Brain chemistry and mental health - Why is this important?

You can modify your behaviours and choices so they become less damaging to your lifestyle balance:

By understanding our basic brain chemistry makeup we are better positioned to understand why we do what we do and what actions we can take to ensure we are functioning at our best. When we know our brain chemistry type, we know what foods are best for us to eat and what type of activities we should try in order to keep us feeling ‘balanced’. Many of us do not know what to do when we become ‘unbalanced’, we just hope that everything will improve! Sound familiar?

You can also become more understanding of why the people around us do what they do:

If we’re aware of our own and other people’s brain chemistry around us (or at least appreciate that they may be different to us!), we can make more sense or why we act in certain ways and consequently improve our relationships with those we interact with. By discussing and being aware of the brain chemistry of those around us, we can become more understanding and hopefully work together more efficiently.

How does brain chemistry impact our health and performance?

Our brain chemical levels are the most significant determinant of how well information, thought and emotions are transmitted in the brain. Balanced brain chemistry rewards us with:

  • High clarity of thought
  • Greater concentration
  • Even emotions
  • Efficient reaction times
  • Better stress management
  • Improved performance

In contrast, less than optimal or unbalanced brain chemistry levels will lead to poor behavioural responses to everyday situations and is the major determinant of stress – in particular, anxiety and depression conditions.

Optimal brain chemistry = high performance

So, what are the main brain chemicals?

  • Norepinephrine and dopamine: these two chemicals are known as the arousing ‘gas pedal’ chemicals as they help to make us alert and energised. Many people have excess amounts of these chemicals, leaving them feeling stressed, on edge and anxious. 
  • Serotonin and GABA: these are our calming brain chemicals – the ‘brake pedal’ chemicals. They create feelings of relaxation, personal security and wellbeing. GABA helps to slow our brain activity down. If we have had a stressful day at work, our dopamine levels will be high, so GABA will kick in to try slow brain functioning down in order for the body to repair itself. If our GABA levels are too low, this process cannot happen and we can be left feeling anxious and stressed. If your serotonin levels are low you are likely to feel depressed and unmotivated.

The brain chemical – Mental health link:

  • Low serotonin = depressive feelings, low energy, insecurity, lack of confidence, negative thoughts, poor concentration, inability to focus
  • Low dopamine = depressive feelings, low energy, social withdrawal
  • High dopamine = anxiety, sleep disturbances, aggression, insecurity, scattered thoughts, no self confidence
  • Low GABA = anxiety, Bipolar disorder

Serotonin & depression: research shows that people with depression often have lower than normal levels of serotonin. The types of medications most commonly prescribed to treat depression act by blocking the recycling, or re-uptake, of serotonin by the sending neuron. As a result, more serotonin stays in the synapse for the receiving neuron to bind onto, leading to more normal mood functioning.

GABA & bipolar disorder: compared to healthy patients, bipolar patients have lower levels of an enzyme used in the transfer of GABA in the brain. It is thought this plays a role in causing the disorder because anticonvulsant drugs, which are effective in combatting bipolar disorder, increase the levels of GABA.

The good news is you can balance your brain chemicals through nutrition and exercise:

  • Dopamine boosting foods: fish & seafood, chicken & turkey, lean red meat, legumes & beans, nuts & seeds, eggs, caffeine
    • If you need to lower dopamine, reduce your intake of these foods!
  • Serotonin boosting foods: whole grains, pumpkin, squash, zucchini, root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, celery) and snacks such as wholegrain crackers, rice cakes with jam, raisin bread and popcorn. 
  • Gentle exercise mildly increases dopamine and norepinephrine, but significantly boosts serotonin. 
  • Dopamine reducing/serotonin boosting exercise: dancing, jogging, rowing machine, swimming, water aerobics
  • Dopamine boosting exercise: competitive based sporting activities

You can help your staff find out more about their brain chemistry and how they can better ‘balance’ their brain chemistry by booking a service with us today! You will find out whether you and your staff are dopamine-driven or seeking-serotonin – and more importantly – what to do when you are out of balance and/or stressed. It is incredibly valuable information that will have a big impact.