by Dr. Will Cole
If you’re happy and you know it, raise your hand! Guess what affects your mood? Brain chemistry, that’s what! Brain chemicals can take you from grumpy to elated in just a few minutes, and brain chemicals are influenced by all kinds of external and influences. If you’ve ever completed an intense workout, you’re probably familiar with the rush of endorphins that come over you and leave you on cloud nine. Would you rather feel sad or cheerful? Hopefully you picked cheerful. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to influence your own brain chemistry and boost your mood naturally. These activities are already enjoyable on their own but also benefit your brain throughout the day.
1. Turn up the beat.
All of us have a favorite band or song that resonates with us in a special way. We connect with it on a deep level and find the mix of beats and instruments so pleasurable that we can listen to it on repeat. According to a study published in Nature Neuroscience, the brain releases dopamine when you are listen to music that you particularly enjoy.
2. Treat yourself to an aromatherapy session.
Essential oils have become more popular than ever for all kinds of wellness needs, and that includes mood boosting. Lavender essential oil has been shown to produce a calming effect similar to anti-anxiety medications like lorazepam, which work by stimulating serotonin production. This neurotransmitter is actually produced in the gut, also known as your “second brain,” and is responsible for regulating your mood. Low levels have been linked to increased levels of anxiety and depression, so place a few drops in your diffuser at work or home for a constant stream of feel-good hormones.
Who doesn’t love a good joke? The more you laugh, the more endorphins you release. Laughing acts a little like vigorous exercise, contracting your abdominals and triggering those endorphins to flow. So find humor in your every day. Hang out with your funniest friends, watch more cat videos on YouTube, chill out to your favorite comedy, or even attend a comedy show.
4. Add in adaptogens.
Natural herb and plant medicines, called adaptogens, have been used for centuries but are finally getting their turn in the spotlight in the mainstream wellness world. Certain adaptogens are used to target specific areas of your health that need a boost, and brain health is no exception. Mucuna pruriens contains the dopamine precursor L-DOPA, which is able to increase dopamine through crossing the blood-brain barrier. In addition, rhodiola also helps support dopamine by keeping your levels stabilized. Keep these on hand and add to your morning smoothie to start your day off on a high note.
5. Get it on.
Oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone” is a neurotransmitter released by your brain’s pituitary gland. This hormone peaks in both partners during orgasm and is so powerful that studies have actually shown it increases bonding in couples.
6. Light up.
No, not a cigarette. I mean light up the room with a blue-light therapy box. The winter days give us ample time indoors to cozy up and get our hygge on. But with more time indoors comes less time out in the sun. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can leave us feeling lethargic and depressed. SERT levels (serotonin transporters) are higher in the winter causing serotonin levels to be low, which leave many to feel just plain sad. Blue-light therapy boxes are great for boosting serotonin when getting outside isn’t an option.
7. Hit the snooze button.
As if you need one more reason to stay in bed a little longer. Dopamine signals your body to wake up and bring down levels of your sleep hormone, melatonin. This system only works with properly functioning receptors and studies have shown that lack of sleep corresponds to a decrease in the wakefulness D2 receptor. So those feelings of sluggishness throughout the day can be blamed not only on fewer hours of sleep but what that specifically does to your dopamine levels.
8. Spice up your life.
Pass the peppers, hot sauce, and jalapenos: the hotter the better. Capsaicin, the chemical found in spicy peppers is responsible for that satisfying burning sensation on your tongue after a spicy meal. Your body recognizes this heat as pain and releases endorphins to help you cope until the intensity subsides. Bring on the salsa!
9. Boost your protein intake.
The amino acid tyrosine found in protein sources like meat and fish helps your body make DOPA, which then converts to dopamine. Support the production of this neurotransmitter by including enough tyrosine-containing foods in your diet. This nutrient is particularly high in grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, and tuna as well as cage-free organic eggs. For those who are not big meat eaters, you can still get this through seeds, nuts, and legumes.
10. Learn something new.
If you’ve been putting off learning a new language, trying a new recipe, or perfecting a new song on the guitar, the time is now. Dopamine is associated with being rewarded, and when we learn something new and feel accomplished, dopamine is released, which makes you feel motivated and good about your new skill. This effect isn’t as pronounced when activities are too easy or too hard, so make sure to pick activities that provide just enough of a challenge.
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