It’s been a tough couple of years. We’ve all had to re-adjust to a new normal, which has led to changes in routine, stress, uncertainty and isolation. These changes have been hard to say the least. As we try to resume a normal life, I’ve noticed that many of us aren’t feeling too great. We are nervous, uncertain, lonely, exhausted, worried and so much more. Many of us are feeling low, maybe even depressed. That is okay. It’s okay to feel low and not like yourself right now. Whether it feels like it or not, you have been through a lot, and your nervous system is feeling those changes.
The real question as we try and find a new norm is “how can we find ways to feel okay or lessen the intensity of these feelings?” One of the best ways to do this is to look at our nervous system neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin.
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in our brain. Neurotransmitters are the messengers of the brain – they have many roles in our bodies and often affect how we feel. Lower amounts of serotonin are associated with low mood and increased anxiety. One of the ways that we can decrease the intensity of our mood symptoms is by supporting the serotonin levels in our bodies.
How can we support serotonin naturally?
There are many ways that we can boost our serotonin levels naturally. Although serotonin is used in the nervous system to support our mood, it also interacts with other systems in our bodies. This means that we want not only want to support our nervous system, but these other symptoms as well in order to optimize our serotonin.
Yes our neurotransmitters are produced in our brain, but they are also produced in our gut and intestines. In fact, serotonin is the primary neurotransmitter that is produced in our gut (over 90%!) This means that if we have any gut dysfunction or inflammation, this will impact our ability to produce serotonin. This not only impacts our digestion, but also our nervous system, mood, and anxiety levels.
It’s true that when we are living in a state of chronic stress, it actually depletes our serotonin levels – no wonder everyone is feeling so down – the stress that we have been under over the past couple of years has been insurmountable. We can replenish our serotonin by decreasing our stress. This can involve setting some boundaries for yourself, getting rest, carving out some time in the day to do things you enjoy, and giving your nervous system some much needed TLC. There are also specific herbs that help to decrease stress and regulate our stress hormone (cortisol) levels. Examples of these include licorice root, ashwaghanda, schisandra, and ginseng, among others. Remember that “natural herbs” doesn’t equate to something being safe – always check in with a health care provider to find out if herbs are right for you.
This is the place where we feel it all – the anxiety and depression. In order to feel better, we need to optimize our serotonin levels. There are two natural supplements that really help to boost serotonin – 5HTP and St. John’s Wort. 5HTP is converted to serotonin in the body – it has many benefits including improving sleep, aiding in digestion, decreasing anxiety, and boosting mood. St. John’s Wort acts on our brain to help make the serotonin that we have more available. It has a significant impact on increasing our mood. Check with your health care practitioner about supplements that work on serotonin – they have many interactions with medication and should not be taken without a medical consultation. B6 can also be helpful in boosting serotonin levels- it is used as a cofactor in the reactions that convert the raw materials into serotonin.
Sleep is an incredibly important time for our bodies – it’s when we can rejuvenate and set ourselves up for the next day. You might notice the way that sleep impacts physical health but it also impacts mental health. When we sleep, we allow our nervous systems to reset so that our neurotransmitters are able to balance. Ensuring a good night’s sleep can even boost our serotonin levels.
The foods we eat are the building blocks for our bodies to function properly. Ensuring we have a diet rich in protein, omega 3s, and fiber assists our nervous system in running properly. Furthermore, if we don’t have enough nutrition in the day, our bodies cannot make the neurotransmitters, including serotonin, that we need to feel good.
As you can see, addressing mood disorders is truly something that requires a holistic approach. When one of our systems isn’t working properly, the whole body is affected.