Why Mood Matters
“A temporary state of mind”, this is what my dictionary reads under the word ‘mood’. This is a fantastically simple definition for such an incredibly complex aspect of our lives, but it holds a lot of truth. Our lives are largely dictated by temporary states of mind. Just think about a time when you were temporarily overcome by emotion and decided to make a decision that you normally would not have made. In this scenario, our mood directly influenced our behaviour in a manner that we were not totally in control of. However, the temporary change in our state of mind is usually so strong, that upon retrospection we can clearly identify why we made such a rash decision, but what happens when this temporary state of mind is much milder and largely goes undetected by our conscious processing? This is when the standard definition for mood starts to fail us a little bit, because how long exactly is “temporary”?
Your Mood Influences Your Behaviour
Have you ever noticed that you go through cycles of productivity, memory function, interest in certain musical genres or even your preference for certain friends? This is likely because the “temporary state of mind” can often times be very mild and last for extended periods of time, whilst still influencing our daily behaviours. Often times this is beneficial because it allows us to continually see aspects of our life in a different light and this ultimately shapes us a person in our daily environments. However, it starts to become an issue when our moods are very monotonous and heavily leaning towards negative valence. Due to the mild nature of these monotonous moods they are often hard to identify through self-reflection, which can cause us to become stuck in a state of mind that decreases our productivity and increases social aversion. Luckily for us, moods are produced by our brains complex neurochemistry and due to this we can somewhat alter our moods with both behavioural and supplemental modifications. Before we get into that however, a quick lesson on the basic neurochemistry involved with mood.
The Science Behind Your Mood
Currently there are over 100 known neurotransmitters in our bodies and brains and a large number of these neurotransmitters have the ability to influence our mood. However it was quickly discovered that three classes of neurotransmitters appeared to have the biggest impact on mood and those are the monoamines, excitatory amino acids and inhibitory amino acids. Amongst these, serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, glutamate and GABA appear to have the greatest effects on mood and thus it is not surprising that behavioural modifications or supplements intended to elevate mood usually function through one or more of these neurotransmitters. Take coffee for example, arguably the world’s most widely utilized mood enhancer. It contains various compounds, such as caffeine and β-carbolines, which collectively affect nearly all of the key neurotransmitters mentioned earlier. Caffeine is an adenosine receptor blocker and blockade of this receptor causes a minor release of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine. This effect is bolstered by coffee’s β-carboline content, which inhibits the breakdown of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine; this allows these neurotransmitters to have a greater effect in the brain after they are released by caffeine. In addition to this, caffeine itself inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine, thus also increasing its effects in the brain after it is released by caffeine. However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, one of the world’s main sources of low mood is excessive stress. Stress causes a rise in the steroid hormone cortisol, which subsequently causes dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine to be broken down quicker. This effect is the exact opposite of the mood enhancing effects of β-carbolines. Thus, the first step in enhancing mood should focus on decreasing stress and limiting the negative effects of cortisol.
A Short Term Mood Lift…
In ancient times we relied heavily on our stress response to beef us up physically in order to fend of any life-endangering threats, however the need for that has diminished greatly in the modern world but our stress response is still very active. Nowadays our stress response is activated by sources that don’t require physical retaliation and thus a lot of the problems associated with stress appear to be caused by a lack of physical activity in response to stress. Thus a very simple fix to this problem is to physically respond to stress in the form of exercise! Exercise decreases our sensitivity to stress and prevents cortisol from breaking down serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. In fact, exercise even appears to enhance the release of some of these neurotransmitters! This means that by increasing the amount of exercise we engage in, we can already significantly elevate our mood. In addition to this we can be bolster the mood lifting effects of exercise with Longjack, which decreases cortisol levels and L-Tryptophan, which can significantly increase serotonin production in combination with exercise. We can also limit the effects of stress by utilizing adaptogens, which don’t explicitly decrease stress but rather balance stress to healthy levels. This is beneficial because small amounts of stress can release serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine and thus controlled amounts of stress can actually boost mood too! A great adaptogen to use for this purpose is Rhodiola Rosea.
Maintaining a Healthy Mood…
So now that we have the short term taken care of, how can we preserve a good mood? To do this we are going to have to take care of two processes that constantly occur throughout the body, oxidation and inflammation. Both excessive oxidation and inflammation in the brain can cause disruptions in brain functioning and thus can negatively impact mood. We can easily prevent excessive oxidation by increasing our antioxidant defences with a very comprehensive anti-oxidant such as Pterostilbene or Resveratrol. Preventing inflammation is slightly harder and will come down to diet, try to include as many omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, since these are great at reducing inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in foods such a fish, seeds and nuts.