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The Happy Brain Chemicals that Makes You Feel Good

Did you know, 37% of people around the world are unhappy. That means at least 1 in 3 people you know aren’t happy with their life. Are you one of those people?

If so, there are simple ways to improve your happiness. Have you heard of happiness chemicals? Your brain releases these happy chemicals that make you feel good.

It is common to think happiness is a destination that you have to find either through material items, relationships, or career status. But happiness is the journey and something you can create on your own.

Improving your happiness can be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep. It is known that people who are sleep deprived have a harder time remembering positive ideas and an easier time remembering negative ideas.

What are the Happiness Chemicals

When you feel good, your brain is releasing one of the happiness chemicals or happy hormones. There are four main happiness brain chemicals:

  1. Dopamine
  2. Oxytocin
  3. Serotonin
  4. Endorphins

Each chemical has a job to do and when your brain releases one of these chemicals, you feel good.

It would be great if they all surged all the time. However, it does not work this way. Once the chemical has done its job, it will turn off, leaving you with a desire for more.

By understanding how these chemicals work, we can better improve our overall happiness by tapping into each of the four happiness chemicals.

Dopamine

Dopamine enables motivation, learning, and pleasure. It gives you the determination to accomplish goals, desires, and needs.

It’s similar to the, “I got it” feeling when you accomplish something. Once you achieve those goals, desires, or needs, dopamine gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure.

However, the overstimulation of dopamine can become a real problem because of its addictive nature. It is closely tied to developing bad habits or addictions.

The effects of dopamine are fleeting due to its instant gratification feeling, which leaves you desiring more.

Oxytocin

Oxytocin gives a feeling of trust, it motivates you to build intimate relationships and sustain them. It is also known as the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone” because it plays a role in bonding.

This hormone gives you the desire to stick together with those you “trust”, which creates a feeling of safety or comfort. It helps your body adapt to several different emotional and social situations.

Oxytocin can boost your immune system which makes you more resistant to the addictive qualities of dopamine. Unlike dopamine, oxytocin gives you a lasting feeling of calm and safety.

It can help fight stress, improve relationships, and promote long-lasting positive emotions.

Serotonin

Serotonin rewards you with a good feeling when you feel significant or important. It is the pleasure you get when you experience social power, loyalty, or status.

It results from finding opportunities to assert or prevail. This is not aggressive, rather it is a calm form of confidence and accepting yourself within the people around you.

Serotonin is what motivates a leader to excel and grow. It not only motivates you but your peers to do the same. The feeling of not letting down their leader, parent, or teacher is what causes this motivation.

Endorphin

Endorphins release a brief euphoria that masks physical pain. It is a response to pain and stress which also helps alleviate anxiety and depression. Any kind of physical distress can trigger endorphins.

However, you can also get a release of endorphins when you experience “runners high”. Runners high only occurs when you exceed your limits.

The release of endorphins acts as a natural pain killer and diminishes your perceptions of pain.

The Effects of Happiness Chemicals

At least 1 in 3 people in the world who were surveyed in 2020 were unhappy. That’s a huge portion of the population.

happiness chemicals

Happiness or lack thereof affects everyone and can contribute to poor overall health. There have been numerous studies linking depression to the reduction of happiness chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.

One study found people with clinical depression have increased levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A). This is an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters.

We will discuss how neurotransmitters play a role in the happiness chemicals later in this article, but simply this means you will get less dopamine or serotonin, thus, less happiness.

This deficiency can lead to various effects that could contribute to mental illnesses like depression.

How Deficiency Affects You

Low levels of happiness chemicals can lead to various symptoms such as fatigue, lack of motivation, and feeling anxious just to name a few.

Here are some of the common symptoms due to the deficiency of the happiness chemicals.

Dopamine Deficiency

  • procrastination
  • low self-esteem
  • lack of motivation or enthusiasm
  • low energy or fatigue
  • inability to focus
  • feeling anxious
  • feeling hopeless
  • mood swings

Oxytocin Deficiency

  • feeling lonely
  • stressed
  • lack of motivation or enthusiasm
  • low energy or fatigue
  • a feeling of disconnect from your relationships
  • feeling anxious
  • insomnia

Serotonin Deficiency

  • low self-esteem
  • being overly sensitive and emotional
  • anxiety and panic attacks
  • mood swings
  • depression and feeling hopeless
  • social phobia
  • obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • insomnia

Endorphin Deficiency

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • mood swings
  • aches and pains
  • insomnia
  • impulsive behavior

For those who have difficulty dealing with these symptoms and are feeling stress and overwhelmed, consider taking the window of tolerance self-assessment to identify your symptoms and how to self-regulate.

Benefits of Happiness

Happiness not only plays a role in making you feel good but contributes to:

1. Improved overall health

    • improved heart health and lower risk of heart disease
    • the ability to combat the stress hormone cortisol
    • stronger immune system so you’re less like to get sick
    • a healthier lifestyle such as physical activity and sleep habits
    • can help reduce aches and pain of those with chronic conditions
    • increase life longevity

2. Improved creativity and problem-solving skills

3. Benefiting the community through involvement with charities

4. Having more positive relationships with those around you

5. Being able to enjoy life more and get through life challenges easier

6. Being happy with what you have

How to Increase Happy Brain Chemicals

Most people don’t get enough of each of the happiness chemicals. I know I certainly struggle with this. If you have a full-time job or studies it can be challenging.

This deficiency can make you feel sad, depressed, hopeless, and anxious. Especially those who suffer from depression or experience downward spirals. Thankfully, they’re many simple ways to naturally boost each of the happy brain chemicals.

Below are some of the many natural ways you can get your daily happiness chemicals. Pick a few to start and remember that continuous practice is what makes a difference.

How to Increase Dopamine Levels Naturally

  • meditate regularly (increases dopamine by 65%)
  • make a daily to-do list & long term goals (each time you tick off a task or goal you increase dopamine levels)
  • eat foods that are rich in L-Tyrosine (avocados, fish, eggs, cheese, banana, and pumpkin seeds)
  • exercise regularly (whichever form of exercise you enjoy the most will give you the most increase in dopamine levels)
  • create something such as writing, music, art & crafts (“if I create something, I am also creating dopamine”)

How to Increase Oxytocin Levels Naturally

  • physical touch, cuddling, hugging, making eye contact, and even shaking hands
  • socializing (connecting or talking with friends and family reduces cortisol and stimulates your vagus nerve)
  • touching your pet (research shows it lowers blood pressure)
  • getting a massage (reduces stress hormones)
  • acupuncture (elevates oxytocin concentrations)
  • listening to music (has a calming effect on the brain, slow-tempo music has also been shown to increase oxytocin)
  • exercise (stimulates the vagus nerve)
  • cold showers (stimulates the vagus nerve)
  • meditate

How to Increase Serotonin Levels Naturally

  • exercise (increases serotonin and dopamine, but also helps balance them)
  • cold showers (2-3 mins of cold showers can be unpleasant but offers great benefits that have longer-lasting effects than compared to caffeine)
  • sunshine (10-15 minutes of sunlight a day can increase serotonin and vitamin D)
  • eating foods such as banana, eggs, omega-3 fish, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, and probiotics
  • getting a massage (increases serotonin and decreases cortisol)

How to Increase Endorphin Levels Naturally

  • laughter and crying
  • creating music or art
  • eating dark chocolate and spicy foods
  • exercise or stretching
  • high-intensity interval training
  • getting a massage
  • meditate

Getting your daily happy chemicals seems pretty straight forward. But if you are struggling with happiness because you suffer from negative thinking patterns, I recommend learning to challenge negative thoughts first.

daily-dose-happiness-infographic

These are just some of the many ways you can get your daily happy hormones. If you have some that already work for you, continue doing those. If you don’t try picking a few from the list.

