We Are Our Own Medicine Cabinets: Tapping Into Our “Happiness Chemicals”
APRIL 29, 2021 VOL. 2 ISSUE 18
Submitted by Christine Whelan
Our diet is not just what we eat. It’s what we watch, what we listen to, what we read, the people we hang out with and the things we subject our mind and body to. We also have, within us, a medicine cabinet of natural chemicals that react to what we experience and expose ourselves to.
Four of these chemicals have been called “happiness chemicals”. That’s right. We have happiness chemicals inside us. And there are several things we can do to access and boost these chemicals every day, even during a pandemic.
Dopamine is known to be activated when we complete a task, accomplish a goal, celebrate a win and allow ourselves some self-care. It plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting.
According to WebMD, “Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter. Your body makes it, and your nervous system uses it to send messages between nerve cells. That’s why it’s sometimes called a chemical messenger. You won’t notice it until there’s a problem, causing too much or too little.”
Dopamine affects many parts of our behaviour and physical functions, such as: learning, motivation, heart rate, mood, and attention.
Small, everyday tasks can even trigger a touch of the sweet stuff like making the bed, washing the dishes, or sending an email. Also suggested are, completing a small puzzle or game, reflecting on a positive memory or finish reading a chapter of a book.
According to an article by Harvard University researcher Trevor Haynes, when we get a social media notification, our brain gives us a shot of dopamine. It may be helpful to, at times, take a break from social media, which can often lead to a “dopamine burnout” from all those easy Likes and attention.
We can learn something new. With the old, we can put a fun twist on ordinary activities to make them more enjoyable. And yes, video games activate dopamine! It makes sense why so many of us have turned to playing video games these days.
We can identify a strength or “superpower” of ours. What is your superpower? Whisper it to yourself. We can recite positive affirmations that resonate with us and inspire us. We can share an accomplishment of ours with someone who’d be proud of us. All of these actions trigger dopamine.
Oxytocin is often associated with feelings of love, affection, and bonding. It’s a hormone produced by the hypothalamus and secreted by the pituitary gland.
We get a dose of Oxytocin through human touch, from giving someone a long hug to smaller ways, such as shaking someone’s hand or patting someone on the back. So, it makes sense, in these days of physical distancing, that we may be lacking in this chemical and need to find ways to replace the boost.
While we are alone, believe it or not, hugging ourselves can provide a little shot. We can also wrap ourselves in a comfy blanket or treat ourselves to a nice hot bath.
While we are spending this time with family members, cradling babies and playing with a kids and pets can activate oxytocin.
Whether they are near or far, we can give someone a genuine compliment, listen to someone who needs to vent, tell someone we love them, give a random gift to someone we care about, write a letter of appreciation to someone, and as I’m doing with this entire article, use more “we”-language in our relationships.
Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. It also helps reduce depression and regulates anxiety. When our serotonin levels are normal, we should feel more focused, emotionally stable and calmer.
Serotonin is stimulated by sunlight. And spring is here! Time to get outside. We can get right out, way out, into nature or we can simply sit on the back patio.
Getting creative will also send a sample of serotonin through us. Pursuing a creative hobby, such as painting, music, or photography will do the trick. Listening to our favourite music is one of the most common ways we can regulate our mood and emotions.
We can boost our serotonin by identifying one thing we are grateful for every day – to make gratitude a daily, mental habit. We can be moved and inspired by star-gazing or by having a genuine and meaningful conversation with someone.
The name endorphin comes from the words endogenous, which means “from the body,” and morphine, which is an opioid pain reliever.
MedicalNewToday says, “Endorphins are chemicals produced naturally by the nervous system to cope with pain or stress. They are often called ‘feel-good’ chemicals because they can act as a pain reliever and happiness booster.”
Endorphins are primarily made in the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. The well-known “runner’s high” that is felt after lengthy, vigorous exercise is due to an increase in endorphin levels.
Although we are currently not able to participate in extreme sports, thrill-seeking activity and competition that is known for pumping out the endorphins, there are other ways to access this internal wonder drug.
We have heard for decades, laughter is the best medicine. A laughing fit can provide us with a splash of endorphin. Reasons to laugh can be found in a movie, on TV, in a phone conversation, in video chat, and on social media. We can always choose what we expose ourselves to.
Conversely, watching a really intense drama or thriller movie will also provide the opportunity for an endorphin fix.
We can still find ways to get physical during lockdown. We can go for a run or a brisk walk. Outdoor exercise is permitted. We can work out with our limits, both physically and environmentally. While inside, we can dance to fast and upbeat music. If we are watching TV, we can get up and simply walk on the spot while watching.
We can eat dark chocolate and really spicy foods, smell lavender, rosemary and citrus, and enjoy a glass or two of red wine. Even taking a cold shower will shock the body and boost the endorphins.
So, have you been accessing your natural medicine cabinet and getting a healthy dose of these “happiness chemicals” these days?