Stress can impact all areas of life and when it is experienced over a sustained period of time stress depletes the brain of the vital feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. Luckily, there are steps we can take to reduce the effects stress can have on our bodies and minds.
The importance of serotonin
Serotonin regulates mood, appetite, cravings, sleep, and sex drive. It is the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter and promotes feelings of wellbeing, resilience, calm, relaxation, confidence, and concentration.
Stress is a major contributor to the low mood as it uses up serotonin stores. Women are also at an increased risk of serotonin deficiency. Due to hormone imbalances that can occur during the monthly premenstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause. Keeping serotonin levels balanced is important.
How to increase serotonin?
Have fun in the sun – sunlight helps to boost the body’s natural production of serotonin so get outside as much as possible and take a walk when the sun is shining. Even spending five minutes in the sun will help to create a sense of calm and wellbeing.
Supplement with 5-hydroxytryptophan – 5-HTP converts into serotonin in the body, and is an important brain chemical involved in mood, appetite, and impulse control. 5-HTP is particularly beneficial for people who also suffer from anxiety, restlessness, or racing thoughts.
Get your B-Vitamins – Essential B-vitamins (in particular vitamin B12 and folic acid) can have a direct effect on the availability of important neurotransmitters in the brain that impact moods, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Deficiencies in B-vitamins are often found in people diagnosed with depression.
Eat complex carbohydrates – these release energy over a sustained period, without a ‘crash’ afterward like sugary foods. Complex carbohydrates include baked potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and bananas.
Treat yourself to chocolate – small quantities of dark chocolate release endorphins, and can reduce blood pressure. Approximately 1.4 ounces per day is considered a healthy amount of chocolate to consume. Anything above this can start to offer negative effects as a result of weight gain.
Relax with lavender oil – studies have found that inhaling essential oils such as lavender can release various neurochemicals in the brain, including serotonin. Scent can have a profound effect on emotions and mood.
Get plenty of sleep – trying to establish a regular sleeping pattern is an effective way of reducing the impact stress can place on the body. A well-rested body and mind can fight against the damaging effects of stress more effectively. According to experts you need to take at least 7 continuous hours of high-quality sleep for serotonin production.
Things You Should Try To Avoid
If you feel low from day to day then there are things you should try to avoid. These can contribute to serotonin imbalances.
Sugar – When we feel low there is often a desire to eat sugary foods that offer immediate relief and a burst of energy. This is why low serotonin levels are often responsible for yo-yo dieting. Sugary foods are the worst things to eat. After the initial relief, you will feel even lower than before. Eliminating sugar as much as possible will allow you to feel steady, balanced, and calm.
Skipping meals – When possible try to eat smaller meals on a frequent basis. Leaving long gaps between meals can result in low blood sugar levels and make you feel irritable and tired.
Alcohol – Although alcohol may make you feel happier in the short term, it is in fact a depressant. A small glass of wine after work can help to relax the body, but try to limit consumption as much as possible.
Caffeine – After the immediate burst of energy caffeine offers, it will result in a slump which will increase irritability, disrupt sleep patterns, and increase feelings of fatigue. Caffeine is also extremely addictive.