The so-called happy hormone is your body’s in-built moodimproving switch. But securing a regular buzz needn’t mean indulging your more libertine impulses. Use our score sheet to enjoy a healthy high, whenever you want it. Consider it self-care without the scented candles
1. GET A GRIP ON YOUR MOOD
Skin-on-skin contact is a proven antidepressant: simply holding hands with your partner releases serotonin, as well as regulating your heart rate. Or, for a more high-octane hormone hit, take up a close-contact sport such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Grappling with your foe will flood your body with stress-relieving chemicals. A chokehold isn’t so different from a cuddle, is it?
2. LIVE IN THE PAST
The irrepressible popularity of mindfulness meditation might have you convinced that “staying in the moment” is the key to enlightenment. But that, ironically, is old news: San Francisco State University found that nostalgia correlates strongly with life satisfaction and that looking at photos of loved ones will trigger the production of mood-improving hormones. It seems that Facebook Memories might have a purpose, after all.
3. START A NEW PET PROJECT
Not only does man’s best friend provide plenty of fodder for your Instagram feed, but a University of Missouri study found that a #doggo can keep depression on a tight leash. Just a few minutes spent petting a dog releases serotonin, as well as the feel-good “bonding hormone” oxytocin. No pet of your own? Volunteer as a dog-walker and you will enjoy the healthy brain-chemical boost that altruism also bestows.
4. TAKE THE PLUNGE
Go wild swimming. Cold-water immersion fires up your endorphin production, which gives you a warming hit of serotonin. Plus, just think how good that warm towel will feel.
5. WAIT FOR THE DROP
That “chill” you feel at the crescendo of a well-loved song is a sign that your brain is pumping out dopamine, a “reward” neurotransmitter closely linked to serotonin. In fact, a study in Nature Neuroscience found that levels of the chemical rose nine per cent in those listening to spine-tingling tracks. It’s a valid reason to upgrade your sound system.
6. LIGHT A BONFIRE
The sound, smell and sight of crackling flames will trigger your relaxation response, reports Evolutionary Psychology. Marshmallows help too.
7. MAKE YOUR PERFECT PITCH
For the average desk monkey, life in the urban jungle cuts exposure to daylight well below optimal levels, disrupting the production of sleep hormone melatonin – and an offkilter sleep cycle will sink your mood. But there’s a simple solution. A study in Current Biology found that a weekend spent camping can bring your body clock forward by 100 minutes. That’s enough to get you out of the woods after a sleepless week.
8. DRINK IN THE SCENERY
When it comes to pumping up your mental well-being, even the best gyms can’t match the great outdoors. Training in green spaces will brighten your day, but look for blue to really give your brain a lift. A University of Essex study found that waterside training is the best way to improve your mental health. Try a soft-sand jog, or, better still, book a holiday.
9. BOOK GIG TICKETS
Alternatively, go to a live show. When enjoying music as part of a crowd, your feelings of self-worth and closeness to others rise by 25 per cent, according to research by Goldsmith’s University. Until the stampede for the last train, presumably.
10 – 12. HAPPY MEALS
Optimise the way you feel, one bite at a time
Swap out trending plant milks for kefir in your oats. A study in Beneficial Microbes found that the fermented drink’s probiotics raised serotonin levels in overworked medical students. Just what the doctor ordered.
Opt for egg mayo in your lunchtime sandwich. The tryptophan it contains helps the brain to make serotonin. The effect is so strong that the Leiden Institute found men were twice as likely to donate to good causes after eating it. Good eggs, indeed.
Fish and chips. Research in Neuropharmacology found fats in oily fish increase serotonin synthesis, while carbs aid sleep.
13. BUY NEW THREADS
The priciest of spices may be worth its weight in gold, but saffron could justify the outlay. An eight-week study by Murdoch University found that supplements containing saffron extract had a similar effect to drugs that act on the brain’s serotonin receptors. Sprinkle some onto your seafood paella or, if you want a sweeter way to help the medicine go down, combine 20 threads of crushed saffron with 450g of strawberries to make a jam that will, ahem, preserve your mental well-being.
14. STREAM SOME PEACE AND QUIET
The snappily named autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is best described as a pleasant “tingling” that is triggered by specific soothing sounds, such as that of a person whispering or a cat purring. You’ll find plenty of clips purporting to activate this response on YouTube. Sound like a load of pseudoscience? A Sheffield University study found that subjects’ well-being improved after listening to ASMR clips, with their heart rate dropping by 3bpm. Sounds rather lovely, doesn’t it?
15. FAKE IT
Marathon world-record-holder Eliud Kipchoge uses “periodic smiling” to break through the pain barrier. You can employ the same technique at work: forcing yourself to crack a smile at random intervals keeps your heart rate lower during stressful tasks, as well as releasing endorphins and serotonin. It might not take the sting out of a marathon, but we bet you just tried it . .
16. MAKE DO AND MEND
Creative pursuits have a purpose far beyond padding out your dating profile. A study published in the journal Art Therapy found that 45 minutes of craft work can reduce serotonin-crushing stress hormone levels by 75 per cent, while knitting has been shown to lower heart rates by 11bpm. Our tip? Try woodwork: scientists found touching wood (yes, we said it) stimulates your body’s relaxation response.
17. MAKE WAVES
If two minutes of a woman running a hairbrush over a microphone (see tip 14) is a bit much for you, try an ocean-wave sounds app, which studies show can improve sleep – and your mood tomorrow.
18. EAT BEIGE FOODS
There are many factors at play in your post-lunch slump: low blood sugar, tiredness, the prospect of another three hours spent grappling with multiple Google docs. Some researchers believe that our serotonin levels may also dip at this point in the day. Crashing? Starchy carbs help to reverse this. Swap your mid-afternoon berry-based snack for a thick slice of peanut butter on toast. Peanuts contain tryptophan, which plays a vital role in serotonin production.
19 BOOK IN FOR A TWEAKMENT
A Cardiff University study found that people who struggled to frown following Botox were happier than those who could. Being ID-ed at after-work drinks ought to brighten your day, too.
20. GET DOWN AND DIRTY
A chic fitness studio with staff on hand to disinfect the mats and dish out bottles of alkaline water may sound like a wellness utopia. However, to get the most out of your workout, you need to get your hands grubby. Really grubby. The University of Bristol found exposure to soil bacteria can have a similar effect on the brain to antidepressants. So, to unearth greater mental well-being, rep out burpees in the park, or spend an arvo tending to your garden.
21. WEIGHT FOR IT
A good squeeze from a friend will, under the right circumstances, flood you with feel-good hormones. Hugmimicking devices such as weighted “therapy” blankets encourage the release of serotonin and melatonin, lulling you into a recharging slumber. Check out gravid.com.au for your heaviest sleep yet.
22. DRUM UP SUPPORT
Alternatively, you could just hit things loudly with sticks. Weekly drum sessions can reduce feelings of depression by 38 per cent, according to a Royal College of Music study.
23. SOAK IT UP
Finally, wash away the blues with a bath. According to a University of Freiburg study, two soaks per week will improve your mood more than aerobic exercise. In the study, baths followed by chill time in a warm towel reduced depressive symptoms more than an interval class. Not a hard sell