The Happy Hormones: Your Guide To Feeling Good
DOSE is inspired by the happy hormones: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins – the key essentials for feeling good. We believe that we already contain the magic formula for hacking our happiness – it’s all about learning how to tap into our bodies own naturally occurring boosters in order to get our highs. As Wim Hof put it, “getting high on our own supply”. It’s doable when you know how. And it doesn’t mean hurling ourselves into a freezing cold lake in the depths winter to get our fix – although that’s a sure fire way to an endorphin rush!
Ever wondered what causes that euphoric feeling of “coming up” in a spin class as the beat drops? That’s endorphins. Or the motivation you feel sprinting on a 12.5 lured by the prospect of a protein shake afterwards at Barry’s? Hello dopamine. Soothed your soul from practising breathwork in your yoga class? That’s serotonin. Or practising self love with a massage – that’s oxytocin.
The happy hormones are obviously a lot more complex than this. From exercising regularly, to practising good nutrition, meditation and sleep hygiene, we have the power to take control of our body’s neurochemistry and change the way we feel. You can learn more in our hacking happiness podcast featuring psychologists such as Kimberley Wilson and Cornelia Lucey for starters.
But here at DOSE, we consider ourselves aficionados in our field. We’ve devoted the last 5 years to studying the happy hormones and have found our favourite ways to feel good. Everyone’s ‘DOSE’ is different – why not let us help you find yours?
The happy hormones – have you had your daily ‘DOSE’?
Dopamine – the reward chemical
Dopamine is associated with feelings of exhilaration, bliss, motivation and concentration. It is the hormone responsible for our hedonistic habits, secret cravings and sinful behaviour. Whether you’re a shopaholic, caffeine addict or chocaholic, dopamine has a part to play.
It’s all about the anticipation of a reward. It’s been proven that the lower our expectation of a reward, the happier we will be. If our experience does not meet our expected outcome, then our dopamine actually plummets leaving us feeling worse. Pleasures like coffee, alcohol, sex, exercise and gambling all cause dopamine to spike – the key is to find balance.
We also see dopamine as a “machine” or hustler keeping us on track to achieve and perform better. It’s called the “motivation molecule” for a reason. But we need to be mindful that it wants us to persist to the point of unhealthy behaviour in order to reward our pleasure response. Consequently, it’s often linked with addiction, social media and instant gratification. Read about how to stress less and prevent a cortisol crash here.
Good stress, caused by a dopamine spike in being stimulated at work to drive towards our goals is totally healthy, explains psychologist Cornelia Lucey in the power of the happy hormones. It’s just making sure we balance it with rest and recovery in between.
In San Francisco they’ve gone as far as Dopamine fasting – depriving their bodies of any pleasures in a response to sensory overload. This can help to reset unhealthy habits. Why not try it yourself by going phone free 1 hour before bed, spending one weekend away from screens and 1 week a year in full vacation mode.
Oxytocin – the love drug
Wondering which of the happy hormones is responsible for that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you cuddle your partner? That’s oxytocin, responsible for our social connections and empathy.
It is released by the thymus, a gland above the heart, which “assists in creating a sense of open-hearted connection with others”, says psychosexual and relationship therapist Carolyn Cowan. She is also a Kundalini yoga teacher and recommends trying out these poses that work on the gland: “cobra, upward dog to downward dog, Sufi grind, planks on the front of the body, stretches that open the front of the body, specifically the chest area.”
Known as the moral molecule, oxytocin has been proven to increase trust, generosity and love between individuals. The hormone also plays a crucial role within pregnancy through triggering labour and helping to release breastmilk.
But you don’t need to be a nursing mum to reap the benefits. As The Breath guy says, making sure we get 7 hugs a day will get this love hormone flowing. “I’m not talking about a little cuddle but a hold for at least five seconds”. He adds this is why “the premium on puppies has gone up by 400-500%” amid the pandemic.
And if you can’t find a furry friend to cuddle, why not try tree hugging? Forest rangers are encouraging citizens to embrace the healing powers of nature. They say hugging a tree for just five minutes per day could significantly help with feelings of social isolation.
Serotonin – the mood stabiliser
Linked to mood, digestion, sleep and overall happiness, serotonin is responsible for the key building blocks of life.
A requirement to produce melatonin, our sleep hormone, having too little or too much of this neurotransmitter can affect the pattern and quality of our sleep cycles. Expert physiologist, Stephanie Romiszewski shares her tips on how to improve sleep hygiene for a better night’s snooze, explaining the importance of light exposure, morning routines and movement for boosting serotonin levels.
Our diet is also closely linked to our mood. As the DNA dietitian stresses, 95 % of the happy hormone is produced within our gut. Therefore a happy gut = a happy mind. When producing serotonin, we must focus on the importance of tryptophan. Studies have shown that individuals with a low tryptophan containing diet suffer from depression, so try and aim to eat a substantial protein source at every meal. Rachel recommends regularly loading up on proteins high in amino acids such as milk, tofu, cheese, fish, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Alternative methods to stimulate your serotonin are explored by Dr Laurie, lead psychologist at Awakn. The clinic offers ketamine-assisted therapy, proven to enhance our bodies natural mood stabiliser. But if you don’t fancy dabbling in psychedelics, seek out your serotonin saviour by enjoying a soothing massage.
Endorphins – the pain killer
The word endorphin comes from putting together the words “endogenous,” meaning from within the body, and “morphine,” which is an opiate pain reliever.
Endorphins are often associated with exercise because of the feeling of euphoria we might get after completing a particularly gruelling workout. Endorphins are our bodies natural response to stress on the body; a reward for putting in the hard work and incentive to help us to keep going, as detailed by psychologist Kimberley Wilson in our podcast about how to build a healthy brain.
Ever experienced that intense feeling of elation post run? It’s not a wellness myth. The runner’s high is real, as Peloton Tread instructor, Becs Gentry, explains in our podcast. Former substance abusers often swap their unhealthy habits for marathons, as this endocannabinoid high is comparable to a drug infused euphoria. It enables us to run further and faster, the perfect balance between energy and exhilaration.
Ultra marathon runner and human rights lawyer Stephanie Case also talks about the stress busting benefits of running: ‘A lot of people think of ultra running as being draining but it’s the tool that gives me strength. It’s what recharges me’. She adds how when her legs her moving, her mind is still.
And you can carry on stimulating your endorphins post peloton class, by grabbing a girlfriend and getting your giggle on. The fun way to work your core, don’t stop belly laughing until it hurts!
By guest contributor Helena Holdsworth
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