Sometimes, when we are on the spiritual path we can forget about the basics! I remember teaching a retreat a few years back and one of my beautiful sisters offered to speak into the topic ‘How to stimulate the happy chemicals in your brain’. Myself and the other ladies found it most beneficial. Very simple, yet very profound! If we want to feel good about ourselves naturally, and feel more relaxed and at peace, consciously stimulating the happy chemicals is a huge help. By bringing our attention to boosting our serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin levels, we increase our energy and are able to feel more joy, ease and power within.
In last week’s blog “Daily Practices to Shift Stress – Part One” I described the six primitive stress responses (flight, fright, fight, freeze, fall, feign) and how important it is to know how to bring yourself back into a state of ease and create safety for yourself. The way to de-stress our bodies and return to our ease is by engaging our physical relaxation responsesto create a state of rest and digest. This week I will share some ways to stimulate the “happy chemicals” in your brain in order to create this state.I hope this little guide helps you.
STIMULATE THE HAPPY CHEMICALS IN YOUR BRAIN
Often, we are trying to stimulate happy chemicals unconsciously through drugs, power struggles, competition, comparison, vying for attention, social media, coffee, sugar etc. One of the reasons social media has become so rampant in our culture, is because it boosts serotonin. Getting “likes” on social media is an attempt to affirm oneself.
There are 3 happy chemicals:
- Dopamine helps us create heaven on earth;
- Serotonin gives us the confidence to influence and lead others;
- Oxytocin allows us to give and receive support and create community.
1. DOPAMINE (EMBRACE A NEW GOAL)
Reward triggers dopamine, so it moves us forward toward a goal that is rewarding. When a lioness approaches a gazelle, her dopamine surges and the energy she needs for the hunt is released. Your ancestors released dopamine when they found a water hole – the good feeling surged before they actually sipped the water. Just seeing signs of a water hole increases dopamine levels. Just smelling a gazelle increases dopamine levels. The expectation of a reward triggers a good feeling in the mammal brain and releases the energy you need to reach the reward. Therefore, it’s so important to reward yourself when you achieve your goals.
Other ways to boost dopamine: Hydration, sleep, focused walking, achieving goals, lists of things to do that can be ticked off, competitive sport, high energy activities, exercise.
Someone with high dopamine is very masculine in nature, focused, in touch with their desire, goal oriented, determined, primal and moves forward.
Confidence triggers serotonin. Monkeys try to one-up each other because it stimulates their serotonin. People often do the same. This behaviour we’ve inherited rewards social dominance and you enjoy the good feeling of serotonin when you feel respected by others. Your brain seeks more of that feeling by repeating behaviours that triggered it in your past. The respect you got in your youth paved neural pathways that tell your brain how to get respect today. Sometimes people seek it in ways that undermine their long-term well-being like through competition and comparison. Bitching, judging others and social media are all ways to unconsciously try to boost serotonin. “Who am I better than? How can I put someone else down, so that I go “up” in the pecking order? How many more likes and followers do I have compared to someone else?”
If we are on purpose and living our passion, ticking off our action lists and setting realistic, achievable goals, we are boosting serotonin much more authentically and will not need approval from strangers but rather attract genuine respect from the community.
Other ways to boost serotonin: Power stomping, sharing your gifts, movement, writing a list every day of what you are doing well at and focusing on your “wins” rather than your losses, eating pineapple and bananas, pranayama, breathing, healthy food, sleep, hydration.
Someone with high serotonin is ok with who they are, powerful, influential and has a high sense of self-worth and esteem.
3. OXYTOCIN (BUILD TRUST AND CONNECTION CONSCIOUSLY)
Trust and connection triggers oxytocin. When mammals herd, their brain releases oxytocin. Reptiles generally do not like the company of others, so it’s not surprising that they only release oxytocin during sex. Social bonding also helps mammals protect their young from predators; we are born to live in community and in tribe. Many people are living and working in isolation today which plummets their oxytocin.
Sometimes trust may be betrayed and trusting someone who is not trustworthy is not good for your survival. When your trust is betrayed your brain paves neural pathways to guide you to withhold trust in the future. But if you withhold trust all the time, you deprive yourself of oxytocin. You can stimulate it by building trust consciously, allowing yourself to be held and building community.
Other ways to boost oxytocin: Eye contact, touch, looking after children and pets, dancing, making love, hugging, kissing, giving without expectation, service, gratitude and anything that opens the heart! Boosting oxytocin also elevates dopamine and serotonin!
Someone with high oxytocin has a very open heart, connects, nurtures, creates safety, practices compassion and kindness, is caring, sensual and affectionate.
PRACTICES TO BUILD THE HAPPY CHEMICALS
MOVEMENT (Serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin)
Moving your body (and breathing in and out nice and deeply) through exercise, yoga, dance, lovemaking and self-pleasuring, releases feel-good, stress relieving chemicals (such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin). Every time you find your stress level on the rise, take a break from what you are doing, or the conversation you are having and get up and move. There is a ‘Mastery and Purpose: Work Breaks‘ playlist (Spotify: Chantelle Raven), which was specifically designed to raise your serotonin and dopamine levels. Put on this playlist and move your body! Shake, exercise, stretch, dance, touch your body – have fun! Doing so will get your blood and energy flowing, boost your joy and confidence, and turn off your flight or fight stress response. You can also put on the ‘Ignite you Power: Daily‘ playlist (Spotify: Chantelle Raven), and have a good shake!
INTIMACY AND JOY (Oxytocin)
Consciously bringing intimacy, hugs, joy, fun and laughter into your life is an amazing form of medicine for stress. Next time you are stressed, try creating some space for intimacy and fun – make light of a situation, receive a hug and let yourself smile. Research shows there are massive short-term and long-term benefits from hugging, smiling and laughing. Short-term benefits include relieving your stress response and soothing tension. Long-term benefits include improving your immune system, relieving pain, increasing personal satisfaction and improving your mood.
While many people turn to pharmaceuticals to deal with stress and anxiety, it may be worth looking to nature first. Essential oils are a wonderful tool that can help to calm down the nervous system when paired with other stress-relief techniques in this blog. When we inhale the aroma of an essential oil, it immediately kicks our body into action as its molecules travel through the olfactory system into our brain. From there, it can directly affect the many bodily reactions and systems, including emotions, memory, blood pressure and heart rate, breathing, hormones, and stress. One simple whiff of a concentrated essential oil can almost instantaneously trigger our bodies into action, causing the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
Listening to music for focus and relaxation decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, which counteracts the effects of chronic stress.
I hope these suggestions can help you access a greater state of rest and digest and bring you out of stress into relaxation.