Mood Regulation & Common Mood Disorders
January 18th is known as Blue Monday. According to scientists, this day has been deemed the most statistically saddening day in the year. They believe it may be a combination of poor weather, dark days, lack of money or the dwindling spirit of expectation from starting a new year. So, what do we do to support our wellbeing on the saddest day of the year? We recommend taking some time with us, to understand how mood is regulated and what you can do to lift your spirits year-round.
How is mood regulated- serotonin, dopamine and more...
Our mood is determined by our outside environment as well as hormones, neurotransmitters and even our genes.
Hormones and Neurotransmitters
What truly makes us happy has been researched since the birth of neuroscience. Since then, we have greatly advanced our understanding of the brain areas involved in emotion. These include the amygdala, hippocampus and limbic system. In addition to this there are the neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline and endorphin.Most people have heard of serotonin, often referred to as ‘the happy hormone’. Its role within the human body is to mediate satisfaction, happiness and optimism. Studies have shown that people with clinically diagnosed depression have lower levels of serotonin. Serotonin is chemically known as ‘5-hydroxytryptamine ‘or ‘HT’ and is made from dietary tryptophan. Serotonin is made in the same pathway as melatonin. The beginning of this pathway uses dietary tryptophan or supplementary 5-HTP. Research suggests that symptoms of low serotonin include anxiety, depression, insomnia, impulsivity, poor memory, and aggression.
Alternatively, there is dopamine. This is colloquially known as the ‘feel good hormone’. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that governs the reward system. In addition, it’s responsible for motivation and drive. It’s the hormone that gets released during positive reinforcement. Symptoms of low dopamine include, confusion, loss of concentration, lack of drive, and reduced energy. FG Ashby, a distinguished psychologist and brain scientists suggests that low mood is simply the absence of dopamine. There are no direct supplemental ways to increase Dopamine, however studies have shown that both tyrosine and vitamin D are required for dopamine production within the body.
Lastly Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relievers. They are released to help the body deal with periods of short-term stress or discomfort. They can help the body to feel energised, engaged and even euphoric. The most common reference to these is the sensation that you get after exercising.
Science helps us to understand that our mood is not determined simply by a combination of hormones and neurotransmitters. Our mood may be predetermined in our genes. Two genes have been identified as relating to happiness and life satisfaction, they are, 5-HTTLPR and MAO-A. The 5-HTTLPR gene is used within the body for serotonin distribution within the brain. There are two forms of this gene known as S and L. S is associated with upregulating serotonin production in the brain cells whereas the L form conducts serotonin to the nerve cells. Each person has 2 alleles, either x2 Ls, x2 Ss or S and L. A study found that people with two S alleles were more dissatisfied with life, whereas people with two L alleles had greater life satisfaction. People with a mix of both are evenly distributed between dissatisfied and satisfied.
Common Mood Disorders
Statistics demonstrate that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem or diagnosis each year in England. Whereas, in any given week 1 in 6 people report struggling with poor mental health.
Anxiety is characterised by a feeling of unease. In the UK is estimated that up to 5% of the UK population suffer from diagnosed anxiety. This is more common in women than men.
Symptoms of this can include restlessness, irritability and difficulty with concentration. This can even result in physical symptoms such as shaking, muscle tension, nausea and irregular heartbeats. Anxiety is not fully understood but it’s thought that the pathology can include, triggers from environmental factors/events, an imbalance of brain chemicals, overactivity in certain areas of the brain, and even genetic factors.
Depression is categorised by excessive and chronic unhappiness. In England it’s estimated that 3% of the population suffer from clinical depression.
Symptoms of which include, low mood, anxiety, irritability, feeling tearful, hopelessness and struggling to feel enjoyment in life. There is no one cause to depression, it can be triggered by bereavement, life events, genetics, chronic illness and an imbalance in brain chemistry.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is also known as winter depression. This is because it’s thought to be related to winter weather and dark nights. It’s very common with every 3/100 people suffering from it at some point in their life. Studies show that women are x4 more likely to have SAD than men.
Symptoms of SAD include persistent low mood, craving carbohydrates, loss of interest in hobbies, feelings of worthlessness, feeling lethargic and sleeping for longer periods of time. It’s thought that the lack of sunlight during the winter months can lead to a lack of natural vitamin D production as well as serotonin production. This can leave people feeling lethargic and with low mood.
What can you do to improve Mood?
Over the next week we will be exploring ways to regulate mood in your everyday life in more detail. Here are some quick examples of activities you can partake in to minimise sadness and maximise happiness:
- Exercise regularly, not because you feel you ‘have’ to but because you want to. Find something you love.
- Call a friend or family member
- Minimise sugar intake. Sugar can cause erratic highs and lows in energy which can affect mood.
- Sit in natural sunlight and take time away from screens
- Establish a regular sleep schedule.
- Take a Vitamin D Supplement.
- Try deep breathing techniques or meditation
- Be mindful of what triggers poor mood in you.
- Seek support of an expert, therapist or counsellor
- Look into relaxing supplements like 5-HTP, lemon balm, chamomile, green tea etc.
- Try journaling some of the negative emotions alongside the good things that have happened in your day.
- Take some ‘me-time’ in your day to do whatever you enjoy doing the most – reading, walking, cooking etc.
It’s a big undertaking to complete all the suggestions above. We recommend that you simply try one and see the difference in makes.Below are some great resources and charities to support your mental wellbeing:
- Visit your GP
- The Samaritans
- Anxiety UK
- Mental health foundation
- Young minds
Check out our page tomorrow for our 2nd instalment of the mood series. Tomorrow’s article looks at how lifestyle and stress can affect mood. Don’t forget to check our Friday’s post for a chance to win some extra special prizes!