When choosing things that will help increase happiness levels, think about how each of them affects your health. There are three states of health (physical, mental, and social health).

Make sure you choose activities that don’t all contribute to one aspect only. Try to pick a few that can contribute to different aspects so you can reap the full benefits of the happiness chemicals.

If you are unfamiliar with the three aspects of the Health Triangle, I recommend taking the self-assessment first to see which areas you are lacking so you can choose activities that target that aspect.

Overstimulation of the Happiness Chemicals

Ever hear the saying…

“too much of a good thing is a bad thing

Well, it’s true. Overstimulation of each of the four happiness chemicals in the brain can lead to desensitization.

This in turn leads to an increased desire for those happiness chemicals which creates an addiction cycle. This addiction cycle can affect anyone, especially those who suffer from a mental illness such as depression.

Thankfully, there are ways we can manage or reduce overstimulation. For example, let’s take a look at dopamine as it is commonly known for its addictive nature.

How Dopamine Receptors Work

Dopamine itself is a type of neurotransmitter. The receptor is the receiver of the neurotransmitter. Each type of neurotransmitter has a unique receptor to match it.

To simplify, think of the receptor and neurotransmitter as a lock and key. A specific type of neurotransmitter will only fit into the correct receptor.

Once the dopamine attaches to the dopamine receptor it delivers a chemical message which gives you the effects of the neurotransmitter, in this case, dopamine.

Overstimulation of Dopamine Receptors

If your dopamine receptors are overstimulated, you can become desensitized to the effects of dopamine.

Overstimulation occurs when you experience prolonged periods of dopamine stimulation. This leads to the brain protecting itself by destroying some of the receptors.

Remember, happiness chemicals are only meant to be experienced for a short period before turning off.

Your dopamine levels should remain at an off or low state for some time before being stimulated again. This is a normal up and down experience with dopamine.

However, when you override your natural satiation mechanism by continually feeding yourself dopamine, then Supernormal Stimuli occurs.

This is what happens when you have a normal experience with dopamine versus supernormal stimuli:

stimuli

The supernormal stimuli is an overstimulation of dopamine which leads to desensitization. This tolerance then encourages us to feed our desire for dopamine even more which creates a cycle of addiction.

Here are some common activities we are all guilty of which leads to overstimulation:

  • eating fast food regularly
  • scrolling through social media feeds non-stop
  • binge-watching your favorite tv show all weekend with little to no breaks

Prevent Overstimulation

Preventing overstimulation can allow your dopamine levels to drop back to a normal level before the next stimulation.

This helps to maintain our sensitization and does not create an addictive attitude towards dopamine. By doing so this will allow you to feel the full effects of dopamine when you experience it.

Here are a few simple ways to prevent overstimulation:

  • limiting your use by stopping after some time (this allows enough time to drop to a normal level)
  • limiting the frequency of use (eating fast food once or twice a week versus every day)
  • not using it like a drug
  • not using it as an escape mechanism

This is especially important when you have a mental illness such as depression.

The desire to feel better or wanting to escape the pain you experience creates a higher risk for addiction due to the desire for happiness chemicals like dopamine.

Everything in moderation is important to maintain reasonable levels of happiness chemicals.

How to Increase Dopamine Receptors

Overstimulation causes dopamine receptors to be destroyed. Abstaining from the activities that cause overstimulation will allow the number of dopamine receptors to increase.

The increase of dopamine receptors will then increase the effects when dopamine is released. Thus, more happiness!

Here are a few other ways to increase dopamine receptors:

  • high-intensity interval training is the most effective form of exercise
  • digital detox (taking time off from technology for a week or two)
  • cold showers or ice baths

Hack Your Happiness Chemicals

To recap, there are four happiness chemicals that your brain releases to make you feel good:

  1. Dopamine: Enables motivation, learning, and pleasure
  2. Oxytocin: Gives you a feeling of trust to build intimate relationships
  3. Serotonin: When you experience social power or confidence in accepting yourself
  4. Endorphin: Brief euphoria to mask physical pain

How to Increase Happy Hormones Naturally:

  1. Understand how deficiency affects you by recognizing what symptoms you may experience
  2. Identify what activities you would enjoy doing to increase happiness
  3. Consistency is key, ensure you are regularly doing those activities
  4. Be aware of overstimulation and abstain from any activities as required

There are plenty of activities that can increase happiness hormones naturally. Choose a few you enjoy, either from the list or ones you already enjoy doing. What’s important is that you enjoy doing it, otherwise it won’t stick.

Remember, we’re looking to achieve long-term happiness so doing an activity once or twice will not make an impact on your lifestyle.

When you are dealing with an existing mental illness, addiction, or trauma, it can be difficult to increase your happiness chemicals.

Consider building up your window of tolerance first to help you deal with the stress, anxiety, or trauma you may have. Then when you come to increasing happiness, it becomes much easier to do.

source: MindPeelings


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The Neuroscience of Bad Habits and Why It’s Not About Will Power

Why are bad habits so hard to break? What if the bumper sticker “Just Say No!” actually works against us? If willpower were the answer to breaking bad habits then we  decisionswouldn’t have drug addiction or obesity. There’s something going on in our brains where we literally lose the ability for self-control, but all hope isn’t lost.

Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the phrase “Just Say No!” “magical thinking.”

It appears that dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. At the most basic level, it regulates motivation — it sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “This feels good!”

Whether you’re a heroin addict and you see an association to heroin, you’re a caffeine addict and you see a cup of coffee, you’re a Smartphone addict and you see another person pick up their phone, or if you’re hungry and you see some good-looking food, your brain rushes with dopamine and that is now caught on brain-scanning machines.

The fascinating thing is that Volkow has found that  the images alone affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. So if we pass a McDonald’s and see the arches, our brain associates that with a tasty hamburger (for some) and shoots up dopamine. That good feeling will unconsciously drive the motivation to go in and get a Big Mac. It’s a conditioned response. The same goes for anything including most likely our relationships to our phones.

A blue button with the word Change on it

What can we do?

It makes sense why more and more addiction centers are integrating mindfulness into their curriculum. Mindfulness practice has been shown to activate the prefrontal cortex and cool down the amygdala. This gives us the ability to widen the space between stimulus and response where choice lies and access possibilities and opportunities we didn’t know were there before. This is crucial when it comes to our addictive behaviors to take a step back, “think through the drink” and recognize the various options that lie before us.

