(Technically, the only 4 things you really enjoy.)
Learn about how these 4 vital neurotransmitters
(chemical messengers in your brain) affect your mood and behavior!
Nickname: The Reward Chemical
A.K.A.: One More, Please!
Catchphrase: The Joy of Getting What You Want
Category: Selfish – Addictive
Triggers: When you get a sense of accomplishment. When you see food when you are hungry, when an alcoholic sees a bar, winning points when you play games, or achieving your goals. It is very addictive, and you try to do it again and again to get the high feeling!
Affects: Reward, pleasure, involuntary movement, learning, memory, cognition, sleep, mood, prolactin production, and attention. EVERYTHING you do or want releases dopamine, and you want or do it because it releases dopamine. The “I got it” feeling! Dopamine motivates us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them.
Lack of It: Procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of enthusiasm are linked with low levels of dopamine. Those with low levels of dopamine tend to for an easy option and less reward; those with higher levels exert the effort needed to receive a higher reward.
Application: Break big goals down into little pieces –rather than only allowing our brains to celebrate when we’ve hit the finish line, we can create a series of little finish lines which releases dopamine. It’s crucial to actually celebrate –have a glass of wine, get a manicure, have a treat of your choice whenever you meet a small goal. Create new goals before achieving your current one (don’t be left with a dopamine hangover). This ensures a continual flow of dopamine.
Examples: Setting and Achieving Milestones
Nickname: The Leadership Chemical
A.K.A.: Loyalty and Allegiance!
Catchphrase: The Security of Social Dominance
Category: Generous – Contagious
Triggers: When you get a sense of pride or recognition or when you feel important. When you feel proud about your accomplishment, like getting a degree or award in front of a crowd. When you feel significant or important. Our skin absorbs UV rays, which promotes vitamin D and serotonin production.
Affects: Regulation of mood, aggression, appetite and sleep. Regulation of hunger – its precursor is only available via food intake, therefore low serotonin levels result in increased appetite and vice versa. Mating Behavior (males). Light increases serotonin production while darkness spurs melatonin synthesis.
Simulators: Ecstasy and LSD act on Serotonin receptors, but have different effects
Lack of It: Loneliness and depression appears when serotonin is absent. Unhealthy attention-seeking behavior can be a cry for what serotonin brings. Currently, most antidepressants focus on the production of serotonin.
Application: Reflecting on past achievements allows the brain to re-live the experience. Our brain has trouble telling the difference between what’s real and imagined, so it produces serotonin in both cases. Gratitude practices remind us that we are valued and have much to value in life. Have lunch or coffee outside and get at least 20 minutes of sun exposure each day.
Examples: Making yourself and your family proud
Nickname: The Love Hormone or The Cuddle Hormone
A.K.A.: Intimacy and Safety!
Catchphrase: The Safety of Social Bonds
Category: Generous – Contagious
Triggers: Whenever you shake hands or hug there is an oxytocin surge. Whenever there is a trust or a bond developed between people, oxytocin comes to play. Released by men and women during orgasm. Released by mothers during childbirth and breastfeeding.
Affects: Role in sexual arousal. Bonding and social interactions (mainly in females; vasopressin acts analogously in males). Inhibits retrieval of aversive memories and increases trust. Creates intimacy, trust, and builds healthy relationships. Increases fidelity.
Simulators: MDMA (the club drug Ecstasy)
Lack of It: Animals will reject their offspring when the release of oxytocin is blocked. Autistics have genetic differences in their oxytocin genes, preventing them from encoding oxytocin proteins with the efficacy as someone born without this genetic deficiency. Because of this, they are not able to bond and form connections with others, and have other problems associated with improper oxytocin action. Use of intranasal hormones can lead to better lives filled with more rich and meaningful relations that would be impossible. The drug MDMA drastically agonizes oxytocin, probably from modulation from serotonin activity, and has potential to treat autism.
Application: The cultivation of oxytocin is essential for creating strong bonds and improved social interactions. A simple way to keep oxytocin flowing is to give someone a hug. Inter-personal touch not only raises oxytocin, but also reduces cardiovascular stress, and improves the immune system! Rather than just a hand shake, go in for the hug. When someone receives a gift, their oxytocin levels can rise.
Examples: Team dinners, one-on-ones with boss, showing affection for loved ones, having pets
EPINEPHRINE & NOREPINEPHRINE (Endorphins)
Nickname: The Fight-or-Flight Response
A.K.A.: Temporary Pain Relief
Catchphrase: The Oblivion That Masks the Pain
Category: Selfish – Addictive
Triggers:Physical Activity, laughing and crying, physical pain, stress (emotional pain, anxiety, etc.) They are released during stressful moments to prepare us for action, like during a physical confrontation, after a sudden, loud noise or after being scared (fight or flight response).
Affects: Masks pain temporarily and helps to alleviate anxiety and depression; but these effects are short-lived. Critical physiological and psychological functions, especially with regards to attention and arousal. Alerts us of stimuli and is associated with increased vigilance. Aids in helping us filter our perceptions of the environment; we dismiss weak sensory input and focus on stronger stimuli. Critical in forming fear-memories, associated largely with the amygdala. Responsible for both positive and negative emotional conditioning
Lack of It: We would be overwhelmed by our senses and unable to function.
Simulators: Morphine (analgesic and sedative) or Amphetamines (increased vigilance)
Application Examples: The surging “second wind” and euphoric “runners high” during and after a vigorous run are a result of endorphins. 2am Late night working in hotel lobby or pulling an “all-nighter” cramming for an exam. Regular exercise. Laughter is one of the easiest ways to induce endorphin release. Even the anticipation and expectation of laughter, e.g., attending a comedy show, increases levels of endorphins. Taking your sense of humor to work, forwarding that funny email, and finding several things to laugh at during the day is a great way to keep the doctor away. Aromatherapies: The smell of vanilla and lavender has been linked with the production of endorphins. Keep scented products at hand. Dark chocolate and spicy foods can lead the brain to release endorphins. Yum!
Ways to Reduce Cortisol (stress hormone) Levels:
- Meditation gives you relaxation and reduces cortisol
- Laughing out loud – watch funny videos 🙂
- Playing with pets gives you relaxation and also a surge in endorphin, oxytocin.
- Be generous in helping others. Giving your time and efforts for others (money has no effect) gives you peace of mind and all the happy chemicals!
- Express yourself creatively. Playing a musical instrument, singing, painting (etc.) will slow down your breathing and heart rate.
- Yoga, tai chi, and other massage forms help in reducing cortisol levels and improve your body’s self-healing capacity.
- A healthy sex life will also get you a relief from stress!
- Spiritual life and devotion distract from and quiet the unwanted stress in life.
- Alleviate loneliness by joining groups of people with similar interests as you.
- Spend time with friends.
- Talk to your body and mind and find out what your body needs to alleviate stress.
- Eliminate toxic elements from your life.