2020 has been incredibly stressful. We are living through a historical period in our lives and seeing both positive forms of social activism and political divisiveness within our country. It can get overwhelming and increasingly difficult to balance our moods and keep away negative thoughts.

But we can actively do simple things to love ourselves and our bodies. One of those ways is to increase our body’s production of serotonin and find ways to lower our stress.

What is serotonin? It is a chemical messenger naturally occurring within your body that acts as a mood stabilizer. It can help produce healthy sleep patterns and make you feel better. It can also:

Here are 4 ways that you can increase those positive feels within yourself.

1) Expose yourself to bright light. Light therapy has been commonly recommended in treating seasonal depression. Research shows that there is a clear relationship between exposed bright light and serotonin levels. Think about taking short lunchtime walks during the day or invest in a device that can emulate sunlight.

Timing of the light is also particularly important. You want to expose yourself only during the day and not at night. I’ve personally been using an “wake up sunrise alarm clock” that mimics the sunrise and it’s been helping to peacefully wake my body up in the mornings. Otherwise bright lights at night can block conversion of serotonin into melatonin and prevent a good night’s rest. Not to mention you can prevent hearing that sudden, jolting daily phone alarm.

2) Move your body. Regular movement has mood boosting effects and can help fight off signs of seasonal affective disorder. Start with 15-20 minutes of fast walking or even some light dancing! Some of the ways that I get myself to move more is by getting some accountability, like letting my friends know that I plan to exercise at least 3-4 times this week and if I don’t, I have to pay a sort of penalty – e.g., buying dinner next week.

Research has shown that there is a clear relationship between exercise and mood, which has concluded that movement acts as an antidepressant. Regular exercisers see the most consistent results. If Nochomovitz can complete a marathon inside his 23 foot balcony, it’s time we move.

3) Eat serotonin boosting foods. Simple carbs, such as a pasta, pastries, and popcorn typically increase insulin levels and build up more tryptophan, which the brain uses to convert to serotonin. This is probably why we are all a little addicted to carbs. Although these foods make us momentarily happy, it can cause high blood sugar spikes.

Try replacing with more complex carbs like sweet potatoes, apples, blueberries, carrots, spinach, and garbanzo beans. You can also eat foods rich in L-tryptophan (an amino acid that aids in producing serotonin) like tofu, pumpkin and sesame seeds to improve your mood.

4) Get a massage. Several studies have shown that getting a massage can boost your mood and increase serotonin and dopamine levels in your body. One study looked at a group of depressed pregnant women who received massages twice a week for four months. Their levels of serotonin increased by 30%.  

A massage can also lower your cortisol levels (the hormone in your body that is produced when you are stressed).  Massages have also been shown to help alleviate chronic migraines and other pain symptoms in your body.