The brain is a complex system of neurons that communicate through the release and uptake of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Two of these neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, play an important role in the regulation of mood, sleep, appetite, movement and posture. Medications such as antidepressants act by preventing the uptake of serotonin by the neurons, keeping more of it available in the brain to improve mood and relieve symptoms of depression. Dopamine also plays a role in mood, specifically the ability to experience pleasure, as well as other emotions. Fortunately, you can make lifestyle changes that can increase serotonin and dopamine levels.
Engage in regular physical activity for at least 30 minutes five days a week. The National Institutes of Health explains that exercise has been found consistently in several studies to improve mood. It adds that this is likely a result of improved functioning of serotonin in the brain. Regular exercise increases the amount of tryptophan, which is a precursor of serotonin. This effect continues on after the exercise has been completed, suggesting that serotonin levels, too, remain increased in the brain.
Increase your exposure to bright light. A 1983 study performed at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that laboratory animals exposed to bright light had higher levels of dopamine in the retina of the eyes. In addition, a 2007 article written by Simon N. Young of McGill University and published in "The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience" explains that several studies have shown that exposure to bright light such as sunlight increases serotonin levels in the brain. In previous generations, much of the work was performed outside in the form of agriculture. Now, people are generally indoors when they work and this correlates with an increased number of individuals receiving treatment for depression.
Engage in activities that make you happy. A 2007 article written by Simon N. Young of McGill University and published in the "Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience" cites a 2002 study that found a correlation between reported levels of happiness and the amount of serotonin the brain synthesizes. This suggests that self-imposed changes in mood can increase the level of serotonin. Taking steps to making yourself feel happier includes indulging your favorite pastimes and may also include seeking professional help in the form of psychotherapy.
Eat a diet that includes foods rich in dopamine precursors and avoid foods that negatively affect dopamine levels. Foods that contain dopamine precursors include almonds, avocados, dairy products and pumpkin seeds. These foods contain amino acids that the brain uses to produce dopamine, according to Integrative Psychiatry. Eat a healthier diet that includes these foods and reduces or eliminates your consumption of highly processed foods high in sugar and saturated fats.
Learn to deal with stress effectively. Techniques such as guided imagery and meditation can help you learn to handle stress in your life with less impact on your health. According to Integrative Psychiatry, stress depletes dopamine from the brain. Additionally, stress often has a negative affect on mood and sleeping patterns, leading to more stress and affecting both dopamine and serotonin levels.
- National Institutes of Health: How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs
- Medline Plus: Catecholamines
- Canadian Institutes of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction: The Brain From Top to Bottom
- University of Texas: Understanding Addiction: Dopamine - A Sample Neurotransmitter
- Integrative Psychiatry: Dopamine: Natural Ways to Increase Dopamine Levels
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Tyrosine Administration Enhances Dopamine Synthesis and Release in Light-Activated Rat Retina