No matter who you are or how you spend your time, everyone will, at times, feel down in the dumps. It’s just part of being human. However, there are things that you can do to help get yourself out of a rut and return to your cheerful self in no time. Meet the four “happy hormones” — dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins — otherwise known as DOSE. These are the chemicals within your body that help regulate your mood, and there are things that you can do to help stimulate production. So, here are a few tips to help boost each one, and get that smile back on your face.
Dopamine is often known as the “motivation molecule.” It is a neurotransmitter that helps send signals through the brain and is the hormone linked to the pleasure-reward response. So, if you feel you lack that lust for life, it could be down to your dopamine levels. A change in diet is often the best way to increase dopamine, with an emphasis placed on protein-rich foods. For those that eat meat, all animal products are an excellent source of tyrosine, a chemical used in the body to create dopamine. However, if meat is not your thing, dark green vegetables such as spinach and kale are an excellent choice, as are legumes, nuts, and fruits like bananas and avocados.
If after time, changing your diet doesn’t have the desired effect, a supplement can be taken to increase your hormone levels. The best one to try is L-tyrosine, although others such as curcumin or Ginkgo Biloba can also help as they provide different precursors to dopamine. However, always remember that before taking supplements, it’s worth consulting your doctor.
Sometimes called the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin is produced by your body whenever you feel close to somebody else. Luckily, you don’t physically need to cuddle up to someone to get your fill! Any form of social bonding causes the release of oxytocin, so a glass of wine with friends, playing with the kids, or coffee with a work colleague, are all great ways to give you a boost.
Another excellent way to increase your oxytocin level is to use social media. Yes, your Twitter and Facebook accounts can genuinely benefit your health! The key is, of course, moderation, and making sure you balance it out by seeing people in person as well, but chatting with your friends for a while online is a super simple way to help perk yourself up.
Of all the hormones in the human body, serotonin is thought to play the biggest part in regulating mood. One of the best ways to increase the level of this hormone without medication is through diet. Anything high in vitamins B6 and B12 is known to help, as are foods containing tryptophan. So dark vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, and fish are excellent choices. Fortunately, the foods which increase serotonin also increase dopamine levels, so a healthy, balanced diet should take care of these two hormones.
As well as diet, sunlight, and regular exercise are also excellent ways to help boost serotonin. However, if none of this works, you can also take supplements to help. Taking the tryptophan is a good starting point as it is a precursor to serotonin, but you could also try 5-HTP, although this is not intended for long-term use.
Endorphins are not a single hormone, but a group of different chemicals that have a similar effect on the body as the drug morphine. The best way to naturally increase your endorphin levels is to exercise. Whether it’s running, lifting weights, or even sex, they all have the same positive outcome. In fact, the ‘runner’s high’ often experienced after a good workout is the result of an elevated concentration of endorphins.
There are other ways to raise your endorphin levels if you’re not in a particularly energetic mood. Smiling or laughing produces these hormones, as does listening to music or dancing. Luckily for some, chocolate (in particular dark chocolate) also has a positive effect, as does vanilla, ginseng, and a small amount of alcohol. Yes, a small amount! Too much and you will get the opposite effect of what you want!
So, armed with this knowledge, next time you are feeling down you know what might be causing it. However, always remember that while feeling down is a regular part of life, depression is a disease and needs treatment. If you are low, have felt that way for a while, or are feeling helpless and lost, it is best to speak to your doctor and get a diagnosis.
With this in mind, the take-home message is pretty simple. If you feel your thoughts are more than just a bit of the blues, it is always best to get help. Otherwise, while there are a few things you can do to give yourself a boost, the best long-term benefit comes from maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting outdoors as often as you can. Hopefully, if you can bring all that together, you’ll have plenty to smile about.