This is Your Brain on Serotonin
By Jacob Devaney 

Understanding the cocktail of chemicals that fuel our consciousness
As we dive into the complex and beautiful neurochemical cocktail that fuels our brains, serotonin is a bit of an enigma. Research shows that serotonin plays an important role in regulating mood, appetite, sleep, and dreaming. It can have both a sedating or stimulating effect and this is somehow related to the flow of thoughts through your mind. Though neuroscience is in its infancy, we can still gain a lot of personal insight through exploring research being conducted across a number of fields, and comparing it to what we have felt or experienced internally.

So what is serotonin? It is a neurotransmitter, which means its a type of chemical that relays brain signals from one area of the brain to another. Nearly every one of the 40 million brain cells we have, are influenced either directly or indirectly by serotonin. Many researchers believe an imbalance in serotonin levels leads to depression. If there are any biochemical glitches like a shortage of tryptophan, the chemical from which serotonin is made, or a lack of receptor sites able to receive serotonin, or serotonin is unable to reach the receptor sites, then researchers say this can cause depression, as well as Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, anxiety, panic and excess anger.
Serotonin has been in the spotlight for its potential role in combatting conditions such as anxiety and depression, which affect many people. Prescription medications like Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft are in a class of drugs called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The theory is that these drugs are able to modify the extracellular level of serotonin in the brain by limiting its reabsorption. It is believed that by increasing the level of serotonin surrounding the presynaptic cell the symptoms of depression will be erased. However, there is much research that now refutes this theory; claiming that anti-depressants are glorified and expensive placebos. We know that serotonin plays some role in moods (and mood disorders including depression) but we are not exactly sure how, to what degree, and why.
Serotonin receptor 
A study from the laboratory of long-time depression researcher Eva Redei, presented at the Neuroscience 2009 conference appears to topple two strongly held beliefs about depression. One is that stressful life events are a major cause of depression. The other is that an imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain triggers depressive symptoms. – Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Psychedelic Drugs

LSD has been in the news lately due to the release of recent brain scans of people under its influence. It doesn’t take a research laboratory to tell that LSD has a profound effect on peoples’ mood, and perceptions. Just take a look at the numerous artists, like the Beatles, Steve Jobs, Alex Grey, or Dock Ellis who have pitched a no-hitter on LSD. The enhanced focus and hallucinatory, dream-like experiences on this substance are attributed to the fact that LSD suppresses the serotonin system. The result is an induced dream-state while wide awake. MDMA (ecstasy) is another psychedelic that influences mood, by causing the brain to become flooded with serotonin.
Ecstacy and serotonin receptor
Our bodies produces endogenous DMT (dymethyltryptamine), which is a structural analog of both serotonin and melatonin. DMT attaches to serotonin receptor sites which exist in high concentrations on nerve cells in brain areas. Occurring naturally in the plant kingdom and in mammals, DMT is the psychoactive component of Ayahuasca, the visionary Amazonian brew. Not surprisingly, many have attested to the ability of Ayahuasca to cure depression.

“…the brain is where DMT exerts its most interesting effects. There, sites rich in these DMT-sensitive serotonin receptors are involved in mood, perception, and thought. Although the brain denies access to most drugs and chemicals, it takes a particular and remarkable fancy to DMT. It is not stretching the truth to suggest that the brain “hungers” for it.” – DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman, M.D. (2001)
Dreaming and sleep

High levels of serotonin are associated with wakefulness, and low levels are associated with sleep. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the REM sleep cycle (during which most of our dreams occur) happens when the serotonin system shuts off during sleep. Melatonin plays a supporting role to serotonin in this function because it prepares the body for darkness and sleep, regulating our circadian rhythm. As you can see, sleep disorders, moods, ability to focus, alertness, and dreams are quite entwined with the level of serotonin in our brains.
Sleep disorderSerotonin levels are related to sleep disorders
The Brain-Gut Connection

Believe it or not, much of the serotonin in our bodies (up to 95%) resides within our gut. The brain and gut communicate back and forth through the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin functions as a key neurotransmitter at both ends of this network. An amino acid, tryptophan, is converted into 5-HTP in the small intestine. 5-HTP is then converted to serotonin that is later converted into melatonin. (See tryptophan-rich foods listed below)
Gut brain connectionThe brain and gut communicate
So, the question most people are probably asking is: can I increase my serotonin levels, and if so how?

