If you have been diagnosed with any type of mood disorder, then you have probably heard the word “serotonin” before. Despite being familiar with the word itself you may have asked yourself ‘what is serotonin and why does it matter.’ Serotonin is a brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, responsible for regulating many of the functions in your body that contribute to your overall health and wellbeing, and people who have anxiety disorders generally do not have enough of it.
There is some debate as to whether or not serotonin is low because you have anxiety, or vice versa. However, it appears that addressing your anxiety is likely to have a positive effect on serotonin levels as well.
The happiness neurotransmitter
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter most commonly associated with experiencing feelings of overall well-being and happiness. There are several theories on the development of low serotonin levels. One potential reason is that when you are frequently anxious, your brain begins to produce excess fear-related neurotransmitters, such as adrenaline while reducing production of neurotransmitters associated with happiness and relaxation such as dopamine and serotonin.
In reaction to this shift, the brain creates more receptors to handle all the excess fear neurotransmitters, and reduces the amount of serotonin receptors, which it deems less necessary. As a result, you become more prone to feeling anxious than to feeling relaxed.
While the brain chemical change theory is endorsed by many experts; However, it should noted that some people are simply born with less serotonin. Others may deplete their serotonin levels during times of stress. For some all of these factors are present.
Serotonin is a busy brain chemical and works more than one job. Apart from making you relaxed, it also helps you to regulate your sleeping patterns, your body temperature, your memory and your appetite. When any one of these things becomes irregular due to a lack of serotonin, it can cause you even more stress and perpetuate the cycle.
How Do I Know If I’m Low In Serotonin?
The best way to confirm that you have low serotonin levels is to see your doctor. A test to determine your serotonin levels may be conducted. It is more likely that your doctor will rule out other sources that may cause the same symptoms as low serotonin levels. Once other medical conditions are ruled out by your doctor, it is usually safe to assume that your serotonin levels are affected by your anxiety.
While there are many different types of anxiety disorders and therefore many different sets of symptoms that may point to a serotonin deficiency, there are a few symptoms that most anxiety disorders have in common and that you can look for in your own behavior. If you are regularly experiencing 3 or more of the following symptoms, you may want to look into possible treatments for anxiety.
- Difficulty sleeping
- Muscle aches
- Frequent nightmares
- Excessive worrying
- Panic attacks (rapid heart rate, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea)
Low serotonin at birth is more common in females than males. However, this issue affects both genders. As women are naturally lower in serotonin, they are more likely to develop anxiety disorders than men. However, "normal" low levels of serotonin for women are unlikely to cause anxiety disorders. It is possible to naturally have low levels of serotonin than normal, but it is more common for this to go in-hand with environmental stressors or to be due solely to the environmental stressors.
Will More Serotonin Get Rid Of My Anxiety?
Serotonin deficiency, while a major factor in persistent anxiety, is not necessarily the only factor. Nor is increasing serotonin levels a guaranteed cure for anxiety. Your beliefs, thought patterns, health, lifestyle, and environment are all factors that may occur in a number of combinations.
Whether you are naturally low in serotonin or you have become so primarily due to external stressors, it is important to do two things. First, it is important to address external stressors (with the help of a professional if need be). Second, it is important to make a serotonin-boosting change to your lifestyle that is both healthy and sustainable. This may consist of eating healthy and exercising often.
Studies have shown that a decrease in anxiety may also boost serotonin, even when it's naturally low. So keep in mind that you have a good chance of boosting your serotonin levels no matter the cause of your low serotonin. The section below will provide an overview of the different ways of boosting your serotonin levels and which will give you the most long-lasting relief.
How to Restore Serotonin
The body’s serotonin can be replenished in a variety of ways, some in the short term and some for the long term. The suggestions below will have both short and long term effects if maintained.
- Medication Anxiety medications are designed to treat chemical imbalances in the brain by triggering the release of more “happy” chemicals, including serotonin. Talk to your doctor or therapist to find out what medication is most appropriate for you, if any.
- Diet Eggs, cheese, pineapples, salmon, nuts, seeds, and turkey are believed to be good for naturally restoring serotonin in the brain. Keep in mind that you still need to eat a balanced diet but attempting to incorporate more of these items may have a positive impact on anxiety. Limiting unhealthy foods and committing yourself to a healthy diet will help you to get in shape and limit unnecessary physical stress on your body. This type of long term lifestyle change is the most effective when it comes to fighting anxiety. The less physical stress you have to deal with, the lower your mental stress levels will be. Dieting itself does not have to be a stressful process, as long as you choose a diet that allows you to eat a variety of foods and does not require you to starve yourself. Diets that limit you to only a certain type of food or keep you hungry are not effective in the long term and will likely make you miserable, which may actually have the effect of decreasing your serotonin levels.
- Exercise Exercise is another type of effective long term lifestyle change for increasing serotonin levels. Working the muscles in your body through exercise triggers the release of serotonin in the brain. Furthermore, improving your muscles’ flexibility and endurance will help your body to cope better with the physical symptoms of anxiety. Exercise may also make it easier for you to fall asleep at the end of the day and sleep deeply, which will alleviate fatigue and further decrease general stress.
Increasing your serotonin levels through the changes noted above can help bring your brain chemistry back into balance, so that you can stop feeling anxious and start feeling happiness.