The ideal mental state is “relaxed alertness.”
This is characterized by being fully aware and focused, yet with an effortlessly calm mind.
This state is achieved when alpha waves are dominant in your brain.
Human beings only have 2 mental states while we are awake — alpha and beta.
We spend most of our lives in the beta state, as we rush through the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Beta is when our minds are moving fast, checking things off our to-do list, and bouncing from one thing to the next. While people can be productive in this state, the rapid mental activity in beta mode has been linked to depression and anxiety. When your mind is racing and you can’t seem to get out of a negative pattern of thinking, that’s when beta waves are taking over. You likely know the feeling.
Alpha, on the other hand, is characterized by being clear-headed, present, and fully in the moment. Alpha waves create a sense of peace and well-being in your mind and body. When people are in this state, they seem to exude charisma as their mind focuses only on the here and now. This is also the state when athletes and other performers are at their best — also known as being “in the zone” or the “flow state.” Unsurprisingly, alpha brain waves have been shown to boost creativity and resilience to stress, and reduce anxiety and depression. When your mind is free, peak performance and enjoyment is naturally achieved.
While spending some time in the beta state is unavoidable, we don’t want to spend too much of our lives in overdrive. Life is more pleasurable in the alpha state.
So how do we achieve this feeling of calm focus?
One way to do it is through long-term meditation practice. Expert meditators with thousands of hours of practice regularly achieve the alpha state in their daily lives. It is certainly recommended to begin and stick with a meditation practice (I am a particular fan of the Waking Up app from Sam Harris) — in the early going, you will generate alpha waves specifically during your meditation time, and gradually you’ll notice that relaxed mental state creep into more of your day.
Meditation is a worthy long-term endeavor, but for this article I am more interested in quick-fix ways to enter the alpha state. When we are anxious and stressed, we don’t want to wait years for mental clarity.
Instead, here are some shortcuts:
Perhaps the most fast-acting way into the alpha state is by drinking tea. Specifically, you need to drink black, green, or white tea, all of which naturally contain a substance called Theanine. Drinking just two cups of green tea (thanks to the Theanine) significantly generates alpha brain waves and moves you into a state of relaxed alertness. Daily tea consumption is also linked to living a significantly longer life, reduced cancer risk, and enhanced brain and liver function. Drinking tea should be a part of your daily regimen.
There is reason to believe Theanine supplements can create the same alpha effects as actually drinking the tea. I always prefer consuming a product in its natural state, but Theanine supplements seem to be effective and generally safe to consume. I have been trying these Theanine gummies recently and have noticed a calming effect after about 30–40 minutes.
Alpha waves are created by doing aerobic exercise. Personally, I have found that a 30-minute morning run clears and relaxes my mind for the full day ahead. This is the best tool I can personally vouch for to get into the alpha state. Yoga has also been proven to significantly increase alpha brain waves.
Relaxing in a peaceful setting for about 90 minutes has been shown to activate alpha brain waves (this time frame will be shortened for experienced meditators). If you can spend that time outside in nature, the effects can be even more profound.
When you feel relaxed while drinking alcohol, you are feeling the effects of alpha brain waves. One glass of wine can be helpful to slow down your racing mind — but stop yourself at one drink, otherwise your overactive mind will come roaring back once the buzz wears off.
There you have several fast-acting tools to quickly get into the alpha brain wave state.
Please let me know in the comments section about other effective tips and tactics that work to calm and free your mind.
Here’s to all of us spending more time in the alpha state of relaxed alertness.
Andrew Merle writes about living well, including good habits for health, happiness, productivity, and success. Subscribe to his email list at andrewmerle.com.