6 Natural and Effective Ways to Change Your Brain Chemistry and Be Happier
We're deep into the days of Seasonal Affective Disorder, more commonly known as SAD. The lack of sunlight causes our levels of serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that impacts our mood; and melatonin, a hormone that impacts our mood and sleep patterns; to drop. This causes depression, a drop in energy, and general irritability. Luckily, there are plenty of natural ways to alter the biochemistry of our brains to boost our mood. (See also: 29 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Happier)
1. Let in the Light
Open those curtains wide to take in the small amount of natural sunlight we do have in the winter. On your lunch break, get outside even for a short period of time to soak up the sun to give your afternoon an extra boost. Light therapy is easy to get at home or in your office, inexpensive, and highly effective. There are a number of light therapy lamps and bulbs on the market at a variety of price points.
2. Adopt a Pet
There are many benefits to pet parenting, and one of the best is pets' ability to make us happy. Studies show that spending time with animals reduces the levels of harmful hormones such as cortisol, the stress hormone, and raises levels of healthy ones such as oxytocin, the love hormone. If your life is too hectic to take on the responsibility of pet ownership right now, consider offering to spend time with a friend's pet or volunteer at an animal shelter. Even short bursts of time with animals have health benefits. (See also: 5 Ways to Lower Pet Expenses)
3. Work It Out
Despite the cold, find ways to get your workouts at home, in the gym, or outside wearing a good number of layers to keep the cold at bay. By now it's well known that regular exercise reduces anxiety, relaxes us, and improves our general outlook on life. Best of all, we don't need to spend hours on the treadmill. Moderate levels of exercise, just 20 to 30 minutes a day, any way you can get it, can elevate your mood.
4. Take Care of Your Whole Self
Self-pampering is a sure fire way to lift us up out of any funk. Winter weather does a number on our skin, hair, and nails in addition to affecting our mood. Give yourself an at-home spa day. Certain foods like salmon, avocado, turkey, and bananas are known to improve mood with high levels of omega-3 and tyrosine that increase the happy brain chemicals of serotonin and dopamine. (See also: 10 DIY Spa Treatments)
5. Get Some Art and Soul
Science shows that art in its many forms makes us happier. Music is known to lift our spirits, so play your favorite music and take a boogie break. It lowers cortisol levels, so stress decreases as we crank up the tunes, and it improves cognitive function.
Laughter has incredible effects on our physiology too. In fractions of a second, laughter rapidly improves our mood by literally rewiring our brains. It's always a good time to watch movies and read books that make us laugh. Better yet, grab a friend and head to a local comedy show to share the laughter with others.
6. Spend Time With Others
This cold weather has many of us inside praying for spring. Being cooped up indoors away from others can cause our mood to take a nosedive. Even just one meet up per week with a friend holds tremendous benefits for us and it doesn't matter what activity you do together. Go to a movie, grab lunch or coffee, take a walk in the park, or even carve out time for a phone call or Skype chat. It's the presence of another person in our day that does wonders for us by dropping cortisol levels in the brain. (See also: Why Cultivating Relationships Is Good for You)
Our biochemistry can work for us or against us. The great news is that we aren't helpless to the rise and fall of our brain chemicals. We can raise the healthy ones and lower the damaging ones through our actions. All we need is the will to be happy and we can find ways to make it happen.
How do you trick yourself into a better mood despite the gloom outside? Please share in comments!