Two emotions, or ways of feeling, are especially troublesome to most of us – anger and depression. Depression appears to be epidemic now, globally, and without going into the etiology (the causes), or pinpointing definitions or degrees of severity (they vary; there are many) let’s just say it’s one way of feeling really bad. Physicians sometimes prescribe drugs for depression that help neurotransmitters do their job better, because depression is apparently related to our inability to use the serotonin we have. One of these is Effexor. Patients on these drugs report feeling better. Therefore we know that serotonin has something to do with depression – regardless of, or in addition to, external events such as the death of a loved one, stress, extended bad luck, chronic physical pain and the like. If you’re interested in learning emotional intelligence, and how to manage your emotions better, and those of others, you need to consider this aspect of emotional management as well. EQ means working on your brain, but it’s about balance and uniting – brain(s), body, and soul. It’s about wellness. Serotonin is the “feel good” neurotransmitter that helps us regulate moods and use good judgment. Low levels of serotonin cause depression and anxiety. Anti-depressants restore the serotonin we already have, or help us access it better, but they don’t help us produce more of it. What helps us produce serotonin? L-tryptophan. Food highs in L-tryptophan are turkey, pork, duck, wild game, bananas, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, tomatoes, plums, avocados, pineapples, eggplant and walnuts, says Roger L. Gould, M.D. And according to Dr. Allan Lieberman, vitamin B6 and magnesium can also elevate serotonin. Pay careful attention to adding these to your diet as you age, because Dr. Carolyn Meltzer’s research has proven that serotonin receptors decrease significantly with age – up to 55%. So what exactly happens with low levels of serotonin in the brain? Research shows it can lead to underlying inability to handle powerful feelings which can result in impulsive acts, aggressive behaviors, poor judgment, and self-destructive tendencies. According to the Society for Neuroscience, in experiments, monkeys with less serotonin are the ones who take daring jumps from the trees and injure themselves. Rats low in serotonin do risky things in experiments, and also accept small immediate rewards instead of waiting for a bigger prize. In human terms we would call this impulsive behavior. In psychological terms – the inability to delay gratification (wait for a reward) or to tolerate frustration (wait patiently). Serotonin can also be enhanced by talk therapy and by aerobic exercise such as jogging or dance, says Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Glenmullen, author of “Prozac Backlash.” Coaching and counseling are two other sources that provide important talking opportunities. Some physicians believe increased light can affect serotonin levels positively. Lack of light is what causes SAD – seasonal affective disorder. Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., Chief, Section on Environmental Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health, feels that intensity of the light is the most critical variable, not spectrum. However full-spectrum light used in the poultry industry causes chickens to live twice as long, be calmer and less aggressive, and produce eggs 25% lower in cholesterol. Apparently, even human cholesterol levels drop when people are exposed to sunlight. Non-full-spectrum lighting, which is often used in work places, has been shown to create hormones ACTH and cortisol in levels considered stressful. Others believe that staring at water of any type – from ocean to river to swimming pool — raises serotonin, while spiritual and faith experiences are also believed to do this. One of the captains on the Royal Caribbean cruise lines always ends the cruise telling the passengers that “research has proven a cruise is good for your health.” From personal experience, I’d say it is. And I also notice when cruising, how many people are sitting and staring at all that water. It should be said that the use of L-Tryptophan as a supplement is controversial, as are many things re: depression. If you are struggling with bad feelings, please seek professional help, and before your take any supplement or medication, consult your personal physician. However, some of the serotonin enhancers mentioned here are easily accessed and side-effect free. Want to try something different? Take a walk in the sunshine by a river, come back, fix a turkey sandwich and talk, talk, talk to your Emotional Intelligence (EQ, EI) coach.