Happiness hormones and how to hack them.
To say that the past 18 months have presented some challenges is a gross understatement. Rolling lockdowns continue to bind us to our couches, and the flow of media sustains a sense of gloom that permeates into our day to day. Prioritising our mental wellbeing is a challenge at the best of times. In our shiny, new and modern COVID life, it is more of a challenge to continue to socially connect with one another - we are regularly bombarded with feelings of anxiety and stress, and a lack of things to look forward to on the horizon persists to dampen our daily mood. It’s tough, 2021.
In a collective societal defiance of our current situation, we are reminded of the importance of self-care on a daily basis. It is hard to avoid words of affirmation and positivity that flood social media in times of turbulence such as these. We are a beautiful culture, and it is clear that we stick together – but how can we tangibly approach self care? What do the small steps look like, when I am told to go slow, take it easy and prioritise my mental health? And how can we integrate it into our day, so that the steps, and effects, can be repeated, are lasting and worthwhile?
The following, presents a list of some of the basic ‘happiness’ hormones, naturally occurring in the body, but rarely consciously utilised to full effect. By tapping into your natural responses, it is possible to begin to understand how your hormones contribute to making you feel ‘good’.
See it as your lockdown tool kit. It’s time to understand a little more about the neuroscience of your own wellbeing, and how some small steps will allow you to tap into them, hopefully acting to brighten a moment in your day. So, when you are reminded to prioritise your mental health, it may take on a new meaning.
Chemistry 101, just like at school - notepads and pens at the ready please:
Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for helping you to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. It forms part of your brain’s reward system; when you have completed and achieved a task you receive a surge of dopamine.
Ways of inducing dopamine include:
- Eating food that you absolutely crave.
- Achieving a goal.
- Completing a task that you set out to tick off.
- Focusing on the little wins in days where they are tough to find.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters that form part of your brain’s reward circuit. Endorphins lower stress and anxiety, boost feelings of self-esteem and help us deal with the perception of pain. You know that good feeling after a run? That’s endorphins.
Ways of inducing endorphins include:
- Exercise. Exertion, achievement and positivity all wrapped up into one.
- Listening to your favourite music.
- Getting engrossed in a movie.
- A fit of laughter.
- Eating dark chocolate. Paired with point 3, there is your excuse for tonight sorted.
Oxytocin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter. Colloquially known as ‘the love hormone,’ oxytocin is responsible for feelings of love and trust toward others. It also plays an important role in empathy, and is at the core of why we promote for more conversations between mates – because connection to others is imperative to our wellbeing.
Ways of inducing oxytocin include:
- Spending time, and socializing with those you care about.
- The experience of a hug, or physical touch.
- Helping others, or reaching out to check in.
- Spending time with animals.
Serotonin functions as both a hormone and neurotransmitter, and is responsible for stabilising mood, happiness, and wellbeing. Adequate levels of serotonin reduces depression and anxiety and assists in maintaining sleep/wake cycles in the body, and inherently relate to a focus on the detail of the present moment.
Ways of inducing serotonin include:
- Getting out into nature, and taking in that crisp fresh air.
- Practising mindfulness activities and being present in the moment.
- Getting some sun.
- Getting out for a run.
- A massage.
With this school lesson over, the wellbeing of your own mental health may just be a little more approachable in a day to day setting. It is important, where possible, to relate our mental wellbeing to activities and practises that bring us joy, whether we consciously acknowledge them or not. The continued daily assault on our fight/flight or freeze response has our bodies exhausted of adrenaline and cortisol, leading to the pretty common feeling of general burn out as we approach the end of the year. When you are in need of a boost, or feeling flat, utilise your lockdown tool kit to get you back on track.
Now get out of here, before the snap class test.
To get in touch with mental health support services, click here.