We can learn to step into the pause, notice the sensation of the urge that’s there and as the late Alan Marlatt, Ph.D. said, “surf the urge” as it peaks, crests and falls back down like a wave in the ocean.

One place to start is to just get curious about the pull you feel to whatever you think you’re compulsive with. An easy one besides some of the arguably more destructive habits (drugs, alcohol) is our phones.

Today, be on the lookout for what cues you to check your app. Do you see someone else doing it? Are you waiting somewhere and there’s something uncomfortable about waiting? Is it a certain time of day or place?

Training your brain to recognize this cue can help you get some space from it to ask, “What do I really want to pay attention to right now? What matters?” As we get better at recognizing that space between stimulus and response and making the choices that run alongside our values, like riding a bike, it will start to come more naturally.

Just because our brains have been altered by our compulsive behaviors, doesn’t mean we’re destined to fall into the same habits. With the right skills, community and support we can learn how to break out of routine and into a life worth living.

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. 
 


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Signs of a Food Addiction

A lot of us eat a little more than we should and want to stop eating so much, but it’s not as easy as we’d like. Some of us have a food addiction. Did you know there are foods that make you hungrier, and other foods that can suppress your appetite?

For example, the following foods can make you hungrier:

  • White bread
  • Juice
  • Salty snacks
  • Fast food
  • Alcohol
  • White pasta
  • The flavor enhancer MSG
  • Sushi rolls
  • Artificial sweeteners

White bread and white pasta are considered simple carbs. When we eat these foods, our pancreas goes into overdrive, causing an insulin spike. A short time later, our blood sugar levels drop suddenly and as a result of this “crash,” we’re hungrier than ever.

When we look at fast food, it has a high salt content, and can make a person dehydrated. A person may think they are still hungry and eat more, when they are really just thirsty.

Do You Have A Food Addiction?

When people think of addiction, they may immediately think of drugs like cocaine, heroin, alcohol, or even cigarettes. What many may not realize is food can be addictive as well. In addition to making you hungry, some foods can make us crave them as well. The following foods are considered the most addictive:

  • Pizza
  • Chocolate
  • Potato chips
  • Ice cream
  • French fries
  • Soda
  • Cookies
  • Cake
  • Popcorn
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Cheeseburgers

 

Studies indicate these foods (and many others) release “feel good chemicals” in the brain like dopamine in a similar fashion to the brains of those who use alcohol or cocaine. Studies also indicate refined foods can lower the blood sugar and trigger the release of serotonin. Serotonin is believed to affect our mood, appetite, memory and other functions.

In other words, there could be more to you constantly eating or craving foods than you originally thought. So, instead of eating those foods, try break the cycle and eat foods that can suppress the appetite instead:

  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal
  • Apples
  • Spicy foods
  • Mint
  • Avocados
  • Greek yogurt
  • Water

If you notice, the foods that increase our appetites and have addictive qualities are not good for us. They are high in fat, sodium, and believed to cause a variety of health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. On the other hand, the foods that suppress the appetite are considered foods that are good for our overall health.

This is very important information for all of us to know, but it’s especially important for parents. It’s critical we instill good eating habits in our children and avoid feeding them foods that are addictive and could be detrimental to their long-term health.

The foods we eat can either help us or hurt us. Make an effort to avoid minimize foods that taste good but aren’t good for you. Next time you’re hungry, resist the urge to eat the processed foods and junk foods that are high in salt and artificial ingredients and eat something healthy instead. Your body will thank you. Or, just drink water. You may not be hungry after all!

source: holisticlivingtips.com       JULY 21, 2017


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The Most Addicting Foods on the Planet, According to Science

Chips, chocolate, cheese. There are some foods we simply can’t get enough of.
And turns out there’s good reason why we’re hooked.

Why we can’t get enough

What is it about the three Cs: Chocolate, cheese, and chips? For some reason, we can never get enough of them. But wanting to chow on a particular food is one thing, being addicted to it is another. Fact is, you can become addicted to a certain food, and you can blame your brain’s response to it. That’s because certain foods elicit a release of dopamine in the brain, which can lead to more cravings for that particular treat, especially when it comes to foods that are high in sugar, salt, and/or fat. Addictive foods are ones that hit your brain right in its pleasure center, ostensibly telling you that you need more, more, more. “When this pleasure/reward center is stimulated, the brain starts secreting dopamine and other chemicals that make us enjoy the experience even more,” says Ashvini Mashru, a registered dietitian in Malvern, Pennsylvania. “Because your brain loves the sensation caused by that dopamine release, it seeks more of it by creating cravings, that if listened to can cause a vicious cycle of addiction.”

Chocoholics take note

That bowl of M&Ms sitting on your office mate’s desk is a delicious temptation, a crunchy chocolatey treat that’s hard to resist. What we know is that chocolate is one of the most addictive foods around because it binds to the same pleasure centers in the brain as alcohol and certain drugs, according to a 2011 study conducted by Drexel University. It also boasts a nice “mouth feel,” which stimulates oxytocin production, another feel-good hormone, according to Dan DeFigio, author of Beating Sugar Addiction for Dummies. “Over time, our brains start looking for that dopamine hit, and every time we eat chocolate, it reinforces that ‘wiring,'” he says. You’ll feel less guilty munching on these next-level chocolates with added superfoods.

More cheese please

If you’ve hovered over a cheese platter and piled up the cubes, you’ll be relieved to know that it’s not just you. Cheese, which is generally high in fat and cholesterol, also contains a substance called casomorphin that binds to the opioid or feel-good receptors in the brain. “Casomorphins attach to neurotransmitters in our brains and release dopamine, feel-good chemicals, that often lead us to wanting more,” says Neal Barnard, MD, author of The Cheese Trap, adding that the average American today consumes 30 pounds more cheese per year than we did 100 years ago. “While cheese does have its health benefits, it also can be seriously addictive.” (If you’re having some wine with your cheese, here are the best pairings to try.)

Carb fix

Reach into that bowl of potato chips, tortilla chips, or pretzels over and over again, and you’ll know something is happening on the addiction front. And, while there’s no particular compound in these foods that bind to specific brain receptors to cause a euphoric, stimulating, or addictive behavior, there’s something else at play. “Simple carbohydrates are seen as ‘addictive’ because they cause a quick glucose release, and this quickly increases a person’s energy, says Celina Jean, a nutritionist in Austin, Texas. “This energy will quickly be used up, and then you’ll be forced to eat more simple carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar raised.” These are the silent signs you’re eating too many carbs.

Oh, sweet sips

Not only do sugary sodas (also lemonade and sweet tea) provide us with very little nutrients, but one 12-ounce can contain a staggering 35 grams of sugar. Like sugary treats, soda can stimulate the release of dopamine too. Add caffeine and you’re getting a double-energy hit. “Once you’re hooked on caffeine, you can suffer symptoms of withdrawal if you try to stop, including sluggishness, headaches, and emotional distress,” says Mashru.

Pass the French fries

French fries are typically crisp, hot, and salty. This is a triple-threat that signals the tongue and the brain to eat more, Mashru says. The fat content in French fries triggers receptors in our mouths that send a signal to our brain and gut reinforcing the desire to eat more. “These little potato sticks are also a comfort food,” Mashru says. “Therefore, every time you go through the line in a restaurant and see them on the menu, you may find the urge to order them as a side to your entrée irresistible.”

