5 Simple Strategies to Change Your Brain Chemistry
Lacking enthusiasm for life?
Missing your usual spark?
An imbalance in your neurotransmitters may be to blame.
What are neurotransmitters?
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that keep our brains functioning.
There are plenty of them, but four in particular directly relate to your mental wellbeing:
- Serotonin stabilises your mood and makes you feel confident.
- Oxytocin helps you feel connected to other people and generates self-trust.
- Endorphins are usually associated with exercise, but this feel-good chemical is all about reducing pain and stabilising your immune system.
- And Dopamine is all about reward and pleasure, allowing you to stay motivated and positive.
Fortunately, you do not necessarily need medication, or a specialist, to help restore balance in your neurotransmitters. Here are a few simple ways to change the chemistry in your brain and regain control over your wellbeing – all it takes is a good dose of self-care.
1. Set small, achievable goals.
There is only one thing more satisfying than crossing off an item on your to-do list – the reward you give yourself for achieving what you set out to do.
Give yourself a task or two that supports your mental and physical health.
It could be a reflective task, like writing in a journal or practising meditation.
Or a physical activity, like exercise.
Or something more practical, like cleaning out some clothes you don’t wear anymore from your wardrobe.
Whatever goal or task you set, ensure there is some reward attached. This might be as simple as rewarding yourself with some ‘me time’ or it could be something more tangible, like a square or a choc chip cookie (or two!) when you have your afternoon coffee or tea – just something that brings you joy.
Don’t underestimate that even a relaxing hot bath or indulging in your favourite meal can both be great rewards that give your brain its dopamine fix.
Gyms are off limits for now, but don’t let that discourage you from looking after your physical health.
Cycling, running, walking (bonus points for walking somewhere in nature if this complies with current COVID-19 regulations of you being within 5kms of your home), yoga or even a backyard HIIT workout all offer an immediate rush of serotonin and dopamine.
We also know music boosts neurotransmitters, so why not put on your favourite song and have a dance in your lounge room?
Exercising regularly is a great long-term strategy because it helps stabilise mood and provides consistency of wellbeing.
3. Connect with loved ones
With social distancing requirements, hugging is out for many of us right now, as is seeing friends and family, but don’t let isolation disconnect you from your loved ones.
Connecting with others releases oxytocin, giving you that wonderful warm and fuzzy feeling. To receive this neurotransmitter, you need to give something to someone.
So, pay a loved-one a compliment – let them know how much you mean to them.
Show your friends and family you are thinking of them during these tough times – send a care package, a card or even a letter.
And don’t forget your pets!
Giving your furry family members some love and attention is good for them but also gives you an oxytocin boost.
4. Laugh out loud
With brain chemistry, laughter is the best medicine.
Laughter jiggles your brain to let the endorphins flow, so find an activity that makes you smile.
Put on your comfiest clothes, lay on the sofa and watch something funny: A light-hearted rom com, some stand-up or embarrassing home videos.
If you are after something more active, try a board game with your family or housemates.
And if you live alone, do it through Zoom or Houseparty or another app.
Dark chocolate also triggers endorphins, so keep a block handy, just in case…
5. Regular sleep
A terrible night’s sleep can throw you off course for the day, and an irregular sleep pattern will throw your brain chemistry out of whack.
If you are no longer working or have a disrupted schedule because of isolation, it is likely your sleep pattern has changed.
But like consistent exercise, regular sleep regulates your dopamine levels, which keeps you on top of your mental health.
Try as much as possible to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. When you sleep regularly, much else will fall into place, which means your day-to-day won’t feel like a chore.
“You are what you eat” absolutely means something when it comes to mental health.
As much as it is tempting to indulge daily in foods high in sugar and fat or turn to alcohol because these ‘indulgences’ give you a short-term high, long-term they actually make you feel low.
Because they feed the wrong bacteria in your gut, with recent research showing that gut bacterial imbalance is linked with depression.
So, what can you do?
I recommend following a Mediterranean Diet. Studies have shown the food combinations in this diet help shift the gut microbiome into a healthy range, which in turn improves your mood.
But wait, there is more.
There are certain foods which help you to naturally raise your feel-good hormones. Foods rich in amino acid and serotonin precursor tryptophan – such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans, lentils, cheese and salmon – help increase serotonin levels.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like to learn more about how to support your mood.