Hugs and Other Drugs

By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

I love the phrase “It’s all in your head.” Few phrases in the english language could convey such an invalidation of emotions. I have to resist the urge to yell “Of course it is! That’s where your brain is located!”

A lot of the work I do as a therapist and life coach centers around the idea of our thoughts shaping our behavior. My personal view point on creating lasting change is to evaluate thoughts that aren’t helping a person move forward successfully, and reshape the way they are thinking to foster healthier was of looking at their world. That being said, it seems likely that the idea of just changing how or what you think about would make everything alright. And yet I do not buy into that at all.

“Feeling depressed? Don’t be. Just think happy thoughts. All better.” Ahhh if only it were that simple. What many people miss is the fact that depression, anxiety, addiction, pretty much any disorder or diagnosis comes with a physical component. Anyone who has suffered through a depression will tell you that physical symptoms accompany their moods. Its not just that they feel sad and think negative thoughts. There is also a lack of energy, feelings of listlessness and fatigue. Aches and pains often accompany depression, much the same way soar muscles accompany anxiety. We all know that too much stress (aka anxiety) can lead to high blood pressure and heart attacks. Physical symptoms that occur with addiction are easily accepted. There are medical detox facilities all over the country because substance abuse requires medical intervention in many cases.

So if we know that our mental health effects our physiological health why do we often times ignore the treatment of the physical and focus solely on the mental, or vice versa? I love watching ads for antidepressants. It seems so easy. “Feeling down? Do you lack energy? Do you no longer enjoy the activities that use to make you happy? Talk to your doctor about…” The term “happy pill” is another one of my favorite phrases. I love it because so many people believe it to be true. I hate to be the one to let them down but…simply popping a pill will not make you happy or bring about profound change. That’s because antidepressants only do half the job, the physical half. The other half, the mental half, must still be addressed. Treatment must occur in both areas to be lasting and successful.

I have, and will continue to post a lot content concerning the mental component and how to improve your mental health. However, today I wanted to focus on the physical side of things. There is a lot of research currently being conducted and much has already been published on the use of antidepressants. Let me start by saying that in many instances they are a necessity. Just as some people need a vitamin supplement to get a specific amount of nutrients into their body, many people require an antidepressant to maintain healthy neurotransmitter functioning.

On the other hand antidepressants aren’t the only way to achieve healthy neurotransmitter functioning. There are many research proven ways to increase these same brain chemicals. Here are a few ways you can increase your serotonin and dopamine levels that do not require a prescription.

  • Protein
    • Turkey, Chicken, Fish, Nuts, Cottage Cheese, Beans, Eggs
    • These foods contain higher levels of tryptophan
    • Tryptophan assists in converting nutrients into serotonin
    • Best if combined with a healthy carbohydrate such as brown rice

-Good Fats

    • Good fats assist in hormonal processes
    • Add DHA enhanced foods to your diet

-Omega 3

-Ideally Omega 3 and Omega 6 would balance out in our diet, however due to the amount of Omega 6 in our natural diet (I swear it’s in the air we breath) we are most often very out of balance.

-Adding an Omega 3 fish oil supplement to your vitamin regiment can assist in mood regulation

-Exercise

-90 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week increases the production and release of serotonin and dopamine (those wonderful feel good hormones:)

-Get outside

-Spending time outdoors and in the sun (with some sunblock of course) has been proven to boost serotonin

-Especially good is exercising out in the sun…two birds / one stone

-Sleep

-Make getting 8 hours of sleep a priority

-You will be surprised how much of a benefit this will bring and what it will do for your mood

-Massage

-Studies show that receiving (2) 30 minute massages a week increases your serotonin levels by 30%!!!

-Hug

-The chemical oxytocin is another feel good hormone known as the “cuddle hormone”

-Our bodies produce this hormone when we feel love, trust, comfort and touch

-Spend time with people you cherish and reach out for that hug

Keep in mind that some cases require medication. Each individual is unique so what works for some people will not work for others. However if you are searching for ways to enhance your mood naturally this is a great place to start!