Happy hormones for the brain
What are the happy hormones?
We live in a world of scarcity. There never seems to be enough. Never enough time. Never enough sleep. Never enough money. And never experiencing enough of the happy hormones.
Research has shown that around 48% of Australians feel like they are overworked. Many of us can relate to the busyness created when we feel overworked and exhausted. Our brain uses over 20% of our energy reserves every day to process all the information coming in, which is more than any other organ in the body. One way to reduce the happy hormones being released is if we are exhausted as this reduces the functions deliberately controlling this.
There are four main happy hormones – Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphin. Some people like to talk about adrenaline which stimulates the fight or flight response as a happy hormone. However, adrenaline doesn’t necessarily make us happy, more to keep us safe.
Hormone: A chemical that is secreted by specialised glands called endocrine glands into the bloodstream. Hormones are essential for every activity of daily living, including the processes of digestion, metabolism, growth, reproduction, and even mood control.
Neurotransmitter: A chemical that is released from a nerve cell which transmits an impulse from a nerve cell to another nerve, muscle, organ, or other tissue. It is a messenger of neurologic information from one cell to another.
Dopamine – Happy Hormone #1
Dopamine – Feelings of bliss and pleasure, euphoric, appetite control, controlled motor movements, feel focused. It is a “pleasure” hormone and is stimulated when we sense a possibility. Whether we are working towards achieving a goal or helping others see that glimmer of possibility, dopamine helps motivate us to take action so we can experience the pleasure of the reward. Dopamine is like nature reserve tank of energy – it is only required to get you the result you want.
If you want to increase the release of dopamine:
- Set daily or monthly goals. Living a life with purpose does make us happy, especially when we can see the finish line in sight.
- Exercise with a result in mind. Dopamine levels often rise together with serotonin when we exercise, especially when we have set a goal.
Oxytocin – happy hormone #2
Oxytocin – Stimulated by Dopamine. Promotes sexual arousal, feelings of emotional attachment, desire to cuddle. Oxytocin is also known as the “love” hormone and is triggered by those around us we trust. Actions such as sex release large amounts of oxytocin, but it also promotes bonding between mother and child. Even a simple hug – human contact is what oxytocin loves. Oxytocin provides feelings of love and trust, which is why relationships boost our happiness.
If you want to increase oxytocin in your body:
- Have more physical contact. Creating trust and connection with other people produces oxytocin and this is best done in person. Hugging a friend or cuddling a family member are easy ways to trigger this hormone.
- Have a massage. A massage increases our emotional wellbeing since the prolonged physical contact releases oxytocin in our system.
Serotonin – Happy hormone #3
Serotonin – Promotes and improves sleep, improves self-esteem, relieves depression, diminishes craving, prevents agitated depression and worrying. Serotonin helps boosts our mood and makes us more sociable and happy to be around people. When serotonin is low in the body it can cause irritability and depression. When we feel like we are important or valued or respected, serotonin is released.
If you want to increase serotonin in your body:
- Work with people who value & respect your ideas. Partnering with the right people to support you helps boost the serotonin in the body.
- Positive thoughts can trigger a surge of serotonin. Our brain doesn’t always know the difference between visualising something or whether we have actually experienced it.
- Take small risks. The brain is constantly analysing the surroundings for pain and ways to keep you safe against the benefits of winning. Small risks help the brain feel like it is one up on others and releases the hormone.
Endorphins – Happy hormone #4
Endorphins – Mood elevating, enhancing, euphoric. The more present, the happier you are! Natural painkillers. It is like the body’s natural morphine and we often experience it as euphoria however it is not usually triggered by joy.
In the past, endorphins helped our ancestors to escape from predators – gave them that burst of energy to run. Today, we produce endorphins when exercising rigorous exercise depletes our muscles of energy and endorphins allow us to push on.
If you want to increase endorphins in your body:
- Exercise. Exercise can help us to cope with chronic pains by activating our bodies’ natural painkillers. Endorphins don’t necessarily help us to feel good, but they do help us to feel less bad.
All four of these hormones are released to help us feel better and survive. They are NOT meant to be released into the body all the time, which is a common misconception. Hormones are just chemicals in the body and they will be metabolised within minutes of the release. As we have surges and then dips, many people believe something must have gone wrong when we are in the dip. However, this is not the case. It is just the natural flow of hormones.
If we can understand the basics of the happy hormones and know that it is normal to feel good when they are released and normal to feel not as good when they have been metabolised, it takes the pressure of believing we should feel good all the time.
What do you do to release your happy hormones?