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Natural Mood Booster - How To Improve Your Mental Wellbeing Naturally

Scientific studies have shown that there is a strong link between the brain's chemicals - such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and melatonin - and diet, exercise, sleep, sunlight and stress.

In this article I will discuss how our environment can affect these chemicals and thus our mood and what actions we can take in order to limit these actions and boost our inner wellbeing.

Before I get into telling you what methods you can use in boosting your mood I'll give a definition of the four main 'mood chemicals'.

Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter which is in the make-up of a wide range of animals. Within the brain it has a number of functions in behaviour, motor activity, motivation, sleep, stress, mood, learning, attention and milk production.

In addition to this dopamine is associated with the 'pleasure system' of our brain which provides feeling of enjoyment, motivation and proactivity. Therefore suppression of this chemical will make feel demotivated, dissatisfied and generally unhappy.

As with dopamine, serotonin is a neurotransmitter and is linked to aggression, anger, body temperature, mood, sleep, sexuality, appetite and even vomiting. With this in mind let's look at mood. Mood and our serotonin levels affect emotion, behaviour and thought; therefore low levels of this bodily chemical are quite possibly the underlying cause of depression and aggressive actions.

Norepinephrine is a stress hormone and affects the sections of the brain which control attention and responsive actions. Along with the bodily chemical epinephrine it underlies the action of fight-or-flight A lack of this chemical will lead to poor concentration, restlessness and irritability.

Melatonin is a chemical which is affected by light and sleep patterns. Research has suggested that a lack of melatonin can lead to headaches and could be the underlying cause of the condition Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Now that we've gained a little understanding on the functions of these important mood chemicals I can know give you a little insight into the techniques which you can follow to increase the production of these chemicals naturally.

Exercise - I know that it's a bit of a cliché that taking regular exercise will improve your mood and increase energy levels, but it's one which works. If you are feeling blue, dust down those trainers/sneakers and hit that treadmill or undertake any other form of exercise you feel comfortable performing, and do a 20-30 routine.

A good old fashioned workout will increase your levels of dopamine and serotonin which in turn will improve your mood and give you more energy. How will it give you more energy? Well, not only will your fitness levels increase but the rise in serotonin and dopamine will make you less sluggish, give you more motivation and more importantly make you less restless and irritable, which means you'll sleep a lot better.

N.B. Before you undertake any new exercise regime you should seek advice from your doctor.

If you stay indoors quite a lot and don't get out in the fresh air and sun as much as you perhaps should, then your levels of melatonin may well decrease which in turn affects your sleep patterns, making you feel drowsy, irritable and generally crabby and as we discussed earlier can lead to seasonal depression.

Laughter - This one might seem a bit silly especially if you're suffering from depression and don't feel like having much fun. The theory behind this natural mood booster is that laughing on a regular basis will flood the body with tension killing hormones, which make us relaxed and less susceptible to the stresses that life can throw at us. Therefore the next time you're feeling low put on a funny movie or even make silly faces in the mirror, anything which will make you laugh really.

Oily Fish - The next natural mood booster is eating oily fish such as salmon, herring, tuna and sardines. These contain Omega 3 fatty acids which help reduce depressive symptoms. Wild pacific salmon, mid-Atlantic blue crab, croaker, haddock, farmed catfish, shrimp, summer flounder are all are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and are low in mercury which is good news for pregnant women who are may be concerned about the effects of consuming high levels of this mineral on their unborn child.

If you don't like fish perhaps talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking some sort of fish oil supplement

Crying - Reports show that having a good old cry once in while may be a natural mood booster. The tears which are produced from the results of a good blub contain chemicals which are built up during periods of tension; therefore crying washes these out of your system, which in turn lowers stress levels.

Sunlight - Not only is sunshine good for us physically - in terms of providing us with essential vitamin D - it benefits us mentally too. It does this by boosting our feel good chemicals such as melatonin and dopamine. A few rays a day will help ward of seasonal affective disorder too. So if you ever wondered why people always seem that little bit more cheerful when the sun is shining, now you know.

If you stay indoors quite a lot and don't get out in the fresh air and sun as much as you perhaps should, then your levels of melatonin may well decrease which in turn affects your sleep patterns, making you feel drowsy, irritable and generally crabby and as we discussed earlier can lead to seasonal depression.

Chocolate - Chocolate is a good natural mood booster because it contains small amounts of chemicals which improve our mental wellbeing such as phenylethylamine, anandamide and tryptophan. However as these chemicals are minuscule it is believed that they make is feel good by maintaining the levels of these chemicals that are already in our bodies, so perhaps eating twenty chocolate bars in on sitting might be taking things that little bit too far.

B Vitamins - These vitamins are good natural mood boosters because they are great for our central nervous system. As our bodies can't produce vitamin B on its own it essential that we get it from our food or from supplements. Foods which a rich in vitamin B are whole-grain cereals, bread, red meat, egg yolks, green leafy vegetables, legumes, sweet corn, brown rice, berries, cheese, peas, milk, butter, fish, brown rice, liver and yeast. As you can see, luckily we can find these important vitamins in a number of foods.

Caffeine - Caffeine can deprive you of sleep and make you edgy and irritable. It boosts your mood for short periods but remember what goes up tends to come back down even harder.

Drink less alcohol - Alcohol acts as depressant so drinking it to excess will strip our bodies of essential mood boosting chemicals. It also does a great job of depleting our levels of stored B vitamins too, which as I explained earlier adversely affects our mental sate. Finally the consumption of alcohol interferes with our Rapid Eye Movement (REM) which means we don't sleep properly which leads us to becoming irritable and restless.

More sleep - having a good nights sleep is mentally good for us because it helps are brains switch off and recharge our energy levels meaning we'll be less irritable, crabby and restless. Usually as we get older we don't need as much sleep because we use less energy, but you should at least try and get 8 hours of sleep per day to feel the benefits.

Buy a pet - reports suggest that buying a pet such as a cat will improve your mood by making you less stressed out. If you ever wondered why hospitals are allowing pets to visit sick patients, it's because it is believed they make us feel good which helps us fight serious illness better. Obviously it is only a good idea to buy a pet if you have the means to look after it.

Always remember if you're suffering from depression don't do so in silence, go see your doctor and talk things over. They are there to help you.

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