Seven brain molecules that make you feel great
Our evolutionary biology ensured that everything necessary for our survival makes us feel good. Nature made sure that the life in the human body is designed to be a blissful experience.
Like all other animals, humans also seek pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore, our brain has self-produced neurochemicals that rewards us with pleasure and make us feel happy when we achieve our goals.
This biological design is generous, but in today’s digital age it lays dormant sometimes. That’s because we are increasingly removed from our physicality and each other. Our biology is short-circuiting. The balance of neurochemicals that evolved for millennia has been disrupted by our modern lives, making us more prone to depression and anxiety.
Pharmaceutical companies are eager to readjust this imbalance with a pill but we have the power to make ourselves happier by changing our lifestyle choices. Simple lifestyle choices and behavioural changes can improve our brain chemistry, make us feel better, and motivate us to maximize your human potential.
Our body produces hundreds of neurochemicals. Only a small fraction of these have been identified by scientists. We will not know in our lifetime exactly how all of these molecules work. But here’s what we know about the Neurochemicals of Happiness
Let’s start with DOSE (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphin)
1. Dopamine “The Reward Molecule”
Dopamine is responsible for reward-driven behaviour and pleasure seeking. If you want to get a hit of dopamine, set a goal and achieve it. If you want to get a regular dopamine high, create smaller, regular achievable goals. Think of them as steps to get to the big goal. This way you will have multiple Dopamine high. Make sure you achieve each step of the way with a reward like going to your favourite restaurant, opening a bottle of wine etc.
Many addictive drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, act directly on the dopamine system. For example, Cocaine blocks the reuptake of dopamine, leaving these neurotransmitters in the synaptic gap longer.
You will be surprised to know that our cell phones are as addictive as cocaine & methamphetamine because they play with our dopamine the same way, making us feel aroused, motivated, and happy.
Most likely you are addicted to your phone or at least some app on it. If you don’t believe us, download an app that tracks your phone usage and start paying attention to how many times you pick up your phone each day. It might just surprise you! And if you start to work towards decreasing that number by just 10 or 20 a day, the benefits may just surprise you too.
2. Oxytocin “The Bonding Molecule”
Oxytocin is directly linked to human bonding and increasing trust and loyalty. In some studies, high levels of oxytocin has been correlated with romantic attachment. If a couple is separated for a long period of time, the lack of physical contact reduces oxytocin and drives the feeling of longing to bond with that person again.
There is some debate as to whether oxytocin has the same effect on men as it does on women. In men, vasopressin, a close cousin to oxytocin, may actually be the “bonding molecule.” But the bottom line is that skin-to-skin contact, lovemaking, affection and intimacy are key to feeling happy.
Working out at a gym, in a group environment, or having a jogging buddy is a great way to sustain these human bonds and release oxytocin. In cell-phone & internet world, we are often "alone together" on our digital devices. This reduces our happy hormones and makes us very lonely. Hence, it is more important than ever to maintain face-to-face intimate human bonds and "tribal" connections within your community.
Research shows that the strong emotional bonding between humans and dogs may have a biological basis in oxytocin. If you don’t have another human being to offer you affection and increase oxytocin your pet can also do the trick!
3. Serotonin: “The Confidence Molecule”
Serotonin has a wide variety of functions in the human body including but not limited to mood, digestion, bone density etc. It widely contributes to wellbeing and happiness. Higher serotonin allows people to put themselves in situations that will bolster self-esteem, increase feelings of worthiness, and create a sense of belonging.
Low serotonin will trigger sadness, depression, anxiety, low energy, negative thoughts, tension and irritability. You may even crave sweets, and have a reduced interest in sex.
To increase serotonin pursue things that reinforce a sense of purpose, meaning, and accomplishment. Daily include activities that reinforce behaviours that build self-esteem, make you less insecure, and create an upward spiral of more and more serotonin.
Popular anti-depressants regularly include Serotonin-Specific Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Some example are : Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, Zoloft, etc. The main indication for SSRIs is clinical depression, but SSRIs are frequently prescribed for anxiety, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Do not increase any happiness hormone by taking drugs, even serotonin. Scientists do not fully understand the role of serotonin in mood-disorders which is why it is important that you work closely with a trusted doctor. But most likely, you can fix it yourself by being in vicinity of loved ones and loving them back.
Take that phone off you and see the magic happen!
4. Endorphin: “The Pain-Killing Molecule”
Endorphin translates into “self-produced morphine." Endorphins resemble opiates (pain killers) in their chemical structure and have analgesic properties. Endorphins are produced during strenuous physical exertion, sexual intercourse, and orgasm. Make these pursuits a part of your regular life to keep the endorphins pumping.
Endorphins are linked less to "runner's high" now than endocannabinoids, but are connected to the "feeling no pain" aspect of aerobic exercise and are produced in larger quantities during high intensity "anaerobic" cardio and strength training.
For those who cannot exercise, here is a fun fact - acupuncture needles trigger the production of endorphins. Higher levels of endorphins were found in cerebrospinal fluid after patients underwent acupuncture. Acupuncture is a terrific way to stimulate the release of endorphins. Next time you can visit your CTM for the same endorphin high.
We would like to include these 3 more terrific molecules besides DOSE
5. GABA: “The Anti-Anxiety Molecule”
GABA slows down the firing of neurons and creates a sense of calmness. You can increase GABA naturally by practicing yoga, meditation or “The Relaxation Response.” . A study suggests yoga might increase GABA levels naturally.
Another study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found a 27 percent increase in GABA levels among yoga practitioners after a 60-minute yoga session when compared against participants who read a book for 60 minutes
Benzodiazepines (Such as Valium and Xanax) are sedatives that work as anti-anxiety medication by increasing GABA. These drugs have many side effects and risks of dependency, so be careful. Try yoga instead!
6. Adrenaline: “The Energy Molecule”
Adrenaline, plays a large role in the fight-or-flight mechanism. Its release creates a surge in energy, increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and works by causing less important blood vessels to constrict and increasing blood flow to larger muscles.
You can create an adrenaline rush by taking short rapid breathes and contracting muscles. This jolt can be healthy in small doses, especially when you need a feel-good moment. It can also be triggered by doing things that terrify you or being thrust into a situation that feels dangerous. Think Bungee jumping!
A surge of adrenaline makes you feel very alive. It can be an antidote for boredom, malaise, and stagnation. Taking risks, and doing scary things that force you out of your comfort zone is key to maximizing your human potential. However, people often act recklessly to get an adrenaline rush. Don’t be an "adrenaline junkie,"
7. Endocannabinoids: “The Bliss Molecule”
Endocannabinoids are self-produced cannabis that work on the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors of the cannabinoid system. Anandamide (from the Sanskrit “Ananda” meaning Bliss) is the most well known endocannabinoid.
We may be going in but of a grey of discussion but interestingly, at least 85 different cannabinoids have been isolated from the Cannabis plant. It is likely that we self-produce just as many variations of endocannabinoids, but it will take neuroscientists decades to isolate them.
A study at the University of Arizona, published in April 2012, suggests that endocannabinoids are, most likely, the cause for runner's high. The study shows that both humans and dogs show significantly increased endocannabinoids following sustained running.
Please note: We are NOT recommending taking any medication, but managing your DOSE organically, by feeling good with that deep human connection. Or getting a pet, engaging in meditation or Yoga. Please let’s do it the right way!
We established this place, so you can express yourself using Aromas.