Happy Hormones fuel your mental fitness
The feeling that is called happiness is produced by the production of four brain chemicals: dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin, and serotonin.
While you may not think twice about walking and talking at the same time or laughing at a joke while watching television, the brain is hard at work calculating every move to help regulate thoughts, feelings and emotions.
At the core of these feelings are brain chemicals that affect your happiness.
This article aims to clearly define these brain chemicals while giving practical examples of how and why these chemicals are produced. Once you can mindfully understand these processes, you can skilfully understand how to manage their influence on your daily life, which will inevitably lead to enhanced mental fitness.
It is firstly worth noting that these happy chemicals are released into the body when you see a way to meet a survival need, such as food, safety, or social support. It is also natural for these chemicals to be turned off at times.
The 4 Happy Chemicals
Ultimately, Dopamine has a role in controlling memory, mood, sleep, learning, concentration, and body movements. Dopamine is responsible for allowing you to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation, particularly when you have achieved something.
It provides the surge of energy when you need to find a way to meet your needs, and the “Eureka! I got it!” feeling when you do.
WARNING!! – Having experienced this rewarding, euphoric feeling, you may start craving dopamine. As you no longer get it for, or from, needs that have already been met, you will look for new ways to achieve a Dopamine rush.
Alcohol and many illegal drugs cause a surge of dopamine, which is partly why people get addicted to them. Skilful management of Dopamine levels is consciously achievable.
Ever feel amazing after a good, hard work out? Your “high” is caused by tiny neurochemicals released by your body, called Endorphins. This produces feelings of euphoria that can help to mask your pain from exercise or stress (natural pain killers).
They are produced by the central nervous system and the pituitary gland. Since endorphins act on the opiate receptors in our brains, they reduce pain and boost pleasure, resulting in a feeling of well-being.
Since humans naturally seek to feel pleasure and avoid pain, we are more likely to do an activity if it makes us feel good. We are social creatures, and we thrive in communities. Endorphins have been shown to also help reinforce social attachments.
WARNING!! – We are not designed to experience it too often. Thankfully, there is no need to run marathons as simply enjoying a piece of dark chocolate, interacting with friends, playing music, meditating, or watching your favourite TV shows can help raise endorphin levels.
Oxytocin produces the feeling of being safe with others, helping you to connect with and trust them (social trust). Touch triggers oxytocin, which is why it is often called “the love chemical” or the “bonding hormone”. When greeting people, a cuddle triggers a person’s Oxytocin levels, which immediately promotes a positive, bonding feeling.
WARNING!! – In the animal world, animals are cautious about who they let close, and if they are betrayed, cortisol wires in an alarm response for the future. It is not easy to keep that nice feeling going. When you’re isolated from the herd, you feel like your survival is threatened, and you may even have a longing to do things to bond with the herd that are not good for you, or you may bond with others in the face of a common enemy.
Serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer chemical that controls wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin produces the feeling of being respected by others, pride, and a ‘one-up feeling.’ If you are comparing yourself to others, and your brain sees you are in a ‘one-up position’, you get some good-feeling Serotonin.
Serotonin controls your mood and is responsible for happiness. It helps regulate when you sleep and wake, helps you think, maintains your mood, and controls your sexual desire.
WARNING!! – Too little: Despite our best intentions for cooperation and altruism, it seems we all have a desire for this feeling of one-up on others and can feel uneasy when this is threatened. Not having enough serotonin is thought to contribute to anxiety and depression.
Serotonin levels can also be increased naturally by getting more exposure to outdoor sunlight and by doing plenty of exercise. It can also help to eat more foods that contain tryptophan, such as nuts, eggs, cheese, red meat, turkey, salmon, tofu and pineapple.
Too much: Having too much Serotonin can lead to Serotonin Syndrome, which can be life threatening in some people. It is almost always caused by an interaction with antidepressant medicines. It usually disappears when you stop taking the medicines, but it is especially important to see a doctor if you think you may have Serotonin Syndrome. It is usually treated in hospital.
Symptoms include twitching muscles; shivering; restlessness and agitation; fast heartbeat; high temperature; headache; confusion; dilated pupils; goose bumps. High levels of serotonin can also reduce your libido (sexual desire).
Since your brain already has these neurotransmitters and hormones, it makes sense to maximize them, right? But doing so doesn’t require a secret code. All it takes is a few simple tasks and basic planning to boost these chemical messengers.
For starters, eat well and incorporate exercise into your diet. A 20-minute workout or a light jog can help stimulate dopamine due to the pleasure you receive from accomplishing a feat. Exercising can also stimulate serotonin and endorphins by causing you to feel satisfied and enjoy the positive results of a workout.
Exercising primarily influences boosting endorphins, but remember to laugh, too.
A simple meditation can help boost serotonin. There are ways to achieve this even without physical activity. Self confidence can go a long way in stimulating serotonin. The feeling of believing in yourself will translate to others respecting you, which ultimately promotes serotonin production.
To boost dopamine, complete simple tasks that make you feel good or set a goal you can easily achieve. The simple fact of even approaching a reward will stimulate these neurotransmitters. This explains why seeing the finish line at the end of a race activates dopamine.
For oxytocin, give someone a compliment. You may not see this as building trust, but communicating with others — even strangers — in social settings can reward you with positive feelings. Being kind also can boost serotonin and dopamine.
Share your findings with others
By sharing this knowledge with others, and by observing where other people experience these feelings, you will quickly develop a skilful awareness of how people are affected by these happy chemical reactions.
Reach out to us if you want an effective, practical activity that will support your knowledge around identifying happy chemicals in action.
When you progressively develop highly skilled, conscious, behaviours, you will be able to effectively control how you are affected by and how to regulate these reactions.
At Get Mentally Fit, many of our programs and services are directly informed by the direct effects of emotions on behaviour. This is critical knowledge that mentally fit people can skilfully implement, in practical ways, which allows them to enjoy greater life control and enjoyment.
Client’s always highly value cultivating their emotional intelligence, which allows us to skilfully support them to develop regenerative, positive change.
Contact us to enquire into how we can support you to reliably measure, and skilfully cultivate your thinking, which in turn leads to highly effective, more positive, actions in your personal and professional life.
Want to learn more?
We have deliberately divided the further learning sections, each fortnight, into three tiers of research (difficulty).
Lounging on the beach (light); Air-tank assisted buddy dive (medium); Deep dive into the splendorous depths (more rigorous).
*LOUNGING ON THE BEACH OR HEADING OUT FOR A CASUAL SNORKEL…
*AIR-TANK ASSISTED BUDDY DIVE…
Podcast (Michelle McQuaid) – Can You Turn on Your Happy Chemicals
Web Article – Chemical messengers – how hormones effect our mood
*DEEP DIVE INTO THE SPLENDOROUS DEPTHS…
Web Article and Research – Psychology Today Australia – Hormones