The happiness hormones: how to boost serotonin, dopamine and endorphins

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Happiness is just one thing that hormones are responsible for and there are a ton of things you are doing in your daily life to impact your hormones.

Metabolism, response to injury, stress levels, energy, reproduction - our endocrine system, the system of glands that produce hormones, regulates all these things. Essentially, hormones are the messengers that control many of our bodily functions. They regulate our physical health and our mood.

The cool part about our bodies is that they can typically sense when we need more or less of something. All of our systems work together to regulate us. There are some things we can do, however, to help the processes.

Below are some foods you can eat and habits and activities you can start adding to your day to naturally boost the levels of hormones in your body that make you happy: serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.

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Snack on nuts and seeds

Serotonin is the hormone that regulates mood, perception, memory and attention. Because the endocrine system is linked with the gastrointestinal system, foods that might complement hormone production are a good way to promote the release of those hormones. Think about this: Your brain has to breathe in order to help you think. Oxidative stress makes it difficult for your brain to breathe. As we age, damage from free radicals - imbalanced atoms that scavenge our bodies - causes oxidative stress on our cells. Vitamin E, which can be found in nuts and seeds, for example, protects cells from this oxidative stress and thus boosts brain function.

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Incorporate salmon into your diet

Fats in your diet provide energy for your body. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish have been proven to reduce inflammation and may lower your risk of depression. It's important to get this through your diet because omega-3 is considered an essential fatty acid, meaning the human body can't produce it. The research on the connection between lower levels of depression and consuming fish is growing, and some researchers think it has to do with omega-3 fatty acids boosting the levels of dopamine and serotonin circulating through your body.

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Munch on blueberries

Improved blood flow to your brain helps support endocrine activity making it easier for your body to circulate dopamine and serotonin. Fruits like blueberries are rich in antioxidants, simple carbs and fiber. Like in seeds and nuts, the antioxidants in blueberries prevent free radical damage as well as reduce inflammation. There is also a possible connection between the flavonoids (plant chemicals with strong health benefits) in blueberries and their interaction with serotonin and dopamine receptors.

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Indulge in dark chocolate

An excuse to eat chocolate? Yes, please. The caffeine in dark chocolate blocks adenosine, a substance in the brain that increases sleepiness. As a result, you might notice that you're more focused due to the stimulant. Dark chocolate is also rich in antioxidants, so it might provide similar mood-boosting effects to that of blueberries.

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Add avocados

Monounsaturated fats are healthy fats found in avocados. You still need fats for healthy body functions. They help to provide you with energy. It is the monounsaturated fats that don't clog your arteries allowing blood to move more freely through your circulatory system and thus better able to circulate dopamine and serotonin throughout your body. Better circulation also means better blood flow to your brain allowing for more production of these hormones. Half an avocado is a serving size and that will provide 7% of your daily fat intake.

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Pick up some lavender sprigs or essential oil

Aromatherapy releases dopamine and serotonin. This happens because the smell receptors in your nose send messages to your nervous and limbic systems, which are the parts of your brain related to emotions. Lavender has been shown to lower distress and anxiety.

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Diffuse vanilla

Like lavender, vanilla is a soothing scent that reduces stress and anxiety. Because depression is linked with reduced serotonin levels, the use of vanilla to increase serotonin levels has been the object of scientific studies. Those studies, which are done on mice and rats, have found that vanilla does demonstrate antidepressant activity in the brain.

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Infuse citrus

The brain needs constant blood flow. Cerebral circulation provides the organ with the oxygen and nutrients it needs for healthy brain function - like sending the right messages to the right receptors. Citrus fruits are high in antioxidants and work as natural blood thinners while preventing plaque buildup at the same time. This reduces your risk of poor circulation or clotting, and your brain will get the blood flow it needs to keep you energized and happy. An easy way to get your citrus in is by eating an orange or grapefruit, or by infusing your water with lemons and limes.

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Go outside

Seasonal depression is a condition that affects your mood when the seasons change. A common one is the "winter blues," which might result from lack of sun. Though the exact cause has not been found, theories suggest it is because our biological clocks are imbalanced, causing hormones to shift. It is suggested that exposure to sunlight can boost serotonin levels, so hop on a bike, go for a walk or simply sit in the sun for a mood-booster.

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Buy a sun lamp

Sun lamps, or light therapy boxes, are built to mimic the natural light of the sun. Just as with going outside to enjoy some sun, purchasing a light therapy box to sit near might boost melatonin, which helps regulate sleep, and serotonin, which reduces anxiety.

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Exercise

The "runner's high" is no joke. Consistent, focused workouts can release endorphins that will quickly alleviate feelings of distress and reduce feelings of pain. You don't need to go on a run to feel the effects of endorphins; take a walk, go ice-skating, lift weights or sign up for a spin class.

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Meditate

Studies have shown that there is a link between mediation and increased dopamine levels. Meditation can have a quieting effect on a wandering mind. Take a few minutes to close your eyes, take some deep breaths and exhale. Allowing yourself a few minutes of peace can help soothe nerves and lower symptoms of depression.

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Take time to show gratitude

Maybe your friend showed up at your door with your favorite coffee. Maybe your grandma called to catch up. Maybe your husband tidied the house up while you ran errands. Maybe your manager thanked you for your work. Whatever it was that made you smile, take time to really appreciate it. Showing gratitude is a positive emotion. Dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are released when you smile.

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Try to achieve a goal

Positive feelings are also attached to accomplishing a goal. Did you run an extra mile this week? Did you get the kids to school on time today? Did you make it through the month without going over your budget? A sense of pride and happiness comes with accomplishing something, and you might find yourself smiling, which releases all three of those feel-good hormones. Take some time to dwell on the excitement, and feel your mood improve as you do.

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Do something you've never done before

Kind of like achieving a goal, do something new this month. Whether it's going to a new restaurant you've been wanting to try or going on a helicopter tour over your city or skiing a new mountain, do it. Dopamine is released when the brain experiences something new because there is pleasure in accomplishing - or trying to accomplish - things.

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Think about a happy memory

Do you ever find yourself feeling sad, so you go through old pictures or hold something nostalgic like your old little-league baseball glove or a necklace you got for your birthday years ago? Thinking about happy memories does the same thing as feeling thankful for something. It causes you to smile, and thus those happiness hormones course through your bloodstream and elevate your mood.

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Remedy with tea

Lemon tea has similar effects to citrus-infused water with its antioxidant benefits. Turmeric tea reduces inflammation. Chamomile tea is used to ease insomnia and invoke calmness. Buy some tea bags or, in the case of turmeric, make the mixture at home, steep in boiling water and enjoy.

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Get a massage

Loosened muscles can lead to increased circulation and the serene atmosphere of the spa itself can reduce fatigue and stress. Serotonin and dopamine will rise, and cortisol - the hormone released when you're stressed - will decrease.

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Sleep

Sleeping is crucial for concentration, quick response times and healthy brain functions. Reducing fatigue through quality sleep will help your brain regulate the endocrine system and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

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Ask for a hug

Because hugs are dope-amine. Have you ever hugged someone and felt angry? Chances of that happening are low, and that's because hugging people results in feelings of comfort and positivity from a release of dopamine.

If you're still looking for more ways to lower stress levels and feel balanced and at peace, eat gut-healthy foods. Your gastrointestinal system is directly tied to your brain, and we have a list of the best foods for your gut.

 

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