For all the attention paid to pharmaceutical options, we have access to more drugs in our brain than any drug company could ever make. Learning how to activate those natural chemicals is helpful in living a happy life.
There are four primary chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain that affect happiness: serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. Today we’ll focus on the significant role that serotonin plays in your mood and overall well-being.
Serotonin is the same chemical that is used in many antidepressant prescription drugs. As a an important neurotransmitter, it acts as a chemical messenger that is involved in many processes throughout your body.
It is known for promoting a positive or happy mood, and good sleep. Serotonin also helps regulate appetite, enhances learning and improves your memory. If you have low serotonin, you might feel anxious, depressed, irritable, fatigued, or have trouble sleeping.
There are a few things you can try on your own to boost your serotonin level. (Note that this information does not intend or imply to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please always consult your health care provider as needed.)
The foods you eat can help create serotonin
You can’t directly get serotonin from food, but you can make serotonin from tryptophan, which is an amino acid in primarily in high-protein foods like turkey and salmon. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin in your brain.
Research suggests that eating carbohydrates along with foods that are high in tryptophan may help more tryptophan make it across the blood brain barrier, the protective covering around your brain that controls what goes in and out of your brain. As an example, you could have whole-wheat bread with turkey or salmon, along with brown rice or your favorite crackers. Aerobic exercise also triggers the release of tryptophan into your blood, which makes it easier for tryptophan to reach your brain.
Serotonin tends to be lower after winter and higher in summer due to less sunlight in the more northern parts of the world. Many people suffer with depression issues associated with seasonal affective disorder due to the lack of sunlight and vitamin D.
Spending time in the sun helps increase serotonin levels
Have you ever noticed that you are not quite as happy and upbeat when there are lots of cloudy days in a row? If so, you probably suffer from the lack of sunlight and lower serotonin levels. I always feel better when the sun is shining, even if the temperature is below zero and I don’t exercise outside. I make sure I am sitting near the window where the sun is shining in.
If you live in a rainy climate, have a hard time getting outside, or are at high risk for skin cancer, you can still increase serotonin with bright light exposure from a light therapy box. There are several types of light boxes available find online to simulate the effects of the sun.
Some dietary supplements may help jumpstart the production and release of serotonin by increasing tryptophan. Use caution when trying these supplements, especially if you already take medication that increases serotonin. This includes several types of antidepressants. Too much serotonin may cause serotonin syndrome, a serious condition that can be life-threatening without treatment. Check in with your healthcare provider before trying any new supplement.
Massage therapy and listening to music also helps increase serotonin. Massage also helps to decrease cortisol, the stress hormone.
You can even use your imagination to produce more serotonin. The brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined. Thinking about something that makes you feel good can help increase serotonin in your brain, which in turn can help promote an improved mood in general. A positive change in your mood can actually increase serotonin production! Try visualizing a happy moment from your memory, thinking about a positive experience you had with a loved one, a wonderful vacation, or being at the beach.
Your action step is to see how you can increase your serotonin levels naturally through your daily activities. Remember to consult your medical provider before trying any supplements.
Bonnie Groessl is a best-selling author, podcast host, holistic nurse practitioner and success coach. Her mission is to educate, empower and facilitate your well-being while nurturing the mind-body-spirit connection. You can find links to her books, guided meditation audios, blog and podcast at www.bonniegroessl.com