When we’re feeling down in the dumps, we often look outside of ourselves to feel happier. However, looking inside first and understanding the science behind hacking hormones can actually provide more effective results.
Biologically, we experience four different kinds of happiness based on neurotransmitter activity in the brain. The four pleasure hormones are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin. When these hormone levels rise and fall, our mood can be affected. When we understand how our body experiences the full spectrum of joy, we can learn to increase happiness in healthier ways.
Enjoy The Process with Dopamine
Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone that is released when performing an activity and receiving a reward. After accomplishing a project or finishing chores, we reward ourselves with a treat. Once we savor the treat, dopamine is released. Dopamine is closely linked to memory. Because we remember how pleasurable the reward can be, dopamine helps get us moving and motivated.
The Reward Foundation explains, “The amount of dopamine released by the brain prior to a behaviour is proportional to its potential for providing pleasure. If we experience pleasure with a substance or activity, the memory formed means we anticipate that it will be pleasurable again. If the stimulus violates our expectation- is more pleasurable or less pleasurable- we will produce more or less dopamine accordingly next time we encounter the stimulus. After a time the brain gets used to the stimulus, so needs more of a dopamine boost to get a high…Hence the vicious cycle of dependency.”
Because the “dopamine hit” can become addictive, the key to authentic happiness is to
balance out the cravings. If you normally reward yourself with coffee, sugar and alcohol, try to add in healthy rewards. Instead try going for a walk, dancing or listening to music. Your brain will start to correlate more healthy behaviors with rewards and your dopamine levels will rise naturally.
Try to find more pleasure in the process itself, not just the reward. Complete your tasks with intention. For instance, if you mindlessly scroll through social media because you’re looking for the ‘hit” of the little red icon notification, try to ask yourself why you opened up Facebook in the first place. Did you want to contact a friend? Or post a question in a group? Take that action and then log off.
Hack Your Memories
If you have a hard time finding motivation to work on a project, try to remember the last time you truly enjoyed your work. Find a photo that reminds of you of that feeling. What inspired you in that moment? Dopamine is a memory hormone. The more you rely on healthy memories, the more you can hack your brain and experience greater levels of accomplishment.
Sleep Well with Serotonin
Serotonin is the sleep hormone that regulates our circadian rhythms and digestive cycles. The brain relies on environmental stimuli such as daylight to regulate the processes. When serotonin is released we feel calm, focused and grounded. When our sleep cycle is disrupted, our serotonin levels and overall happiness decrease.
A 2008 Research Study reported that “The melatonin precursor, serotonin, is affected by exposure to daylight. Normally produced during the day, serotonin is only converted to melatonin in darkness. Moderately high serotonin levels result in more positive moods and a calm yet focused mental outlook.
With our modern-day penchant for indoor activity and staying up well past dusk, nocturnal melatonin production is typically far from robust. ‘The light we get from being outside on a summer day can be a thousand times brighter than we’re ever likely to experience indoors,” says melatonin researcher Russel J. Reiter of the University of Texas Health Science Center. ‘For this reason, it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically, and moreover that we all try to sleep in total darkness. This can have a major impact on melatonin rhythms and can result in improvements in mood, energy, and sleep quality.”
Reduce Blue Light Exposure
Because serotonin is highly affected by daylight, try to avoid exposure to synthetic blue and fluorescent lights one hour before bedtime. Turn off overhead lights and use warm light bulbs. Avoid looking at your phone, computer, or TV at least one hour before bed. If you have to look at a screen, turn down the brightness and wear blue light glasses.
Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, try to keep a consistent sleep schedule. Every night your body releases toxins and repairs cells and tissues. The more consistent you keep your sleep schedule, the more you can regulate your serotonin/melatonin levels and maximize your body repair time.
If you’re feeling sad, take a nap! Even just a 20-minute nap can help reduce your stress levels. If you enjoy taking naps, try to take a nap at the same time each day.
Cuddle Up with Oxytocin
Oxytocin is the “love hormone” that is released with physical touch. Relationship-building, sensory activities including messages, kissing, cuddling, hugs and sex all release oxytocin. Oxytocin causes a reduction in blood pressure and the stress hormone norepinephrine.
A 2014 study reported that “Oxytocin is linked to increased levels of social interaction, well-being and anti-stress effects. The effects of oxytocin that is released by sensory stimulation during different kinds of interactive behaviors are often underestimated or even forgotten. In fact, many of the positive effects caused during interaction, such a wellbeing, stress reduction and even health promotion, are indeed linked to oxytocin released in response to activation of various types of sensory nerves.”
In times of social distancing physical touch is limited. If you have a significant other, try to enjoy at least eight hugs per day. A 2014 study found that 20-second hugs lower blood pressure and heart rates.
Cuddle with a Pet
If you need cheering up, take a few moments to pet your dog or cat. Just a few minutes of physical touch can increase oxytocin levels.
Listen to Music
If you need a mood boost, listen to music and sing your heart out. Oxytocin is linked to sensory activation and emotional bonding. If you tune into your emotions and the emotional state of the musical artist you listen to, you may increase oxytocin levels. A 2009 study found that open-heart surgery patients’ oxytocin levels increased while listening to music.
Let Go with Endorphins
Endorphins are the euphoria hormones that relieve pain, release toxins and amplify pleasure. They are the body’s natural opioids and the root of the word “endorphin” has a similar root to “morphine.” When athletes experience “runner’s high” they are enjoying a flood of endorphins.
A 2011 report explains, “When there is high stress in our mind, this stress stimulates the release of endorphin hormones which calms the brain in stress situations and brings the feeling of happiness. During an accident or injury our body is in high pain and these signals of pain tend to release the endorphins from the pituitary gland. Pain may be of any kind and initiates the release of endorphins.”
If you’re feeling stuck and stagnant, try to get up and get moving. 30 minutes of physical activity such as walking, running or dancing can increase endorphins. The more often you exercise, the more often you can feel the joy of endorphins.
Laughter is universally the best medicine. Studies show that the more we laugh, the more we can tolerate pain. If you’re feeling particularly painful, try watching a funny YouTube video or comedy show. Taking life less seriously is literally good for your health!
Stretch It Out
Practicing light yoga and stretching can release endorphins and decrease pain. If you sit all day at a computer, try taking a stretch break every hour. You’ll get an instant mood boost and more energy to stay focused.
Hacking Hormones for Healthier Happinesses
By understanding the chemistry of joy, you can better understand how your body prefers to experience pleasure. True happiness comes from a balance of motivation, rest, affection and release. Next time you’re feeling sad, try to recall a fond memory, turn down the lights, listen to music and have a good laugh. Your body will be happy you did.
Contact Natural Bio Health Today
Since 1999, Natural Bio Health has helped thousands of people regain their quality of life, prevent disease and maintain a strong immune system for optimal health. Through a careful review of health history, genetics and lifestyle, our providers are able to create individualized wellness plans to address the root-cause of your underlying health concerns.
Whether your personal struggles are with hormone imbalance, weight, sleep, energy, libido, migraines or depression, Natural Bio Health is committed to help you restore your quality of life and achieve optimal mental and physical health.