Serotonin is known as a feel-good hormone, which largely affects our overall well-being, self-esteem and even the feeling of hunger. The level of this chemical in our bodies is known to be at its lowest in the winter, since the release of serotonin decreases in low light. For this reason, many experience the feeling of irritability, panic and mild depression in the winter months, combined with poor sleep quality and frequent hunger pangs.
The majority of people having these symptoms feel a lot better around April or May, when days get longer and higher light levels boost the production of the chemical. But what can you do until then, without having to resort to drugs? There are several great natural ways to increase your serotonin levels.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Proteins such as turkey, eggs, nuts and beans all stimulate serotonin release by the brain. Fatty fish varieties like salmon, herring and sardines, or other essential fatty acid sources like avocado, vegetable oils and flaxseed are all good for serotonin production as well.
Avoid simple carbs like white bread and white rice, which will quickly increase your blood sugar levels, but cause a significant drop in energy later. Stick with “good” carbs, such as nuts, legumes and brown rice. And don’t think that avoiding carbs altogether will solve the issue.
Our bodies need a combination of nutrients to function at their best. While proteins are great for serotonin production, eating proteins alone can actually hamper the release of the chemical, as opposed to eating a protein-rich meal with a small side of complex carbs. Leafy greens are good too, as well as various fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, asparagus and sour cherries.
Exercising helps release several feel-good hormones, including dopamine and serotonin. Even just 20 minutes of physical activity a day can greatly boost your mood. It will also give you a more steady energy flow than what you would get from stimulants like coffee.
Avoid Sugar, Alcohol and Caffeine
While stimulants might give you an immediate feel-good sensation, they will quickly wear out and actually decrease your serotonin levels over time. Try to avoid sugar and alcohol in the winter, and keep your caffeine consumption to no more than one or two cups a day after meals.
Get Enough Sleep
Our bodies convert part of the serotonin into a sleep chemical melatonin. Because we don’t get enough serotonin in the winder, our levels of melatonin suffer as well, leading to poor sleep quality. It’s not only important to try to get a good amount of rest in the winter months, but to also get quality sleep. One way to do this is to eat serotonin-rich foods before bed. Some great evening snacks you can try for this are sour cherries, bananas, kiwis and pineapples.
Use Bright Indoor Light
If you live in the area where sunshine is particularly scarce in the winter, consider investing into some bright indoor lights to improve serotonin production. Go with 300-watt light bulbs that imitate natural daylight for the best results.
Spend Time with People You Love
Serotonin is not the only hormone that’s responsible for keeping our mood up. Other chemicals in our bodies have a similar function. Oxytocin, for example, known as the cuddle hormone, is produced when we feel comfort and love. So next time you feeling like the winter blues are creeping up on you, get a quick mood lift by spending time with your significant other, family and friends.
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