Dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins and serotonin (AKA your feel-good hormones). Boost them without taking medication — and have fun doing it, too.
The body-mind connection is powerful. When you’re feeling anxious or under stress, you flood your body with cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones to deal with the perceived danger. It’s part of your body’s fight, flight or freeze response. Over time, this wears you down physically and emotionally — which is why chronic stress is so unhealthy.
But the body-mind connection works in your favor, too.
“Positive thoughts and emotions flood your body with hormones that make you feel good and boost your health,” explains Lynne Ann Gallagher, LCSW, clinical psychiatry specialist at Geisinger. “Doing what you enjoy actually alters your brain chemistry. Need to take a break? Do it. It might be exactly what your body needs.”
If your doctor has prescribed medication to regulate dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, serotonin or any other hormone, continue to follow their advice. But if you’d like to boost your happy hormones naturally, here are some simple ways to let your body be your pharmacist.
Dopamine: The happiest of happy hormones
Want to get motivated? Boost your dopamine levels. This hormone leads to feelings of pleasure and reward, making you want to repeat whatever behavior or activity gave you the dopamine boost. Setting realistic goals for yourself and then celebrating your achievements is a great way to get a dopamine hit.
“Dopamine is behind that high you feel when you’re doing something you really enjoy,” says Ms. Gallagher. “Falling in love, eating a great meal, shopping for something special — sometimes you just have to reward yourself.”
Since dopamine is made from tyrosine, eating tyrosine-rich foods can help too. Try things like:
- Pumpkin seeds
Oxytocin: The cuddly chemical
Women’s bodies flood with oxytocin during childbirth and when they’re nursing. It helps them bond to their babies. But you don’t have to deliver a baby to experience a rush of oxytocin. You can boost this hormone through any kind of intimate touch, including getting a massage, holding hands, cuddling and having sex. Even just hanging out with friends and petting animals can do the trick. The closer you are, the better you’ll feel.
“Physical touch is a great way to boost oxytocin levels,” Ms. Gallagher says. “But getting exercise and singing with other people also seem to work.”
Endorphins: The body’s natural painkillers
Ever heard of a runner’s high? That’s the body releasing endorphins when it’s being pushed to its limits. The pleasurable effect helps athletes push through the pain and continue performing. Any form of exercise works — so long as you’re doing it at a moderately intense pace.
But what if you’re not particularly athletic? No worries. Singing, dancing and having sex also release endorphins into your bloodstream.
“Endorphins relieve stress, take the edge off pain and create a sense of well-being,” says Ms. Gallagher. “Sometimes a good belly laugh is all it takes, so grab some friends and don’t be afraid to act silly. It’s good for you.”
Serotonin: The mood booster
Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a commonly prescribed form of antidepressant, work by boosting serotonin levels in the brain. High levels of this hormone bring on feelings of euphoria and bliss — which you can replicate without medication simply by spending more time outdoors.
“Exposure to sunlight or light therapy are great ways to up your serotonin levels,” says Ms. Gallagher. “If you’re affected by seasonal affective disorder during the winter months, a light therapy lamp or a move to Florida could be your best solution.”
Other ways to boost serotonin levels include meditation and practicing yoga on a regular basis — which will build strength, increase flexibility and improve your balance, too.