If you have ever experienced a gut feeling then you may have been tuning in to what researchers call the second brain which is the enteric nervous system. This part of the gut consists of sheaths of neurons embedded in the walls of the long tube of our alimentary canal, which runs from our throat to our anus. Not surprisingly, much of our brain processes are affected by mood which are a direct result of our gut health.
Serotonin is a bit of a mystery because excess levels of it in the gut are also associated with diseases like irritable bowel syndrome. A recent Nature Medicine Study done with rats using a drug that inhibited serotonin in the gut appears to have cured osteoporosis. There also seems to be a link to autism yet the research is still in its early stages. People who take SSRI’s (anti depressants that inhibit serotonin) often have digestion issues as a result. So keep eating sauerkraut, and other live cultures like jun or kombucha to keep healthy flora in your digestive tract. The irony is that so many of us focus on our thoughts, meditation, etc. when the issue may be rooted in our digestion.
How to Increase your Serotonin
It is not so simple to determine the perfect amount of serotonin needed because it appears that too much and too little can each have both beneficial and detrimental effects. It does however seem that increasing ones serotonin levels will help with focus, energy, and mood if you are feeling low. Eating foods rich in tryptophan helps the body synthesise 5-HTP, which can then be turned into serotonin. These foods include but are not limited to: nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs. There are 5-HTP supplements available but it is preferable to source nutrients from whole and organic foods.
TryptophanFoods rich in tryptophan
Research shows that serotonin production is a two-way street with mood. By doing things that elevate your mood, you will increase serotonin production which will get you in an even better mood as the cycle feeds on itself. Yoga and exercise have proven to be beneficial in mood elevation, especially when combined with being outdoors. There is evidence which suggests that exposure to bright light increases serotonin, and people often employ full-spectrum lights in the winter to keep from acquiring SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Exercise and sunlightExercise and sunlight have been linked with increased serotonin production
We humans have inherited quite an awesome and complex physiology. Serotonin is perhaps one of the most mysterious and important of all neurotransmitters and being more aware of its interactions will hopefully bring about improvements in your moods and dreams.

Is Your Gut Making You Depressed or Anxious?

If you had to guess the organ that has undue influence on your emotions, your mood, even your choices, what would you guess? The brain? Sure, but what else? The heart—that mythological seat of the soul? Not quite. The stomach? You’re getting warmer. Would you believe it’s the large and small intestine, collectively known as the gut? More specifically, it’s the trillions of bacteria—the microbiota—that live in your gut. Each of us carries up to four and a half pounds of bacteria around in our guts at any given time. More than 100 trillion microbes live down there. That’s as many cells as make up the rest of your body.

Now, this crowd is mostly good guys, and they do important work, to the extent that some scientists advocate classifying these collective microbiota as its own organ. Aside from helping digest our food, they protect us from disease, neutralize some of the toxic by-products of the digestive process, and make it harder for bad bacteria to set up shop. In short, your gut does way more than just digest everything from Cheetos to camembert.

But it turns out gut bacteria may also affect how we feel. Who knew the next frontier in mental well-being would lead right to the toilet? With that lovely image in mind, here are 3 big ways our microbiota are connected to our mental health.

Below is the MP3 link (after a Talkspace ad):

Science Says ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ Week Has Astonishing Health Benefits

Love this, it’s such a positive article. I need this, I think we all need it. Happy “Random Acts of Kindness” week!

Geesh, does the world ever need this week.

The global phenomenon that is Random Acts of Kindness week is upon us: February 12-18, 2017.

We as co-workers — nay, citizens — get to extend hands and open our hearts to participate in wonderfully arbitrary acts of kindness all week long.

If the idea itself isn’t enough to motivate you to participate, science tells us that you literally feel good if you engage in kindness.

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has culled together a range of research that highlights an astonishing array of kindness-related health benefits.

Here are the top five reasons kindness can actually make you healthier:

1. Kindness fuels energy and esteem

Kindness produces serotonin which generates that feeling of calmness and even helps heal wounds. (Just like a Lionel Richie song!)

In one Berkeley study, almost 50 percent of participants reported feeling stronger and having more energy after helping others, with reports of greater feelings of calmness and enhanced self-esteem also predominant.

2. Kindness makes you happier

A Harvard Study showed that those who were altruistic and gave away money were, overall, the happiest.

And I thought that title was reserved for New England Patriots fans.

3. Kindness is good for your heart

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation reports:

Witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the ‘love hormone’ which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health.

