Happy Chemicals On Tap
Very little is required from us to fall into a state of sadness these days – a quick scroll on the ‘gram or a brief lean in the latest news is all it takes. Heartbreaking conversations and stories around and about Turkey in flames, Afghanistan in a colossally dire situation (a wild understatement), and the Delta variant make up the soundtrack of our times. With that said, it is crucial, now more than ever, that we choose happiness and wrestle for our joy.
There are multiple ways to do so, and given our first Level 4 lockdown rodeo, most of us have discovered things that cater to our unique and personal needs. But just to cover all bases, let’s take a stroll down ‘Anatomy Lane’ and unpack some ways to tap into our happiness chemicals.
Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Endorphins are the four main brain chemicals, all of which are key players in how you experience happiness. A deficiency in any or all of these can affect your mood and your overall wellbeing. For the unfamiliar, here’s an oversimplified introduction to our main characters and some tips and tricks to produce and/or trigger them for a happier you.
Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that is strongly associated with pleasure and reward. Our brains release this chemical during activities that are considered pleasurable or when your brain is expecting a reward. Doing things that you would count as ‘pleasurable’ contribute to the rise of your dopamine levels. For some, this could be enjoying a delicious dish at your favourite restaurant, going on a shopping spree, or for some, it could be having sex. However, given our current circumstances (more specifically for us in NZ), the first two options are not readily available to us, so a tip is to find alternatives. During lockdown, it wouldn’t be surprising if your happiness score rises after preparing a wonderful meal and dressing up for dinner with your bubble mates.
Oxytocin, known as “the love/cuddle/bonding hormone”, is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter. Research suggests that oxytocin may help your body adapt to a number of different emotional and social situations, which is undeniably important during these unprecedented times. Oxytocin also plays an important part in human bonding, an experience that might be somewhat of a mission when lockdowns and quarantines are part of social norm. Fortunately, our bodies naturally produce oxytocin, but some ways to boost its production includes hugging and human touch (we stress that this is done within bubbles and obviously with consent), meditation, engaging in substantial and meaningful conversations, petting dogs (which we get to do again in Level 2, maybe?), or doing something nice for someone – yes, selfless behaviours promote oxytocin release.
Serotonin is a natural mood stabiliser, that’s involved in many processes throughout your body, like regulating your mood, producing healthy sleeping patterns, and promoting smooth digestion to name a few. While this is considered a brain chemical, serotonin is mostly found in the digestive system, that’s why watching what you eat is an important factor in ensuring you have a healthy level of serotonin in your system. Foods that might help increase serotonin levels include eggs, cheese, pineapples, tofu, nuts, seeds, and salmon. Apart from rejigging your diet, spending time in the sunshine, maybe out for a walk or an outdoor HIIT session, appears to help increase serotonin levels.
Endorphins… did the Legally Blonde quote come to mind? If not, here’s a refresher: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands, they just don’t.” Well, endorphins is known as “the pain killer”, which your body produces in response to stress or discomfort, which is also very important now more than ever. Just like oxytocin, our bodies naturally produce in lots of varied ways like when we eat chocolate or something spicy, when we exercise (a common denominator amongst the four), when you dance (lockdowns are perfect for this… yes! dance like no one’s watching), and when you laugh.
On that note, for a good dose of laughs and a quick boost of happy chemicals, read the reviews on the 1pm Daily Updates on IMDB. You’re welcome!