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How to Naturally Produce More Dopamine and Serotonin to Boost Your Mood

Shape logo Shape 4/23/2021 Marnie Schwartz
a woman wearing a blue dress: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty © Provided by Shape Klaus Vedfelt/Getty

Dozens of hormones that influence your emotions and mood are at work in your body. Two of them, dopamine and serotonin, are especially important for happiness. Your daily habits and routines can affect their levels and how you feel, says Scott Bea, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic.

Dopamine and serotonin function as neurotransmitters in the brain, helping neurons talk to one another. There, serotonin regulates mood and happiness. It's particularly active in two regions associated with emotional processing and control — the amygdala and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, says researcher Caroline Wallace of Queen's University in Ontario. Dopamine is involved in pleasure, motivation, learning, and memory. "When we engage in activities that are rewarding or associated with happiness, dopamine plays a role in the good feelings," says Bea. (Related: How to Identify Your Feelings with a Wheel of Emotions — and Why You Should)

a woman wearing a blue dress: Dopamine and serotonin are key to feeling happy. Here's the science-backed way to unleash their power. © Provided by Shape Dopamine and serotonin are key to feeling happy. Here's the science-backed way to unleash their power.

Stress, genetics, and fluctuations in your other hormones may affect the dopamine and serotonin in your brain, says Bea. Inflammation may slow their production and activate enzymes that break them down quickly, adds Wallace. Fortunately, the strategies below can help to optimize dopamine and serotonin — and your mood. (Note: They aren't a replacement for medication if you suffer from depression. Speak with your medical provider to find the best treatment for you.)


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Sleep on Schedule

"There's a strong connection between the serotonin system and circadian rhythms," says Anne M. Andrews, Ph.D., a neuroscience and psychiatry professor at UCLA who studies serotonin. Disturbances in your serotonin system, like a change in hormone production because of stress, can mess with your internal clock so you have trouble sleeping. If your sleep schedule is off, that may affect your serotonin system and your mood. Waking up and going to bed at the same time daily may help, she says. (Related: Is It Bad to Take Melatonin Every Night?)

Balance Your Burn

Working out has been proven to be effective against depression and in regulating mood, perhaps because it stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin, says Bea. For the biggest benefit, include cardio and strength training in your routine: Research shows that the combination is more effective against depression, and for improving your outlook, than either one alone. (This HIIT workout is designed to perk you up.)

Pop Probiotics

In a review of studies, Wallace found that probiotics may help improve depression symptoms. That's likely because of the gut-brain axis, a "biochemical signaling network from the GI tract to the brain," she says. Conditions that lead to depression (like chronic stress) may compromise the GI tract lining, letting inflammatory chemicals get into your brain, causing your mood to drop. Probiotics might help by keeping your gut lining intact, she says. Eating plenty of probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt and kimchi, may be beneficial.

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