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9 Ways to Promote Gratitude in Your Life

Gratitude is good for us every way you look at it.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California in Riverside, gratitude boosts our happiness levels in a number of ways: by promoting the savoring of positive life experiences; by bolstering self-worth and self-esteem and thereby helping to cope with stress and trauma; by building social bonds and encouraging moral behavior; and by diminishing negative emotions and helping us adjust to new situations.

Gratitude has a number of physical health benefits as well. “Research suggests that individuals who are grateful in their daily lives actually report fewer stress-related health symptoms, including headaches, gastrointestinal (stomach) issues, chest pain, muscle aches, and appetite problems,” says Sheela Raja, PhD, an assistant professor and clinical psychologist in the Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

But how do we get there? For some folks, gratitude is much easier than for others. I, for one, have to work really hard at it because my cup usually appears one-third full. With a few exercises, though, I can become a more grateful person and promote gratitude in my life, which brings many emotional and physical gifts.

1. Go Ahead and Compare
I constantly compare myself to people who are more productive than I am (have more energy and need less sleep), who go to a doctor once a year, and who are resilient to stress. “Why can’t I be like her?” I ask myself. And then I remember Helen Keller’s quote: “Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.”

Her wisdom forces me to go back and remember all the people I know who can’t work at all because of their chronic illnesses, those with unsupportive spouses who don’t understand depression, and the folks I know who can’t afford a monthly pass to Bikram yoga or kale and dandelion greens to make smoothies. Suddenly, my jealousy has turned to gratitude.

2. Write Thank-You Letters
According to University of California at Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, PhD, a powerful exercise in cultivating gratitude is to compose a “gratitude letter” to a person who has made a positive and lasting influence in your life. Dr. Emmons, who also wrote Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, says the letter is especially powerful when you haven’t properly thanked the person in the past, and when you read the letter aloud to the person face-to-face. I do this as part of my holiday cards, especially to former professors or teachers who helped shape my future and inspired me in ways they might not know.

3. Keep a Gratitude Journal
According to Dr. Lyubomirsky, keeping a gratitude journal (in which you record all the things you have to be grateful for once a week) and other gratitude exercises can increase your energy, and relieve pain and fatigue. A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality documented a group of 90 undergraduate students. Divided into two groups, the first wrote about a positive experience each day for two minutes, and the second wrote about a control topic. Three months later, the students who wrote about positive experiences had better mood levels, fewer visits to the health center, and experienced fewer illnesses.

In my daily mood journal, I make a list of each day’s “little joys”: moments that I would fail to appreciate if I didn’t make myself record them, such as a gorgeous, 70-degree day in winter; a supply of dark chocolate; the feeling of exhilaration I have after completing a 90-minute class of Bikram yoga; and an afternoon with only one meltdown from my kids.

4. Ask Yourself These Four Questions
Byron Katie’s bestseller, Loving What Is, is helping me analyze my thinking in a way that is unique to the tools I’ve learned in other self-help books. I am much more aware of the stories I weave in my mind without much analysis as to whether or not they are true. You need to read the book to fully understand her process called “The Work,” but here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

For every problem you’re having, or every negative rumination you can’t let go of, ask yourself these four questions: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? How do you react when you think that thought? Who would you be without that thought?
You have to record the answers on paper for the exercise to be fully effective. After going through the process a few times, I realized the thoughts I had about certain people and events were causing the suffering I had, not the people and events themselves. This enables you to embrace those people and events with gratitude — to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, in general — because you know that they aren’t the problem. Your stories are.

5. Shift Your Language
According to Andrew Newberg, MD, and Mark Robert Waldman, words can literally change your brain. In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, they write, “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” Positive words, like “peace” and “love,” can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in our front lobes and promoting the cognitive functioning of the brain. They propel the motivational centers of the brain into action, explain the authors, and build resiliency.

Lately I’ve been trying to catch myself when profanity or something negative is about to come out of my mouth. I’m not all that good at this, but I definitely believe that words have power, and that by making a few subtle shifts in our language, we can promote gratitude and can generate better health for ourselves.

gratitude

6. Serve
Service promotes gratitude more directly than any other path I know. Whenever I’m stuck in self-pity or depression, feeling personally victimized by the universe, the fastest way out of my head and into my heart is reaching out to someone who is in pain — especially similar pain. That’s the reason I created my online depression support groups Project Beyond Blue and Group Beyond Blue. For five years, I couldn’t get rid of debilitating death thoughts after experimenting with almost every therapy that both traditional and alternative medicine had to offer. By participating in a forum where folks are in more pain than I am — and where I can share my hard-earned insights and resources — I am made aware of the blessings in my life that I had forgotten or simply took for granted.