Don’t they say love hurts? Turns out the opposite is true!

4. Kindness helps you live longer

Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness; In Pursuit of Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, writes:

People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44 percent lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.

Finally, a guilt-free way to skip the gym.

5. Kindness decreases lots of bad stuff

Studies have shown that developing a habit of kindness reduces pain, stress, anxiety, depression, and blood pressure.

Chemistry plays a role once again. (No, not the Ryan Gosling – Emma Stone kind of chemistry).

People who practice kindness as a habit have 23 percent less cortisol (the stress hormone) and more of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels (thus lowering blood pressure).

So, it’s pretty clear that if we’re kind, kindness is kind to us.

Over the holidays, I shared 31 ideas to inspire you to commit your own random acts of kindness in the workplace .

If you’ve lost that loving feeling since then, here are 12 more ideas. These are some of my favorite suggestions from The City of Kindness, a coalition of organizations working collaboratively to inspire more kindness in the world:

  • Put a surprise note or drawing in your spouse’s or kid’s lunch.
  • Post a genuine compliment to three people on social media.
  • Allow someone into your lane. They’re probably in a rush — just like you.
  • Let the person in line behind you at the supermarket go first.
  • Compliment your boss for something you admire but have never expressed.
  • Write a letter of recommendation for a colleague.
  • Forgive someone. And really mean it.
  • Strike up a conversation with the person standing alone at a party/work function.
  • Listen to a friend having a tough time — without offering advice.
  • Put money in an expired parking meter.
  • Leave a thank-you note for your mail carrier.
  • Don’t gossip.

You can also whip up your own ideas using a kindness generator provided by The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

And don’t forget the ultimate act of kindness: Share this article with your friends.

Breathing Exercises

Well these sound easy enough, and yes, I know about breathing exercises to calm anxiety and panic. I’ll try these and hope they work, because when anxiety hits me, there seems to be no stopping it.

Posted Jan 24, 2017
Austin Neill/

Whether you have occasional worries or full-blown anxiety attacks, deep-breathing is a must for maintaining optimal physical health and emotional well-being.

Deep-breathing is so vital because, in addition to helping you stay calm and avoid knee-jerk reactions, breathing is your best defense against panic attacks. If you’ve ever suffered one, you know how scary the experience can be. Maybe you thought you were having a heart attack, or worse—you may have felt like you were knocking on death’s door.

According to a study published by the Journal of Emergency Medicine, 30 percent of patients who seek treatment at emergency rooms with complaints of chest pain (and no evidence of coronary artery disease) suffer from panic disorder. When we’re stressed out, we tend to over-breathe (rapid, shallow breaths that resemble panting), a culprit in panic reactions, or under-breathe (hold our breath) which can cause dizziness or hyperventilation.

Studies show that deep breathing increases brain functioning, soothes the nervous system, cleanses the lungs, and promotes quality sleep. It’s a win-win, and these three techniques can help you get on the right side of calm.

1. Belly-breathing

Sit with your eyes closed and turn your attention to your breathing. Breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breath. Be aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.

Step one: Place one hand on your belly, and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of three. Exhale for a count of four. The hand on your chest should remain relatively still, while the hand on your belly rises gently upward. Contract your abdominal muscles to exhale, breathing out through your mouth.

Step two: Concentrate on your breath and forget everything else. Your mind may be busy, and you may feel that this exercise is making your mind busier, but the reality is you’re becoming more aware of your mind’s busy state.

Step three: Resist the temptation to follow the different thoughts as they arise, and focus on the sensation of the breath. If you discover that your mind has wandered and is following your thoughts, immediately return it to the breath.

Repeat as many times as necessary until your mind settles on the breath.

2. One Minute Breathing

Start by breathing in and out slowly to become aware of your natural breathing rhythm. Let the breath flow in and out effortlessly, as you prepare your lungs for deeper breaths.

Step one: Inhale for a count of four.

Step two: Hold for a count of seven. (If you feel dizzy, hold for four until you can build up to seven.)

Step three: Exhale for a count of eight.

Repeat four times.

3. Alternate Nostril Breathing

Step one: Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril.

Step two: Inhale slowly through your left nostril.

Step three: Pause for a count of one.

Step four: Now close your left nostril with your ring finger and release your thumb off your right nostril.

Step five: Exhale through your right nostril.

Step six: Now, inhale through your right nostril.

