by Heidi Gerber, LMT, MSLAc is the Director of Live Well at Tournesol Wellness
For many of us, the winter of 2015 was cruel, cold, wet, and lonely. But now that the temperature is slowly warming up and the sun is trying to shine, why are we still feeling miserable?
Just as the outside temperature is increasing, so is the body’s internal temperature. During this period of adaptation, the neurotransmitter serotonin increases its production. It’s one of the major mood neurotransmitters in our brains. Simply, when serotonin levels are low, we’re more depressed, and when they’re high, we’re happier. This is why antidepressants that raise serotonin levels can help people diagnosed with depression.
Some symptoms of low serotonin levels include depression, low self-esteem, irritability, OCD, anxiety, and panic attacks. Studies have suggested that low levels of serotonin directly affect Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), partly because there is not enough serotonin to convert to the sleep substance, melatonin. Researchers found that regardless of the season, the serotonin levels in the brain are directly affected by the amount of sunlight with higher levels on bright days than on overcast or cloudy days. In fact, the rate of serotonin production in the brain was directly related to the duration of bright sunlight.
Vitamin D, received from the sun, helps encourage serotonin production and release. If you’re not getting enough vitamin D, sit in the sun for 20 minutes, depending on your skin tone levels. Be careful not of getting burnt and watch for skin cancer warnings. Taking a supplement may help reduce symptoms related to low serotonin levels, but check with your doctor before beginning supplementation.
Serotonin levels are key to maintaining balanced mental and physical health. The following foods have the highest concentrations of serotonin. Eating these should help during this transition process:
- milk (grass-fed is best)
- eggs (cage-free is best)
- meat (grass-fed is best)
Exercise plays a key role in anxiety and depression as well. Slow meditative walks for 15-20 minutes can boost our mood and help deal with stress. Get your exercise outdoors to increase your serotonin twice as fast. Massage and acupuncture are excellent natural modalities to help with depression and anxiety.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “Major depression is defined as a severely depressed mood that goes on for two weeks or more, interfering with a person’s daily functions.” Depression is a serious disability. If you or someone you know suffers from depression, please get them help.