Neurotransmitters are often referred to as the body’s chemical messengers. They are the molecules used by the nervous system to transmit messages between neurons, or from neurons to muscles. Communication between two neurons happens in the synaptic cleft (the small gap between the synapses of neurons).
Neurotransmitters, in your brain and throughout your body, have a strong impact on mental health. It’s important to know that neurotransmitter levels are controlled by different organs and processes in your body, not only your brain. What follows are brief descriptions of the neurotransmitters most intimately connected with your mental health:
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure. It helps you feel relaxed, motivated, alert and happy. If you feel unmotivated, cannot concentrate, or crave stimulants like sugar or caffeine, you may be low in dopamine. Low levels of dopamine are associated with incoherent thoughts, Attention Deficit Disorder and depression. It also controls physical processes including digestion, heart and muscle control, and thyroid functions.
Excessive dopamine in your body suppresses serotonin, a neurotransmitter that improves mood, keeps you calm and is vital in preventing depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.
GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid)
This neurotransmitter calms you down, improves sleep, helps you make rational decisions. It also reduces stress, anxiety and pain. Low levels are associated with panic attacks, burnout, feeling overwhelmed and tearful – and often leads to cravings for sweets, carbohydrates and alcohol.
This is a key neurotransmitter that calms your nerves, reduces your stress response, helps you sleep better, gives you a sense of comfort and increases your ability to feel pleasure. Serotonin is produced in both your brain and small intestine, which is why digestive health is so crucial to emotional wellbeing. When levels are too low, your ability to feel pleasure decreases; you may be more prone to obsessive thoughts, sleep disturbances, panic disorders, negative thinking, aggressive behavior, irritability, self-criticism, low self-esteem and suicidal tendencies. Low levels of serotonin also create carbohydrate cravings, which is why people with mood disorders often deal with cravings, binge eating or other poor eating habits.
Norepinephrine is produced in your brain and by your adrenal glands. It keeps you alert and active, speeds up your breathing, constricts blood vessels, increased your heart rate, and increases your blood pressure. It is one of your ‘fight or flight’ neurotransmitters, along with adrenaline.
Norepinephrine levels should naturally decrease when alertness and important activities are not required. Very low levels are linked with depression. When levels of norepinephrine remain elevated for a long time, or when they become over-elevated, people suffer from insomnia and tend to experience feelings of fear, panic or anxiety.
Endorphins help to reduce emotional pain and improve self-esteem. They act like pain killers in your body and get used up when you suffer from emotional or physical pain. Low levels often manifest insensitivity to both physical and emotional pain and lead to crying easily, feeling resentful, and craving food, drugs and alcohol for pain relief. Certain addictions, such as sex, exercise and risk-taking behaviors can also be symptoms of low endorphin levels.
Do you have any questions about how neurotransmitters are affecting your emotions and steps you can take to make a positive impact on your sense of well-being? Give us a call for a free consultation and find out how we can help.