lead to more difficulty in achieving focus) and increased blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar. There can also be tolerance built and an increase in dosage needed if taken long term. While these medications are used daily in most cases, they are also used selectively by some who prefer to use them only on days where focus is especially needed, thus limiting side effects and cost of meds (about $150/month without insurance). But, relying on the medication alone while not addressing the other issues above can sill leave people mildly distracted. Meds do not work for roughly 35% of people who try them, in which case following the above suggestions and looking into other tools can be a great alternative. 

 

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Favourite Products 

 

Our Brain Tonic Tea is loaded with nervous system supporting herbs and mild cognitive stimulants for a tasty, soothing boost of calm focus. 

Deep Sleep Tincture is our most popular product and for good reason. This internal support is taken by the drop and is used to aid in falling asleep, staying asleep and falling back to sleep after waking. 

Dream Seer Body Oil is a wonderful, whole plant infused, external sleep support made with fresh lavender, mugwort and magnesium flakes. 

Our Body Brush is ideal not just for stimulating blood circulation and improving skin health, but for calming the nervous system and engaging in a mindful meditative practice while stimulating lymphatic flow. 

deep sleep elixir tincture

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I’ve personally been experimenting with micro-dosing along with cold water therapy, EFT tapping and several organizational tools for my own ADHD symptoms. For more information on these tools and other strategies, keep your eye out for our ADHD Resources Guide coming soon!

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