Have you ever struggled with staying focused on a problem or a task you are trying to solve? Where you want to accomplish a task, but get distracted by little things that don’t matter at all? Have you ever started watching the news and get pulled in by some scary or tragic sounding story? If so, this could be your norepinephrine at work.
Norepinephrine is a chemical in the body that naturally acts as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. It has played an important role in the evolution of humans, specifically due to the way we respond during a stressful event.
For instance, our ancestors lived in the wild with little to no light after dark and fear of predators attacking. If and when they were attacked, norepinephrine would kick in and help them become hyper-focused and respond rapidly to the threat.
According to Cathy Cassata in her article What is Norepinephrine, “norepinephrine increases alertness and arousal, and speeds reaction time.” These seem like important evolutionary traits, especially when you are trying to figure out if it is the wind moving that bush or a lion about to eat you.
However, in today’s world, we typically don’t have to worry about a lion trying to eat you in the middle of the night. Unless you have a cat like me who enjoys nibbling on your nose at 3 in the morning.
The question now becomes, how does norepinephrine impact us today?
Norepinephrine plays a pivotal role in those suffering from depression, ADHD, and low blood pressure. In the case of depression, norepinephrine tends to be at a lower than normal level resulting in down moods and decreased focus.
Interestingly, norepinephrine is becoming the subject of more direct research in its role in depression. For instance, one study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment concluded, “NE plays a determinant role in executive functioning regulating cognition, motivation, and intellect, which are fundamental in social relationships.”
This is likely why so many pharmaceuticals target norepinephrine. Prescription drugs such as Adderall and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) specifically target “feel-good” hormones. They boost hormones such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine — all of which play an important in keeping you motivated, focused, and rewarded.
Anyone who suffers from depression, or even seasonal depression, knows what it is like to be feeling down. These drugs help to balance you and in some cases are the difference between getting out of bed or laying there all day. However, many of these can and do have negative side effects.
Not to worry, there are plenty of natural ways to help boost your norepinephrine that we will explore in a moment.
News Organizations Use it Against Us
Have you ever noticed at the beginning of a news cycle they tell you about a terror attack or a disease that is spreading? They always seem to tell you just enough and then end with a “stay tuned to find out.”
Well, they do this on purpose to grab our attention. They are specifically attacking our norepinephrine by feeding us a stressful event to make us focus on what they are saying. Journalism even has a saying that goes “if it bleeds, it leads.”
How do you combat this vicious cycle?
I am beyond guilty of falling into the news cycle trap. The one where you watch over and over so you can go to friends, coworkers, and family to discuss all the scary stuff going on in the world. If you want to regain your focus, improve your mood, and feel more productive you need to break the cycle.
One thing I have done is completely stop watching the news. Deborah Serani Psy.D., a licensed psychologist, suggests in Psychology Today is to “Consider choosing print media for your information gathering rather than visual media. This can reduce the likelihood that you get exposed to emotionally laden material.”
The idea is to reduce the amount of stimulation you receive. By reading from a paper you still receive the information needed, but your visual and hearing senses are not being simultaneously stimulated.
This suggests that our mind may benefit from taking a break from live news.
Naturally Increase Your Norepinephrine
We have discussed how some people, such as those suffering from depression, need to boost their norepinephrine and how the news uses it against us. However, norepinephrine is an important hormone that can help us react better during a stressful event or help stabilize our minds.
Therefore, we should find ways to increase it, but positively. The only question that remains is, how do we do so? Physical activity and nutrition are the easiest ways to help our body and mind. The best part is they are completely natural with no side effects — with the exception of some sore muscles.
Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health. It can boost norepinephrine, enhance learning and memory — BDNF plays a major factor in learning and memory. Physical activity is well known in its ability to stimulate the “feel-good” chemicals in our brains such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
One study published in Brain Sciences showed that “the levels of [norepinephrine] in brain regions that are linked to cognitive function, including the hippocampus and central and medial amygdala, are elevated by chronic treadmill exercise.” In layman’s terms, norepinephrine our ability to think and process information.
When it comes to nutrition always remember what is good for the body is good for the brain. The food we eat will ultimately impact our physical ability as well as the ability of our mind. Certain foods are higher in a specific amino acid called tyrosine, which is necessary for the production of norepinephrine.
Some of these foods include almonds, bananas, avocados, and protein, according to Kristin Dorman in Natural Ways to Raise Norepinephrine. Dorman also goes on to mention to always avoid overeating as this may have the opposite effect on norepinephrine production.
We all want to feel better, be more focused, and accomplish our goals. Norepinephrine is proven to not just elevate your mood, but to increase your focus. To have the ability to hone in on a task and accomplish more, our body has to have the proper hormone balance. Personally, I believe the best way to do so is with proper nutrition and regular physical activity.