Welcome back boys and girls to the Covid Lockdown - Round 2! If you haven't already read my original isolation blog I wrote back in March, feel free to head over there for some amazing ways to stay healthy and sane during these next few weeks!
In this post I will review three fantastic brain chemicals and how to build them naturally to promote positive mental, emotional and physical health! These neurotransmitters are what I refer to as the "Chemical Trinity". Now, while they are each responsible for their own systems and effects upon us, they also overlap in some key areas requiring all of them to be present in order to achieve certain basic needs like appetite and sleep. So let's get right to it!
What is Serotonin?
Also known as the "happy chemical" this neurotransmitter contributes to happiness and well-being. Serotonin is considered to be an overall mood stabilizer and helps with things like sleep, appetite and digestion.
Healthy serotonin levels can reduce depression and anxiety, promote healing via blood clotting, bone health and increase sexual libido. It also helps keep you mentally focused and emotionally stable!
That said, our mind and body operate optimally when everything is in balance. Too much or too little of these chemicals can have short to long-term negative effects.
Too Low - Low serotonin levels can lead to depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, panic attacks, and anger/rage issues. Low serotonin has even been linked to Alzheimer's disease.
Too High - On the opposite side "serotonin syndrome" is when serotonin levels get too high. This is typically caused by mixing anti-depressant medications such as SSRIs and MAOIs or taking triptans (migraine medications) or SSRI supplements like St.John's Wort with SSRIs. It can even occur when first starting an anti-depressant or changing dosages of the medication.
The other major cause is excessive dosages and/or abuse of recreational drugs, namely ecstasy (MDMA) and acid (LSD) as these both tell the brain to drop serotonin.
Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include but are not limited to; restlessness, hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, increased body temperature, and sweating. Excessive symptoms include muscle spasms, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and rapid swings in blood pressure.
How to Naturally Increase Serotonin Levels
Meditating helps to relieve stress and tension creating a more positive outlook on life which will boost serotonin levels.
Working out, yoga, running/jogging and even a brisk walk will all help boost your mood and serotonin levels.
Serotonin is mostly present in the stomach so therefore foods are one of the best ways to create serotonin. Nuts, cheese, eggs, turkey, salmon, tofu and pineapple are some of the best foods to create serotonin.
Tryptophan is the pre-cursor to serotonin. Yep, the stuff in turkey. So while you can't just take serotonin pills, you can get L-Tryptophan from just about any supplement store. 5-HTP can also be used, however since it is a precursor to tryptophan it's harder on your body to convert it so I don't recommend it.
PRO-TIP: Take L-Tryptophan with EGCg (green tea extract) to help create serotonin in your brain as well as your gut.
What is Dopamine?
Known as "the pleasure (or reward) chemical", this messenger chemical is used to send signals between the nerve cells and is responsible for how we feel pleasure.
Like serotonin, dopamine lends it's aid to the areas of sleep and mood stability, so having an optimum amount of both is vital to these basic functions.
Independently, dopamine plays an even larger part in our learning, motivation, processing abilities, and body movements. Most importantly, it plays a huge role in our behaviors as it creates a cycle of motivation, reward, reinforcement. For this reason, dopamine should be considered a double-edged sword.
Too much - may contribute to things like schizophrenia, mania, dissociative identity disorder (DID), bi-polar disorder (BPD), hallucinations and delusions. It can also be attributed to the motivation and reinforcement of negative behaviors such as addiction and reward seeking behaviors.
Too little - may contribute to things like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), lack of motivation, poor coordination, limited movement, obesity, depression, and in serious cases Parkinson's disease.
For the most part our dopamine levels are well regulated within our nervous system.
Keep in mind that dopamine isn't the end all be all, it does work with other chemicals such as serotonin, endorphins, and adrenaline. Bottom line is that you want to make sure you are both producing and using dopamine to keep levels optimal.
How to Naturally Increase and Use Dopamine
As always, food provides the nutrition and energy our bodies require to function healthfully. In this specific instance we are looking for protein. Turkey, beef, eggs, cheese, milk, soy and beans.
PRO-TIP: Reduce saturated fats such as full-fat dairy, butter, animal fat, palm and coconut oil.
While 10 to 20 minutes of aerobic exercise several times a week have been found to help, one hour of yoga, six times a week, was found to significantly increase dopamine levels.
Since dopamine provides feelings of alertness and wakefulness it is released in large amounts in the morning and less in the evening allowing you to fall asleep. When sleep is not achieved due to things like stress, tension, insomnia, the availability of dopamine receptors is drastically reduced the following morning. This means until you are able to get proper sleep, the receptors remain desensitized creating lack of focus, concentration and mobility among other unpleasant symptoms.