Ice cream you scream

Cravings for ice cream can be insatiable—it’s all about the sugar content and creamy texture, and researchers agree that foods like ice cream, which is basically cream and milk, stimulate the brain in the same way drugs do, inducing behaviors that resemble addiction, says Keri Glassman, RD, a dietitian in New York City. “The sugar ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ you experience are consistent with sugar ‘dependency,'” she says. “When your body gets used to sugar, you feel out of sorts when you consume less, which causes you to eat more.” Here’s how to crack your sugar addiction.

That slice of ‘za

Whether it’s the stringy salty mozzarella cheese, the fluffy dough or the sugar in the tomato sauce, pizza ranks first in food addiction, according to a recent University of Michigan study. That’s because when you eat it, your blood sugar zip up quickly and then when it drops, you feel hungry again and want more. These are the healthier pizza crusts that won’t blow your diet.

BY LAMBETH HOCHWALD
 
source: www.rd.com


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10 Ways You Can Increase Dopamine Levels In The Brain Without Medication

January 20, 2016 by Stephan Gardner

“Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional response, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.” – Psychology Today

There are a lot of articles on the internet about dopamine and how it affects your mood, behavior, energy, and focus. What’s not commonly spoken about, however, is how dopamine is affected by your perception. Discussed more rarely still is the reason why your dopamine levels may be low. Below are 10 ways to increase your dopamine levels, courtesy of Power of Positivity, as well as my own observations regarding the underlying issues which may have led to each situation, and how to tackle them.

1. Don’t Get Addicted

“Many people get addicted to something because it gives them some kind of instant gratification – drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, shopping, and other addictive behaviors actually have the opposite effect on dopamine levels in the long-term. In essence, when we get overly addicted to something, the ‘reward circuitry’ of our brain kicks into overdrive and we crave the ‘quick hit.’ This is not a sustainable solution for dopamine production, which can and should be done naturally.”

What’s missing here is the fact that addiction is quite often a result of low dopamine, meaning addiction is more of an attempt to fix an already existing problem. In essence, “the underpinning of your addictive personality is a lack of fulfillment from within, with a resulting urge to achieve fulfillment through substances, objects, or events that relieve the inevitable pain – for a while.” (source)

“When we receive a reward of any kind, dopamine is released in our brains. Over time, this stimulus and release of dopamine can lead to learning. Researchers have recently found that how quickly and permanently we learn things relates directly to how much dopamine we have available in our brains. As we get rewarded over and over again for something, we learn that we should keep doing whatever that is very deeply, and it’s hard to unlearn those kinds of behaviours.” (source)

What this means is that low-dopamine is a response to a lifestyle which doesn’t offer much in terms of reward to the person living it. It may be a response to the environment you’re living in, the clothes you’re wearing, the tight budget you’re working within, the relationship choices you’ve made or have been made for you, or a result of trauma where there was no perceived reward. It’s very easy to understand how dopamine levels may appear low when we consider all the potentials leading to less-rewarding lifestyles and life-experiences.

What’s necessary then is less of a ‘don’t get addicted’ approach and more of an ‘increase the rewards in your life’ style of applied advice. Fact is, you’ll constantly feel less fulfilled through low dopamine when you’re not (or are unable to) fill your day with things that inspire and reward you. Meaning, the most effective protection against addiction and greatest advantage to high-dopamine levels is a defense against low-rewarding activities and an offence working towards rewarding actions, activities, and ultimately, a lifestyle of fulfillment and achievement.

Also, because addiction is most often rooted in past traumatic experiences, where emotions create a fight or flight response that becomes rooted in your core emotions, it’s vitally important to seek proper and effective help in dissolving past trauma. Doing so can only help you perceive more rewarding experiences in your life, rather than filtering experiences through a ‘traumatized’ awareness.

2. Checklist Small Tasks

“Dopamine increases when we are organized and finish tasks – regardless if the task is small or large. So, don’t allow your brain to worry about things that need to be done. Instead, write these tasks down and then check them off one at a time. It’s been shown that it’s more satisfying to the brain’s dopamine levels when we physically check something off of our to-do list. Also, write down and check stuff off regardless if you can mentally remember the tasks.”

In reading the book Principles of Self-Management, I came across a brilliantly well-researched understanding of motivation when it comes to tasks. In short, if a task is greater than 25% of a change in a person’s routine, the person will be overwhelmed with feeling incapable of achieving it. This leads them to self-defeat and self-sabotage to avoid accomplishing the task. On the other side, if a task is less than 10% different than a person’s normal routine, they don’t do it because it won’t have enough meaning for them to do so. As such, it’s wise to make sure you write down goals and tasks that are in between this 10% to 25% range of new behaviors and actions, otherwise, you just won’t do it.

However, this 10-25% range is simply a guide for tasks that are not directly linked to our highest values. In reality, if you can link a task to your highest values and see clearly how it will help you accomplish what’s truly most important to you, you’ll do it. If you can’t see how it will help fulfill your highest values, you’ll procrastinate, hesitate, and get frustrated in the attempt to do it. By linking a task to your highest values, you’ll both increase the chances of you doing it and also increase the reward you will feel when you accomplish it, a result of producing more dopamine in the brain.

3. Create Something

“For us writers, painters, sculptors, poets, singers, dancers, and other artists, we can identify with this. When we’re in creative mode, we can become hyper-focused. As a result, we can enter a state called flow. Dopamine is the brain chemical that allows us to achieve this state. The lesson is this: take up a hobby or activity in which you actually create something tangible. Try something like arts, crafts, auto repair, drawing, photography, or something else that sounds interesting.”

Sparking your creative drive is an effective way to increase your potential for feeling great, achieving goals and inspiring yourself through your accomplishments. However, it can also be a distraction from a feel-bad lifestyle, if it’s not maintained with a purpose in mind. Whenever you’re working on a project, creative or not, that truly inspires you, you’ll activate your ‘flow state,’ where time and space seem to stand still. So how to you determine what it is that truly inspires you?

The most important goal in revealing your most authentic creative energy is to remove the creative energies of other people from your life. So many of us look up to the creations of others, whether works of art or music, and their works or talents take up time and space in our own minds. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it can influence your own beliefs about what you can create. If you compare yourself to others and minimize yourself, you’ll repress your own creative ability. This can affect your dopamine levels, because if you can’t see your own creations as rewarding to you, as much as someone else’s, you’ll feel inferior and incapable.

One very effective way of neutralizing the influence other people have on your mind is to literally look at the negatives or downsides of their accomplishment. This isn’t to practice being a critic, but it can enable you to de-infatuate with their creative powers, helping you to stop minimizing your own. Once you recognize that your creative endeavors can exist on the level of those you admire, through practice (just like they did), you’ll increase your ability to see your own creations as meaningful and rewarding.

happy-chemicals-dopamine-serotonin-endorphin-oxytocin

 4. Exercise

“Same ‘ole, same ‘ole, we know. We’ve discussed repeatedly the importance and benefits of physical exercise, and we’re just going to add to this list again. So, not only does exercise help us relieve stress, achieve better physical health and make us more productive; it boosts our dopamine levels. More specifically, exercise increases multiple neurotransmitters – serotonin and endorphins, besides dopamine, receive a boost. Here’s something else cool: the exercise needn’t not be arduous. Simply taking a stroll or climbing some stairs will achieve a good dopamine jolt.”

