A publication of the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives

Happy & Healthy
Home | Happy & Healthy | Stress, Citrus and Serotonin

Stress, Citrus and Serotonin

Three mood-boosting ways to increase happiness

May 2023

by Vanessa LaFaso Stolarski, Contributing Columnist

Feeling blue occasionally is a normal part of the human experience. Sometimes we can’t even identify what is making us feel that way. (Also totally normal.) Other times, a collection of life events can rain down on us like thunderstorms in July. Either way, if you have been feeling too blue for too long, the answer to boosting your mood might be found in unexpected places.


Never underestimate the medicinal properties of your food. Elevated cortisol, our stress hormone, can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds. However, we can mitigate the impact of stress levels with food choices that support our nervous system.


High glutathione content specifically blocks the intestinal absorption of certain fats that causes cellular damage. Avocados also contain higher levels of vitamin E, folate and beta-carotene than any other fruit, which boosts their stress-busting properties.


Vitamin C is well-known for supporting the immune system to fight illness and infection. Vitamin C also assists in producing serotonin, known as our “happy hormone.” Sunlight produces serotonin, which is why citrus can help stabilize our mood and brain function.


Drinking high-sugar or caffeinated beverages can increase your cortisol levels if consumed regularly. Chamomile tea has long been used as a natural relaxant, and clinical trials revealed chamomile tea as effective in reducing the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.


A sleepless night followed by a busy day and ending with doom-scrolling or high-intensity television viewing results in a constant fight-or-flight state. Also known as our sympathetic nervous system, the fight-or-flight response prepares our body for impending threats. So even though we may be sitting on the couch enjoying our favorite true crime series, your body experiences the same biological events it would if it was in danger. Increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and rapid breathing are happening as we witness the action on the television or read an upsetting digital news article.

Serotonin is released when we dance, create or connect with other humans.

At some point, we must tap into our rest-and-digest state, also known as our parasympathetic nervous system. Our parasympathetic system tells our mind and body: “Hey, body, we are safe! Nothing to fear here.” The best way to send this signal is with our breath. Try this easy breathing exercise when you feel like you can’t get your mind or body to shut off:


  1. Exhale to empty all the air in your lungs.
  2. Slowly inhale through your nose for a count of four.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  4. Exhale all the way out for another count of four.
  5. Hold the empty lungs a count of four. 6. Repeat for three to four rounds.


Serotonin is known as our “happy hormone.” It’s released when we dance, create or connect with other humans. You can also get a serotonin dose by standing in the sunlight. The more serotonin you can produce, the more you can regulate your mood and mitigate depression.

Dopamine is another feel-good hormone that can be elicited in very simple ways. Physical connection, such as a hug or handshake, can produce a dopamine response. Create mindfulness around your daily routine and spur some dopamine by greeting more people in your day.

Compliments are also great dopamine transmitters. Try wearing clothing that makes you feel the most you. Doing so can help you feel more confident and relaxed, which can be infectious and prompt compliments. Likewise, paying compliments to others will produce more feelings of wellness. Seek ways to lift someone up by noticing their hard work, contribution or general character.

Vanessa LaFaso Stolarski is a certified nutrition counselor, weightlifting coach, life coach and stress-management specialist.

All health-related content and media provided by Cooperative Living or its website(s) is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.