It’s no secret that dopamine is important for your mental health. It’s most known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, and while it does play a role in feelings of pleasure, it has many other remarkable functions.
In addition to sending signals in your brain, dopamine affects physical and behavioral functions such as movement, memory, sleep, motivation, mood, and thyroid function. Let’s look at dopamine’s many functions, symptoms of low dopamine, and how to increase dopamine levels in your body.
What is Dopamine
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which means that it sends messages between neurons in your brain and allows certain nerve cells to communicate with one another. Dopamine is produced in the midbrain, in two regions called the tegmental area and substantia nigra.
Dopamine is used in the brain and the body through four pathways:
Symptoms of Low Dopamine
With links to conditions like depression and Parkinson’s disease, symptoms of low dopamine are similar to these conditions. Some symptoms of low dopamine levels include:
Low dopamine manifests differently depending on how the brain pathways are affected. For example, one person may experience mental health symptoms while another person may experience physical symptoms.
A physician can help to look at your symptoms, lifestyle factors, and medical history to determine if you have a condition related to low levels of dopamine.
What Causes Low Dopamine
Several factors may be responsible for reduced dopamine in the body. These include sleep deprivation, obesity, drug abuse, poor diet, and stress. In addition, age, health status, brain injuries, and medical conditions can also change dopamine levels.
How to Increase Dopamine Levels
Dopamine levels are typically well regulated within the body, but if you are experiencing symptoms there are some things you can do to naturally increase dopamine levels.
Exercise has been found to boost dopamine levels when performed regularly. Studies have shown that hour-long yoga sessions and 30-minute high-intensity training sessions can improve mood, memory, and motor control.
2. Eat protein with each meal
Dopamine is produced from the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine, both of which can be obtained from protein-rich foods. Try to eat protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, and legumes at each meal.
3. Get enough sleep
Studies show that dopamine is released in large amounts in the morning when it’s time to wake up. Levels then naturally fall in the evening when it’s time to go to sleep. However, a lack of sleep appears to disturb this natural cycle. For adults, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7–9 hours of sleep every night for optimal health along with good sleep hygiene.
4. Get outside in the sun
.It’s well known that periods of low sun exposure can lead to reduced levels of neurotransmitters, including dopamine. This is crucial to prevent Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition in which people feel sad or depressed during the winter season. Studies show that spending at least half an hour outside each day can help to boost dopamine levels.
5. Dopamine boosting supplements
Your body requires several vitamins and minerals to create dopamine including iron, niacin, folate, and vitamin B6. If your body is low in one or more of these nutrients, you may have trouble making enough dopamine. You can have blood work completed to determine if you are deficient in any of these nutrients. If so, you can supplement and focus on your nutrition to increase dopamine levels.
6. Practice meditation
Ongoing stress has been found to decrease dopamine levels and damage the receptor sites for dopamine. Yet, meditation can help by reducing the stress levels in your brain and by decreasing inflammation. Mindfulness meditation teaches you to be calm and helps you to cope with stressful situations. Try these mindfulness exercises throughout your day.
7. Avoid processed foods and sugar
When you eat processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats your brain’s reward system is triggered to release dopamine. Yet, when eaten repeatedly the dopamine receptors will start to down-regulate and the brain will begin to remove dopamine receptors. Fewer dopamine receptors and less dopamine activity lead to feelings of unhappiness and other symptoms of low dopamine. A balanced diet that contains adequate protein, vitamins and minerals, probiotics, and a moderate amount of saturated fat can help your body produce the dopamine it needs.
Reach Out for Help
Dopamine is an important brain chemical that influences your mental and physical health. Consequently, low dopamine can have a significant impact on your quality of life.
Therapy can help you manage the symptoms of low dopamine. For instance, you can learn to better manage challenges like depression and anxiety. Therapy can also help you to cope with symptoms of an illness like Parkinson’s. If you would like to speak with a professional, please reach out to schedule an appointment.
Most personality quizzes that you’ll find online are just for fun. But they do sometimes reveal interesting things about your behavior and preferences.
And while quizzes like ‘What Netflix series Should You Watch Next?’ are entertaining – and surprisingly accurate – there are also genuine psychological assessments available that can tell you even more valuable information about yourself.