Step seven: Pause for a count of one.

Step eight: Close off your right nostril with your right thumb.

Step nine: Breathe out through your left nostril.

Start slowly with one or two sets and gradually increase the number. Sit quietly for a few moments after you have finished.

Zai Aragon/Shutterstock

Besides developing a wonderful, calming habit, intentional focus on deep-breathing can mean starting your day in a mindful state. Remember, anxiety loathes action, so stay three steps ahead by inhaling the good, and exhaling the bad.

Positive rather than negative

Haven’t written anything in a very long time. Have not felt like it. Life’s been full of many anxiety provoking events. Doesn’t seem to be letting up ,by any means. Trying to decide to just go on despite events. Trying to just go on despite what’s been happening. I tell people to look at the positives in their lives and then be happy for them rather than be scared, anxious and depressed by the negative ones. Trying to take my own advice. Easier said than done, absolutely. But I’m going to try and also will try to come back to my bipolar1blog, my beloved blog that I really used to love to write. Can’t wait for things to be perfect, or even better, must start living again. There are few very bad things, my loved ones’ health conditions, as well as other things, however even in the midst of the bad, there are still many things for which to be thankful. So god help me, I plan to be thankful.

First aid but not as you know it: 6 simple ways to support someone with mental health

First aid but not as you know it: 6 simple ways to support someone with mental health

person with mental health bandaged up
(Picture: Mmuffin for

When it comes to first aid, most of us can apply a plaster or a bandage.

Those of us who’ve been on a first aid course can also put a sling on and even treat someone who’s choking, having an anaphylactic reaction or has fainted.

Within the work place, we’re even now trained to deliver CPR and use a defibrillator to manage life-threatening conditions.

But how many of us would know what to do if a colleague, friend or relative suffered a mental health crisis?

Some mental health conditions can stay completely hidden and go untreated.

And if you noticed someone behaving out of character, which could be a sign that they are developing a mental health condition, what could you do?

Here are six simple ways you could support them.

1. Start a conversation

Start informally by asking someone how they are, make it sound as though you’re really interested in knowing if they are OK.

If necessary, make sure you find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed.

(Picture: Liberty Antonia Sadler)
(Picture: Liberty Antonia Sadler for

2. Don’t make glib remarks

It’s surprising how many people think it’s helpful to say ‘pull yourself together’.

Would you say ‘just walk it off’ to someone with a broken leg?

Telling someone to ‘cheer up’ isn’t helpful either.

If someone is opening up to you, take them seriously, try to understand and empathise.

3. Really listen

You will gather a lot from not only what the person is saying but how they’re saying it.

Try not to judge them for saying things that (to you) sound irrational – this is a common symptom and a helpful sign that should not be brushed off.

Try not to offer solutions too quickly. Instead, ensure they feel heard and ask them what they think they need.

woman talking about her depression (Picture: Liberty Antonia Sadler for
(Picture: Liberty Antonia Sadler for

4. Dealing with any practical issues

A mental health crisis can be made worse by concerns about everyday matters such as paying bills, feeding pets or even cooking food.

Ask if there’s anything of this nature you can support them with.

5. Offer support

It is important if someone is experiencing mental health difficulties that they first see their GP – this can be extremely daunting.

Perhaps you could offer to go with them.

In a severe crisis of mania, psychosis or other extreme distress, the person may need emergency care in A&E, the NHS non-emergency number 111 is a good port of call if you’re unsure.

(Picture: Myles Goode)

6. Keep the conversation going

Make sure the person knows you’ll continue to be there for them.

Even if they get help from professionals, it will always be helpful to have another person they know they can turn to.

The understanding that mental health first aid is as vital as physical first aid is growing.

Prime Minister Theresa May is looking at offering every secondary school in the country mental health first aid training and developing new partnership with employers.

This cannot happen soon enough.

I Marched

I marched. I marched with you my sisters and my brothers, my daughters and my sons. I marched for mother earth’s rights, I marched for sanity, for our rights, human rights, women’s rights, the right to love whom we want, the right to have love triumph. I wore my heart on my sleeve, confident the marchers wouldn’t crush it. My blood ran thick and red and strong and pure! My anger against this satanic administration drove me, my love for my great country and it’s equally great people propelled me. Expect Us! We Are Legion! Don’t discount us, in four years you’ll be gone and we’ll still be here. We’ll undo the damage you’ve done and pick up the pieces and proudly go on!

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