7. Hang With Positive People
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, including yourself.” Research confirms that. In one study conducted by Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, and James Fowler, PhD, of the University of California in San Diego, individuals who associated themselves with happy people were more likely to be happy themselves.

Another study by psychological scientists Gerald Haeffel, PhD, and Jennifer Hames of the University of Notre Dame, showed that risk factors for depression can actually be contagious when our social environments are in flux. So there’s a better shot of your becoming a more grateful, positive person if you surround yourself with grateful people.

8. Make a Gratitude Ritual
One family I know has a gratitude ritual every night at dinner. After prayers, each person goes around the table saying something positive that happened to him or her that day — one thing for which he or she is grateful. In our home, we’re lucky to get everyone seated without a meltdown, so I’ve filed this exercise for down the road a little — maybe after hormones are stabilized. But I thought it was a really nice way of cultivating gratitude as a family and teaching that value to non-hormonal kids.

9. Try a Loving-Kindness Meditation
In a landmark study published in the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, and her team showed that practicing seven weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased gratitude as well as a host of other positive emotions. The benefits intensified over time, producing a range of other health benefits: increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased symptoms of illness. Sociologist Christine Carter, PhD, with University of California Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center, gives a nice overview of how to do a simple loving-kindness meditation in five minutes a day on her blog. She writes:

Because research demonstrates the incredible power of loving-kindness meditation: No need to be self-conscious when this stuff might be more effective than Prozac. Also called metta, loving-kindness meditation is the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards other people.

 

By Therese J. Borchard
Associate Editor
8 Jul 2018


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This Year, Consider Giving Presence Instead Of Presents

During the holiday season, many of us feel pressure to find our loved ones the “perfect” gift. Why? Because gift-giving has long been considered a prime way to express love. However, recent research suggests that gestures don’t need to be large or have a hefty price tag to feel meaningful. The study, published this summer in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that small acts of kindness, not grand overtures, make people feel most loved and supported.

“Our research found that micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child, or receiving compassion make people feel most loved,” says Dr. Zita Oravecz, a professor in human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University and one of the study’s researchers.

In the study, 495 men and women between the ages of 18 and 93 completed a questionnaire evaluating 60 possible ways that people can feel love. Each question began with, “Most people feel loved when…” The scenarios included situations like spending time with friends, receiving gifts, and spending time in nature. The survey also included negative interactions, like being controlled and criticized by others. Oravecz says the findings highlight the psychological benefits that intimate relationships can offer. In fact, study participants ranked human interaction as a more significant expression of love than receiving material items, like presents. Connecting with others was also rated more highly than getting positive feedback on the internet, indicating that people derive the most support from personal human contact. In fact, other studies suggest more time on social media leads to increased feelings of isolation. Yet despite the findings that spending time with friends and family makes us feel good, during hectic times like the holidays, these social interactions can feel burdensome instead of fulfilling. Fatigued from an overload of shopping, spending, and travel, most Americans describe this time of year as stressful instead of magical. In fact, a telephone survey conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that compared to other times of the year, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men (out of 786 individuals polled) feel more stress during the holidays. In addition, 51 percent of women and 42 percent of men said purchasing and giving gifts added to their distress.

Esther Lui for NPR

Small acts of kindness are what make us feel loved.
 

Any kind of stress can strain relationships and cause us to withdraw from others, but small stressors can be just as trying as larger burdens. A 2015 research study found that daily hassles like working, running errands, and money troubles negatively impact romantic unions, causing people to feel less satisfied and more alone in their relationships. When we’re anxious and fatigued, it can also be more challenging to see someone else’s point of view, which might explain why family feuds seem more likely to arise during the holidays. While prioritizing one’s self-care during the months of November and December may be difficult, adopting a mindset of being present in the moment may help lessen the stress of the season.

“During the holidays, anxiety rises, making it harder to remain present with ourselves and others. However, the power of spending time with another person is a gift we can give at any moment,” says Dr. Carla Naumburg, a mindfulness coach and social worker in Newton, Mass.

While we may associate presence with mindfulness meditation, we don’t need to be Zen masters to create a calmer holiday. Naumburg says we can cultivate presence by cutting back on social media (which helps limit distractions), getting plenty of rest, and taking a pause (and remembering to breathe).

“For everyone, breathing is a small but powerful act that can keep us connected to ourselves by shifting our awareness to the present moment,” she says.

