Serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’ is a neurotransmitter predominantly created in our digestive tract. It’s known to influence our mood, memory, sleeping habits, appetite, cravings, pain senses, digestion, blood vessel tone and even our body temperature regulation.
While Dopamine is responsible for that instant gratification feeling, Serotonin is all about delayed gratification for larger rewards. It helps us to hold out for better things, persevere and be patient. Low amounts of serotonin have been linked to depression and other mental health issues.
When our levels drop we start to feel irritable, impatient, uncontrollable in our impulses and have difficulty concentrating. Decreased serotonin could mean a number of things: either our brain is just creating less of it, we have fewer receptors or the receptors that exist aren’t sustaining it very well, or even that it is being broken down too soon for its effects to take place properly.
We don’t need to pump big pharmaceutical pills into our bodies to take care of this, unless it’s a complicated case. There are tons of accounts of people increasing their serotonin levels through organic therapies and even just simple exercises.
Here are some ways to boost Serotonin in your body naturally…
Eat a Serotonin-Friendly Diet
This neurotrasmitter is synthesized from an amino acid known as Tryptophan. Although you can get dietary supplements of this, it is better to take foods that are rich in Tryptophan like chocolate, oats, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, fish like wild salmon, mackerel and tuna. Vegans can try dried dates, chickpeas, almonds, peanuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, spirulina, avacado, olives and bananas.
Grain-like seeds like amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa also do the trick. They are high protein carbohydrates (although it is recommended to stick to a lower carb intake and get them from the right source) and are also rich in B Vitamins essential for mental health and to keep our neurotransmitters functioning seamlessly.
You can also include fermented foods and drinks in your diet. They promote digestive health and enhance nutrients in our food including B Vitamins.
As Good as they Feel, Avoid Stimulants
“An over-indulgence of anything, even something as pure as water, can intoxicate.” ~ Criss Jami
Usually when you’re low on Serotonin, your body will try and make up for it by sending intense sugar cravings to the brain. Sugar helps in the production of insulin which helps Tryptophan to get to the brain. However we know that too much insulin can make your body resistant to it and create diabetes, hypoglycemia and addiction. To satisfy sugar cravings try Stevia leaf or Lakanto and avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs.
Caffeine is an antioxidant and a activity booster with an array of benefits. However, when taken with excessive sugar or in excess by itself, can be detrimental. Soon after its rush wears off, it gives us that quick coffee crash that leads to fatigue and dependency.
Exercise for Every Aspect of Your Well-Being
Practice yoga, tai chi, qigong or aerobic exercises like running, cycling or dancing. Even 20 minutes of any of these daily will send jumpstart your neuro-chemicals with joy. An interesting fact to think about is that there’s been a noticeable change in effect when people exercise from a sense of free will and optimism as opposed to a robotic, routine activity.
Basically, when you work out because you want to be healthy, and feel good, then your neuro-chemical reactions will reflect that.Do not work out for the wrong reasons like to achieve some unrealistic body-standard and then burn yourself out, as that will have an adverse effect.
Recognize that the point is to feel healthier not just with your physical state but mentally and emotionally as well. I’d also advise doing meditation, even if its 4 times a week. This can even include walking meditations, sound or guided meditations and anything that helps you disconnect and let go of stress.
It will allow your natural state of bliss to sync with this body that you inhabit.
For any of our neurotransmitters to function, in fact for us to operate well in any aspect, we need sunlight. Vitamin D is part of what makes our life force energy. The best time to get optimum amount of sun exposure is from 11am to 3 pm for a minimum of 10 minutes. The sun’s UV light gets absorbed by our skin and then converted to vitamin D. So take walks, exercise, swim outdoors or just sunbathe.
Bright light in general also increases serotonin activity, however man-made light pales in comparison to natural light and cannot fulfill the bodies requirements completely. Avoid staring at blaring LED screens in the night as that actually prohibits the conversion of serotonin into melatonin which is required for peaceful sleep.
This is intricately linked to our bodies (and every other creature on Earth) circadian rhythm that is in tune with sunrise and sunset, which means having a proper sleep cycle is also necessary. Milk is also packed with Vitamin D so if you can’t get enough sun make sure you drink a glass of milk daily!
Get a Massage
In a recent study conducted by Touch Research Institute concluded that massages increase serotonin by roughly 28% and decrease Cortisol (the stress hormone) by 31%. One of the studies was done on pregnant women suffering from depression.
The partners of the women were instructed to give them massages twice a week for 4 months and by the end of it, their levels had increased by 30%! Another study was on babies of depressed mothers.
The infants who were about 1-3 months old were massaged twice a week for 15 minutes for 6 weeks, and their levels shot upto 34%. Massage therapy also helps facilitating deep sleep, relaxation and is a great mood enhancer.
Heal your heart
Perhaps, this is the most important of all. Changing your lifestyle and your environment will help you to an extent, but to make lasting change, we must transform our internal environment. It will in turn, manifest in our external environment. Learning to forgive, value and love ourselves are much needed tools to propel us forward, evolve and grow through the toughest challenges we face.
Mantras and positive affirmations help to bring a sense of peace back into our lives. Having a sense of community solidarity, a supportive friend circle or family is also important in this journey. Remember how in times of trouble just being around a close friend or confiding in a family member washes away your stress.
Gratitude as well as remembering all the love and good times you’ve had in your life as a practice also helps free us from our pain spirals.
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