The Big 5 Personality Test, for example, is one of the most widely known psychological assessments. It was developed based on decades of personality research and has been translated into several languages to be used around the world. Most people can attest that knowing their personality type has helped them to better understand themselves and others.
So, how can taking a personality test benefit YOU?
Why should you take a personality test?
There are several ways that you can benefit from taking a personality trait test. First, after taking the Big 5 Personality Test and reviewing your results, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of why you like and dislike certain things.
For instance, maybe you don’t like surprises or change but never understood why. Or maybe you love variety and creativity, but never were able to pinpoint those traits before. Knowing more about these personality traits can be helpful when you’re making important decisions, such as choosing a career, deciding where to live, and what lifestyle best fits you.
The results of a personality traits test can also help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. For example, you may find that you have a strong sense of self-discipline and compassion toward others, but also tend to feel anxious. This would help you to be more mindful so that you can add stress reducing activities to your day, such as meditation or yoga.
Understanding personality traits can also be helpful in strengthening your relationships with others. For example, let’s say that you love to be organized and have a plan for everything, but your partner does not like structure and schedules. By better understanding each other you can gain a respect for the different viewpoints that each of you bring to your relationship. And you can better meet the needs of your partner.
What is the Big Five Personality Test?
Before taking the personality test, it will be helpful to understand more about the Big 5 Model.
Personality research indicates that there are five basic dimensions of personality. These are called the “Big 5” personality traits (source).
The Big Five traits are:
Each of the five personality traits is a continuum. Meaning that when you take the personality quiz you will fall somewhere on the scale for each trait. For example, agreeableness represents a continuum between critical and helpful. And openness represents a range from practical to curious.
Every person has a unique personality. And this uniqueness originates from a combination of these five personality traits.
Let’s take a closer look at each personality trait.
Openness is a person’s willingness to try new things as well as the ability to “think outside of the box.” People who are high in this trait tend to have a wide range of interests and prefer variety in their life. They are curious and eager to learn and enjoy new experiences. People low in this trait are more practical, prefer routine, and are uncomfortable with trying new things.
Conscientiousness describes a person’s level of dependability and goal-directed behavior. Highly conscientious people tend to be organized, dedicated, and aware of details. High scorers can give up immediate gratification for the sake of long-term achievement. They think about how their behavior affects others and are mindful of time.
Those who score low on conscientiousness are less structured, tend to prioritize having fun, and are spontaneous. They dislike demanding schedules and have more difficulty staying focused to accomplish goals.
Extroversion refers to a tendency to seek out interaction from the outside world. It’s characterized by the level of comfort a person has in social situations and the need to join in. People who are high in extroversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy from their social interactions. They tend to enjoy social settings, seek attention, and are talkative.
People who are low in extroversion (or introverted) tend to prefer spending time alone and are drained by too much social interaction. In social situations, introverts often need a period of solitude and quiet to recharge. Introverts tend to prefer one-on-one conversations, are more reserved, and self-aware.
Agreeableness refers to how an individual interacts with other people. People that score high in agreeableness care about other people, enjoy helping others, and are trustworthy. They often put other’s needs before their own and cooperate rather than compete with others.
Those low in agreeableness take little interest in others. They may be viewed as manipulative, competitive, and unfriendly. They tend to be less influenced by emotions and are less perceptive of the needs of others.
Neuroticism describes a person’s emotional stability. It also includes how likely a person is to interpret events as threatening or difficult. Individuals who score high in this trait tend to get upset easily, experience mood swings, and feel anxious.
People that score low in neuroticism tend to deal with stress well, are resilient, and rarely feel depressed. They are extremely optimistic and tend to overlook the possibility of risks and danger.
Take the Big 5 Personality Test
One site that offers a free Big 5 Personality Test is Truity.com. You will find out how you score on each of the scales and will learn more about your core pattern of thought and behavior. Click here to take the test: Big 5 Personality Test.
Interpreting Your Results
When reviewing your results please remember that no personality type is better than any other. The purpose is to learn more about yourself.
And remember that no matter what your test results reveal, there is always room for growth. Personality traits are usually stable, yet researchers have found that we can intentionally change aspects of our personalities.
For example, if you score low on the conscientious scale you can still learn to develop self-discipline to achieve things that really matter to you. You will need to look closely at what is preventing you from following through and develop a plan to help you succeed. A therapist can help with this process.
