In the winter time, it can be hard to avoid feeling down in the dumps. Cold temperatures, gray skies, and boredom can all set in, making it difficult to keep your spirits high. And on a biological level, this can cause levels of serotonin to drop. But not to worry, you don’t have to sit by idly–there are steps that you can take to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin or (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) is a chemical that’s found in the body. Known as a neurotransmitter, it carries signals in the brain and is mainly found in the brain, bowels, and blood platelets. It transmits messages throughout the body, but it’s best known for its impact on happiness. The serotonin that’s used in the brain must also be produced by the brain. The chemical is made by combining tryptophan, a component of proteins, with tryptophan hydroxylase, a chemical reactor. A shortage of serotonin in the brain can impact the mood, causing anxiety and depression.
5 Tips for Increasing Serotonin, Naturally
If you have serious anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor. If you just want to gradually improve your mood, these tips may help. Let’s take a closer look.
1. Eat tryptophan-rich foods
A 2007 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience found that an increase in tryptophan in the body can increase the amount of serotonin released into the brain. Foods with high tryptophan content include eggs, cheese, tofu, pineapple, salmon, nuts, seeds, and turkey.
2. Exercise consistently
It’s sort of counterintuitive, because when you start to feel depressed all you really want to do is play couch surfer, but here’s the deal: when you’re feeling down, exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve your mood. A 2001 study published in Clinical Psychology Review found that aerobic exercise may have antidepressant effects on the brain by increasing serotonin. In some cases, exercise may work even better than medication.
To use the tortoise and the hare reference, meditation is definitely the tortoise, and as a result, people can think that it’s not working. Its positive impact is subtle and can happen over years of practice. But according to Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, meditation can help the mind heal itself at a deep level. Once this happens, it can regulate the release of serotonin in the brain. The key to a meditation practice is consistency. It’s not that you need to meditate for hours, but in order to see the benefits, you do need to do it daily. Start with ten minutes and increase gradually as you feel comfortable. If you find that you have trouble sitting, a few tips can help: Start first thing in the morning. Find a quiet place to sit up on a pillow. Set a timer, close the eyes, and begin to follow your breath.
4. Get a massage
Regular massage, as often as once or twice a month, can help with the release of serotonin in the brain. When you’re stressed it causes the release of cortisol in the brain also known as the fight or flight reaction. The release of cortisol can help us react when negative things like getting chased by a bear happen. Though it’s unlikely in the modern era that you’ll be chased by a predator, still, our caveman instincts persist. The only problem with cortisol is that when it’s present, stress-reducing chemicals like serotonin are less likely to be released. That’s where massage comes in. Massage reduces the release of cortisol in the body, and, as a result, it increases the release of serotonin in the brain. According to a 2005 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, reducing cortisol increases serotonin. So, treat yourself. It can have a lasting impact.
Generally speaking, yoga has been found to decrease depression for a number of reasons. It calms the body and mind, which can reduce stress and anxiety. Mindful breathing, an important component of the practice, sends a message to the central nervous system, which can also impact your mood. And certain poses, when done regularly, can help with the release of serotonin in the brain. These include shoulder stand and plough pose.
1. Start off on your back.
2. Kick both legs over the head and then support the hips with your hands.
3. Move your hands down the back until your legs are vertical. Straighten and raise one leg at a time to point your feet upward.
4. Tuck the chin into the chest.
5. The gaze should be at the toes or if you’d prefer, close your eyes. Either way, follow your breath and try to avoid too much adjustment.
6. If possible, extend the amount of time you spend in shoulder stand until it’s about five minutes each time you practice.
7. Slowly release the feet down to the ground, or as far toward the ground as they will comfortably go. One vertebrae at a time, release back down to your back and hug the knees into the chest.
1. You can move into this pose from shoulder stand or start lying on your back with your legs stretched out in front of you.
2. Raise one foot at a time over head. Kick the legs upward, reaching behind your head.
3. You can either place the hands on your lower back or clasp them behind the body.
4. Your feet may not extend all the way to the floor at first, but that’s the goal. Hold and breathe for five to ten breaths.
5. One vertebrae at a time, release back down to your back and hug the knees into the chest.
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