Exercise is important, but it can also become a crutch or an addiction if it’s not something being integrated into your daily life. Many people go to the gym to work out, yet don’t live a life that requires the body they’re building. Another thing is actually placing a value on exercise itself. Many people buy the gym memberships, yet never use them. So what’s the easiest way to make exercise a part of your life?

There’s a branch of exercise called ‘functional training’ in which exercises are tailored to help you with your daily tasks. This is much more helpful than just ‘workouts,’ because if you can train your body into a state where your daily tasks are not taxing on your energy, you’ll breeze through the day and have more energy at the end of it. Staying in a high energy state instead of being brought down by your daily tasks will help you be more inspired during your day and innately feel more inspired to exercise.

5. Get a Streak Going

“As with creating a checklist, getting a streak going is a great way to increase dopamine levels. For the purpose of this article, a streak is a visual reminder of how many days in a row you’ve achieved something.

Get a calendar specifically for this purpose: write down whatever goal you have and the days of the week or month when they are scheduled. For example, if you work out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, mark these days on the calendar for the month. As you finish a workout, mark it off on the calendar. Keep a streak going, and you’ll keep the dopamine coming.”

While the ‘streak’ is a useful tool for celebrating accomplishments, it unfortunately has a downside—routine. Doing something enough times becomes a routine, especially if the action isn’t continuously fulfilling to your highest values. To counter this, try adapting the ‘goal’ or ‘action’ in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. By continuously finding ways to improve the performance of the behavior, over time, you can look back at how many times you’ve done it, but also how much better you’ve become at it. This way, your performance becomes a competition with yourself, which increases your potential for feeling rewarded as you master a skill.

6. Increase Tyrosine

“Of the chemicals that make up dopamine, none are more important than tyrosine. In fact, tyrosine is considered the building block of dopamine. Therefore, it is important that you get enough of this protein. There’s a large list of foods that increase Tyrosine, including: Almonds, Avocados, Bananas, Beef, Chicken, Chocolate, Coffee, Eggs, Green Tea, Watermelon, Yogurt.”

Food is a reward, not a chore. This is the difference between living to eat and eating to live. While it’s important to utilize foods to your advantage, it’s just as important to recognize that the brain is its own best pharmacy. Few foods actually make it past the blood-brain barrier and this actually includes Tyrosine.

“Tyrosine is one of the 22 key amino acids that are used for building proteins around the body. In addition to this, however, it also raises the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, namely dopamine and norepinephrine. These are famous for being ‘feel good’ chemicals that can help boost mood and elevate concentration, making tyrosine a popular nootropic. However, tyrosine is completely incapable of passing the BBB. This way, no matter how much of it you were to take, you’d feel almost no effects.” (source)

The truth is, tyrosine must be bonded with another molecule to make it past the blood-brain barrier, so tyrosine in itself isn’t capable of making significant impacts on the brain. However, through natural digestion and regulating healthy bodily function, it can assist the brain in having to work less on fixing an unhealthy system, which in turn can help increase the potential for dopamine and dopamine related good feelings.

7. Listen to Music

“Do you ever wonder why music makes you happy? I mean, we can be in the dumps one moment but once we put on our favorite jam, we’re swaying and shaking away…feeling pretty good about ourselves too! The reason for this is that listening to music increases dopamine levels. In fact, scientists say that listening to music has the same effect as eating our favorite foods or watching our favorite T.V. show. So, when you’re feeling down, throw on some of your favorite tunes and jam out!”

Listening to music can increase dopamine levels temporarily, but what we’re really looking for is a lasting fulfillment feeling so you can make your daily life enjoyable and productive for your goals. Also, popular music these days is often manufactured in such a way as to prey on your brain’s chemical dependency, making much of music a form of substance addiction.

However, music has been a part of human history since as far as we can see, so its influence on our brain is greatly appreciated. In fact, one of the greatest cultural appreciations throughout history has been music. So, listen to music, but just make sure it’s not the only source of dopamine in your life.

 8. Meditate

“As with exercise, we are discovering more and more benefits to meditation. We are again adding to the list. As we discussed, the human brain is susceptible to a variety of addictions. One other addictive habit that we have is overthinking. In fact, some Buddhists have a phrase for this addiction: ‘monkey mind.’

Overthinking is not merely a distracting habit, it’s also a genuine compulsion that leaves us in a perplexing state, while also having a negative effect on our spiritual development. However, scientists are finally catching up to what Buddhists have known for thousands of years: meditation and mindfulness are essential to a healthy mind.”

Meditation can be a highly effective form of dopamine increase if done properly, as it can weed out the mental influences which may be causing your chemistry to be less than desired. With the intent of reaching a state of self-fulfillment, meditation clears out the mental clutter and replaces it with presence and fulfillment for just being alive. This is a state available to every human and can help assist our daily lives by increasing our awareness of what feels good for us and what we don’t resonate with.

9. Take Supplements

“While there are some great ways to increase dopamine levels, sometimes we’re facing a time crunch. Fortunately, there are natural supplements on the market that have been shown to increase dopamine levels. Here are a few:

  • Acetyl-l-tyrosine: Another building block of dopamine. A healthy dose of this makes it easier for the brain to produce dopamine.
  • Curcumin: An active ingredient that’s also common in curry spices and turmeric.
  • Ginkgo Biloba: A tremendously popular wonder supplement that’s also believed to boost dopamine levels and keep it circulating in the brain longer.
  • L-theanine: Increases multiple neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine. Green tea is a terrific source for this.” (source)

While supplements can impact our dopamine response, they should by no means replace your own inner potential for fulfillment. That responsibility lies with you and you alone. However, with respect to inner wisdom, without knowing what feeling amazing actually feels like, it’s difficult to strive for it as a goal. Supplements can help us get there so we can have a reference point for what our potential can be. The trick is to facilitate change in our lives, enough so that the need for supplementation to feel good is lower than the feel goods we actually experience in our life.

10. Toxic Cleansing

“As miraculous as our bodies are, we do accumulate toxins and bacteria that is bad for us. Endotoxins are the kind that can cause our immune systems to get out of whack, and it also constrains the production of dopamine. Here are a couple tips for helping cleanse the gut of endotoxins: eat fermented food, get enough sleep, and resist the urge to indulge in fatty or sugary foods.”

Whenever you’re not fulfilled in your life, you run the risk of over-indulging in sugary and sweet foods in an attempt to temporarily fulfill yourself. However, if you find fulfillment through the challenge and support of your day, you’re more likely to eat for the tasks you’re doing instead of eating just to feel good.

How you eat and how fulfilled you are, are directly correlated. If you’re actively enjoying the challenges of your life, you’re more likely to consume foods that serve your highest interests and health, because you see a reason to eat well. Controlling how you eat is less important than finding fulfillment in what you do.

