Serotonin – managing difficult feelings

green leaf photo by Adam Forbes

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has been identified as playing a major role in depression and anxiety. Serotonin is involved with a wide range of functions such as appetite, mood, hormonal balance, sleep/wake cycles and alertness. Balanced serotonin levels help your body to regulate sleep, reduce pain and appetite, generally calms you down and improves your mood. Anti-depressant medications work to increase serotonin levels by various means. But these may react negatively with many foods and drugs and have a large list of side effects.

Research has shown that there are many ways to effectively increase and regulate levels.

These are simple and natural ways of increasing serotonin levels:

Walking or other enjoyable exercise
Serotonin and dopamine levels increase in the blood during exercise, and depression may be relieved with regular exercise.

Being in the sunshine
Exposure to sunlight increases levels. (This is because of the relationship between serotonin and melanin.) Morning sunshine is best as it also helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

Eating whole grain foods, such as whole wheat, brown rice or oatmeal
Eating any sugar or carbohydrate will temporarily increase levels. This is one reason for comfort eating or craving sweets. But if we eat sugary foods we get wildly swinging blood sugar levels. Whole grains give a sustained release of insulin that increases and maintains serotonin levels.

Eating certain foods such as turkey, bananas, milk, yogurt, eggs, meat, nuts, beans, fish and cheddar, gruyere and Swiss cheese supply the amino acid that serotonin is made from.

Fish oil (available as capsules) contains Omega 3 fatty acids and research has shown it to be one of the most helpful foods in combating depression, anxiety and lack of ability to concentrate.

Vitamin B6 aids in the production of serotonin, so it is important to check that you are receiving enough in your diet, or through supplements.

Getting enough sleep at regular hours. Serotonin levels vary rhythmically on a 24-hour cycle. Interrupting the natural cycle of activity in the day and sleeping at night can disrupt this. Consistent sleep patterns are crucial to the cycling of serotonin, hormones and other neurotransmitters.

Increased levels of serotonin and dopamine have been measured following massage therapy.

Even if you don’t feel happy at that moment just the physical act of laughing increases serotonin and dopamine levels, as well as increasing circulation and lowering blood pressure.

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