According to The American Institute of Stress, focused breathing elicits the body’s “relaxation response,” slowing one’s heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and helping muscles relax. This physical process aids in repairing an overactive nervous system, helping us to enter a calmer physical and emotional state. Although it can be challenging to forgo doing extra errands during the holidays, Naumburg suggests balancing party planning and online shopping with moments of human connection. Activities like reading to a child, meeting a friend for a walk, or taking a moment to call a family member, are ways to express love and care and can keep us emotionally grounded. While the idea of offering loved ones the gift of our time may pale in comparison to giving them a lavish present, recent empathy research shows shared human experiences can tighten social bonds. Oravecz and her colleagues also found that despite personality differences, most people agree on what makes us feel loved — the presence of our loved ones.

Juli Fraga is a psychologist and writer in San Francisco. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga.
December 9, 2017    JULI FRAGA
 
source: www.npr.org


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Just 10 Minutes of Meditation Boosts Mood and Focus for People With Anxiety

It also prompted a shift away from future-oriented worrying and helped people focus on the present. 

People who suffer from anxiety are often plagued by repetitive thoughts, which can distract from the task at hand and affect mood and productivity. But a new study suggests that just 10 minutes of daily meditation can help reduce episodes of mind wandering, especially for people who report high levels of emotional stress.

Previous research has found that meditation can help prevent “off-task thinking” in healthy individuals, but this study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, aimed to determine the benefits of mindfulness specifically as they relate to anxiety.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo asked 82 college students, all of whom met the clinical criteria for anxiety, to perform a monotonous computer task that measured their ability to stay focused. At random points throughout, the participants were asked to reveal their thoughts “just prior to this moment.”

Then they divided the participants into two groups: One listened to an excerpt from The Hobbit, and the other listened to a 10-minute meditation that instructed them to focus on breathing and “remain open-minded to their experience.” (You can listen to the same recording, called Mindfulness of Body and Breath, here.)

The groups then repeated the computer task. This time, 43 percent of thoughts in the meditation group were considered “mind wandering,” meaning they weren’t related to the task or to things going on around them, down slightly from 44 percent in the pre-test.

In the group that listened to the audio story, the percentage of mind-wandering thoughts actually increased—from 35 percent in the pre-test to 55 percent in the post-test.

The meditation group also reported a significant decrease in “future-oriented thoughts,” from 35 percent before the mindfulness exercise to 25 percent after. This could indicate a shift in thinking from internal worries (about tomorrow’s exam, for example) to things going on around them in the moment (say, a dirty computer monitor or a flickering light), the authors say. That’s important, because stressing about future events is a hallmark of anxiety.

And while meditation didn’t reduce all forms of off-task thinking in the study (like being distracted by external stimuli), it did appear to lessen performance disruptions associated with those thoughts. Both groups also experienced a decrease in negative emotions between the pre-test and the post-test.

“In short, meditation is beneficial in both improving mood and helping people stay focused in their thoughts and also behaviors,” says lead author and PhD student Mengran Xu. “The two do go together.”

Mind wandering accounts for almost half of humans’ daily stream of consciousness, Xu adds. It can cause us to make errors on everyday tasks, like mailing an envelope without its contents, but it’s also been associated with an increased risk of injury and death while driving, difficulties in school, and impaired performance in everyday life.

By Amanda MacMillan        May 3, 2017


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Personal Music Playlists May Reduce Medication Use With Dementia

Nursing home residents with dementia who listen to a personalized music playlist may need less psychotropic medication and have improved behavior, a recent study suggests.

The individualized music program designed for nursing homes, called Music and Memory, didn’t improve mood problems, but patients who listened to music tailored to their tastes and memories did need less anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medication, researchers found.

“Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias can result in aggressive or other difficult behaviors, which affect people’s lives and take a toll on their caregivers,” said lead author Kali Thomas, an assistant professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
“We think that familiar music may have a calming or pleasurable effect and reduce the need for caregivers to use medications to control dementia behaviors,” Thomas told Reuters Health by email.

The potential of this kind of intervention was illustrated in the 2014 documentary “Alive Inside,” which shows nursing home residents with dementia moving, singing and engaging with others while listening to their favorite music, the study team writes in American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

But the effects have never been tested to see if the intervention is evidence-based, the authors write.

To determine what the program accomplishes, the researchers implemented Music and Memory in 98 nursing homes with a total of about 13,000 residents with Alzheimer’s disease or non-Alzheimer’s dementia and followed a roughly equal number of residents with dementia in 98 nursing homes without the program for comparison.

In the Music and Memory program, nursing home staff are trained to create music playlists for residents based on each patient’s personal history and music preferences.

At the start of the study in 2012, the researchers used records to assess patients’ behavioral problems, depressed mood and their use of ant-anxiety and anti-psychotic medications. The same assessments were done in 2013, after the experiment was over.

Among the facilities included in the music program, the typical proportion of residents who discontinued anti-psychotic medications in a six-month period was 17.6 percent prior to the program’s implementation, and rose to 20.1 percent after the program. In the comparison homes without the program, this proportion remained stable at about 15 percent.

