Serotonin impacts every part of your body, from your emotions to your motor skills. Serotonin is considered a natural mood stabilizer and the chemical that helps sleeping, eating and digesting. Serotonin also helps reduce depression, regulate anxiety, heal wounds, stimulate nausea and maintain bone health. One of the building blocks of serotonin is the amino acid tryptophan.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us to recognize pleasurable rewards and take action to move toward them.
Too much stress in our bodies causes the hormone cortisol to be produced and increased amounts of cortisol are related to decreased amounts of serotonin and dopamine. This can be a precursor to depression and increased symptoms of anxiety. At the point the cortisol has gobbled up your serotonin and dopamine things are out of balance and this can often be what your doctor means when they talk about “a chemical imbalance”. This is one form of chemical imbalance, there are others that cause such things as Bipolar Disorder that are beyond the scope of this post.
If you have experienced prolonged periods of emotional stress you are particularly susceptible to this type of imbalance. The stress and emotional pain caused by a neglectful or abusive family or relationship puts you at high risk for these types of depression and anxiety problems.
Although it takes a while to work out all of the problems that can be caused by a dysfunctional family background, the good news is that some of these chemical processes can be resolved quite quickly and often without medication.
Some quick ways to boost good chemicals:
- Eating a carbohydrate-rich meal triggers your body to release insulin. This causes the amino acid tryptophan to remain in the bloodstream at high levels which means it can freely enter the brain and cause serotonin levels to rise.
- Getting an adequate supply of vitamin B-6, which can influence the rate at which tryptophan is converted to serotonin.
- You can build a new dopamine circuit by setting a small goal each day and take steps to reach it. Your brain will learn to expect to reach its reward (the goal) by taking each step. Conversely, if you set a goal that is too difficult or try to do too much at once you can become overwhelmed, this just produces more cortisol and eliminates the benefits of the goal setting.
- You can build a new serotonin circuit by focusing on the value of what you have. This is sometimes called practicing gratitude and can be incorporated into meditation practice as well. The opposite of this is focusing on the shortcomings of what you have which creates stress.
- Pay attention to something new. Learn an instrument, listen to new music, buy differently scented products, study a new topic, join a group with a hobby in common. All of these help boost new pathways.
- Learn new ways of thinking that create a sense of control in your life rather than feelings of stress and panic. Use motivational products that help you create these thinking skills.
If you would like a free resource on overcoming some stressful thinking patterns that may be affecting you today, please visit us at Psychskills and get a copy of “How to Break Free from 12 Dysfunctional Thought Patterns … and a handy chart to help you track your progress”.
To learn more about how dysfunctional thinking patterns arise, how they affect you and how to recover from them, see Psychskills.com and the book, Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now.
Feel Good For Life!!