10 Ways to Boost Dopamine and Serotonin Naturally

Bee pollinates lavender flowerNeurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry electrical signals between neurons in the brain. Dopamine and serotonin are two important neurotransmitters for mental health. They affect your mood, memory, sleep, libido, appetite, and more. Imbalances can contribute to addictions, mood conditions, memory issues, and attention difficulties.

Over the past several decades, the world has seen an increase in medications for serotonin and dopamine imbalances. These prescriptions can treat symptoms of many mental health conditions. Yet they have a long list of potential side effects, from dizziness to insomnia. Also, their effectiveness varies from person to person.

Some people want to try some non-drug treatments before committing to medication. Others take medication but want to supplement it with other strategies. Below are 10 ways to increase dopamine and serotonin that don’t require a pill:

1. Exercise

Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes each day improves one’s overall mood. Research has revealed that long-term cardiovascular exercise boosts serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin can lower hostility and symptoms of depression. It also encourages agreeableness.

(More: Move for Your Mood: The Power of Exercise to Help Lift Depression)

2. Spend Time in Nature

In previous generations, humans spent most of their time outdoors. These days, many people work indoors, sitting at a desk under artificial lighting. Researchers have found as little as five minutes outdoors in a natural setting can improve mood, increase motivation, and boost self-esteem. The amount of time spent in sunlight correlates with serotonin and dopamine synthesis. Even a brief walk in the park can improve your well-being.

(More: 5 Ways Nature Can Help You Feel Better)

3. Nutrition

Diet can also influence one’s mental health. Coffee increases your serotonin and dopamine levels … for as long as you take it. Once you stop drinking coffee, you will go into withdrawal. Your brain, used to the high levels of neurotransmitters, will act as if there is a deficiency. It can take up to 12 days of caffeine-free diet for the brain to return to its normal state.

Omega-3 fatty acids boost serotonin levels without the withdrawal. They help serotonin trigger nerve cell receptors, making transport easier. Many studies have shown that omega-3s help reduce depressive symptoms. You can find omega-3s in cold-water fish like salmon.

Contrary to internet rumors, eating turkey does not raise your brain’s serotonin levels. Many people think foods rich in tryptophan can boost mood, since the brain uses tryptophan to produce serotonin. However, tryptophan competes with several other amino acids for transportation to the brain. Since it is low on the body’s priority list, it usually loses.

That said, having some tryptophan in your diet is important. If you don’t have enough, your serotonin levels will drop. If you need more tryptophan, you can get it by eating starchy foods like whole wheat bread, potatoes, and corn.

(More: Good Mood Foods to Help Fight Depression, Stress, and More)

4. Meditation

Meditation is the practice of relaxed and focused contemplation. It is often accompanied by breathing exercises. Evidence has shown that meditation increases the release of dopamine. It can relieve stress and create feelings of inner peace.

(More: Stress Reduction: Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners)

5. Gratitude

Scientific research has shown gratitude affects the brain’s reward system. It correlates with the release of dopamine and serotonin. Gratitude has been directly linked to increased happiness.

There have been many studies on a practice called the “three blessings exercise.” Every night for a week, you write down three things you are thankful for. People who complete this exercise tend to report more happiness and less depressive symptoms. Their improved mood can last up to six months.

(More: How a Simple Mason Jar Can Bring More Gratitude to Your Life)

6. Essential Oils

All essential oils come from plants. These oils often have medicinal properties. One study found that bergamot, lavender, and lemon essential oils are particularly therapeutic. Using your sense of smell, they prompt your brain to release serotonin and dopamine.

Note: Always follow the instructions on the bottle’s label. Although essential oils are “natural,” some can be dangerous when misused. Do not let young children play with essential oils.

(More: How Aromatherapy Can Boost Psychological and Physical Health)

7. Goal Achievement

When we achieve one of our goals, our brain releases dopamine. The brain finds this dopamine rush very rewarding. It seeks out more dopamine by working toward another goal.

Larger goals typically come with increased dopamine. However, it’s best to start with small goals to improve your chances of success. Short-term goals can add up to achieve a long-term goal (and a bigger reward). This pattern keeps a steady release of dopamine in your brain.

(More: How Positive Affirmations Can Help You Achieve Your Goals)

8. Happy Memories

Researchers have examined the interaction between mood and memory. They focused on the anterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain associated with attention. People reliving sad memories produced less serotonin in that region. People dwelling on happy memories produced more serotonin.

(More: Can We Purposefully Make Memories Last Forever?)

9. Novelty

The brain reacts to novel experiences by releasing dopamine. You can naturally increase your dopamine by seeking out new experiences. Any kind of experience will work. You can do something simple like a new hobby or recipe. Or you can try something grand like skydiving. The less familiar you are with the activity, the more likely your brain will reward you with dopamine.

(More: 5 Things on My New Year’s Bucket List for My Kids)

10. Therapy

Research indicates if you change your mood, you can affect serotonin synthesis in your brain. This implies mood and serotonin synthesis have a mutual influence on each other. Psychotherapy often helps people improve their mood. It is possible therapy can help raise one’s serotonin levels as well.

