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Spring Musings - Stress & Brain Support during the HSC Year

Hello lovely!

As the final HSC exams near, and I find myself at the pointier end of this academic journey, my thoughts have turned to putting together a newsletter all about brain health and stress management. Some of you may also have children doing their HSC, or you may have children on either side, perhaps at uni or in their later high school years. Some of you may be studying yourselves or struggling with the demands of a high stress job and brain fog. Either way I hope that some of these beautiful supportive herbs, nutrients or lifestyle tips are helpful to you.

Brain Health & Stress Support

Eat three meals a day plus snacks

A simple plate that includes a serve of protein, some healthy fat and complex carbohydrates is very important in maintaining energy and cognitive function. Without a good breakfast to begin your day, blood sugars dip and inattention and brain fog sets in. So make sure to have a protein rich breakfast before heading to school or work for the day. Ensuring adequate protein in meals is essential for cognitive function as many amino acids are building blocks for neurotransmitters including tryptophan, glutamine, arginine and tyrosine.

Drink 2 - 3L water each day

Adequate hydration is essential for healthy cognitive function, learning and memory. Make sure to take a large reusable non-plastic water bottle to school or work to keep on top of your water intake throughout the day to avoid fatigue and brain fog. Add thin slices of orange, lemon, cucumber or a few sprigs or rosemary or mint to your water if you need a bit of variety.

Get enough sleep!

Adequate sleep is central to good cognitive function and stress management. Consistent poor sleep affects attention, working memory and retention, executive functioning and anxiety levels. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night, with a consistent sleeping and waking time, will set you up well for work and school days. And for those of you who may have children studying for the HSC or for exams later in the year - it may seem that pulling an all-nighter in order to cram as much information is going to help but studies consistently show that despite the extra time spent studying, exam performance suffers. Once bedtime comes around, put down the textbook and prioritise getting a good night's sleep so that your brain can be rested and in the best shape possible to tackle the exam.

Get out into the sunshine & remember to take breaks

Getting out into the beautiful sunshine improves mood by increasing the release of serotonin, it also reduces morning melatonin levels and regulates the circadian rhythm so reducing morning grogginess. Sunlight also increases vitamin D levels in the body which is important for a healthy immune system, bone health and nerve function. And remember to take time out especially during stressful times when big projects are due or in the lead up to exams. No matter how unproductive it may feel, it is so important to schedule in some relaxation time so that your mind and body can have a break. Scrolling through social media unfortunately does not count! Information overload from scrolling can further scatter and fatigue the mind making focusing on tasks, or sleep, even more difficult.

Herbal Medicine Support

Oats (Avena sativa)

Oats are antidepressant, nutritive, trophorestorative and a soothing nervine tonic that nourishes and rebuilds the nervous system when stress has been ongoing and is taking a toll on the body. Oats will also lift a low mood and soothe stress and anxiety. They are considered a nutritive herb as they are full of vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, B complex, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, silicon, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, manganese and zinc. Oats can very easily be added to the diet as porridge with stewed fruit and nuts, into smoothies or as homemade muesli or slices.

Ginkgo (Gingko biloba)

Ginkgo is a potent antioxidant, vasodilator, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic. It is a well studied medicinal herb with a long tradition of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Ginkgo improves cognitive function by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the extremities including the brain. Clinical trails have shown that it reduces anxiety, reduces hearing loss, reduces short term memory loss and improves mental performance, visual processing and cognition. It can be a valuable part of the toolkit for helping to support ongoing brain health, improving study outcomes and reducing anxious or depressive mood.

Bacopa/Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri)

Bacopa has been used within the Ayurvedic traditional medicine system for rejuvenating the memory and intellect for over 3000 years. Bacopa is a brain and nervine tonic, nootropic or cognition enhancing, antioxidant, adaptogenic and anxiolytic. Bacopa has been extensively clinically trailed and found to be helpful in improving cognitive function, poor memory and concentration and poor learning ability as well as for improving anxiety and mental exhaustion. Taken consistently under the supervision of a herbalist, and often alongside Ginkgo, this medicinal herb is a very valuable ally during periods of intense work or study commitments

Withania (Withania somnifera)

Withania, or Ashwaghanda, is an adaptogenic medicinal plant that comes from the Ayurvedic tradition. It is also an anxiolytic, nervine tonic, nervine sedative and immunomodulator. Adaptogens are helpful for improving the body's adaption to all stressors - physical, mental, emotional and environmental. It gently bolsters a person who is overwhelmed and fatigued by stress, it calms and tonifies the nervous system and reduces anxiety. Long periods of high stress can also deplete the immune system and leave the body vulnerable to infection, so as an immunomodulator, Withania will help to improve resistance to disease as well as support convalescence after a long illness.

Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)

Known as a symbol of remembrance, rosemary is nootropic or cognition enhancing, carminative, sedative, anti-microbial, circulatory stimulant and analgesic. It is helpful for headaches and migraines, for improving memory and concentration, for reducing anxiety, debility and depression. Clinical trials show that inhalation of the essential oil of Rosemary improves mental alertness, memory and performance, improves mood and reduces anxiety so can be incredibly supportive for during exams or when big work projects are due.


Nutritional & Supplemental Support

B Vitamins

The B group vitamins include B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 and B12 and are central to nourishing the nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety and helping to lift the mood. The B vitamins are essential cofactors for the formation of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, as well as being coenzymes in the production of cellular energy in the body. Increasing the intake of these vitamins on a daily basis through diet, or a simple supplement, can support those with high stress levels and difficult work or study loads.


Magnesium really is a wonder nutrient and plays innumerable roles in the body including energy production, adrenal support, nervous system regulation and muscle relaxation. It also regulates the release of the sleep hormone melatonin so improving sleep, and can be used to reduce stress or anxiety and relieve muscle tension and headaches. Food sources of magnesium include legumes, nuts and seeds, wholegrains, leafy green vegetables, avocado, shellfish and dark chocolate.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are used by the body to regulate inflammation, in the formation of healthy flexible cell membranes and as an essential structural component of the brain and central nervous system which is why getting enough omega-3 in the diet is vital for for memory, learning and overall cognitive function. Omega-3 fatty acids are also involved in the neurotransmission of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline so impacting mood, learning, focus, attention and impulsivity. So eat plenty of small and large fatty fish such as sardines, herring, mackerel, tuna and salmon to reap the mood regulating and cognitive benefits of omega-3.


Peanut Butter Brekky Smoothie

A breakfast rich with protein will help to keep you satisfied for longer and help to avoid that mid-morning slump. The yummy smoothie is packed full of protein, fats and carbohydrates to keep you going and going and going!

1 cup almond, oat or hemp milk

1 scoop collagen powder or sprouted pea protein

1 dollop Greek yoghurt or coconut kefir

1 tbsp organic peanut butter

1 tbsp rolled organic oats

1 tbsp chia seeds

1 banana

A pinch of salt

A drizzle or raw organic honey

First blitz the organic rolled oats in the blender until powdered, then add the rest of the ingredients. Add extra water or milk to adjust the texture to your liking. Top with some seeds for extra crunch and enjoy!

And remember that my door is always open.

Take gentle care.


Kerri x

References: Bone, K. (1996). Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic & Chinese Herbs: Monographs for the Western Herbal Practitioner. Phytotherapy Press Bone, K. & Mills, S. (2013). Principles and practice of Phytotherapy (2nd ed.). Elsevier.Braun, L., & Cohen, M. (2014). Herbs and Natural Supplements (4th ed., Vol. 2). Elsevier.

Cuciureanu, M. D., & Vink, R. (2011). Magnesium and stress. In R. Vink & M. Nechifor (Eds.), Magnesium in the Central Nervous System. University of Adelaide Press. Dalangin, R., Kim, A., & Campbell, R. E. (2020). The role of amino acids in neurotransmission and fluorescent tools for their detection. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(17), 6197. Fisher, C. (2009). Materia Medica of Western Herbs. Vitex Medica Krause, A. J., Simon, E. B., Mander, B. A., Greer, S. M., Saletin, J. M., Goldstein-Piekarski, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2017). The sleep-deprived human brain. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 18(7), 404–418. Osiecki, H. (2010). The Nutrient Bible (9th ed.). BioConcepts Publishing. Paxton, F. (2015). Foundations of Naturopathic Nutrition. Allen & Unwin. Thomsen, M. (2020). Phytotherapy Desk Reference (5th ed.). Michael Thomsen. Young, L. M., Pipingas, A., White, D. J., Gauci, S., & Scholey, A. (2019). A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of B Vitamin Supplementation on Depressive Symptoms, Anxiety, and Stress: Effects on Healthy and 'At-Risk' Individuals. Nutrients, 11(9), 2232.


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