Consider how you can use these results in your life. If you would like to discuss the results with a professional, please reach out to schedule an appointment.
What if I told you that you have the ability to decide how you will feel and function throughout your day? You will no longer have to go with the flow and take what comes to you. And you don’t have to let other people’s behavior guide your thoughts and feelings.
You can achieve this by simply setting your intentions for the day.
By setting an intention before you start your day you will feel calmer, focused, and present. Being intentional means mindfully choosing how you want to show up in the world. You can then take that energy into the day with you.
Let’s explore how to choose your intention and how to use it to guide your day.
What Is an Intention?
First, let’s talk about what an intention is. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as “what one intends to do or bring about” and “a determination to act in a certain way”.
I’d like to add that an intention is always deliberate, and we set our intentions to keep us headed in the direction we truly mean to go. Daily intentions can support you in developing a positive outlook and bring more clarity into your day-to-day life.
Living an intentional life can also be a way to get closer to achieving your goals.
Here’s one example of how an intention can improve your day. Maybe you have a report due and you are feeling stressed about (1) getting the report done and (2) doing your best work. That morning you could set the intention of “Today, I commit myself to feel calm and efficient”. With this intention, you are choosing to feel calm and prepared instead of allowing outside pressure to make you feel nervous and on edge.
How to Choose Your Intention
So, let’s talk about how you can choose your intention for your day. The great thing is that these few minutes you spend in the morning will have a positive impact on the rest of your day.
1. First, find a comfortable sitting posture and relax your body as much as you can. Then, with your eyes closed, if that helps you to focus, take three to five deep, diaphragmatic or abdominal breaths.
2. Once you feel settled, contemplate the following questions:
3. Narrow down your thoughts to a specific intention. It can be helpful to use this simple sentence:
Today, I commit myself to ____________________.
You can finish this sentence each morning however you choose.
Above all, don’t pressure yourself to feel like you need perfect wording to complete your intention-setting sentence. Intention setting is more about how you feel and believe, not how it sounds on paper. And you can change your intention daily or use the same intention for a few days before moving on to the next one.
How to Use Your Intention
You can practice this intention-setting exercise first thing in the morning if that is convenient. Or, if you work in a quiet office, you could do it sitting at your desk before you get into the day.
Throughout your day, look for opportunities to check in with your intentions. You can do this by repeating your intention a few times when it feels right to you.
Then, before you go to bed or as you lie in bed before sleeping, reflect on your day. Review the events of the day (moods, feelings, activities) and reflect on your morning intention. Consider how much your day matched your morning intention. The idea is to not keep score or develop guilt over whether you did or not fulfill your intention. The goal is to broadly review to see the synergy between your intentions and your life that day.
Daily Intentions Worksheet
I’ve created a printable worksheet to help guide your daily intentions. Click here to download your Daily Intention Reflection worksheet.
Setting daily intentions is one of the most powerful techniques you can use. It is so easy to roll out of bed and live on autopilot. Yet, daily intentions can help you feel focused and purposeful. Talking to a counselor can also help you develop ways that will help you to be intentional and live your life to the fullest. If you would like to speak with a professional, please reach out to schedule an appointment.
Many of us go through the motions of daily life while never stopping to enjoy the moments that make up our day. Pausing to practice mindfulness for just a few minutes can help you have better days so that you can live your life to the fullest.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where you are and what you’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.
While this sounds simple enough, we all have stressors and events throughout our day that distract us from being fully present. Think about how many times your mind wanders throughout the day. Or the number of times you feel like you’re on autopilot and not fully experiencing your life.
Yet, no matter how far we stray from feeling centered, mindfulness exercises can help you learn how to be aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. And with practice, mindfulness will become a habit that will help you live a more fulfilling life.
Mindfulness means paying attention… on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience. - Jon Kabat Zinn, PH.D.
How Can Mindfulness Exercises Improve Your Life?
Mindfulness has many benefits to your emotional and physical health, as well as to your relationships. Among its many benefits, practicing mindfulness can:
And while there are many mindfulness exercises you can practice on a regular basis, learning how to be present in the moment is also a way of life. With practice, you can learn to live a more mindful life that allows you to become more conscious of everything you are doing.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment.
