Sometimes treatment is the best way to maximize recovery from a mental illness, but what happens when treatment isn’t an option, or you want to try something else first?
When it comes to the chemicals delivered to the brain, serotonin and dopamine are two of the most important ones. This is because serotonin and dopamine affect people’s moods, sleep patterns, memory, appetite, and sex drive. In addition to this, serotonin and melatonin are both considered to be neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are responsible for carrying chemical signals between the brain’s neurons. However, what’s difficult is that not everybody gets the correct amount of chemicals for their body. These imbalances lead to mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, memory loss, attention disorders, and substance use disorder.
Serotonin and dopamine imbalances have motivated many individuals to increase their medication so that they can produce the chemicals they need to function properly. Medications aimed towards mental illness allow individuals to have their symptoms treated. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, many potential side effects could be rather uncomfortable. They can also produce withdrawal symptoms that could potentially make a person dependent on their medication.
For some people, balancing out the chemicals in their brain with medication is the only way to do so. However, others may have options other than medication. Before deciding to boost their serotonin or dopamine with medication, some individuals may want to try more natural methods. Some of these include:
- Spending time outdoors
- Adjusting diets
- Meditation and yoga
- Counting blessings
- Using essential oils
- Setting goals
- Reliving happy memories
- Seeking new experiences
- Attending therapy
There have been many studies that have shown that at least a half-hour of exercise a day helps improve a person’s overall mood. This is because physical effort releases endorphins to the brain. To be more specific, long, and hard cardiovascular exercise (biking, running, swimming, etc.) sends serotonin to the brain. When individuals are suffering from mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety, this is a good natural way to help it.
Spending Time Outdoors
If there’s one place above everything else that has stood the test of time, it’s the great outdoors. Nature has been present since the dawn of man. As time moves, the landscape moves with it, and for many generations, individuals have spent a majority of their time either working, playing, or simply being outdoors. This is still possible today but on a much smaller scale and a much lower frequency.
Many individuals in the present day work indoors, whether it’s at a desk or on a couch. While this isn’t a bad thing, it still stands to reason that spending at least some time outside will help improve one’s mood.
There have been multiple studies done to support the idea that spending at least five minutes outdoors will help improve someone’s mood, motivation, and self-esteem. This is because time spent in sunlight translates directly to serotonin and dopamine synthesis. This is part of the reason why running or walking outside will help an individual improve their overall health.
When it comes to the human body and mind, diet is a huge piece of the puzzle. What you put into your body can greatly impact your overall mental health. This could make or break an individual. For example, many people love coffee. Coffee boosts serotonin and dopamine for many of these people. However, it’s only for a time.
For individuals who use coffee as a means to increase their serotonin or dopamine, they’ll begin drinking it every day, depending on it to get through. This is all good and well until they don’t have a cup or two of coffee, or decide to stop drinking it altogether.
Once a regular coffee drinker stops drinking it, they’ll experience some withdrawal symptoms. This is because the brain is used to a particular amount of those chemicals, and when it stops receiving that volume, it will be as though there is some sort of deficiency. It takes up to 12 days for the brain to begin functioning normally again. The question then presents itself: Aren’t there other ways to boost serotonin and dopamine in my diet that won’t give me major withdrawal?
Omega-3 can boost serotonin without the headache of withdrawal (pun most definitely intended). This is because omega-3s help trigger nerve cell receptors. This makes transporting the serotonin to the brain a lot easier. There have been many studies done to show that omega-3s reduce the symptoms of depression. Some foods that have omega-3s include the following:
- Chia seeds
- Flaxseed oil
- Soybean oil
- Canola oil
Foods that Don’t Produce More Serotonin
There are also foods that individuals have been led to believe boost serotonin which don’t. For the longest time, the rumor mill has been spinning about turkey raising serotonin. This is because the meat is rich in tryptophan, and many individuals are under the common misconception that tryptophan is a mood booster since it’s used to produce serotonin.
Contrary to popular belief, however, this is not correct. Tryptophan competes with other amino acids to get to the brain. To put it simply, tryptophan is low on the body’s list of priorities.
All of this is not to say the body doesn’t need tryptophan, though. If the body doesn’t get enough tryptophan, its serotonin levels will drop. These can not only be found in meat like turkey but also in starchy foods like whole-wheat bread and potatoes.
When individuals think of meditation and yoga, they think of sitting legs crossed, breathing in and out very deeply. However, it’s much more than that. Meditation is quite simply the practice of relaxing, focusing, and contemplating simultaneously. Breathing exercises are helpful while meditating. This helps increase the release of dopamine to the brain and can help relieve stress. These exercises often help individuals find themselves at peace.
It sounds cliche, but there have been studies that show that reflecting upon one’s blessings and showing gratitude as a result affects the brain’s reward center. This is because it releases dopamine and serotonin when put into practice. Thanking people or higher powers (whether one may believe in a higher power) has been linked to joy in certain studies.
For example, there was a study done that was referred to as the “three blessings exercise.” In this study, individuals wrote down three things they were thankful for every night for one week straight. Those who participated reported more happiness and less depressive symptoms.
Using Essential Oils
As of recent, there has been a trend in using essential oils as a holistic treatment method. These essential oils come from plants, often possessing medicinal properties. Some examples of therapeutic oils include the following:
The body works in strange ways. Smells, in this regard, prompt the brain to release serotonin and dopamine.
Setting goals is an important part of life. Without them, we are simply at a standstill. With them, we achieve, and as a result, the brain releases dopamine. Once this happens, the brain seeks out more of that feeling by setting more goals. This is because it’s rewarding to do so.
Long-term goals are usually ones that take an extended amount of time to achieve because of the effort it takes. These usually provide a mass amount of dopamine whenever the goal is achieved. Regardless of how good this may be, however, it is best to start small.
Setting goals is intimidating. What if you fail? Will it determine your self-worth? It will if you allow it to. It’s difficult to predict outcomes, but if the goals are simple, the chances of success are more likely than not. When you achieve short term goals, you can start using them as stepping stones to arrive at a long-term goal, thus boosting your dopamine levels tenfold.
Reliving Happy Memories
Mood and memory go hand in hand; there has been much research to back this claim. In the brain, there is a region called the anterior cingulate cortex that is associated with attention. Studies have found that when individuals relive sad or anxious moments, less serotonin is produced in that region. However, the same studies have shown that those who dwell on happy moments produced more serotonin.
Seeking Out New Experiences
When new, positive experiences present themselves to an individual, the brain releases dopamine. That being said, seeking out new experiences will help increase dopamine levels naturally. Usually, when people start new things, like hobbies they enjoy, they are producing more dopamine. The less familiar someone is with the activity, the better their chances are at being rewarded with a great amount of dopamine.
Therapy is a huge part of being treated for mental health. It helps to have someone who isn’t involved in your social or professional life validate your concerns or decisions or even just help you process grief. Studies have shown that more people who attend therapy improve their mental health than those who do not.
Find Out More with Phoenix Rising
At Phoenix Rising, we know that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment method. Because of this, individualized treatment is at the forefront of what we do. We recognize that not everyone will benefit from these natural methods of self-care. If you or a loved one have tried these methods and they have not seemed to work, you can contact us. We’ll help point you in a direction that is best for you.