Similarly, the proportion of people discontinuing anti-anxiety medications rose from 23.5 percent to 24.4 percent, while in the comparison group discontinuation rates dropped from 25 percent to 20 percent over the same period.

Nursing homes using the music program also reported greater improvements in residents’ behavior. The proportion of residents with reduced dementia-related behavioral problems rose from 51 percent to 57 percent, while the comparison group remained the same.

The cost of the program depends on the size of the facility and ranges from $250 to $1,000 for staff training, plus $200 per year for program support, the authors note. Some participants also receive a “starter kit” including an iPod for their music, or ask family members to provide them with an iPod to use in the program.

The benefits of music for people with dementia go beyond behavior management, said Orii McDermott, a senior research fellow at the University of Nottingham in the UK, who was not involved in the study.

“Sharing favorite music or taking part in music activities offer social opportunities for people with dementia,” said McDermott, adding that social interaction is extremely important because the progression of dementia often leads to isolation.
“For busy care home staff, finding out each resident’s preferred music may feel like a time consuming task,” McDermott said. However, “people with dementia find individualized music interventions meaningful and improve their quality of life – so it will be a time well spent in the long run,” she noted.
“The population of older adults with dementia, in particular those residing in nursing homes, is large and is growing,” Thomas said. “This study suggests that Music and Memory may be one intervention that holds promise.”

By Madeline Kennedy     Fri May 19, 2017     Reuters Health
SOURCE:    bit.ly/2pEIEhN       American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, online April 14, 2017          www.reuters.com


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3 Ways To Practice Living In The Now

If you haven’t read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, you’re missing out. This philosophic and somewhat spiritual book is a game-changer, which is probably why it spent years on the New York Times bestseller list and sold more than 3 million copies in North America alone.

I won’t give away too much here, but the general thesis of the book is that in order to achieve enlightenment, one really has to learn how to live in the now. It sounds simplistic, but Tolle elaborates on the idea to explain how far-reaching the consequences of future- and past-focused thinking actually are.

Whether you’ve read the book or not, you’re probably familiar with the concept of living in the now. It’s heralded as a solution to many of life’s problems, and yet for most of us, being entirely present is an immensely difficult task. If you’re struggling to live in the now, here are five tips for refocusing your thinking and re-immersing yourself in what IS, rather than what has been or what will be.

Focus on Your Breathing

It’s been said over and over again, but focusing on your breathing is a fantastic way to get into the present moment. When you focus intently on your inhales and exhales, you develop an awareness of your body that helps you to feel more rooted in exactly where your body is at this particular point in time. I could get into all the metaphorical reasons that breath is so central to yoga and other spiritual pursuits, but that’d be another article entirely. For now, suffice to say that training your mind to focus on the breath can be absolutely beneficial.

Some techniques to try include breathing up and down the spine (that is, focusing your mental energy along the spine as you inhale and then exhale), inhaling and exhaling in a deliberate, rhythmic manner, and noticing the way air comes into your body cool and leaves it warm.

Get Into Your Body

Have you ever noticed that when you’re forced to focus on a difficult physical task, such as moving a large piece of furniture or racing with a friend, your mind zooms in on the task at hand? This is because these adrenaline-pumping states force us into the now. One can hardly ruminate on past loves while she is focusing all of her attention on staying afloat when her canoe turns over.

Obviously, you don’t want to create dangerous situations for yourself, but difficult physical tasks that require all of your attention are a fabulous resource for jolting you into the now. Pick a favorite type of exercise and, as long as you’re physically able, take it to the next level. This is why yoga and mindfulness are so interrelated. The goal of yoga is to take you into the present moment, where you’re forced to focus on balancing and maintaining your form, and out of the caverns of your mind.

Watch Your Mind

It goes without saying that meditation is closely bound to living in the now. However, it can be very difficult for some people to achieve productive meditation. If you struggle with clearing your mind, try this little trick: Start to look at meditation not as clearing your mind, but watching your mind.

By this, I mean you should learn to observe your thoughts. Sit and meditate as if watching yourself from just above your head (your crown chakra, if you’re into that kind of thing). Learn to observe your brain no matter what happens. If a thought drifts in, take note of it and recognize it immediately. Then consciously let it go.

This extends into your daily life as well. Watch your mind in such a way that each time an angry or toxic thought enters your mind, you can immediately acknowledge it and dismiss it. Over time, this ability will result in healthier relationships, a better self-image, more realistic thinking and a generally more enlightened way of being.

By: Maggie McCracken       March 25, 2017
 
Follow Maggie at @MaggieBlogs
 
source: www.care2.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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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.

happy-chemicals-dopamine-serotonin-endorphin-oxytocin

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.