When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts are focused on what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than reiterating the past or imagining the future.
Explore these exercises for bringing more mindfulness into your life:
Breathe is one of the most used tools in mindfulness practices. This specific exercise, diaphragmatic breathing, will help you to connect with your body. It will also engage the part of your nervous system that tells your body to relax and your mind to calm. Over time, this type of breathing will come naturally to you.
During this practice, take notice of what you feel. Maybe your shoulders will soften, tension will be released in the neck and jaw, your heart rate will slow down. Maybe you will notice the sensation of the breath as air moves in warming on the inhale, cooling on the exhale. Don’t try to control what you feel, just observe.
Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing:
Following your practice reflect on how it feels to focus on breath? How did this practice impact your state of mind?
Observe with Your Eyes Closed
In the previous exercise, mindfulness of breath was described. This was one way to observe – observing the breath. In this exercise, you will turn your awareness to other sensations while closing your eyes.
Our eyes are an immense source of distraction . Whether you are looking at a screen or viewing people around you—our vision can be overwhelming. Therefore, by briefly removing those distractions you will become more aware and mindful of other sensations you may not have noticed otherwise.
Practice observing with your eyes closed:
The key with this practice is to allow these sensations and thoughts to come and go. Following your practice reflect on how it feels to observe without seeing? How did this practice impact your sense of feeling present?
Engage Mindfully in Daily Activities
Do you ever struggle to recall where you placed your keys? Or do you sometimes forget why you walked into a certain room? Or maybe can’t remember if you turned the lights off before you left the house? These are signs that you have a lot of things going on in your mind and you are not being mindful.
Fortunately, you can improve at this and there are many opportunities to practice throughout the day.
Practice engaging mindfully in daily activities:
Every activity you do throughout the day is a chance to exercise mindfulness. You just have to perform the activity with a greater sense of awareness. This means focusing on the present moment, tuning into sensations, and being fully aware of what you are doing.
Take making dinner, for example. Start by viewing this activity as a positive event rather than simply as a chore. Then, as you cook, focus on what you are doing as you are doing it—and nothing else. Feel the warm water as you wash your vegetables; notice how the vegetables look and feel as you are slicing and chopping them; observe the scents arising as you cook. You will become more aware of what you’re doing and will feel more connected to the food you are making.
Throughout your day, look for opportunities to be more mindful. Whether you’re playing with your kids or taking a walk, try to be fully aware of what you’re doing and what’s happening around you. When your mind wanders, congratulate yourself for noticing and gently bring your attention back to the current moment.
Following moments of intentional mindfulness reflect on how it feels to practice mindfulness during your daily activities? How did this practice impact your sense of being aware and in the moment?
A More Mindful Life
Consider how you can apply these mindfulness exercises throughout your day. The more you practice, the more connected and present you will be. How might being more mindful impact your life?
Talking to a counselor can also help you develop ways that will help you to be fully present and live your life to the fullest. If you would like to speak with a professional, please reach out to schedule an appointment.
While some look forward to the first snowfall of winter, others find themselves having difficulty waking in the morning, experiencing daytime fatigue, and feeling a general sense of depression this time of year. If you are feeling this way, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a type of depression that is driven by the change in the season. It is most common for symptoms to begin in late fall and continue into the winter months and end in the spring. Seasonal depression can occur in the summer or spring, although this is less common.
The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can have a real impact on your daily life. The good news is that, like other forms of depression, SAD is treatable.
Let’s dive into the causes of seasonal affective disorder, symptoms, and how you can start feeling better today.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
While the exact causes of seasonal affective disorder are not clear, most theories attribute the disorder to the reduction of daylight hours in winter. The reduction in daylight hours means that the days are shorter and most people experience less exposure to sunlight.
The shorter days and reduced exposure to sunlight can disrupt our mental and physical health.
For instance, a lack of sun exposure may result in a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood.
The production of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, is also linked to seasonal depression. This is because when it’s dark out, melatonin is produced at higher levels by your brain. Then, during the day the sunlight triggers the brain to stop melatonin production so that you feel awake and alert (source). During the shorter days and long nights of late fall and winter, however, your body may produce too much melatonin. This may lead you to feel sleepy and have low energy during the day.
