We talk a lot about exercise both mental and physical here at the human animal, both as ways of improving your focus and quality of life. While taking great care of your body and mind should be the basis of any quest for personal growth, there are times when everyone needs that extra kick. After all, we are nothing but a collection of complex chemical reactions, and it makes sense to learn how to manipulate those chemicals from time to time. Humans have been using outside influences since the dawn of the species in order to alter their consciousness. The reasons have always varied, but while drugs are often frowned on in our society, there are plenty of substances which (contrary to popular belief) represent an overall net gain towards quality of life.
Some of them come with caveats and warnings, and others should be used only sparingly, but what follows is a list of my personal experiences with a few substances that I find make my life better overall.
I place this at the top of the list because it is one thing that literally changed my life. I used to be an insomniac, and like a lot of insomniacs I spent the wee hours of the morning wasting time browsing websites, flipping channels, and eating those midnight instant noodles that destroy one’s waistline. Going to bed early and rising early is one of the foundations of a successful, healthy life, and doing so will do wonders for your stress levels and ability to concentrate on difficult tasks, not to mention your mood. Try breaking a 3mg pill in half to get started, about an hour after the sun goes down. Use it in conjunction with a piece of software called Flux (https://justgetflux.com/) for even better results if you find yourself glued to your computer screen in the evenings.
Memory is precious- both for fondly recalling that trip to England and being able to conjure up the name of your boss’s three children. The older I get, the more I find that I don’t have such easy access to all the information I once did. That certain scatter-brained-ness is a plague on the things you want to accomplish, and may often make rather mundane tasks far more complicated than they need be (did I lock the door this morning? I think I did? But did I? Better spend my lunch break making sure). For you, I recommend a bit of Bacopa, which is an herb that I can personally attest has a huge benefit to memory when taken regularly for a month or more.
Feeling blue and lethargic? Look no further than this adaptogen of Siberian origin. This herb has a long history of human use and is said to stabilize mood and provide energy. For my part I can say that it does what it claims and then some. I like to take it in the morning when I have a long day of stress and or physical work in front of me. It really helps to give you a little pep and makes hard work a little more manageable. I would recommend skipping your morning coffee with this one, as it has a moderate stimulant kick. Some sources also advise that since it has some MOA inhibiting properties, you may want to read up on exactly what that means and the possible changes in diet you should make while supplementing. (www.examine.com) is my favorite site for this kind of research.
- Caffeine + L-theanine
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that has relaxing properties. When you take it with caffeine it eliminates a lot of the jittery side effects and gives you a sense of clean focus. I swear by the stuff, and take a caffeine + theanine pill every morning instead of my morning coffee. While I do love coffee, I tend to get a bit on the anxious side and have even had pretty bad panic attacks on 3+ cups of the stuff, not to mention the accompanying stomach burning that goes along with over indulging in too many cups of Joe. With the pill I’m stimulated but the anxiety isn’t there. This is one of the safest and most benign substances on the list (be careful about your caffeine dosage however), so there is no reason not to try it out.
- Kratom (with extreme care only)
I was very conflicted about whether or not to include Kratom on the list. On the one hand, it is absolutely one of my favorite ways to unwind and get a modest “buzz”. On the other hand, it has addictive properties, so if you are prone to those kind of things be very careful. Kratom is actually used by opiate addicts to stave off serious withdrawal symptoms, because it does bind to some of the same brain receptors. On the other hand, it isn’t really inebriating like an opiate— one can function just fine and still have that slight sense of euphoria for a couple of hours. If used responsibly, Kratom is a fantastic tool to improve your life. Just be careful— just like that insanely hot girlfriend you had, she can turn on you in an instant and seriously fuck up your life once you start depending on her.
- The Racetams
The racetams are the truest “nootropics” on the list. If you aren’t familiar with the term, think smart drugs without the speedy amphetamine connotations. Racetams are mild substances for the most part, originally created in Russia to combat dementia in the elderly.
My two favorite are Aniracetam and Noopept, the latter of which doesn’t fit the category perfectly (but I’m lumping it in for simplicity sake).
Aniracetam I like for creativity and introspection. It tends to make me think more deeply about things and helps me step back and look at the bigger picture.
On the other hand, noopept is more of a ‘nose to the grindstone’ kind of focused feeling. It is great for getting things done, but not so good for socializing or artistic endeavors.
Each one of these tends to work best when combined with two or three eggs in your diet every day, as eggs provide a rich source of choline thought to synergize with the racetams.
I’ve only recently added this wonderful herb to my rotation, but it has definitely been somewhat of a game changer for me. It is one of the best natural relaxants I have encountered, and about 1000mg in the evening with a glass of wine and a hot bath is about as chilled out as a person can get. It is also thought to boost testosterone and help with concentration. I definitely find it enhances my motivation and ability to concentrate, if only because the swirling anxiety and worry of normal life completely departs for a time when partaking in this Ayurvedic medicine.
It may sound ridiculous that a self-improvement blog would actually suggest that you drink in order to improve your life. And yet here we are.
I am a firm believer that alcohol has a sweet spot, somewhere between a food and a drug, where it is an absolutely fantastic substance for stress relief, general frivolity, and even for cognition. That’s right, a glass of wine or two might not actually make you smarter, but if you are like me at all, it probably helps you get out of your own way.
- Fish Oil
Fish oil has all kind of beneficial properties. I’m not the type of person you want explaining the science behind the benefits, but personally I can feel a significant stabilization of mood when I supplement fish oil for a week or more. It is a great foundation from which to build you daily “stack” of supplements on.
- Valerian Root
Another in the group of sleep aid/ anti-anxiety supplements I sometimes rotate through. You have noticed a theme by now (I struggle with stress and anxiety). Since discovering ashwagandha I don’t really use valerian as often, and it has a very pungent and some would say disgusting smell, but it definitely does what it promises when it comes to relaxation and unwinding. I would recommend it as a good place to start if you are finding yourself lying in bed at night swimming in worries.
Use common sense with the things listed above, and they can become a sort of toolbox with which to tweak your mood in ways that are productive without being habit forming or dangerous in the least. Not everyone will agree that outside influences are a good thing for one’s life and quest for self-improvement, but life would certainly be a lot harder for me personally without having these medicines on my shelf.