Sometimes we have days where everything just seems to be going well and we start singing and dancing in front of the mirror, putting on funny voices, and generally leaping around the house in a great mood. These kinds of days are days where we feel confident, happy with how life is going and inexplicably filled with boundless energy. These are of course very good days and on these days we tend to get lots done and have a general enthusiasm for life.
This is then why it’s so depressing when we wake up the very next day only to find ourselves only to find that love for life to be gone and to be replaced with a sulkiness and a gloomy feeling that you just want to crawl back into bed. Why can’t every day be like the first example? And what is it that causes these mood changes?
Well essentially all our moods are a result of hormones and neurotransmitters, and the hormones that our body produce depend on a lot of different factors throughout our days. Here we will look at a few things that can affect the hormones and chemicals our body secretes and how they affect our mood swings one way or the other.
The Weather: Sunlight can affect our brain almost directly through the thin parts of the skull and other parts of the brain and triggers the production of endorphins which are the ‘feel good hormones’ that put us in such a good mood. A lack of sunlight then can starve us of one of these major sources of happiness hormones and this is what causes many people to suffer from ‘SAD’ – ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ – which is a more exaggerated dependency on the weather for our mood. Such people can purchase daylight lamps which cause the same effect in the brain and can be kept on throughout the more overcast days.
Energy: Having more energy keeps us in a livelier and more upbeat mood as the brain too requires energy to function. Make sure then that you get enough calories and get enough sleep. Vitamins such as B6 can also help improve our mood this way.
Food: Foods can have a range of different effects on our body, providing us with carbs, but also with chemicals such as dopamine. Dopamine is the ‘reward’ centre of our brain and this is what gets produced after sex or when we eat something when we’re really hungry to encourage us to repeat this behaviour. A particularly good source of dopamine is bananas.
Immune System: Our immune system can also increase or lessen our mood, and if we are fighting lots of diseases this can make our whole body more suppressed and our mood will follow suit.
Smiling: Smiling can improve our mood via something called ‘facial feedback’. Facial feedback essentially states that when we pull an expression, our body produces the hormones to make sure that we feel that emotion. Thus if we smile, we will start to feel better and if we grimace then our mood will drop. Next time you’re in a bad mood try just smiling and you’d be surprised what it can do.
Seeing Others Smile: Another effect occurs thanks to what are known as ‘mirror neurons’ – neurons that fire when they see someone else do something. Thus if you see someone else smile it causes our mirror neurons to fire and we feel as though we are smiling. The reverse is also true, and this is just one part of why moods are contagious and can spread through a group.
Anticipation and Reward: Dopamine is released in a range of scenarios where we either anticipate reward, or get rewarded. This is why we’ll feel ecstatic if we win the lottery – but also why just the anticipation of looking at the numbers can actually improve our mood.
Music: Music can affect the pleasure centres of the brain and a fast beat can speed up your thinking and make you feel more energised and awake – all of which are correlated with better moods. Slow music on the other hand slow you down and make you feel more sullen as a result.
Love: Love causes us to produce phenylalanine which is another chemical that causes happiness and this is partly why we feel so ecstatic when we’re in love. Kissing and cuddling can also cause us to release a range of feel good hormones.
Exercise: Exercise causes us to produce endorphins and again improves our mood as a result. This is what is known as the ‘runners high’.