A disruption in melatonin production can also impact your circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle, resulting in internal clocks being out of sync with external clocks. This can result in some of the symptoms associated with seasonal depression, such as feeling disoriented, low energy, lack of appetite, and feeling agitated.
What Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Feel Like?
Symptoms of seasonal depression are typically consistent with those that occur with depression. The primary difference between seasonal affective disorder and depression is that you feel relief from symptoms in the spring and summer months.
Common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:
Symptoms that are typically more common in seasonal depression than in other forms of depression include:
As with depression, the severity of SAD symptoms can vary from person to person. For many, the symptoms usually begin mildly at the start of fall and get progressively worse through the darkest days of winter. Then, by spring or early summer, the symptoms lift until you’re in remission and feel normal and healthy again (source).
Self-Help and Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to feel better if you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder. When it comes to self-help methods and treatment, it’s worth experimenting to find out what works for you because they’re definitely not one-size-fits-all.
1. Get as much natural sunlight as possible.
During the day make sure that your home and workspace are as well lit as possible. First thing in the morning, open your curtains and blinds to let in natural light. You can also hang or prop a large mirror opposite of a window to reflect more natural light into your space.
It’s also important to spend time outside in the sunshine. Spend at least half an hour outside each day if you’re able to. Sunlight cues specific areas in the retina to trigger the release of serotonin, so ditch the sunglasses if you can.
2. Use a light therapy box.
An alternative way to get more light during the day is to use a light therapy box. A light therapy box is a device that gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light.
Generally, most people with seasonal affective disorder begin treatment with light therapy in the early fall. Treatment usually continues until spring, when outdoor light alone is sufficient to sustain a good mood and higher levels of energy.
During light therapy sessions, you sit or work near a lightbox for 20 to 30 minutes a day (source). Make sure to check the manufacturer’s guidelines and if possible consult with a mental health professional to find the best recommendations for you. They may suggest that you start with shorter sessions and gradually increase the time.
3. Use a Dawn Simulator to Wake up Naturally
Light therapies are commonly used to improve symptoms of SAD. However, many people cannot tolerate sitting in front of a light fixture or just don’t have the time to do so.
An effective alternative is dawn simulation. A dawn simulator provides a gradual increase of simulated morning light just before wake-up time. The light increases from 0 to full brightness over a period of 30 minutes. Dawn simulation can help you to wake up feeling energized and decrease SAD symptoms.
4. Try Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy may also help to lift your mood and decrease symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Essential oils have been used to enhance lives for thousands of years. You can use oils to encourage a positive emotional state, improve memory and focus, and feel more energized.
Citrus essential oils, like lemon and orange, invigorate the body and mind and uplift your mood. Studies have found that lemon essential oil possesses anxiolytic and antidepressant-like properties. You can diffuse essential oils or apply them topically with a carrier oil.
5. Consider Antidepressants
If other strategies do not relieve your symptoms, an antidepressant drug may be useful to reduce and eliminate symptoms. Discuss your symptoms thoroughly with your family doctor and/or mental health professional.
6. Talk with a Mental Health Professional
Therapy sessions can help you change your mindset and give you the tools to manage stress and cope with seasonal affective disorder. Combining talk therapy with other strategies can help you to tackle SAD so that you can get back to enjoying your life.
At Autumn Leaf Counseling, we’re here for you. While seasons changing is inevitable, you don’t have to suffer. Whether you are local to Hinsdale or the general Chicago area contact us today to learn more about how we can help.
Finding motivation is becoming a growing challenge for many people due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the beginning, we faced weeks and months confined to our homes and had to find ways to cope with social isolation. While that may not seem as daunting now, you may still be coming to terms with working from home or remote learning.
Why might your motivation dip when working at home?
It may be due to the lack of external motivation from colleagues and peers. When we’re at home we’re not getting the same recognition, feedback, and feeling from a work environment as we would if we were at our school or office.
In addition, internal motivation can be impacted during the pandemic. Internal motivation is when we are compelled by things that are personally gratifying, such as learning, satisfying curiosity, or taking an interest. When we’re working at home we can easily become distracted by things that peak our interest more than our work. You may also feel more worried or anxious during this time about the future of the world or your job.
If you are having difficulty finding motivation, these are proactive steps that will help you regain motivation during this time.
5 Ways to Supercharge Your Motivation
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