Whether you have a case of the blues or you’ve been diagnosed with depression, your body may hold the keys to fighting depression. And once you know how to tap into them, you may be able to boost your happiness.
Neurotransmitters including endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are the brain’s messengers that regulate mood, concentration, motivation, and other emotions. Antidepressant medications work by increasing the flow of these neurotransmitters to areas of the brain that cause depression.
By understanding how these chemicals work, you can use your body to fight depression. No pills required.
EndorphinsKnow that euophoric feeling after an intense workout? Or the contentment you feel after sex? You can thank endorphins for those happy feelings. These neurotransmitters are released when you’re under physical or emotional stress.
How to boost endorphins:
- Exercise. To get that runner’s “high,” you don’t necessarily have to run. Research shows that a regular aerobic program may be just as helpful in treating depression as some medication.
- Laugh. A recent study done at Oxford University found that having a good old-fashioned laugh with friends releases endorphins, which then improve mood and social bonding.
- Indulge in chocolate. You know it, and science has backed it up: Chocolate makes you feel good. Researchers have found that a bit of the cocoa treat can trigger the release of endorphins and improve your mood.
SerotoninThe neurotransmitter serotonin works to regulate sleep, reduce pain, and improve your mood. When you’re low on serotonin, you may be at a higher risk for depression and suicide.
How to boost serotonin:
- Think happy. Research shows that swapping negative thoughts out for happier ones can increase serotonin levels.
- Head outdoors. Natural sunlight can help your body produce more serotonin, so take your workout outdoors during the day. Or, at the very least, take a daily stroll either in the morning or early afternoon.
- Eat smart. Your body converts the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin. So load up on tryptophan-rich foods like brown rice, cottage cheese, turkey, sesame seeds, and peanuts.
DopamineThis neurotransmitter associated with motivation and the reward and pleasure center in your brain is helpful in fighting depression symptoms like anxiety, loss of interest, and withdrawal.
How to boost dopamine:
- Play your favorite music. Ever wonder why a favorite song can give you a rush of pleasurable feelings? Researchers at McGill University report that listening to music you like can lead to a release of dopamine.
- Eat your favorite food. Can’t live without pizza? Your go-to foods can also boost levels of dopamine. (Just remember to enjoy in moderation.)
- Go for a healthy lifestyle. Alcohol, poor sleep habits, caffeine, too much sugar, and stress can all deplete your body’s dopamine supplies. Help protect the neurotransmitter by eating fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants.
Boosting your endorphins and other neurotransmitters may help you prevent depression and improve your mood, but don't ignore symptoms of depression like sadness, anxiety, and a lack of energy that keeps you from functioning normally. If symptoms of depression last more than a few weeks, talk with your doctor.