Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that stabilizes our mood, makes us feel happy and increases our sense of well-being. Low serotonin levels can cause depression, anxiety and poor sleep. While some prescription medications raise serotonin levels, there are also natural ways to raise your serotonin levels and improve your happiness. Here are a few happiness hacks to lift your mood.
1) Make exercise a habit
Getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day is proven to raise serotonin levels in your brain. Exercise also increases the release of tryptophan, an amino acid your body needs to produce serotonin. If you get into the habit of exercising regularly, you’ll help your brain keep your serotonin at consistently high levels.
Even if you don’t have access to a gym, running, brisk walking, dancing, cycling, swimming, kayaking and hiking are all good options.
2) Increase your intake of tryptophan
Amino acids are compounds your body requires to build proteins. There are 20 different amino acids. Nine of these 20 amino acids are called essential amino acids, meaning you must get them from your diet because your body is not capable of producing them.
One of these nine essential amino acids is tryptophan, which your body uses to make serotonin. Tryptophan-rich foods include chicken, turkey, eggs, salmon, tuna, milk, tofu, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Eating tryptophan with 25-30 grams of carbohydrates increases the rate of absorption. So, adding a serving of bread, rice, pasta, quinoa, or potatoes to your meal can give you even more of a boost!
3) Enjoy some sunshine
Exposure to sunlight increases your brain’s release of serotonin. In addition, this happiness hack requires for your body to synthesize Vitamin D, a hormone that increases your available serotonin, thereby improving your mood and reducing symptoms of depression.
On dark or dreary days, placing a 10,000-lux light box 16-24 inches from your face for 20-30 minutes a day can approximate the benefits of natural sunlight.
4) Get a massage
Massages can improve your mood for several reasons. First, massages lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Second, massages increase the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine. And third, massages can raise your serotonin by up to 28%, increasing your happiness and decreasing pain, anxiety and depression.
If you don’t have time or money to book a professional massage, exchanging a massage with a family member or friend can be just as beneficial.
5) Think positively
Believe it or not, there is scientific research that shows you can think your way into feeling happier. Thinking a positive thought decreases cortisol and stimulates the release of serotonin in your brain. Positive thinking not only improves your mood; it also improves your immune health and lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Positive thinking doesn’t mean ignoring unpleasant emotions or negative realities. But it does entail reframing your thoughts in a more positive way. For instance, instead of saying, “I don’t know how to do that,” you can say, “I’m looking forward to learning that skill.”
So the next time you catch yourself thinking a negative thought, reframing it positively will likely lower your stress and improve your mood.
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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant