Did you know that we have chemicals in the brain as powerful as drugs for pain, depression, anxiety, and other conditions? Among them are neurotransmitters called endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, which are often referred to as the “feel good” or “happy” chemicals. Let’s play around with endorphins… the body’s natural pain killer (our personal narcotic!).
In addition to decreased feelings of pain, secretion of endorphins leads to feelings of euphoria, modulation of appetite, enhancement of the immune response, and fewer negative effects of stress. Endorphins are popularly associated with “runner’s high”, but no need to worry if you don’t run. There are numerous ways to increase production of these potent brain chemicals besides strenuous workouts. These include but are not limited to the following:
Music and dancing
A good movie
Good deeds (the flood of endorphins and serotonin caused by being generous has been called “helper’s high”)
Laughter (even fake laughter does the trick! The brain doesn’t know the difference between real or fake laughter. Even the anticipation of something funny releases endorphins)
Regular sleep/wake cycle
Fun hobbies (arts and crafts, photography, beadwork, quilting, cooking, nature walks)
Quality time with family and friends
Sex (including cuddling, kissing, and holding hands with a romantic partner)
Reading a good book
Meditation and controlled breathing exercises (breathe through your stomach; not your chest)
Being around animals
Alcohol (light drinking; heavy drinking negates the effect)
Nutrition (anti-inflammatory foods)
Practically all of these things are at our disposal, so we should try and take advantage of them as much as we can. Not all of them will be of help (or interest) to everyone, but I wanted to share many of the options available to us. I also recognize that when in pain and feeling mentally down (I have been there!!), these things are not always easy to do or yield results the first or first few times doing them. If this is the case for you, start with one thing you enjoy and do your best to make it part of your lifestyle.
An easy way to remember how to harness the power of the brain’s natural drugs is to live by the popular saying, “Sing like no one is listening, dance like nobody’s watching, love like you’ve never been hurt, and live like it’s heaven on earth.”
Have fun and do your best to not care so much what others think about you. Live your life on your terms. Never give up. Be patient with yourself. Never lose hope. Trust that everything will always work out. All of it is easier said than done, but when we get the “feel good” hormones flowing, nothing and no one can ever take away our peace of mind and body!