When we undertake certain activities, we release specific combinations of neurochemicals. All of these chemicals have a purpose. As well as the ones we emit when we are stressed (cortisol and adrenaline – responsible for our flight, fight, freeze response), we also release hormones in reaction to positive experiences.
Once you’re aware of your ‘happy’ hormones, what each one is responsible for and how to trigger them, you can choose to undertake activities that force their release. Thereby enhancing your well-being and effectively combating stress, anxiety, lethargy and low mood (amongst a myriad of other physical and psychological benefits).
However, many people fail to realise that deficiency in these critical biochemicals can significantly negatively impact our physical and mental well-being.
Following is a brief summary of each of the main four principal ‘happy’ hormones: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins, what they are for and how to hack them.
Dopamine (The Reward Chemical)
Dopamine makes us feel good; it’s often called ‘the reward chemical’ because we release it in response to working towards and achieving/accomplishing our goals. But, it’s also closely connected to our motivation levels, i.e. if you’re highly motivated, your dopamine levels are good; if you’re feeling unmotivated, they’re low.
We all have a baseline dopamine level that varies from person to person. However, it can increase significantly depending on what we do physically as well as what we ingest. For example:
- Eating chocolate increases our baseline by x1.5
- Sex increases our baseline by x2
- Smoking increases our baseline by x2.5
- Amphetamines increase our baseline x10!
Dopamine is also behind addictions. It’s rarely the ‘thing’ that we become addicted to, but rather the dopamine ‘high’ that those activities/behaviours/substances trigger that we crave.
Some symptoms of low dopamine levels include muscle cramps, spasms, tremors, muscle stiffness, weight loss or weight gain, trouble sleeping or disturbed sleep, low energy, fatigue, feeling demotivated, and low self-esteem.
How to Hack Your Dopamine
- Celebrating wins (large or small)
- Rewarding yourself after completing a task
- Undertaking self-care activities, e.g. meditation, massage, warm bubble bath, pampering, reading a favourite book, etc.
- Ticking things off a list when they are complete
Oxytocin (The ‘Love’ Hormone)
Oxytocin acts as a chemical messenger in the brain and plays an integral part in human behaviours, including sexual arousal, recognition, trust, anxiety and mother-infant bonding.
It can be traced back to our earliest ancestors when being separated from the ‘tribe’ meant certain death. We simply could not survive on our own, out in the open, without the protection of the wider group. Therefore, having close bonds were critical to ensuring our survival. That’s where Oxytocin comes in.
When we are around other people, especially in close contact, it gives us a feeling of safety, belonging and calmness. Therefore, if you live on your own and frequently work from home (and don’t own a pet), there’s a strong possibility that you will be low in Oxytocin.
Symptoms include lethargy, slow healing, aches and pains that don’t go away, despair, loneliness, inability to sleep, anxiety, overwhelm, stress, low mood.
How to Hack Your Oxytocin
- Hugging (if you can hug someone for 15-seconds or more, the effects get heightened)
- Exercising with others
- Going to sports, music, theatre events
- Playing with a pet
- Holistic treatments such as massage, Reiki, physiotherapy, etc
Serotonin (The Mood Stabiliser)
Serotonin is responsible for several internal processes, including sleep, regulating appetite, promoting learning and memory, increasing positive feelings and emotions, and overall mood stability. In addition, Serotonin massive influences our Circadian Rhythm (our sleep/wake cycle); if you are deficient in this important chemical, you will have trouble with daytime concentration and poor sleep.
Symptoms of low Serotonin include low mood, aggression, low self-esteem, fatigue, low concentration levels, difficulty sleeping, appetite issues, memory and learning problems.
How to Hack Your Serotonin
- Massage and holistic therapies, e.g. Reiki and physiotherapy
- Daily daylight exposure for just 15 minutes OUTDOORS, i.e. not through a window
- Eating wholesome, unprocessed natural foods, e.g. whole-wheat, oatmeal, brow
Endorphins (The Pain Killer)
Endorphins minimise discomfort and pain and maximise pleasure. Recent studies suggest that they play an essential role in reducing stress, anxiety and depression and are critical to our overall well-being.
Since humans naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain, we’re more likely to do an activity if it makes us feel good. Our brains are explicitly designed for a single goal: to keep us alive long enough to procreate. So, from an evolutionary standpoint, moving away from pain and towards pleasure helps ensure our survival.
Some symptoms of low levels of endorphins include muscle stiffness, fatigue, low energy, aches and pains, prolonged recovery after illness, sleep problems, mood swings, anxiety, depression.
How to Hack Your Endorphins
- Exercising (especially with others)
- Laughing out loud (especially with others)
- Watching comedy programmes or movies
- Massage and holistic therapies, e.g. Reiki, physiotherapy, acupuncture, chiropractic care, etc.
- Eating wholesome, unprocessed foods
If you’re interested in this topic and want to learn more, click here to purchase my workbook-based mini-course ‘How to Hack Your Happy Hormones’, available at my new Etsy shop. Use the code ETSY10 for 10% off all of my ‘Quick Courses’ for a limited period.
Finally, if there are any topics that you would like me to cover in upcoming articles, please comment below or message me at firstname.lastname@example.org.