Dopamine I mean. What did you think I was referring to?
Kidding aside, dopamine, often called the “happy hormone,” is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. It also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them. Let’s get to know how to stimulate it.
However, balance is key: you don’t want to overdo it because “more dopamine is also associated with both greater competitiveness, aggression, and impulse control,” and even drug addiction.
Its sisters -- serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, estrogen and progesterone -- all collaborate and impact your happiness, quality of sleep, ability to manage stress, and maintain an even mood. So, it is important to understand your relationship to each as they vary by individual.
It’s also important not only to consider how hormones and neurotransmitters (H&Ns) impact mood, but our health. Depletion in levels of these various H&Ns can have a serious impact on bone density, immune function, organ and mental health (among other things). The good news is we can influence their activity with lifestyle choices.
As outlined in an article in Best Health Magazine:
Exercise will boost serotonin. Even a brisk walk will do the trick!
A reward for achieving goals (even small ones) with a “good job” or a checkmark against your to-do list stimulates Dopamine and makes you feel good. So those gold stars you got as a kid actually made you feel happy for a scientific reason!
Spending time with a loved one or pet can boost Oxytocin, “the love hormone,” and have you walking on cloud nine.
When in pain or stressed, Endorphins are released to alleviate anxiety. “The surging ‘second wind’ and euphoric ‘runners high’ during and after a vigorous run are a result of endorphins.” Laughter and regular exercise (notice a theme here?) are some easy ways to induce endorphin release.
Stress relief techniques such as breathing and yoga influence Estrogen levels, which impact sleep, mood, memory, libido (to get you in the mood), and cognitive factors such as learning and attention span.
Sticking with an overall health routine like eating right, exercising and integrating stress relievers keeps Progesterone levels function optimally, exerting a calming effect and thus may improve sleep.
(Note: The balance of estrogen and progesterone changes in women as they reach perimenopause and menopause. If not in those stages, the lifestyle choices you make today will help you then!)
The big news is not new news: By setting realistic goals, getting even moderate regular exercise, quitting smoking, surrounding yourself with a supportive and loving circle (MOJO Maker™ #12), and addressing stressors will simulate your brain’s neurotransmitters and happy hormones, and make you feel good.
I realize that when you’re feeling down, the last thing you want to hear is “be happy.” So instead remind yourself to balance your H&Ns, and you may find that frown turned upside down in no time.
Marjorie, Chief MOJO Maker™
P.S. Do you observe the Jewish holidays? If so you're in for a treat! Check out my new "Observe the High Holy Days without High Holy Weight Gain" program to encourage people to embrace the spirit of the Jewish holidays without neglecting their health.