5 ways to increase serotonin
Serotonin helps to relieve stress and can be increased naturally. (Illustration by Giovanna Martin, Columbia College Chicago)

Schoolyard Serotonin: 5 Ways To Naturally Regulate Stress While in School

The chemical known for bringing happiness to Gen Z is very attainable. Here are some suggestions on how to increase your happy levels in a natural way.

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5 ways to increase serotonin

The chemical known for bringing happiness to Gen Z is very attainable. Here are some suggestions on how to increase your happy levels in a natural way.

One of Gen Z’s latest trends is to joke about the chemical production of serotonin. Publishing YouTube videos and TikToks that promise to “give you a dose of serotonin” has become a way for them to indicate that something will make you happy. It is understandable that Gen Z would reach for a mood stabilizer; according to the American Psychological Association, Gen Z experiences the highest levels of stress out of any group in the United States.

Their description and use of the word “serotonin” may not be accompanied by scientific understanding, however. Serotonin is found in one’s central nervous and digestive systems, where it helps nerve cells communicate with one another.

The chemical promotes the effectiveness of several physiological systems. It regulates stress levels, cravings, neurological function, digestion, sleep patterns and improves decision-making processes. So, a TikTok that will increase one’s serotonin levels will be attractive to viewers.

Studies show that spending time with friends is a common way to increase serotonin levels. Another method to increase serotonin is the use of prescribed medication. Serotonin is thought to regulate depression, which is why antidepressants increase serotonin in the brain.

The Reason for the Serotonin Boost

As the new school year approaches, stress levels may significantly increase. If you experience anxiety, sleep complications, intense and unusual cravings for sweets and an odd appetite or digestive problems, you may currently be exhibiting signs of low serotonin.

Increasing serotonin may help with all these issues and make the back-to-school experience more positive for students. Improved focus and decreased stress are especially enticing for this demographic.

Below are five ways you can skyrocket your level of serotonin without using substances or medication. But this is not to say that medication is not perhaps necessary for some individuals. Consult your doctor if you experience unusual depressive episodes or think that an antidepressant will help. However, these are things that everyone can implement into their routine to improve their quality of life and get a burst of serotonin naturally.

1. Soak in the Sun

Sometimes when people get stressed, they say they’re going for a walk. There’s actually scientific backing for this.

Medical studies show that when our skin (a strong generator of serotonin) absorbs sunshine, the mood-boosting chemical is produced. This is seasonal, though. There are people who become depressed when the weather is gloomy, and science backs up the idea that walking outside on a sunny day is good for one’s mental health.

If your assignments pile up and your classes become stressful, step outside, shut your eyes and soak in the warm, comforting rays of the sun until goosebumps form on your arms and your tense shoulders sink toward the ground. Not only will taking a moment to steal sunlight and fresh air help you feel better, but your brain function will also improve when you get back to your homework because you will have more serotonin.

2. Get Movin’

Raise your hand if you’ve ever wanted to slap someone in the face for telling you that “going on a run will cure all of your stress.” Surely the stress of exercise would only worsen the current situation. They’re partially correct, though. While you do not need to go on a run specifically, exercise is a great way to produce serotonin, thus improving brain function and reducing stress.

While we do want the increased production of certain chemicals like serotonin, some hormones are not as helpful for dealing with stress. Research shows that cortisol and epinephrine, two stress hormones, decrease in the body after you exercise.

Physical activity may not be relaxing or calming, but it does alleviate mental stress. The American Psychiatric Association found that active people are statistically less prone to anxiety or depression.

There’s no need to subject yourself to a type of movement that you hate. But engaging in physical activities like walking, dancing, volleyball or anything else you enjoy could sharpen your mind.

3. Food Is (Emotional) Fuel

When you learn that certain foods produce serotonin, your first thought may go to “comfort foods,” or foods that make people happy. The science behind eating for serotonin goes much deeper than emotional satisfaction, however.

Salmon, poultry, nuts and dairy products contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid that produces serotonin in the brain. Eggs, pineapple and tofu are also excellent sources of tryptophan. You may have other health reasons for not consuming these foods, but from a mood-regulation standpoint, these dishes are good options if you want to take a bite filled with the promise of serotonin.

4. A Swig of Serotonin Won’t Last

Rather than offering you a suggestion of what to do, this is a suggestion of what not to do. It’s common for people to pour themselves a glass of wine or go to a bar when they are stressed, and there are scientific reasons for this. Drinking alcohol actually does offer a hit of serotonin, but it’s short-lived.

Overconsumption of alcohol creates psychological results that are opposite to the person’s original desire. After the short-term spike dies down, serotonin levels can drop very low and potentially intensify the original cause of stress.

If you choose to drink, recognize that drinking in abundance will not improve your mood in the long run.

5. Laughter After the Disaster

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, laughter truly is the best medicine. Engrossing yourself in the company of people who care about you and make you laugh is an effective way to increase serotonin.

Finding an opportunity to laugh can relieve built-up stress, even if you didn’t recognize how heavily it weighed on you before. Laughter completely alters the neurotransmitters in the brain and produces significant levels of serotonin. This is why, after a long laugh, you almost forget the things you felt pressured by.

This may look different in tragic circumstances, as laughter can sometimes be inappropriate. However, the moment of relief from a family emergency, a stressful homework assignment or a painful discussion when you can break into laughter releases some of the weight on your back and boosts serotonin.

All of these natural methods of boosting serotonin may not remove the stressors from your life, but they could help you to manage those stressors better going forward.

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Briana Byus

Biola University
Journalism & Integrated Media

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