So the next time you find yourself craving that candy bar, ask yourself if there isn’t something else you could eat that could help you find fulfillment. Also, notice what you are doing at the time you’re craving sugar and ask yourself if it’s really something you need to do, or can you delegate it to someone else so you can get back to things that inspire you. By focusing on what inspires and fulfills you, you’ll find yourself actively seeking to better your health without having to really focus on it.


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The Brain Chemicals That Make You Happy (And How To Trigger Them)

by Kaia Roman     February 27, 2016  

When we ask ourselves what makes us happy, we often think of the circumstances, possessions, or people in our lives. In reality, happiness is largely a chemical experience. Four main neurochemicals, hormones, and neurotransmitters generated in the brain are fundamentally responsible for creating the sensations and emotions we’ve come to associate with happiness.

This is actually great news. It means even when circumstances, possessions, or people in our lives aren’t exactly as we’d like them to be, there are simple ways we can increase our happy brain chemicals and alter our moods.

I talk about this with my mindfulness students in elementary school, and they really understand the concept. I’ll often have a kid tell me about the rush of dopamine she just got from getting an A+ on her spelling test, or the hit of oxytocin a boy felt from giving his mom a hug.

Here’s how you can do the same.

1. Endorphins

Endorphins are opioid neuropeptides, which means they are produced by the central nervous system to help us deal with physical pain. They also make us feel lightheaded, and even giddy at times. One non-painful (well, not too painful) way to induce endorphins is exercise.

Endorphins are released after both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. In one study, as little as 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill for 10 days in a row was sufficient to produce a significant reduction in depression among clinically depressed subjects.

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2. Serotonin

Serotonin may be the best-known happiness chemical because it’s the one that antidepressant medication primarily addresses. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is naturally triggered by several things we can do each day.

Exposure to bright light, especially sunshine, is one way to increase serotonin. Exercise and happy thoughts also stimulate production of this chemical. Some research has found that a higher intake of tryptophan-heavy foods, relative to other foods in the diet, may do the trick as well.

3. Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter often referred to as the “chemical of reward.” When you score a goal, hit a target, or accomplish a task, you receive a pleasurable hit of dopamine in your brain that tells you you’ve done a good job. But you can also get a natural dose of dopamine when you perform acts of kindness toward others.

Volunteering has been shown to increase dopamine as well as have other long-term health benefits. And some research has even found that it only takes thoughts of loving kindness to bring on the dopamine high.

4. Oxytocin

Mothers may be familiar with oxytocin, the hormone produced in abundance during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It’s also the high behind MDMA, a popular party drug, which releases oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin is primarily associated with loving touch and close relationships.

This hormone provides a multiple whammy of warm fuzzies, by stimulating dopamine and serotonin, while reducing anxiety. To get your hit of oxytocin without popping ecstasy, give someone you love a cuddle. Even a pet will do.

If you’re like me, happiness may at times feel like the unachievable holy grail of emotion. But luckily, our brains and bodies are constantly undergoing complex chemical processes that we can affect with our daily actions. Once we understand how our feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters work, we may be able to trigger them more easily than we realized.


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Poor REM Sleep, Higher Risk for Depression?

Preliminary study suggests that emotional stress builds when this phase is disturbed,
creating a ‘vicious cycle’

By Alan Mozes   HealthDay Reporter     WebMD News from HealthDay

MONDAY, Feb. 8, 2016 (HealthDay News) – REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the phase when dreams are made, and a lack of good REM sleep has long been associated with chronic insomnia.

But new research is building on that association, suggesting that the bad and “restless” REM sleep experienced by insomnia patients may, in turn, undermine their ability to overcome emotional distress, raising their risk for chronic depression or anxiety.

“Previous studies have pointed to REM sleep as the most likely candidate involved in the regulation of emotions,” said study lead author Rick Wassing. He is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sleep and Cognition at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam.

Wassing noted, for example, that while REM is underway, key arousal hormones such as serotonin, adrenaline and dopamine are inactive. This, he added, may indicate that it is during good REM sleep when the emotional impact of memories is properly processed and resolved.

But when REM sleep is disturbed, emotional distress may accumulate. And Wassing said current findings indicate that over time this accumulation eventually leads to a “vicious cycle” of overarousal, during which insomnia promotes distress, which promotes arousal, which promotes ongoing insomnia.

Wassing and his colleagues discuss their findings in the early issue of PNAS, published Feb. 8.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, sleep involves five distinct phases, which broadly track from light sleep to deep sleep to REM sleep. This cycle then repeats itself several times throughout the night.

The last phase, REM, is characterized by rapid and shallow breathing, rapid eye movement, and a rise in heart rate and blood pressure. It also gives rise to dreams. Experts believe that REM sleep triggers brain centers that are critical to learning, and may be vital to healthy brain development in children.

To explore the importance of good REM sleep to emotional regulation, the Dutch investigators conducted a two-part study.

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The first involved completion of a questionnaire by nearly 1,200 respondents (average age of 52) who were enrolled in the Netherlands Sleep Registry. All were asked to self-report the severity of their insomnia, as well as their emotional distress, arousal and/or troubling nighttime thoughts.

The second part enlisted 19 women and 13 men (at an average age of nearly 36). Half had no prior sleep problems; the others suffered from insomnia.

They participated in two nights of lab-monitored sleep, during which electrical brain wave activity was recorded — via electroencephalography — to identify sleep phases. All then completed a questionnaire about their own experiences with troubling nighttime thoughts.

The result: After comparing brain activity records to both groups’ nighttime distress reports, the researchers concluded that the more REM sleep was disturbed, the more trouble participants had in putting aside emotional distress.

In turn, as distress built up, so did feelings of arousal, making it more and more difficult to get a restful night of sleep.

“The possible solution would be to stabilize REM sleep,” Wassing said. But, he added, whether this is true and whether cognitive behavioral therapy might help “is for subsequent research to find out.”

Janis Anderson is an associate psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She suggested that the jury is still out on both counts.

“Complex interrelationships between sleep and mood, including clinical mood problems such as major depression and bipolar disorder, are well-known,” she said. “This continues to be an important area for research, but also one in which speculative suggestions to patients can easily outpace the evidence.”

And, Anderson cautioned that “there is nothing directly measured in actual clinical patients here [in the new study] that would warrant any kind of advice at all related to mood or other disorders.” She said the findings might best be used as a theoretical road map for future investigations into how sleep affects emotional regulation.

Article Sources : Rick Wassing, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Sleep and Cognition, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam; Janis L. Anderson, Ph.D., associate psychologist, Department of Psychiatry, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and assistant professor of psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Feb. 8, 2016, PNAS

source: www.webmd.com   HealthDay 


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Cheese really is crack. Study reveals cheese is as addictive as drugs

For years you’ve been telling your friends, family, co-workers and anyone who will listen that you’re addicted to cheese. It’s a part of every meal or snack, and you think about it constantly. According to a new study from the University of Michigan, cheese crack is a real thing. And so is your addiction.

