In a time where life seems to be in the fast lane, it probably seems normal to feel lethargic and on edge due to your busy schedule. However, having symptoms of restlessness, and craving sweets and carbs more than usual could be a result that your serotonin levels are low. To give a quick synopsis of what serotonin actually is, it's basically a neurotransmitter (AKA chemical messenger) that provides information throughout your brain and body. You can find serotonin located mostly in your central nervous system, blood platelets and digestive tract. Essentially, this neurotransmitter is like the oil for your car and keeps everything moving and going smoothly. With normal levels of serotonin, this neurotransmitter helps intestinal muscles by helping food move through the tract, helps heals cuts by serving as a vasoconstrictor, and can make you feel confident and happy.
Author of The Science of Positivity: Stop Negative Thought Patterns by Changing Your Brain Chemistry, Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D. explains to Bustle that to help understand what's exactly serotonin, it's best to know how it works in the animal world. "Animals do not live in a paradise of social harmony, as much we’d rather think so. Animals tussle over food and mating opportunity, and when they seem to be at peace it’s because they restrain the urge to grab for a resource in the presence of a stronger individual. When an animal sees itself in the position of strength, its serotonin surges and it goes for it. Serotonin is not aggression but the calm sense that you can hold your own and meet your needs. If you are always seeing yourself as a victim, you are squelching your serotonin. You are better off feeling good about wherever you find yourself. When I am seated in the restaurant, I don’t tell myself 'why did they give me the bad table.' I look for the good in the table I have."
"Ninety percent of your serotonin is in your digestive system. Social dominance leads to food in the state of nature, so it makes sense that the same chemical rewards a critter with a good feeling when it asserts itself toward food, and prepares the gut to digest it." continues Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D. in an interview with Bustle over email.
All in all, having low serotonin can disrupt the way you live your life. So to figure out what exactly are the symptoms of serotonin deficiency, I talked with a few experts to get to the bottom of it. Check out all nine, below.
1. You're Angry Or Annoyed All The Time
If you feel angry all the time, have mood swings or just feel on edge, you may be experiencing low serotonin. For instance, serotonin deficiency sometimes results to impulsive behavior and aggression. But when you restore low levels of this neurotransmitter, you may be able to improve brain function and impulsivity. "When your serotonin levels are where they should be, you are more flexible in your thinking. You feel happier and open to other people's views, and so, you feel more carefree and laid back. When you rely too much on a linear way of thinking, you are a bit 'wound up' and rigid. This might be a sign that you could use more serotonin," says zen psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva in an interview with Bustle over email.
2. You Feel Like A Black Cloud Is Following You
"Women who struggle with depression often have serotonin deficiency. They are not thrill-seeking (the way a dopamine deficiency might express) but tend to retreat and isolate. If you feel that you are in a space of doom and gloom, or that a black cloud is following you with very little or no silver lining, you might have a serotonin deficiency," says Paiva. Even if you believe your depressive thoughts are a result of low serotonin, make sure to talk to a doctor or therapist before you self-diagnose yourself.
3. Chocolate & Bread Have Become Your Best Friends
Carbohydrates are usually craved by people who lack serotonin. When you lack this neurotransmitter, you search for a "quick fix" to bring the low levels back up. Hence chocolate and bread. "Women who are low in serotonin have cravings. The temporary rise in serotonin you get from a warm chocolate chip cooking oozing in flour and sugar, is also a quick fall, resulting in cravings. Your body isn't craving the junk, it's craving the happy feeling; and you can get it many other ways, but a craving is the quick fix for many women who are deficient. When sweets and starches become your silent partners in crime, it's time to love them from a distance!" says Paiva.
4. You're Having Trouble Sleeping
Serotonin is vital to help you sleep. Usually high levels of this neurotransmitter is related to being awake while lower levels associate with being asleep. Plus, serotonin helps produce melatonin from the pineal gland, which allows you to have a peaceful sleep. "If you find yourself waking up and then either tossing and turning or, finding yourself worrying, you might have a serotonin issue. When you have healthy levels of serotonin, your body doesn't need to wake up to 'stay alert to danger.' This is where your low levels of serotonin start to be the enemy; you need to even them out and gain, this is a cycle. As you lose sleep, you start to worry more, you lose resiliency and you become more grouchy. These will create — get this — lower serotonin levels," says Paiva.
5. You're Worrying Too Much
Having low serotonin could ignite anxiety problems, obsessive thinking and even excessive anger. "Do you see a theme? Worry rears it's ugly head both in night and, in day hours. If you find yourself feeling stressed, agitated, having generalized anxiety or panic, you might also be looking at a significant serotonin deficiency. We all have ups and downs in life; that is part of the zen awake experience — knowing that we have suffering. However, part of the zen experience is embracing each moment. When it is wrapped in worry, it is not possible to embrace it. This is the result often, of low serotonin levels," says Paiva.
6. Your Appetite Has Changed
When your mood changes, eating habits usually in flux as well. Some may eat more to make themselves feel better or refrain from eating due to depressive thoughts. "If your appetite and amount of sleep [are] dramatically changing, these are two more signs your serotonin is out of whack. This can be eating too much or too little, and sleeping too much or having insomnia," says psychologist Nicole Martinez Psy.D., LCPC, in an interview with Bustle over email.
7. You've Become A Homebody
You may clear up your calendar and stay in more often if your serotonin levels are low. Having normal levels of serotonin usually provide a calm, agreeable feeling to help interact with others. But without it, could result in lack of motivation to hang with friends and family. "You might be isolating and not wanting to go out and interact. I think you naturally see that this time if year as well, so you have to push and motivate yourself more than usual," says Martinez.
8. You're Not Taking Care Of Yourself
Low serotonin could contribute to low self-esteem. And when you're not feeling 100 percent great, you may lack the motivation to take care of yourself. "You find yourself practicing poor self-care. You need to step back and examine this, and make those small, but important changes," says Martinez.
9. You're Headaches Have Become More Frequent
According to Livestrong, Dr. Berit Brogaard Ph.D. claims there's a link between low serotonin levels and headaches. "Fluctuations in the brain’s levels of serotonin are strongly associated with chronic tension, cluster and migraine headaches. When muscle tensions or hyperexcitatory neuronal state stimulates the trigeminal nerve, a sensory cranial nerve, it releases a number of chemical substances. These substances cause an inflammation of the trigeminal nerve. When the inflammation and blood vessels interact, the blood vessels dilate, which causes pain."
If you believe you have any of these systems, don't panic. With a few lifestyle changes (i.e. exercising, eating healthier, meditating, etc) you can boost your serotonin levels. However, make sure to talk to a doctor if you want a professional opinion.