Serotonin, Dopamine, and the Immune System

Over the last few months, COVID-19 has forced us to drastically shift the ways in which we do almost everything, including how we interact with one another. For those who have been quarantined alone, without physical human contact for many months there are other ways to continue to strengthen your social bonds and your immune system without compromising your safety or the safety of embracing others. We know hugging releases dopamine, serotonin, and triggers a “reward system”, but some of these other techniques can also boost your immune system. If you’re not already, try some of the following:

1. Exercise – Important for an overall healthy lifestyle.

2. Breath-Work – Reduces stress levels that can weaken our immune system.

3. Myofacsial Release/Self Massage (foam rolling, acupressure mats, massage guns) – Helps to boost white blood cell production by stimulating lymph nodes and moving toxins through them.

4. Get enough sleep – Insufficient sleep can reduce a protein created in the body during sleep called cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation.

5. Eat more protein – Antibodies and immune systems rely on protein. Too little protein can create weakness, fatigue, and overall apathy.

6. Meditate – Decreasing stress and anxiety creates an overall sense of calm and wellbeing as well as stimulating the prefrontal cortex where mindfulness takes place. This is also the command center for the immune system.

7. Listen to uplifting music – Just 50 min of listening to uplifting music will increase your heart rate, blood flow, and reduce the production of cortisol.

8. Expose yourself to sunlight – Exposing yourself to just 15 to 30min of sunlight per day can increase your production of Vitamin D, which helps strengthen your bones and immune system.

9. Consider supplements – Talk to your health professional or doctor about what supplements would be right for you.

Dopamine and serotonin can be released in negative ways, such as sugar indulgence, lust, alcohol, co-dependent toxic relationships, and drugs (to name a few). Make sure you’re becoming addicted to the right behaviors to release those motivational chemical messengers in a way that serves you long term. Without a playbook, remember to allow yourself time to transition and that choosing a few habits to see what works for you is best. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do everything at once. Whatever you’re going through is valid, but there are many ways to soften the harsh edges and remain healthy, motivated, and happy as we continue to navigate this new world.