20th December, 20216 min read

4 ways to naturally boost low mood

Medical reviewer:
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author:
Libby Williams
Libby Williams
Last reviewed: 16/12/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

“We all experience low mood at some point,” says Tasha Bailey, a psychotherapist and our mental health guest expert.

Whether it’s due to family issues, disturbed sleep, tough times at work, money or relationship worries, stress or burnout, low mood can be really difficult to live with, and hard to shake off. If it lasts, it can also be a sign of something deeper like trauma or depression.

But there are simple steps you can take to improve your low mood. In particular, you can try to boost levels of the feel-good chemicals that your brain and body produce naturally. Read on to discover how.

1. Increase your dopamine levels

To improve your mood, Bailey suggests the first thing to do is try to increase your dopamine levels.

Dopamine is a feel-good chemical that plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It’s released by the brain when it’s expecting a reward from achieving something or doing something pleasurable. A release of dopamine can have a positive effect on alertness, focus, motivation and happiness. A flood of this chemical may even give you a short-term feeling of great joy, or euphoria.

Boosting your dopamine levels is easier than you might think, says Bailey. “Surround yourself with things that make you feel good,” she advises. “Walk in nature, get creative, tidy your living space or create a playlist with your favourite songs from childhood. Anything healthy that will give you a feeling of reward and joy.”

2. Boost your serotonin levels

“Next, work on boosting your serotonin levels, a hormone that regulates your mood,” says Bailey.

Low serotonin levels have been associated with a number of issues like low mood, depression) and anxiety, trouble sleeping and difficulties with memory and concentration. Naturally boosting your serotonin can help you feel happier, more focused, calmer and more emotionally stable.

“Try things like sitting in bright, natural light and having a regular sleep and exercise routine,” says Bailey.

Other ideas you could try include having a massage, which is shown to improve serotonin levels.

Outdoor exercise

3. Get talking

Commonly referred to as the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin plays an important part in regulating your mood. Low levels of oxytocin have been linked to depression, with some research suggesting it may also affect addiction and stress. This suggests that increasing your oxytocin levels could be a way to boost your low mood.

Hugging, kissing and cuddling are all known to trigger the release of oxytocin naturally. But a talk with someone you are close to can have a similar effect.

“A good conversation is great for the soul. It increases oxytocin which is linked to reducing depression. So whether it’s a friend, a therapist or a helpline, get talking,” Bailey suggests.

4. Cut down on coffee and alcohol

“Lastly, take a break from caffeine, sugar and alcohol,” says Bailey. “Even though we crave them more when we’re feeling down, these things can actually add to low mood and make us feel a lot worse.”

Although drinking alcohol might appear to boost your mood in the moment, it can actually have negative effects on your mental health in the long term, and is linked to problems like depression, anxiety and memory loss.

Similarly, while caffeine can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine it’s also known to increase anxiety and cause sleep difficulties that can worsen depression. Stopping drinking caffeine suddenly can cause withdrawal and low mood while your body adjusts so it’s better to cut down gradually.

When to see a doctor

“Remember to be kind to yourself when you’re having a difficult day,” says Bailey.

It’s normal to feel down from time to time and anyone can experience low mood. Feeling this way can often happen after a distressing event or major life change, but sometimes there’s no obvious reason.
Whilst these tips may help lift your mood, it's important to see a doctor if you think you might have symptoms that suggest a medical problem like:

  • depression – for example, you’re losing interest in the things you used to enjoy, feeling very tearful, feeling anxious. Read more about the symptoms of depression
  • burnout – for example, feeling overwhelmed, having racing thoughts, being irritable, avoiding people or things you have problems with. Read more about how to spot the signs of burnout
  • anxiety – for example, you have a feeling of dread, a sense of panic and feel ‘on edge’. Read more about the symptoms of anxiety
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – for example, re-experiencing in your mind, or feeling very anxious and fearful as a result of a traumatic event such as a traffic accident, assault or witnessing a violent event. Read more about PTSD

See a doctor if you’re worried about how you’re feeling or if you haven’t been able to improve your low mood on your own through self-care, or it's starting to affect your daily activities or work.

See a doctor as an emergency if you have any thoughts of harming yourself or others, or suicide. If you don’t feel able to see a doctor, contact Samaritans for support.

Your health questions answered

What foods can boost your mood?

We don’t yet know the exact effects of specific foods on low mood, so it’s hard to say for sure whether some are more helpful than others. But we do know that a balanced diet containing complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and colourful fruit and veg will offer a variety of important nutrients. A diet rich in protein (such as beans, chicken or fish) has been linked with higher levels of dopamine. Eating complex carbohydrates such as sweet potato or oats may increase the availability of serotonin in your brain.

What vitamins can improve mood?

If you’re not getting enough nutrients from your food, it may be a good idea to take a supplement. Nutrients that have been associated with maintaining a healthy balanced mood include: folate, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12 and C. Talk to a doctor before adding any supplements to your diet.

Key takeaways

  • low mood can be brought on by a number of things such as burnout, trauma or depression and be hard to shake
  • maintaining healthy levels of certain chemicals in your brain can help improve your mood
  • surrounding yourself with things that make you feel good can increase dopamine levels and boost your mood
  • increasing serotonin levels by getting enough sleep and lots of natural sunlight can also help to elevate your mood
  • sharing your thoughts and talking with someone you trust may help to lift low mood by raising your oxytocin levels
  • you may find that cutting down on caffeine and alcohol helps you regulate your mood
  • you should see a doctor if you’re worried about low mood or if you haven’t been able to improve your mood through self-care

Did this article teach you something new? Try out our 28-day in-app feel happier plan for more tips and hacks on how to feel better. Currently available on iOS only.

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