(More: Benefits of Therapy)

While these 10 methods can boost your neurotransmitters, they are not a substitute for medical care. If you have mental health concerns, you should always seek a doctor’s or therapist’s advice. A mental health professional can tell you which approaches are best for your unique situation. There is no shame in taking medication or attending counseling. They are common treatment options among many.


  1. Coffee and hormones: Here’s how coffee really affects your health. (n.d.) Precision Nutrition. Retrieved from https://www.precisionnutrition.com/coffee-and-hormones
  2. Do you need a nature prescription? (2013, June 19). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/nature-therapy-ecotherapy
  3. Essential oils: Poisonous when misused. (2014). National Capital Poison Center. Retrieved from https://www.poison.org/articles/2014-jun/essential-oils
  4. How Do I Increase Serotonin and Dopamine Levels? (2017, August 14). LIVESTRONG Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/301434-how-do-i-increase-serotonin-dopamine-levels/
  5. Jenkins, T.A., Nguyen, J.C.D., Polglaze, K.E., & Bertrand, P.P. (2016, January 20). Nutrients, 8(1), 56. Retrieved from http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/1/56/htm
  6. Lv, X.N., Liu, Z.J., Zhang H.J., & Tzeng C.M. (2014). Aromatherapy and the central nerve system (CNS): Therapeutic mechanism and its associated genes. Current Drug Targets, 8(14), 872-879. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23531112#
  7. Novelty and the brain: Why new things make us feel so good. (2013, May 21). Retrieved from https://lifehacker.com/novelty-and-the-brain-why-new-things-make-us-feel-so-g-508983802
  8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mood Disorders. (2012). Today’s Dietitian, 14(1), 22. Retrieved from http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/011012p22.shtml
  9. Thankfulness linked to positive changes in brain and body. (2011, November 23). ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/science-thankfulness/story?id=15008148
  10. This is how your brain becomes addicted to caffeine. (2013, August 9). Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/this-is-how-your-brain-becomes-addicted-to-caffeine-26861037/
  11. Why our brains like short-term goals. (2013, January 3). Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/225356
  12. Young, S.N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 32(6), 394-399. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Ariana T

    December 12th, 2017 at 8:10 AM

    I knew there was a reason I liked eating fish so much!

  • John

    March 31st, 2020 at 10:13 AM

    Fish is contaminated with mercury, which can lead to mercury poisoning – see Google for articles of people beginning to report this danger. Best to go for plant based sources that digest identical without the contamination. Try linseed, chia seed, these can be put on porridge, salads etc or taken as oils.

  • Laura

    December 13th, 2017 at 10:02 AM

    So true about nature
    When I start my day with a walk downtown in our park (it has trees garden paths and a field for dogs) I feel much better that day. I have bipolar so not every day is great and my meds are really important. But being in nature is one thing that helps my mood for sure. Good reminder to prioritize it

  • Tarren

    December 13th, 2017 at 4:05 PM

    I have depression and take an SSRI but also do therapy 3x per month (covered by insurance) and I changed my diet which helped (cut out extra sugar, no soda, booze only 1x per week wine only)
    I agree you should do more than just meds seems to work best that way for me

  • Paula

    July 29th, 2023 at 4:52 PM

    I have discovered that depression runs in my family since 1900. I through trial and error found that taking Bupropion every day has helped me maintain a normal life and steady mood for the last 15 – 20 years. You can find it’s also helpful as it is necessary in the chemistry in ones brain. The Rx is one of the safest anti-depressants available with (I found) no side effects. Be open to this route if you get tired of therapy.

  • michael

    December 20th, 2017 at 7:00 AM

    What about great sex?

  • Sera Tonin

    February 26th, 2018 at 4:19 AM

    I was a bit disappointed not to see activities like drawing and playing music on the list. Anything that gets you into a flow state and brings you into the present moment is going to relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety. <3

  • Henry

    May 18th, 2018 at 6:40 PM

    I don’t get the knock on coffee. There’s so many articles showing it’s benefits ok the brain. Plus, don’t pleasurable foods in moderation make life worth living? How can s cup of coffee a day not be beneficial.

  • Karen

    March 26th, 2019 at 5:26 PM

    I noticed no one replied to your response. I also want to know about coffee too. The author did not go far enough with this point. And…I will continue to drink coffee. The pleasure of a hot cup of coffee alone can increase neurotransmitters in the brain, but also in moderation is very healthy for you. My thought is the coffee should have no negative effect if you are using other means to increase levels.

  • Eva

    August 23rd, 2019 at 11:27 AM

    I think the article was highlighting drinking coffee gives you a short term hit of serotonin and then a big dip, when I feel low I tend to drink a lot more coffee and eat chocolate which also has caffeine, and this is not a long term benefit in managing depression. They’ve listed the references at the end to read.

  • Evan

    July 25th, 2019 at 4:02 AM

    Anything that’s chemically addictive brings you down when you’re not consuming it. If you get away from your addiction to caffeine, you will find your moods to be more of an even keel than a constant craving followed by release of craving followed by craving and so on.

