By Emily Roberts MA, LPC
We know that serotonin is the “feel good neurotransmitter” but new research shows that it can keep you stay calm and patient in frustrating circumstances. Waiting for the light to turn red may make your blood boil, but with balanced levels of serotonin, your system is hardly phased by the stress. It is also improves impulse control. The urge for giving into the sweet treat or bad habit won’t be as strong with enough serotonin in your system.
Recent research has concluded that optimal levels of serotonin help with controlling behaviors and regulating your mood. This means with the right levels of serotonin, you are less likely to act impulsively and will feel at ease, even when you are frustrated. Scientists have shown that activating serotonin neurons while waiting, promotes patience for delayed rewards. This research has been published in The Journal Current Biology.
Study Shows Serotonin Can Increase Patience
In this study, a team of researchers led by Drs. Kayoko Miyazaki and Katsuhiko Miyazaki and professor Kenji Doya of the Neural Computation Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University, used genetically engineered mice that produce light-activated molecules only in neurons that produce serotonin. Serotonin is a neuromodulator that is released diffusely in the entire brain and can be activated with specific forms of light. It is involved in behavioral, cognitive, and mental functions
The researchers then trained the mice to perform a delayed reward task, where they would receive a food. The results showed, for the first time, that the timed activation of serotonin neurons promotes animals’ patience for delayed rewards.
“Our previous studies have shown that serotonin levels increase when waiting for delayed rewards. We have also shown that inhibiting serotonin neurons leads to an inability to wait for a long time…This study has proven serotonin’s role in patience during delayed reward waiting, underlining serotonin’s much greater role than previously thought.” Said researchers.
How to Increase Serotonin Naturally
1) Get tested. Test your neurotransmitters in order to get a read on where your serotonin level is currently at. There may be other neurotransmitters compromising the production of serotonin in your brain. To see how Neurotransmitter testing can benefit you visit Neurogistics.com
2) Pay attention to your gut and digestive health. Your gut is often referred to as the “second brain.” According to the American Psychological Association, Gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity Gut bacteria also produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. When your gastrointestinal health is inadequate your serotonin levels will be too—no matter how well you eat, or what medications or supplements you are ingesting.
3) Get serious about stress. More than half of people with chronic GI disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are also plagued by anxiety and depression—both of which have compromise serotonin. Stress-induced increases inflammation in the stomach and exhausts your nervous system. Integrating mindfulness, yoga, meditation, exercise, and other stress-reducing activates will help your serotonin and your GI health.
4) Exercise. If you have difficulty fitting in exercise, start small: take a 5-minute walk after dinner, take the stairs at work, or do a 10-minute Pilates or yoga video on YouTube or Hulu. If you’re really struggling to squeeze in exercise, try for anything. Not only do you need movement to help detoxify you but it activates your levels of serotonin.
Here are 4 resources for doing quick exercise at home:
-Excellent yoga website: www.yogaglo.com (15-day free trial, then $18/month)
-Exercise videos: www.fitnessglo.com
-Free: Scientific 7-Minute Workout
If you typically do high-intensity exercise, consider having 1 day per week of rest. While high-intensity exercise is great, it can impact your stress/anxiety level. If you’re stressed or anxious, consider exercise that induces a relaxation response (yoga, walking in the park), rather than fight-or-flight style exercise (spinning, competitive sports, boot camp, intense running).
Remember, it is important to be aware of your serotonin levels. By further exploring the effect of serotonin, the researchers hope to decipher the neuronal network behind mental disorders and behaviors involving serotonin. The article can be found at: Miyazaki et al. (2014) Optogenetic Activation of Dorsal Raphe Serotonin Neurons Enhances Patience for Future Rewards.
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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