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Understanding Serotonin and Mood: How to Boost Yours Naturally

Serotonin and Mood: How to Boost Yours Naturally

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Looking to improve your mood but not sure where to start? Understanding more about how the neurotransmitter serotonin impacts the way we feel is an important step towards cultivating a more positive outlook.

Feeling out of sorts but not quite sure why? There is a myriad of factors that contribute to our overall mood. Our feelings about our environment and lifestyle, past experiences and trauma impacts, genetics and family history, and individual biology all play roles in how we perceive and react to our surroundings.

The neurotransmitter serotonin has long been thought to be an important component in our mood. Understanding the role of serotonin, how it impacts the way we feel, and how we can influence this naturally can help us better regulate our moods.

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical produced by nerve cells that delivers important messages between cells. Found in many of the body’s systems, including the central nervous system, digestive system, and the circulatory system, serotonin has a variety of important functions. 

Serotonin benefits the body in many ways, including:

  • helping us experience happiness
  • regulating feelings of anxiety
  • helping heal physical wounds

Serotonin is thought to have an impact on mental health conditions, though this is likely only one part of the complex set of factors that affect mood. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of medication that effectively increase serotonin in the brain, and are used to treat a variety of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Doctors have found these drugs are most effective when used in combination with other lifestyle changes and therapeutic interventions that also address the multiple factors that impact mood. 

Serotonin vs. Dopamine

Dopamine is another type of neurotransmitter that helps the body experience feelings of pleasure and drives motivation. Closely associated with a sense of satisfaction, dopamine is an important part of the brain’s reward centre, and is a key factor in the development of addiction. 

When the dopamine system is not working properly, this can factor into low motivation or loss of interest in activities, which are common symptoms of depression. While both serotonin and dopamine have impacts on mood, serotonin is more closely linked to the way emotions are processed, while dopamine is linked to motivation. 

Understanding Serotonin Deficiency

A serotonin deficiency occurs when there is a dysfunction in the body’s production or uptake of serotonin. While there is currently no method by which to precisely measure the body’s levels of serotonin, or a full understanding of what the optimal levels are and whether these vary by individual, it is believed that a deficiency in the body’s serotonin levels can have both physical and psychological effects. These include things like:

  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • depression
  • negative impacts on memory and learning
  • chronic fatigue
  • suicidal ideation

Low levels of serotonin can be regulated through a variety of natural methods, as well as the use of prescribed SSRI medications. When taking SSRIs, it’s important to carefully consult with a doctor about other possible drug interactions, as the combination of drugs containing serotonin can result in a condition known as serotonin syndrome.

What is Serotonin Syndrome?

Serotonin syndrome occurs when serotonin levels in the body are unusually elevated, which is most often due to the use of multiple serotonin-affecting medications or supplements. These can include SSRIs prescribed for depression or anxiety, migraine medications, certain pain relievers, and some natural supplements. 

Serotonin syndrome symptoms

The symptoms of serotonin syndrome can range significantly, and include:

  • tremors
  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • muscle tension
  • fever
  • elevated pulse rate 
  • high blood pressure
  • sweating
  • diarrhoea
  • headache

Severe serotonin syndrome can include symptoms such as a high fever, seizures, irregular heartbeat and loss of consciousness, and can be life-threatening if not treated. If you suspect that you may be experiencing symptoms of serotonin syndrome, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.

How to Increase Serotonin Naturally

Serotonin levels are positively affected by a variety of natural interventions that can complement medication, or in some cases eliminate the need for it. As serotonin both affects and is affected by several of the body’s systems, a holistic approach to addressing serotonin deficiency generally yields the best results.

Use proven stress-busting techniques

Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our mood and the brain’s serotonin levels. Learning how to effectively manage stress is an important factor in bringing serotonin back into balance. There are many ways to deal with stress, and you may need to try several before finding a few that suit your individual tastes. Some common stress-relievers include:

  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Journaling
  • Listening to calming music or binaural beats

Changing your environment by taking a walk outside or settling into a cosy spot at home with a cup of tea can also help to lower stress. Try to identify at least three methods that work for you, and incorporate these into your daily routine in order to help reduce stress.

Pay attention to what you’re eating

We cannot eat serotonin, but an amino acid called tryptophan, found naturally in a variety of foods, is converted to serotonin in the brain. Boosting your intake of foods containing tryptophan like turkey, tofu, and salmon, as well as high-carbohydrate foods like brown rice, oatmeal, whole-grain breads or pretzel sticks to help deliver this amino acid to the brain, can help naturally fortify serotonin levels.

Remember to exercise

Aerobic exercise is particularly beneficial in triggering the release of tryptophan into the bloodstream, which positively affects serotonin levels. Whether you jump into the pool for a swim, try out a dance class, go for a brisk walk, or cycle to work, getting your heart rate up can help elevate your mood as well.

Bask in the sunlight

Research has suggested that sunshine helps to boost serotonin levels. Getting even 10-15 minutes per day outside in the sunlight can positively affect your mood, and if you are able to do it in a natural environment, such as a forest or park, this can maximise the benefits even further. If you are sensitive to sunlight, or live in a rainy climate, a light therapy box can help you get the same results.

Do things that bring you joy

Leaning into what makes you happy is an important part of fostering healthy serotonin levels. Whether it’s gathering with friends or family, engaging in a favourite hobby, volunteering for a cause you care about, or even cuddling your pet, these simple activities can go a long way in improving your mood. 

Try therapy

If you’re struggling with a persistently low mood, therapy can help. Common talk therapy methods like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) have proven effective in identifying and understanding the underlying causes of depression and anxiety, and learning new patterns of thought and behaviour to support a more positive outlook. 

A Mental Health Retreat in Thailand at The Dawn

A Mental Health Retreat in Thailand at The Dawn

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab embraces a holistic healing approach to mental health and substance use disorders in a beautiful residential treatment centre. The Dawn has been created to foster an environment of personal growth and healing for people who want to change their lives and overcome the challenges they’re facing.

Internationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), The Dawn offers compassionate, professional treatment that is fully aligned with international standards of care. Our centre is conveniently located just outside the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, a one-hour flight from the country’s capital of Bangkok. At our tranquil riverfront property you are completely removed from your triggers and immersed in a safe and soothing environment. Our luxurious, resort-like accommodations are well-appointed with all the amenities you’ll need. 

Call us today to learn more about our treatment programmes.

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