10 Ways to Boost Your Brain Chemistry & be Happier
By: Divya Darling
June 9, 2020
In my work as a Brain Trainer I occasionally have people say to me that my work reinventing reality – transforming illness to wellness – doesn’t apply to them because they are “clinically depressed.”
I inform them that the diagnosis of clinical depression is an observation by a medical professional that the current state of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin (often referred to as the brain’s happy chemicals) are depleted to significantly below average. Hence, typically Doctors (especially Western ones who are educated in our symptom-relief system) prescribe them anti-depressants to help regulate this imbalance.
My clients who have been taking anti-depressants for a while often share with me that these pills numb them rather than make them feel happy. And they often gain weight as well as experience a variety of other side effects like fogginess and inability to concentrate.
In my work I focus on the cause, not the effect. I remind my clients that they don’t need to take anti-depressants when they change the behaviours that led to the creation of the depletion. All our brains naturally produce serotonin and dopamine and all of us have the capacity to boost their production through the actions we take.
Here’s a list of 10 behaviours that have been scientifically shown to enhance our happiness. Regardless of who you are, and especially if you are clinically depressed, making these things a part of your daily experience will lead to you feeling better.
- Keep a gratitude journal.
Writing 3-5 things you’re thankful for every day has been shown in countless studies to be linked with not only enhancing psychological well-being, but also physical health and interpersonal relationships. Download Train Your Brain to Look for the Good: The Science of Gratitude for specific research studies.
- Let yourself be natural.
Humans relax in natural environments – it’s amazing how just 10 minutes in a park amongst trees has a profoundly soothing effect on us. Even little things like getting a plant to put by your desk can make a big difference, so get your green on.
In studies when people had Botox and couldn’t frown or when people had the corners of their mouth lifted by chopsticks or pencils, their dopamine and serotonin levels were higher. If you’re feeling sad and you smile, your body sends a message to your brain saying “Oh, we’re happy, quick, get some dopamine and serotonin going!”
Both mindful meditation and yoga have been shown to decrease anxiety and depression and increase feelings of wellbeing and life satisfaction. If you’re new to a meditation practice, an app like Headspace or Calm is especially helpful.
- Be kinder to yourself.
When we get compliments and praise our dopamine and serotonin spike. Often people don’t realise the role their critical self-talk plays in suppressing these crucial neurochemicals. When you start saying nice things to yourself regularly, you naturally enhance your mood.
- Move that body.
Humans need movement and exercise and most of us live in a world that has made it easy for us to be sedentary all day. Cardiovascular exercise is a brilliant way to boost your bliss. Even if you just go for a brisk walk outside, it can reset your mindset wonderfully.
- Adjust your posture.
Often people who are clinically depressed have a slightly hunched over posture with their chin 45 degrees from the ground. When you lift your head up so your chin is parallel to the ground and you roll your shoulder blades back and down you send your brain a signal that everything is under control. Watch the #10 TED Talk on the list of 10 TED Talks that Illustrate Your Intrinsic Brilliance to learn more.
- Breathe evenly.
One of the ways people depress themselves is by having longer exhales than inhales (when our inhales are longer than our exhales we create the opposite experience: mania). When our breathing is even our autonomic nervous system is in balance so we’re left with a feeling of content and peace.
- Cuddle someone.
Cuddling and intimacy has been shown to boost oxytocin (another of one our brain’s reward chemicals). If you don’t have anyone in your life you feel comfortable cuddling, you can go to an animal shelter, cat cafe, or look for a place locally like The Spoonery which serves people seeking platonic comforting touch.
- Find a furry friend.
Studies show being with pets lowers the stress hormone cortisol, and this can also help enhance dopamine and serotonin because in an interconnected system, it’s hard for us to feel happy if we’re stressed…
So there you have it – 10 tips to help you naturally regulate your brain chemistry so you can be happier. You can even combine them! Smiling whilst cuddling someone in a park or jogging outside with a dog are just a few suggestions. These are some simple and easy ways we can all boost our wellbeing.
Commit to doing the majority or play around with incorporating a few of these into your day each day. The most important thing is that you make them habits. Once they are habits, it will be hard NOT to do them. And through these practices over time, you cannot not naturally re-balance the brain’s biochemistry so that anti-depressants become a thing of the past.