We are in the middle of a pandemic. Many of us are stuck inside our home, terrified of all the change. Sure, you can start yoga or meditation and other practices that have long term benefits, but those practices also require discipline and you likely won’t feel that great because of them for a while. I started meditating in 2017 and it wasn’t until 7 months ago that I started being properly consistent and finally feeling those ~coveted~ benefits. So, what can give results right now? The brain! We can use our brain’s chemical structure to our advantage to rig our emotional state.
This article provides a list of activities that immediately release the happiness chemicals. I am not writing about cultivating and maintaining long term contentedness with your life, just giving you hacks to induce temporary good feelings in a pinch. Especially in this moment, I want to share simple, low effort ways to make yourself feel better that don’t rely on any sort of emotional or mental fortitude.
Introducing DOSE: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins. Those four are the main neurotransmitters and hormones associated with feeling happy. There are surprisingly simple ways to make your brain release these into your body. And you’ll notice some of these activities show up multiple times.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that produces anticipation in people. It creates what is referred to as the striving emotion. Dopamine is what makes Christmas Eve feel more exciting than Christmas day.
Here are some ways to flood your body with Dopamine:
- Eat foods with Tyrosine! Tyrosine is an amino acid that is used to synthesize protein. Our body produces this amino acid on its own, but it can also be found in certain foods such as nuts and seeds, bananas, avocado, eggs, beans, rice, and some dairy products.
- Exercise (hint: you’ll be seeing this one a lot!)
- Get some sunlight. Bask in the window. Nap on the ledge of the couch like a cat. We in this hemisphere are so lucky it’s springtime.
- Listen to music. Be careful that you are listening to music with lyrics that aren’t heartbreaking.
- Sleep. Bit of a double-edged sword, this one.
- Certain supplements can be helpful such as Iron, Naicin, Folate, and B6 (which is found in dark chocolate). Basically, just eat dark chocolate.
Oxytocin is the group of hormones associated with being social. This is the chemical that gets released when we feel close to someone and feel bonded with others. Obviously, social distancing makes the Oxytocin conversation difficult, but I tried to add activities that could be done alone.
Here are some ways to flood your body with Oxytocin:
- Scientist recommend at least 8 hugs a day! Just kidding I made that up. However, hugging is a great way to produce that warm cozy feeling. If you are distancing with someone try to hug them a lot more than usual.
- Pet an animal.
- Drink chamomile tea. Bonus points if you put on a knit sweater and take a picture with a journal and candles delicately placed in front of you.
- Take a warm bath.
- Spend time with people. Zoom calls count! Also why did Zoom become the default application? Who’s behind this?
- Take vitamins D, C, and Magnesium.
- Make music or listen and sing along.
- Be generous! Tip restaurants and delivery people handsomely (if you do order in). Give someone a gift and feed on their gratitude.
- Write down 3 things you are grateful for. I’ll admit, this rides the line of emotional fortitude. But it is so helpful in shifting your thoughts towards all that you have instead of everything we miss.
Serotonin is the emotion regulator. Fun fact: 80% of serotonin is produced by the digestive track and governed heavily by hunger. Which means all you hangry people are justified, you can revoke all the apologies you’ve given and blame your behavior on science!
Here are some ways to flood your body with Serotonin:
- Sunlight. ooh back at it with the sunshine!
- Exercise. Walks count! Dancing definitely counts, close the curtains and risky business that ish. It’s just important to move your body around.
- Think about happy times. This one seems lame, but actually our brains are pretty easy to trick and if your imagination is strong enough, your brain will flood with good feelings.
- Tryptophan (yes that stuff that makes you sleepy after you eat turkey). Most proteins contain Tryptophan, so you don’t have to eat dry turkey for the rest of time. Food has so much power of our moods. But this is a power that must be managed responsibly ok?
- Carbohydrates. YES this is why bread is so damn good!! I am personally reveling in this pleasure.
- B6, B12, Folate– can be found in folic acid and in dark leafy greens, rice, black eyed peas
Endorphins, another bundle of hormones, mask pain and discomfort. This is the hormone that allows you to power through the end of a tough workout and it is what creates the fight, flight, or freeze reaction when you are in danger.
Here are some ways to flood your body with Endorphins:
- Exercise. Stay swol dude.
- Give gifts. Send your sister some yeast so she can bake pizza from scratch. Write little letters to your friends and put a couple of cents in the envelope. (optional: tell them not spend it all in one place)
- Eat spicy foods. Fun fact, the reason spicy food tastes spicy is because it is actually burning your taste buds and esophagus as it goes down.
- Eat or drink dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa. We already knew this.
- Laugh. Podcasts are good, but you could also look at yourself in the eyes and fake laugh until your sanity collapses and then you’ll be laughing all the time.
- Aromatherapy, specifically Ginseng. Candles baby.
- Listen to music.
- Take a hot bath. Is this article elitist to those without bathtubs? I suppose you could bring a stool into your shower and sit underneath the water stream.
*I am not a medical professional. Though I did research this information, this is not psychological advice*
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