More Body Hacking
Updated: Sep 17, 2019
In an earlier blog, we explored how we can change the way we feel by activating the release of different chemicals in our bodies. Today we are going to look at some of these "Happy Chemicals" in more detail.
You can feel good more often by stimulating the brain chemicals that cause happiness. It would be awesome if your happy chemicals just flowed all the time, but they wouldn't be doing their job if they were always "on". Their job is to promote survival, though our brain often defines survival in its own special way. It's all about the survival of your genes, and this becomes hardwired in youth. That's why we do quirky things to stimulate our happy chemicals, despite our best intentions.
The good news is that, through practice, we can build new neural pathways to turn on our dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, and oxytocin in new ways.
Dopamine is the "I can do it " feeling. Serotonin is the pleasure of getting respect. Endorphin gives a feeling of euphoria that masks physical pain. Oxytocin is the security of social trust. These impulses are easy to see in animals because they don't mask them with words.
Our happy chemicals don't tell us in words why they turn on and off. They pass quickly, and we have to do more to get more. We hate it when our happy chemicals dip, which is why we rush to trigger more with whatever worked before. This can result in some really messed up behaviour.
We can free ourselves from this behavioural prison by accepting our natural ups and downs. We can enjoy more ups by building new pathways to our happy chemicals, reinforcing the idea that we are not mere pipes for fortune's fingers to play upon.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centres. It also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.
Dopamine deficiency results in Parkinson's Disease, and people with low dopamine activity may be more prone to addiction. The presence of a certain kind of dopamine receptor is also associated with sensation-seeking people, more commonly known as "risk takers."
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.
Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as "euphoric." That feeling, known as a "runner's high," can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life. Endorphins act as analgesics, which means they diminish the perception of pain. They also act as sedatives. They are manufactured in your brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of your body and are released in response to brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neuron receptors endorphins bind to are the same ones that bind some pain medicines. However, unlike with morphine, the activation of these receptors by the body's endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence.
In an earlier blog, we looked at Diaphragmatic Breathing, also known as yogic breathing or pranayama. Flexing the diaphragm for about 20 minutes stimulates the release of endorphins more efficiently than cardio-vascular exercise because, unlike our other muscles which become toned with exercise and require more and more effort before they become stressed enough to trigger the release of endorphins, our diaphragms never become toned.
This means that flexing the diaphragm will reliably trigger endorphin release!
Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It regulates social interaction and sexual reproduction, playing a role in behaviors from maternal-infant bonding and milk release to empathy, generosity, and orgasm.
When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels increase; hence, oxytocin is often called "the love hormone" or the "potion of devotion". In fact, this hormone plays a huge role in all pair bonding.
The hormone is greatly stimulated during sex, birth, and breastfeeding. Oxytocin is the hormone that underlies trust. It is also an antidote to depressive feelings.
As discussed in an earlier blog, oxytocin is released through skin on skin contact. Hugging and massage are the classic ways of getting oxytocin released. Interestingly, it doesn’t even have to be a person. Stroking a dog or a cat will work just fine – that’s why they’ve started introducing pets to old people’s homes.
Serotonin impacts every part of your body, from your emotions to your motor skills. Stimulated in response to novelty, serotonin is considered a natural mood stabilizer. It’s the chemical that helps with sleeping, eating, and digesting.
Serotonin also helps:
Reduce depression Regulate anxiety
Maintain bone health
Serotonin helps regulate your mood naturally.
When your serotonin levels are normal, you feel: Happier Calmer More focused Less anxious More emotionally stable
We have explored activities, such as the BALANCE skill set, that stimulate the release of serotonin in an earlier blog.
This links in well with the SELF care skill set discussed in an earlier blog called "Coming Back on Course"
As I have emphasised before, Body Hacking isn't a cure all, it's one part of a skill set that can help us move towards being the people we want to be, living the life we want to live.
If you would like to know more about how to develop and maintain a healthier, more joyful and meaningful, life in which you fell more calm, relaxed and confident, please feel free to contact me.