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Your brain needs a DOSE of happy chemicals (how you can do this)


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When we know more about how our brains are designed to work and the options we have to change some undesirable emotional patterns, we can feel more hopeful and empowered to get unstuck.


One of the podcasts I've enjoyed listening to is Kwik Brain. I like that the host Jim Kwik, teaches listeners about the brain in a practical and easily understandable way. On the podcast, experts share strategies and information to help you increase your brain potential for better focus, mental health and overall wellness. Great stuff!


Kwik Brain podcast Episode 84 featured renowned speaker and writer Radha Agrawal. She shared a nice overview of some science-based strategies for shifting your emotional experience (read: increase your happiness and reduce your unwanted emotions!).


The episode prompted me to do a little more investigating about these chemicals and how we can trigger them. And having knowledge about how these function in our body is really empowering!


We can shift our emotions by doing things that trigger our brains to release 4 particular chemicals: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin & Endorphins (DOSE). We have the ability to release these DOSE chemicals to boost mood when we want.


Let’s look at the 4 DOSE elements and how to get them



DOPAMINE

This neurotransmitter is sometimes referred to the “reward chemical.” When you accomplish a task, win something, or hit a home run, you receive a hit of dopamine that says “you have done a good job!”


It’s like a little brain trophy to encourage you to do that activity again. Dopamine and the activities that lead to its release can be addictive (it might be why we are so drawn to things like video games and gambling and social media “likes”). We also feel this when we do something kind for others or have a novel experience. Our brain wants to encourage us to do more things like attending to relationships or exploring new things.


How you can get dopamine

  • Do things that give you a sense of accomplishment. This is different for everyone. Consider what works for you: cleaning, completing a game/puzzle, doing a tough workout, challenging yourself intellectually or physically, etc. I love crossing things off lists!

  • Engage in physically pleasurable activities, like physical intimacy

  • Help out others in a selfless way.

  • Spend some intentional time thinking about others in a loving way or writing a sweet letter/text/email/post to them.



OXYTOCIN

This hormone is the “connection and touch” hormone. Oxytocin releases feelings of warmth, calm, and comfort in your body - sensations associated with loving touch and close relationships.


You may have heard about mothers experiencing an abundance of oxytocin in their bodies during pregnancy and breastfeeding, which naturally helps the mother attach to and bond with the baby. It also describes the high behind MDMA (ecstasy/molly), a recreational drug that releases oxytocin in the brain by stimulating dopamine and serotonin.


How you can get Oxytocin

  • Hug someone

  • Play with a pet

  • Spend quality time with someone you feel very connected to

  • Cuddle with a significant other.

  • Orgasm (alone or with another)

  • Watch videos/media of things you find heartwarming or adorable



SEROTONIN

You might have heard about this one in ads for antidepressant medications. It’s your body’s “feel good” chemical and it’s a neurotransmitter that you can trigger naturally without using medication.


Serotonin carries (transmits) signals along and between nerve cells in your body (neurons). It’s found mainly in your brain, your intestines, and your blood platelets. It plays a role in some really crucial bodily functions: digestion, blood clotting, maintaining healthy bone density, sexual desire, and especially with managing mood.


Serotonin’s main role is regulating your mood and fostering a sense of well-being...when its levels are in the normal range. Low levels can lead to depression.


How you can get Serotonin

  • Get outside (exposure to sunshine or bright light increases your brain’s release of serotonin)

  • Laugh (watch funny videos, be with people who make you smile and laugh)

  • Focus intentionally on happy events and people (these thoughts trigger the feeling of happiness which trigger the chemical release)

  • Reflect on 3-5 things or people that you are grateful for (focus intentionally on what good you have in your life, even if it’s basic like a safe place to sleep at night)

  • Recall a positive memory or situation where you felt connected or appreciated or valued (this triggers the sense of belonging and safety).



ENDORPHINS

You might have heard of these in reference to the “runner’s high.” Endorphins are released by the central nervous system to help us deal with physical pain (which exercise causes in a slight way since we have to physically push our systems).


Physical movement is the most common and accessible way that we can trigger the release of endorphins. Even walking briskly can produce a significant shift.


How you can release endorphins:

  • Find something physical to make yourself sweat or strain your body (dancing, biking, running, yoga, swimming, boxing, strength training, sex…).

  • Any amount of time is positive; start wherever you can, and aim for 20-30 minutes a day to maximize the benefit.

  • Find some type of movement that you actually enjoy so it's easier to be consistent with.


Many of the folks I work with have emotions that feel overwhelming and out of control. The hard truth is, we simply can’t make emotions go away entirely (and we actually don’t want them to...that would be a whole different kind of misery).


But I hope that by learning about our DOSE chemicals, you are able to see some ways you do have some control over the intensity of emotions and have identified some ways you can personally increase your experience of positive emotions to offset the more challenging ones.


 

If you experience high anxiety or intense emotions and want a robust toolkit of ways to manage them, check out my 8-week online course to see if it's a fit for your needs.


Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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