A focus on ‘feel good’ hormones
What on earth are ‘feel good’ hormones, you might wonder?
Well, as the name implies, they are the hormones that make you feel good and help us maintain a healthy mental state. But what exactly are they and how do they have this power to influence our physiological health?
Our hormones are essentially chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream and deliver signals to the brain that affect different bodily processes, including mood. There are four hormones in particular that help to promote feelings of happiness and joy:
• Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for giving us pleasurable sensations. It also helps us strive and find things interesting.
• Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and also helps us sleep, learn and remember things.
• Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the love hormone and promotes bonding, trust and empathy.
• Endorphins are a natural pain reliever produced in response to stress or discomfort. Levels also increase when taking part in reward-producing activities, such as eating or exercising.
How can you support the production of feel-good hormones?
Cuddle a dog! Oxytocin levels have been shown to increase as a result of cuddling a dog1 – as if you needed an excuse! It doesn’t have to be your dog either, so if you don’t have a dog, cuddle a friend’s.
Yoga and mindfulness. Studies have suggested that certain practices which naturally reduce stress and anxiety – such as yoga – are great for our physiological health as they help to release endorphins and support the production of oxytocin.2
Enjoying music. Other studies have shown that listening to music you find pleasurable can help increase the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin and oxytocin. One such study measured the oxytocin levels of a group of singers after they had a singing lesson and found that, in addition to reports of feeling more content, their oxytocin levels had all increased.3
Exercise. Increasing your heart rate by taking part in any form of exercise will promote a positive feeling, which is because exercise has been shown to release endorphins.4
Get some sun. We don’t mean stay outside long enough to burn, but studies have shown that just 10-15 minutes of daily exposure to natural sunlight can raise your levels of both serotonin and endorphins.5
Consider supplements. While further studies are needed, there are certain supplements that have been linked to the production of certain happiness hormones. Green tea and probiotics, for example, are thought to promote the release of dopamine and serotonin.
Focus on sleep. While sleep might not directly increase feel good hormones, a lack of it can decrease the balance of dopamine, which can result in a more negative mood. To ensure a healthy mental state throughout the day, try to maintain a regular bedtime schedule.
Being happy is a wonderful feeling and one that we all strive for. Life can sometimes deal us a bad hand, but by concentrating on these ways of increasing our happiness hormones naturally, we’re giving ourselves the best chance of dealing with life’s challenges. If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to go and give a dog a cuddle!