Serotonin And Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

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Serotonin belongs to the league of happy hormones. Four hormones, dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Endorphins, are responsible for regulating pleasurable sensations, joy, appetite, love feelings, and pain-relieving. So what is the relationship between serotonin and anxiety?

Serotonin And Anxiety

A lack of Serotonin could provoke mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. 

Helping our body to build or keep its level of Serotonin can ease depressive symptoms. In this article, we learn how Serotonin affects anxiety, naturally boosts Serotonin, and controls everyday anxiety.

Explaining Serotonin

A Neurotransmitter conveys impulses between the brain and nerve cells. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is converted into a hormone when it enters the bloodstream.

Serotonin is typically found in the digestive system and the central nervous system. Since it is a product of the essential amino acid tryptophan, any deficiency in tryptophan leads to lower serotonin levels. Conversely, you can build up your Serotonin level through tryptophan-rich foods such as chicken breasts, lean pork, and firm tofu. 

Serotonin exists in many internal organs, such as the stomach, muscles, and cardiovascular system. Yet, the highest concentration is in the brain, where it builds communication between brain cells and the nervous system cells. 

serotonin and anxiety

While balanced levels of Serotonin can help with sleeping and digestion, an excessive amount of it may lead to disorder in nerve cell activity. 

Learn more about Serotonin Metabolism in our blog post here.

Influence Of Serotonin On Your Mood

Serotonin affects each part of our body, from our emotions to our motor skills. Yet, it is best known for connecting thoughts with feelings. On the other hand, prolonged exposure to stress depletes Serotonin and leads to an imbalance in each level. 

Whenever Serotonin levels are imbalanced, and the hormone cannot perform its function correctly, pathological symptoms and syndromes may occur. 

To explain how Serotonin affects anxiety, we will take a deep dive into the most common anxiety conditions and symptoms and explore the research showing the role of Serotonin in regulating these conditions.

1. Serotonin And Sleep Disorder

Many studies demonstrated Serotonin's ability to promote waking and inhibit the REM sleep phase [1]. But how does that have an impact on our mental health? 

The quality of our sleep can have a positive or negative effect on the anxiety score. In research on jet lag, we could see that travelers have anxiety after their sleep is being disrupted [2]. Also, one meta-analysis says that night-shift workers are 40% more likely to develop depression. So, the correct pattern of our sleep could help with our psychological state [3].

serotonin and anxiety

2. Serotonin And Performance Motivation

Serotonin harmony is highly associated with behavioral regulation, demonstrated in motivation and enthusiasm levels. 

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have run a quite exciting experiment on the effect of Serotonin on the perception of effort costs. 

They divided 58 healthy adults into two groups. Group 1 took a placebo, while group 2 was treated with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor escitalopram. 

The experiment was to measure how group 2 performed a handgrip production task against monetary reward. The astounding result from the computational analysis shows that the group produced more effort due to the treatment, not by any change in the financial compensation itself. 

These study results suggest the potential of serotonin drugs in influencing the psychological perception of effort, which could be translated into treating anxiety or raising the motivation of workers [4].

3. Excessive Serotonin Linked To Irritation

Excessive serotonin levels can potentially result in higher vulnerability to stress. People who have low serotonin levels have more chances of getting easily irritable. 

A syndrome is known as “serotonin irritation syndrome” was examined in different studies [5.1, 5.2, 5.3]. The research suggests a strong correlation between anxiety induced by ionized atmospheric environments caused by waterfall and high-voltage equipment, and higher Serotonin serum levels. 

The usage of a Serotonin-blocker was as practical as removing the patients from the irritation-inducing environment. 

Like any other hormone, Serotonin has the most beneficial effects when it is in optimal concentrations. Normal levels of this substance lead to relaxation.

serotonin and anxiety

4. Serotonin Abundance Controlling Social Aggression And OCD

Serotonin's role in regulating your mood is extended to your social preferences; it allows you to move from a calm and content condition to an anxious state of self-protection and back. 

Many studies are investigating its role in moral judgment. Neuroscientists are stating that Serotonin, on the one hand, expands the neuronal representation of a favorable social preference. On the other hand side, serotonin depletion promotes selfish and negative social tendencies [6]. 

The hormone can simply shape our values associated with social harm and fairness. Negative social preferences suggest an automatically higher chance of stress-inducing situations [6]. 

Increasing Serotonin levels in the brain can also help to ease OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) symptoms. 

In most OCD cases, abnormalities in the corticotropin-releasing hormone, oxytocin, and somatostatin levels have been reported in OCD. Administrating patients with Serotonin treatments was able to correct the irregularities of these neuropeptide abnormalities [7].

How To Naturally Relieve Stress By Balancing Serotonin

The link between good mood and Serotonin goes in two directions. Positive thoughts increase Serotonin, and Serotonin also leads to positive thinking. Therefore, self-help and consulting a psychotherapist could be a meaningful help to bring Serotonin balance. Here are some other natural remedies you can do yourself to help to boost Serotonin levels:

  1. Exercise: You know the famous saying “mens Sana in corpore Sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body!). Having longer sessions of aerobic exercises helps to raise serotonin and tryptophan levels.
  2. Sunshine: Exposing yourself to the daylight and sun influence Serotonin levels. One of the reasons for seasonal depression is that there is no sunlight during the winter, and Serotonin's production is lower than in the summer days. But even on winter days, the light level outside is above 1000 lux, which you cannot have indoors [8].
  3. Massage Therapy: Once in a while, you should reward yourself with a massage. A review of multiple studies suggests that massage therapy helps medical situations and stress patients to gain many stress-alleviating effects accompanied by a spike in serotonin and dopamine levels [9].
  4. Serotonin-Rich Diet: Foods that contain Serotonin are cheese, milk, soya beans, sesame seeds, dried dates, and salmon [10]. Abundant amounts of Serotonin are also found in tomatoes, pineapple, walnuts, plums, kiwis, and bananas [11]. In addition, it is found in chocolate, which carries over 85% cocoa [12]. However, while it is good to integrate these food options into your diet, there is no point in consuming them in larger quantities. In that case, it will not cross the blood-brain barrier.

Anti-Stress Medications & Serotonin

Sometimes a conversation with a psychologist is not enough. And then, the patient is referred to medication. Antidepressants inhibit the transfer of Serotonin from the synaptic cleft. And it prolongs their action on the receptor [13]. 

However, a rare side effect with this kind of therapy could be more pronounced anxiety. As mentioned before, excessive Serotonin can lead to a toxic syndrome when the Serotonin level goes from low to too high. But this often occurs when you are taking two or more drugs that affect Serotonin at the same time.

Serotonin And Anxiety: Summing Up

Serotonin has immense effects on our health. It handles many of the main functions that get us through the day. If your levels aren't in balance, it can affect your mental and emotional well-being. 

Serotonin affects anxiety through its role in sleep quality, regulating motivation, and its influence on social aggression. An uncontrolled increase in Serotonin levels is not a proper answer to anxiety; blocking Serotonin could sometimes be a reason to control irritation. 

While medications could be needed to regulate Serotonin in severe anxiety cases, many lifestyle choices like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and relaxing sunbathe and massages can be the key to Serotonin balance and controlled anxiety. 



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