The study, published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, examines why certain foods are more addictive than others. Researchers identified addictive foods from about 500 students who completed the Yale Food Addiction Scale, designed to measure if someone has a food addiction.

Pizza, unsurprisingly, came out on top of the most addictive food list. Besides being a basic food group for kids, college students and adults, there’s a scientific reason we all love pizza, and it has to do with the cheese.

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According to a new study, cheese is as addictive as certain drugs.

The study found certain foods are addictive because of the way they are processed. The more processed and fatty the food, the more it was associated with addictive eating behaviors.

Cheese happens to be especially addictive because of an ingredient called casein, a protein found in all milk products. During digestion, casein releases opiates called casomorphins.

“[Casomorphins] really play with the dopamine receptors and trigger that addictive element,” registered dietitian Cameron Wells told Mic.

So there you have it. Your cheese addiction has been validated by science. This may be better than that time science said your addiction to Oreos is real. Just maybe.

Jenn Harris   Contact Reporter   October 22, 2015


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How to Increase Dopamine, the Motivation Molecule

By Deane Alban      Contributing Writer for Wake Up World      7th March 2015

Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter for motivation, focus and productivity. Learn the symptoms of dopamine deficiency and natural ways to increase dopamine levels …

There are about 100 billion neurons in the human brain — about as many stars as there are in the Milky Way. These cells communicate with each other via brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for providing motivation, drive, and focus. It plays a role in many mental disorders including depression, addictions, ADHD, and schizophrenia.

Let’s take a closer look at dopamine — what it does, symptoms of deficiency, and how to increase it naturally.

Dopamine: The Motivation Molecule

Dopamine has been called our “motivation molecule.” It boosts our drive, focus, and concentration. It enables us to plan ahead and resist impulses so we can achieve our goals. It gives us that “I did it!” lift when we accomplish what we set out to do. It makes us competitive and provides the thrill of the chase in all aspects of life — business, sports, and love.

Dopamine is in charge of our pleasure-reward system. It allows us to have feelings of enjoyment, bliss, and even euphoria. But too little dopamine can leave you unfocused, unmotivated, lethargic, and even depressed.

Dopamine Deficiency Symptoms

People low in dopamine lack a zest for life. They exhibit low energy and motivation, and often rely on caffeine, sugar, or other stimulants to get through the day.

Many common dopamine deficiency symptoms are similar to those of depression:

  • lack of motivation
  • fatigue
  • apathy
  • procrastination
  • inability to feel pleasure
  • low libido
  • sleep problems
  • mood swings
  • hopelessness
  • memory loss
  • inability to concentrate

Dopamine-deficient lab mice become so apathetic and lethargic they lack motivation to eat and starve to death.  Conversely, some people who are low in dopamine compensate with self-destructive behaviors to get their dopamine boost. This can include use and abuse of caffeine, alcohol, sugar, drugs, shopping, video games, sex, power, or gambling.

How to Increase Dopamine Naturally

There are plenty of unhealthy ways to raise dopamine. But you don’t have to resort to “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” to boost your dopamine levels. Here are some healthy, proven ways to increase dopamine levels naturally.

Foods That Increase Dopamine

Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine. Eating a diet high in tyrosine will ensure you’ve got the basic building blocks needed for dopamine production.

Here’s a list of tyrosine-rich foods:

  • all animal products
  • almonds
  • apples
  • avocado
  • bananas
  • beets
  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • fava beans
  • green leafy vegetables
  • green tea
  • lima beans
  • oatmeal
  • sea vegetables
  • sesame and pumpkin seeds
  • turmeric
  • watermelon
  • wheat germ

Foods high in natural probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut can also increase natural dopamine production. Oddly, the health of your intestinal flora impacts your production of neurotransmitters.

An overabundance of bad bacteria leaves toxic byproducts called lipopolysaccharides which lower levels of dopamine.

Sugar has been found to boost dopamine but this is a temporary boost, more drug-like than food-like.

Dopamine Supplements

There are supplements that can raise dopamine levels naturally.

Curcumin is the active ingredient in the spice turmeric. It’s available in an isolated form as a supplement. It readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and can boost levels of dopamine.

Curcumin has been found to help alleviate obsessive actions and improve associated memory loss by increasing dopamine.

Ginkgo biloba is traditionally used for a variety of brain-related problems — poor concentration, forgetfulness, headaches, fatigue, mental confusion, depression, and anxiety.

One of the mechanisms by which ginkgo works is by raising dopamine.

L-theanine is a component found in green tea. It increases levels of dopamine along with other neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA.  L-theanine improves recall, learning, and positive mood. You can get your dopamine boost by either taking theanine supplements or by drinking 3 cups of green tea per day.

L-tyrosine — the precursor to dopamine — is available as a supplement.

We recommend taking acetyl-l-tyrosine — a more absorbable form that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier.

Phosphatidylserine acts as your brain’s “gatekeeper,” regulating nutrients and waste in and out of your brain. It can increase dopamine levels and improve memory, concentration, learning, and ADHD.

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Boost Dopamine with Exercise

Physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. It boosts production of new brain cells, slows down brain cell aging, and improves the flow of nutrients to the brain. It can also increase your levels of dopamine and the other “feel good” neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine.

Dr. John Ratey, renowned psychiatrist and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, has extensively studied the effects of physical exercise on the brain. He found that exercise raises baseline levels of dopamine by promoting the growth of new brain cell receptors.

Dopamine is responsible in part for the high serious runners experience.  But you don’t need to exercise strenuously to enhance your brain. Taking walks, or doing gentle, no-impact exercises like yoga, tai chi, or qi gong all provide powerful mind-body benefits.

Increase Dopamine with Meditation

The benefits of meditation have been proven in over 1,000 studies.  Regular meditators experience enhanced ability to learn, increased creativity, and deep relaxation. It’s been shown that meditation increases dopamine, improving focus and concentration.

Crafting hobbies of all kinds — knitting, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography, woodworking, and home repair — focus the brain similarly to meditation. These activities increase dopamine, ward off depression, and protect against brain aging.

Listening to music can cause of release of dopamine. Oddly, you don’t even have to hear music to get this neurotransmitter flowing — just the anticipation of listening can do that.

Using Your Brain’s Reward System to Balance Dopamine

Dopamine functions as a survival mechanism by releasing energy when a great opportunity is in front of you. Dopamine rewards us when our needs are met. We love dopamine surges because of the way they make us feel. But according to Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning, author of Meet Your Happy Chemicals: Dopamine, Endorphin, Oxytocin, Serotonin, we are not designed to experience a non-stop dopamine buzz. The constant hunt for dopamine boosts can turn you into a “Wolf on Wall Street” — driven by addictions, greed, and lust.

Here are some healthy ways to balance your dopamine by working with your brain’s built-in reward system.

Enjoy the Quest

Our ancestors were on a constant quest to survive. They got a dopamine surge every time they spotted a new patch of berries or a better fishing hole because this meant they’d live to seek another day. While you can still pick berries and fish, there are endless other healthy ways you can enjoy the quest in modern life.