For issues sleeping check out my post on "8 Easy Steps to Help with Sleep Issues"
That's right! Listening to music increases the reward and pleasure areas of the brain! Studies have shown that when you listen to a song that gives you chills, your brain just had a 9% increase in dopamine levels. So far, studies have only used instrumental music so... good news for you EDM fans!
Studies have shown that low sunlight exposure can lead to reduced mood-boosting chemicals including dopamine. Sunlight exposure, light therapy and even tanning-bed usage have been shown to increase dopamine levels.
The precursor to dopamine is L-Dopa, however the closest you can come to that outside of a prescription is L-Tyrosine which can be found at most supplement stores.
PRO-TIP: Iron, niacin, folate and B6 are also important for dopamine production so a multi-vitamin a day never hurts to help regulate these.
What is Oxytocin?
While most refer to this as "the love drug" it is actually a hormone which plays a role in reproduction, relationships and social interactions. Ocytocin is the third part of what I like to refer to as the "chemical trinity". Oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine are our "happy chemicals".
Oxytocin is often referenced to love because higher than normal levels are found in the brain during the first stages of romantic attachment, also known as the "honeymoon stage".
Trust, empathy, positive memories, increased communication and bonding are all relationship enhancing effects due to the presence of oxytocin. Oxytocin is also linked to orgasm intensity. If that wasn't enough, maintaining high levels of oxytocin has shown a decrease in infidelity within a stable relationship. Aside from love, oxytocin along with the other "chemical trinity" neurotransmitters impacts affects our overall mental stability. It has been found to decrease stress, anxiety and influences our ability to relax.
While too much or too little oxytocin can result in physical issues most issues are experienced emotionally and/or mentally.
Too much - can aid in feelings of favoritism, prejudice, envy and dishonesty.
Too little - can result in negative effects such as infidelity, depression and anxiety. It has also been linked to autism and autistic spectrum disorders, as well as aiding in motivating and reinforcing negative behaviors such as sex addictions.
How to Naturally Increase Oxytocin Levels
Yoga and Meditation
While it is yet to be proven that these activities increases oxytocin, they have been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and provide relief from depression. So while they may not produce oxytocin, they can both be used to prevent the use of your oxytocin to balance out these issues. Leaving you more available oxytocin to enhance other areas of your life.
Listening to music, singing, and even creating music or playing an instrument has been shown to increase oxytocin levels. Like you even needed another reason to crank your favorite tunes!
Alternatively, any experience which creates a powerful positive emotional response will create oxytocin. This can be a movie, book, live show, roller coaster, adventurous experience, really anything that evokes a strong, positive emotion within you.
PRO-TIP: Stress and fright can inhibit oxytocin, so horror movies and extreme sports are only recommended for those who thoroughly enjoy these experiences.
Giving or receiving a massage for as little as 15 minutes will not only help you relax, it boosts oxytocin. Research suggests that prolonged physical touch produces oxytocin for both the giver and receiver.
Foods that help stimulate energy and sex drive help increase oxytocin. Some easy to get foods include figs, avocados, watermelon, spinach, green tea, coffee, and almonds.
Spending time with people you enjoy helps you to feel socially supported and therefore produces oxytocin. Communicating your affections and sharing your feelings along with physical touch with a loved one or partner helps increase oxytocin. Complimenting people or saying positive encouraging things and having the same done for you boosts oxytocin.
Acts of Service
Doing something nice for someone else increases oxytocin. Whether it is cooking a meal for them, helping with a favor, or even donating to a charitable cause. These all boost oxytocin levels. You know what they say, "no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted".
The godfather of oxytocin builders! Sexual intimacy, in particular - Orgasm. Yep, even the one night stand, "no-strings" sex raises oxytocin levels for both partners. That said, you don't have to hit a home run to score a boost. Hugging, cuddling, kissing, and foreplay are all oxytocin boosters. Seems the term "friends with benefits" was more accurate than we thought.
Optimizing your "Chemical Trinity" can drastically help in naturally reducing and recovering from a vast array of mental health issues. As with all good things, effort is required on your part to help facilitate the change you desire within your life. The intention of my posts is to aid in helping you achieve that change. If you require further aid or instruction, do not hesitate to reach out to myself or another qualified therapist for professional assistance.
#hypnotherapy #hypnosis #change #therapy #mentalhealth #selfcare #mentalhealthawareness #anxiety #love #healing #psychology #health #therapist #depression #wellness #selflove #counseling #mentalhealthmatters #mindfulness #motivation #recovery #covid #mentalillness #fitness #life #trauma #meditation #massage #psychotherapy #counselling #art #wellbeing