  • chris

    June 17th, 2018 at 10:50 PM

    heavy exercise and fish oil keep my depression away

  • John

    March 31st, 2020 at 10:14 AM

    That’s awesome! Just important note: fish is contaminated with mercury, which can lead to mercury poisoning – see Google for articles of people beginning to report this danger. Best to go for plant based sources that digest identical without the contamination. Try linseed, chia seed, these can be put on porridge, salads etc or taken as oils.

  • Alsayed

    January 15th, 2019 at 9:25 PM

    I welcome newsletters

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    January 17th, 2019 at 7:32 AM

    Hi Alsayed,

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  • sam

    July 23rd, 2019 at 2:47 PM


  • E.J.

    August 13th, 2019 at 9:13 PM

    I think that coloring might be a good addition to this list, as well as listening to classical music.

  • Stephanie

    November 14th, 2019 at 5:50 AM

    With in this last year I have been diagnosed with Manic depression and have tried several different medications that have had negative side effects. I’m am now looking to hopefully improve my issues taking a natural approach. This was a very interesting article. Currently my family and I have taken more to a clean eating diet, for whatever reason there is many things that just don’t agree with me. A bland diet seems to help as I have also been diagnosed with GERD. I also am currently doing CBT 4x a month.

  • Sam

    September 5th, 2023 at 5:24 PM

    Thanks for this information as I have just discovered that I am suffering from Maniac depression and GERD.


    September 30th, 2020 at 9:21 PM

    I have been helped by my doctor who told me my symptoms of acute anxiety (caused by deaths in the family) has led to depletion of serotonin and dopamine and caused adrenaline overload which is terrible. Ringing in ears, feeling dazed shaky , feeling like I’m drugged yet I take zero meds. I’m taking the natural route for healing…Positive Thoughts excercises, prayer and meditation, a hobby, sexual satisfaction, healthy diet, no sugars , white foods, no sodas, alcohol, -do dance, singing, serene music , helping others, sunshine, gardens, water..hot springs

  • JUDY

    October 4th, 2020 at 8:27 AM

    Thanks everyone. Its good to post and help others.

  • Billy

    October 27th, 2020 at 7:59 PM

    I use alot of these methods which generally work very well to keep my in a happy place unfortunately ive been suffering a back injury for almost a year now and doctors seem to love prescription drugs to help the pain go away (along with exercise and other therapies) but all those medications cause these amazing natural therapies to be blocked out, the most important thing for me is to remember that it is ok to have different feelings i find accepting them can help keep the chemicals balanced- the natural therapies help this thought process immensely. Thank you to all who have shared their thoughts its like communal comunication therapy in itself

  • SFT

    March 15th, 2021 at 11:49 AM

    I’m surprised weed isn’t on this list it’s the only way I get my dopamine

  • SOC

    October 8th, 2021 at 5:32 AM

    To the drone who kept going on about fish and “fish bad cuz mercury”.
    Fish isn’t “contaminated” with mercury, it’s a compound naturally found in fish which our bodies can handle just fine as long as it’s withing normal limits of consumption.
    Eating fish and shellfish can contribute to a healthy lifestyle and cardiovascular health, and as long as you don’t have a medical mandate to avoid fish because of mercury exposure, there’s no need for such ridiculous fear mongering.

  • Paulina

    November 15th, 2021 at 2:35 PM

    I have grabbed loads of advice
    Especially the advice spending few minutes on the sun

  • Christine

    January 16th, 2022 at 7:07 AM

    Just wanted to add that surrounding yourself with positive people helps also. I have decided to end certain relationships because that person brings me down. Trying to focus on myself and not worry what others think about me, and smile!

  • stephen

    January 23rd, 2022 at 6:20 PM

    I have had this problem off and on for years. I’ll go for months and not have this anxiety. But it comes on hard and bad. I would like to know what triggers it?

  • stephen

    January 23rd, 2022 at 6:26 PM

    what triggers it ? I’ll go for months with no problem and it comes on all of sudden.

  • Karen

    July 24th, 2022 at 12:41 AM

    I found out that taking fish oil made me feel more depressed as I was not low in serotonin (the calming hormone) and it made me more depressed. I was low in dopamine only (the energizer hormone that effects your interests, motivation, etc, embracing the day feeling ) so I had to stop taking fish oil.

  • Cecily

    August 30th, 2022 at 1:54 PM

    Fish is not only perfectly fine for you, it’s very healthy. Don’t listen to the mercury person. Especially raw fish when it’s good quality can seriously help! Working out activates our reward center as well as releases dopamine instantly. It can be so difficult to start but once you push past the first 10 minutes you’re there. Set a goal and try to finish and if you don’t, know you’ve made progress and that itself is amazing. Source, lifelong clinical depression sufferer.

  • Debra

    November 23rd, 2022 at 9:56 AM

    Useful, natural , self aware help.

  • Joseph

    July 10th, 2023 at 11:42 AM

    I read and meditate on spiritual quotes, beliefs and words of humility. Then pass it on to 50 people 4-5 times a week

  • Stella

    April 8th, 2024 at 3:29 PM

    I found this to be an excellent and informative article. Very well researched. Thank you!

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