You can forage for new music to download, specialty ingredients to cook with, a travel package bargain, a hard-to-find collector’s item, or that perfect gift for a loved one. You can engage in specifically quest-oriented hobbies like geocaching, bird watching, rockhounding, amateur archaeology, and collecting of all kinds.

The act of seeking and finding activates your reward circuits — with no regrets later.

Create Both Long and Short Term Goals

Dopamine is released when we achieve a goal. Having only long term goals gets frustrating, so set both short term and long term goals. Short term goals don’t have to be anything major. They can be as simple as trying a new recipe, getting caught up on emails, cleaning a closet, or finally learning how to use a new app for your phone.

Break up long term goals into small short term goals to give yourself dopamine boosts along the way.

Take on a New Challenge

Getting a promotion is a great dopamine boost, but this doesn’t happen very often! But you can create your own dopamine rewards by setting a goal, then take small steps toward it every day. This can be starting a new exercise program, learning French, or challenging yourself to drive home from work a different way every day, preferably without the use of your GPS.

According to Dr. Graziano Breuning, working on a goal without fail for 45 days will train your brain to stimulate dopamine production in a new way.

Dopamine and Mental Conditions

Dopamine plays such an important role in how we live our lives, it’s no surprise that when the dopamine system is out of balance it can contribute to many mental conditions.

Some of the most common conditions that have a dopamine connection:

Dopamine and ADHD

The underlying cause of ADHD is still unknown. Until recently it was widely accepted that the root cause of ADHD was probably an abnormality in dopamine function. This seems logical since dopamine is critical for maintaining focus. Most ADHD medications are based on this “dopamine deficiency” theory. Prescription medications used to treat ADHD are believed to work by increasing the release of dopamine and norepinephrine while slowing down their rate of reabsorption.

However, the latest research suggests that the main cause of ADHD lies in a structural difference in the grey matter in the brain and not dopamine.

Dopamine and Depression

Serotonin is the brain chemical most associated with depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro are prescribed for depression and work by increasing brain levels of serotonin. But this only works in about 40% of patients who use them.

What about the other 60%?

There’s a growing body of evidence that shows low dopamine and not low serotonin is the cause of depression for many. Bupropion (brand name Wellbutrin) has proven effective for patients who haven’t been helped by SSRIs by addressing dopamine deficiency.

How to determine if your depression is more likely from serotonin versus dopamine deficiency? Serotonin-based depression is accompanied by anxiety and irritability, while dopamine-based depression expresses itself as lethargy and lack of enjoyment of life.


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Why Falling In Love Clouds Our Judgment

By Professor Kimberly Resnick Anderson

The chemicals of a hopeless romantic.

Love is a many-splendored thing. And falling in love is certainly one of life’s most exquisite experiences.

Falling in love makes people feel optimistic, energetic, and euphoric. All good stuff. But it also clouds our judgment, causing us to make impulsive, something risky decisions. So, what’s really happening to our brains when we fall in love?

Many neurochemical changes unfold as soon as we think we’ve met our “soul mate.” It all begins with Dopamine.

Dopamine activates the “reward center” in the brain and is highly associated with pleasure. The awesomeness of chocolate cake or finding the perfect pair of shoes — Dopamine. The thrill of gambling, using cocaine, playing video games, all Dopamine.

Dopamine — The Pleasure Center

All basic drives are associated with increased levels of Dopamine, including sex. Here’s an interesting fact — Dopamine is activated by novelty.

Anything new (a new person, a new place, a new food) increases Dopamine to varying degrees. So, when you meet a new guy or gal that you find attractive and consider to be a potential sex partner (or life partner) your brain gets of nice blast of Dopamine. In fact, when sex gets stale, I recommend that couples do something novel together to spice things back up. That’s why “vacation sex” is typically considered to be more exciting. It’s because you are in a different environment doing adventurous and novel things.

Serotonin, Obsessive Thoughts

Serotonin is another neurochemical that plays an important role when we fall in love. Have you ever met a potential love interest and you can’t stop thinking about them? You can’t sleep or eat because you are so distracted with thoughts of your new beloved.

Have you felt all-consumed, lost focus, daydreamed? We have serotonin to thank for these obsessive, intrusive thoughts. When you’re preoccupied and distracted and you believe it must be “true love,” try to remember that it might be serotonin playing tricks on you! When we are falling in love, the same parts of our brain light up on an MRI as when we are acutely mentally ill.

We really can be “crazy” in love! So, when you are ready to quit your job and move across the country to move in with someone you met online 3 weeks ago, take a time-out and remember that Serotonin may be distorting your typically sound judgment.

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Norepinephrine — Remembering Every Detail

Another neurochemical being activated when we fall in love is Norepinephrine, which is actually a chemical derived from Dopamine. Norepinephrine increases memory for new stimuli, assisting with euphoric recall.

Have you ever noticed that you can describe every detail of the first night you met your new love interest? The color of her dress, his cologne, the song that was playing when you spotted him, the exact time it was when she walked in the bar? That’s Norepinephrine at work.

This clarity of detail can trick us into thinking that it must be true love. We try to make sense of the intense, powerful feelings. They demand our attention. Sometimes we interpret this intensity as proof of having met our soul mate. I am not saying it isn’t!

I’m just saying we are sometimes overwhelmed by these feelings and this may affect our judgment.

Oxytocin — The Cuddle Chemical

Oxytocin is a key neurochemical involved in falling in love. Oxytocin is known as the “Love hormone,” the “Attachment hormone” and the “Bonding hormone.” It’s activated by all kinds of intimacy, even holding hands or hugging (not just sexual contact).

Try to think back, did a potential love interest inadvertently graze your arm with their hand and it felt like a bolt of electricity? That’s Oxytocin. Oxytocin also activates a sense of calm, satisfaction, and peacefulness. Oxytocin levels increase during breastfeeding.

Any skin to skin contact will activate Oxytocin. You know that “post-coital glow” you experience after sex, that “spring in your step?” That’s Oxytocin. In fact, after an orgasm, Oxytocin levels jump to 5X normal circulating levels and remain elevated for up to 24 hours! Not bad!

Adrenaline — Fight or Flight

Adrenaline is another neurochemical that is activated when we meet someone new that might be “the one.” Have you ever found yourself with a racing heart and sweaty palms when your crush approaches? Has your mouth gone dry when you attempt to speak?

That is Adrenaline flowing through your body. When activated, it can trigger a “fight or flight” response and increase blood levels of Cortisol (a stress hormone). This typically only happens when we are approached by (or near) someone we find attractive or perceive as potential partner (either “long-term”, i.e. forever or “short-term”, i.e. a one-night stand).

So, it’s easy to understand, given all of these physiologic changes, why we convince ourselves that our new partner is perfect for us. We are under the influence of neurochemicals! We are unable to see any of the clay beneath the marble statue.

We have neuochemical blinders on. This exciting, initial stage of love actually has a name. It is called Limerence. It’s defined as the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings.

Keep in mind that the euphoria associated with falling in love starts to fade within 6-12 months; and by 18-24 months, the transcendental experience is virtually gone. This is not to say that we stop loving or valuing our partner, we’re just no longer under the gripping hold of neurochemicals like we were in the blissful beginning. Aahhh, the good ol’ days.