4 ways to naturally boost low mood

16th December, 2021 • 7 min read

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

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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. Cut down on alcohol and eat well

“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.

Eat foods to 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.

Eating complex carbohydrates such as sweet potato or oats may increase the availability of serotonin in your brain, and a diet rich in protein (such as beans, chicken or fish) has been linked with higher levels of dopamine.

There's also good news for burger lovers - a large study has shown a possible link between eating beef and lowering your risk of depression. Scientists believe that the nutrients in beef, such as iron and B vitamins, could be behind the effect.

"But remember that red meat has been linked with other health problems, including colorectal cancer, so make sure to stick to a balanced diet with a maximum of 3 red meat portions per week," says Dr Ann Nainan, a doctor and Healthily expert.

2. Increase your dopamine levels

To improve your mood,

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. “

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.”

3. 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
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.

4. 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.

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
  • 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
  • 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

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

, 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

for support.

Your health questions answered

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

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.