The hormones dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins significantly impact our physical and mental health. Being low in any of these biochemicals can have a massively detrimental effect, yet they’re rarely discussed or understood.

Luckily, some straightforward ways to hack our ‘happy hormones’ exist. In this article, I’m discussing the four different hormones, what they are responsible for, the symptoms of low levels, and how to boost them safely to feel happier and healthier.

To watch the extended YouTube version of this article, click here.


When we undertake certain activities, we release specific combinations of neurochemicals. Once you’re aware of your ‘happy’ hormones, what each one is responsible for and how to activate them, you can choose to undertake activities that force their release.

This enhances your physical and mental well-being and effectively combats stress, anxiety, lethargy, demotivation, and low mood.

Dopamine – The Reward Chemical

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is often referred to as the reward chemical as it gets released in response to achieving/ accomplishing our goals (large or small) or when we feel that we’re on the right track towards their attainment.

Dopamine is closely connected to motivation levels, i.e. if you’re highly motivated, your dopamine levels are good; if you’re unmotivated, they’re likely low. You can get a dopamine ‘hit’ from many different sources.

However, not all sources of dopamine are beneficial. Some can be incredibly harmful and can cause addictions. Therefore, it’s vital to understand how to access this critical hormone without causing potentially long-lasting damage.

Symptoms of Low Dopamine

  • Muscle cramps, spasms, or tremors

  • Aches and pains

  • Stiffness in the muscles

  • Loss of balance

  • Constipation

  • Difficulty eating and swallowing

  • Weight loss or weight gain

  • Frequent pneumonia

  • Trouble sleeping or disturbed sleep

  • Low energy

  • An inability to focus

  • Moving or speaking more slowly than usual

  • Feeling fatigued

  • Feeling demotivated

  • Feeling inexplicably sad or tearful

  • Mood swings

  • Feeling hopeless

  • Low self-esteem

  • Feeling guilt-ridden

  • Anxiety

  • Low sex drive

  • Lack of insight or self-awareness

How to Safely Access Dopamine 

  • Celebrating wins (large or small)

  • Rewarding ourselves 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

  • Eating good, satisfying, wholesome food

  • Completing a challenging exercise workout

  • Going for a long walk in the countryside

  • Playing with children or pets

  • Cooking a wonderful meal

  • Receiving validation and good feedback from others

  • Getting creative, painting, drawing, needlework, DIY

  • Working on our hobbies

  • Finding solutions to problems – the more complex, the better

The list is endless!

(I talk about dopamine, including addiction, in more detail in the video version.)

Oxytocin – The Love Hormone

What is Oxytocin?

Oxytocin acts as a chemical messenger in the brain and is integral to human behaviours, including sexual arousal, recognition, trust, anxiety, and mother-infant bonding.

It can be traced back to our earliest ancestors when separating 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 was critical to ensuring our survival. That’s where oxytocin comes in.

Anyone experiencing prolonged periods alone will likely be low in oxytocin. So, for example, during lockdown, if you were living AND working on your own (and don’t own a pet – we get oxytocin from playing/stroking pets) and spending little or no time with others, undoubtedly, your oxytocin levels will have been low.

Symptoms of Low Oxytocin Levels

  • Poor communication

  • Irritability/agitation

  • Inability to feel affectionate

  • More anxieties and fears than normal

  • Increased appetite for sugar-rich foods

  • Experiencing little joy from life

  • Disturbed sleep

  • Prolonged healing

  • Low mood

  • Lethargy/inability to motivate self

  • Stress and anxiety

  • Despair

  • Loneliness

  • Unexplained aches and pains  

  • Low appetite

  • Sadness

  • Low mood

How to Safely Access Oxytocin

  • Hugging (if you can hug someone for 15 seconds or more, the effects get heightened – even more so if you’re both naked!)

  • Prolonged physical touching, e.g. holding hands, massage

  • Exercising with others

  • Sports, music, theatre events – anywhere where there are large groups of people, especially if you all have a common goal, e.g. football

  • Playing with a baby/children

  • Playing with a pet

  • Laughing with others

  • Sharing experiences (storytelling)

  • Holistic treatments such as massage, Reiki, physiotherapy, etc.

  • Giving a compliment face-to-face or even virtually

Serotonin – The Mood Stabiliser

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is responsible for several internal processes, including sleep, regulating appetite, promoting learning and memory, increasing positive feelings and emotions, and overall mood stability.

Serotonin gets activated when daylight hits the back of our eyes when we are outside; this must be DIRECT exposure, i.e. not through a window. S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a direct result of a lack of serotonin release.

Symptoms of Low Serotonin

  • Low mood

  • Aggression

  • Stress

  • Low self-esteem

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Sleep issues

  • Not being able to fall asleep

  • Waking in the middle of the night

  • Insomnia

  • Chronic pain

  • Appetite issues

  • Hyperactivity (difficulty concentrating)

  • Memory and learning issues

  • Craving high-sugar/high-fat carbs

  • Impulsive behaviour

  • Poor memory

How to Safely Access Serotonin

  • Exercise

  • Meditation

  • Massage and holistic therapies, e.g. Reiki and physiotherapy

  • Daylight exposure

  • Walking, running, cycling outdoors, especially in nature

  • Eating wholesome, unprocessed natural foods, e.g. whole-wheat, oatmeal, brown rice and pasta, oily fish, fruit, and nuts.

  • Visualisation

  • Practising gratitude

Endorphins – The Pain Killer

What are Endorphins?

Endorphins are neurotransmitters responsible for making you feel happy.  They 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.

We use the term ‘runners high’ in reference to the euphoria people feel after strenuous exercise. The elated mood can be primarily attributed to the massive endorphin release we experience when we exercise.

Symptoms of Low Endorphin Levels

  • Muscle stiffness

  • Fatigue

  • Low energy

  • Sleep problems

  • Aches and pains

  • Prolonged recovery time after illness

  • Prolonged recovery after exercise

  • Mood swings

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Weight issues

  • Impulsive behaviours

  • Headaches

  • Low self-esteem

How to Safely Boost Endorphin Levels

  • Exercising (especially with others)

  • Laughing out loud (especially with others)

  • Watching comedy programmes or movies

  • Watching live comedy

  • Massage and holistic therapies

  • Eating wholesome, unprocessed foods

  • Eating dark chocolate and drinking red wine (in moderation!)

  • Dancing and singing

  • Listening to uplifting music

  • Helping others

  • Undertaking creative activities

The Wrap-Up

As our biochemicals are so critical to our physical and mental health, it’s vital to weave activities into your daily routine that will safely activate their release.

I recommend choosing at least one thing you can do each day to stimulate each of the four happy biochemicals.

Give some thought to any obstacles that may stop you from following through and how you will overcome them. That’s one of the fundamental keys to habit formation.

If you’d like more information on this topic, I have a free pdf-based mini-course, which includes an A4 poster of the four biochemicals and how to hack them, which you can print off to remind you. Click here to receive your copy.

What Next?

If you have anything you’d like to add on this topic, or if you have any questions you’d like me to answer, please leave them in the comments section below. I love interacting with you and really value your feedback.

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