What Is Serotonin And How Does It Affect Anxiety?
The human body is capable of feeling an infinite variety of emotions, a good number of them at the same time. From joy to depression, anger to confusion, our range of emotions are as varied as colors in the rainbow.
It’s no doubt that emotions have a huge influence in our lives. They have the innate capability of influencing what we think and what we do. We base our schedules and decisions on what we are feeling, and only the toughest of individuals can disregard them completely. Emotion is what makes us human, and learning to embrace that is part of living a full life.
However, as astounding as it may sound, we sometimes tend to forget that these emotions are simply a result of chemicals and hormones in our body. The human body, despite its many intricacies and complexities, is not much unlike a machine that is run by network of physiological mechanisms triggering any variety of feelings and emotions — and anxiety is no different.
Like any other emotion, anxiety is caused by a mix of chemicals and hormones in our body. But just like any other emotion, it can be offset by a good number of other chemicals and hormones. This is why anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications are so effective at suppressing symptoms of anxiety disorders. However, many of these chemicals need not come from outside sources. Some of them are manufactured within our own body. Serotonin is one of them.
Serotonin has been known to be a hormone that is effective at curbing the effects of anxiety. It is highly successful in altering moods and emotions so much that it is found in a number of medications.
But what exactly is serotonin? How does serotonin affect anxiety? And if it really does help in reducing our anxiety, how do we increase the serotonin in our body?
Understanding What Serotonin Does
Before answering any number of those questions, it’s important to first start by understanding what serotonin is and what exactly it does to our body.
Put simply, serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the brain also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine that helps regulate and alter a person’s moods and emotions through the transmission of various nerve impulses.
However, serotonin also plays a number of different roles in the body outside of mood alteration. A majority of our body’s total serotonin amount can be found in our digestive tract, and aids in the regulation of intestinal movements. It also helps in regulating the activity of specific cells and organs. Research even shows that serotonin plays a role in how our body heals itself from open wounds and other minor injuries.
People aren’t the only living things who carry serotonin, however. Serotonin can be found in a number of animals and plants, serving another wide variety of functions.
Despite these many significant roles of serotonin (whose molecular formula is noted as C10H12N2O), the neurotransmitter is more significantly known for its ability to alter a person’s mood and emotions. Studies have shown that though serotonin can be found in both the brain and in the gut, its individual tasks in those specific areas are largely co-related. Serotonin also manages the body’s ability to gauge the immediate supply of resources (at an instinctive level, resources mean food).
Basically serotonin plays a large part in terms of our appetite, and how much food we demand of ourselves every single day. Whether we are getting too much food or too little food is immediately signalled back to us through our mood and emotions. That is why we feel content and happy when we are full, and cranky and irritable when we are hungry.
On top of that, serotonin has been known to play a big role in how we perceive ourselves socially. An increased amount of serotonin has been known to spark a sense of competition among animals. Research has shown a variety of different animal types injected with an increased amount serotonin – the result was an observable increase of confidence and self-perceived dominance. Serotonin doesn’t make someone a egomaniac so to speak (though research has yet to prove otherwise), though it seems that serotonin also plays a role in our perception of social standing. However, serotonin’s effects aren’t easily calculated.
Apparently, the effect of serotonin on our social self-perception is also largely dependent on how we are socially to begin with since it immediately affects our “fight-and-flight” response. In other words, it relates to our ability to handle immediate threats, dangers and sources of stress and anxiety.
On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, a study conducted at Oxford university found that serotonin influences our perception of intimacy and romance. Lower serotonin activity perceived observed couples to be less intimate and romantic, while those with higher serotonin activity tended to view couples as more intimate and romantic.
However, one should be keen to note that the effect of serotonin on one species of animal doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the expected result in a majority of others. Despite that being the case, doctors and scientists all agree that serotonin is largely considered to be a hormone that induces happiness and contentment in people, since it greatly influences our overall sense of well-being. It also helps temper aggression, hostility and antagonism. On top of that, it has also been known to help with sleeping and relaxation.
But with the wide variety of effects induced by serotonin, how exactly does it affect anxiety? And does having an abundance of it help?
How Serotonin Helps Lower Your Anxiety
Anxiety occurs during times of high stress and high pressure. It is a natural emotion that helps us ready ourselves for nearby threats and dangers. On an instinctual level, anxiety would warn us of a stalking predator, or a life threatening situation. But things have changed now in modern times. Now, we feel pangs of anxiety before speaking to a crowd, delivering a career changing presentation, or simply going to the hospital.
However, abnormally high levels of anxiety can eventually trigger life debilitating panic attacks. These panic attacks can keep us from doing normal every day activities such as socializing or even going out on our own. People who suffer through this are known to have anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders are steeped largely in a sense of fear or insecurity. They are often times depressed and hopeless, with a clear lack of motivation and self fulfilment.
Since serotonin is a neurotransmitter that health professionals have connected to the influence of mood and emotions, it’s understandable that different levels of serotonin have a profound effect on our anxiety. An increased level of serotonin in our brain will lead to us feeling happier, more content, and more comfortable with ourselves.
This explains why serotonin also affects our self-perceived social standing. Through serotonin we are more confident and more approachable even in situations where we wouldn’t normally be. On the flipside, however, dropped serotonin levels can lead to depression, listlessness, sleeplessness and even anxiety.
Since serotonin has been discovered to be so effective at alleviating the effects of depression and anxiety it is a hormone that can be easily found in a number anti-anxiety drugs and anti-depressants.
However, one doesn’t need to fall back on prescription medication to increase their serotonin levels. There are a number of others ways you can do just that.
How to Increase Your Serotonin Levels
There are a good number of ways to increase your brain’s serotonin levels without having to rely on prescription medication.
Since serotonin can be found in a number of plants and animals, changing your diet to include serotonin rich dishes is a great way of lifting your mood and relieving yourself of anxiety. Carbohydrates is a great source of serotonin, which is why getting a solid helping of carbs can immediately lift your mood. However, since it’s not an entirely healthy alternative, protein such as turkey, chicken and cheese is also a great source of serotonin.
Although serotonin does help people sleep; sleeping is actually another great way of increasing your serotonin levels. Don’t simply rely on the quality of your sleep however; make sure you get good amounts of it as well. Quantity doesn’t make up for quality, of course. Get to bed early, and avoid any distractions that may impede on your slumber.
Exercise is another way to increase serotonin. Physical activity releases other chemicals such as endorphins (along with serotonin) to keep you contented and happy during and long after your work out. Not only is it healthy for your body it’s healthy for your mind as well.
Finally, there are a number of supplements you can take that are available online that can help raise your serotonin levels. These supplements shouldn’t be mistaken for prescription medication however, but it’s still advised to consult a known medical professional before taking any of them.