We’re at the time of year when there’s a lot of joy in our midst and many feel as though they’re on a high. Christmas cheer, New Year’s Eve’s build up excitement and the thrill of a ‘fresh start’ as we bid 2021 goodbye.
However, after the novelty and the euphoria of the festive season wears off, we might feel a bit of a slump. A ‘what next?’. What goes up, must come down – and this applies to even the happiest people.
We all have ‘happy chemicals’ as Dr Michaela of @myeasytherapy calls them. Of course, actually being able to access them, and some people’s brains not producing enough of them is an entirely separate conversation.
No one can be happy 24/7, which is why it’s so important to check up on the people in your life who may seem as though they’re always running on sunshine. And, for those of us who know we might be in a bit of a slump post-festive season, it’s also important that we get the good guys flowing in small, healthy ways.
While these recommendations are not going to turn you into an eternal ray of sunshine, they will likely make you feel a little better on the days you feel like a grey cloud at Dr. Michaela’s recommendation.
The four main ‘happy chemicals’ are: Serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphin.
As per Brian Tomkinson, this is what they are each connected to :
- Serotonin is connected to pride, loyalty, and recognition. You feel it when you perform acts of kindness, or simply notice and take pride in the good things you and your loved ones do.
- Dopamine is linked to motivation and reward when you complete a task, eat good food, or achieve a goal.
- Oxytocin flows when we feel love and friendship and spend time with people we care about.
- Endorphins are released through persistence and feats of strength when you engage in vigorous physical activity, push your limits or experience intense sensations.
Here are some ways to unlock your happy chemicals:
- Listening to music
When you listen to music the production of serotonin in your brain increases from cell to cell and certain music has an energizing effect, so your mood will naturally improve. Of course, choose your songs with ‘feel-good’ or uplifting beats in mind. As tempting as it might be to listen to your ‘in my feels’ playlist on the days you aren’t feeling 100-per cent, it’s all-important to try to create the energy you’d like to be in (ie: a happy space) versus the energy you’re feeling in the present.
Meditation is the age-old advice for a calm state of mind, being, and uptake in serotonin production.
Here are some meditation tips, specially curated for Capetonians.
- Walking in nature
When we step outside and relish in the fact that we are all a part of something bigger, there’s a sort of weight lifted from our minds. Breathing in fresh air is known for boosting serotonin as it can raise oxygen levels in our brains which in turn increase serotonin production.
- Sun Exposure
Sunlight is so good for our serotonin levels that a study once showed that the surge of feel-good hormones can actually trigger an addictive-like behaviour, this is according to a 2014 study done on mice by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
People often get self-care confused with pampering. In reality, self-care is not about spa days or indulging in a glass of wine or two, but rather about taking care of yourself. I read once that self-care has a lot to do with adjusting one’s focus to what will feel good later, not just in the moment. Ie: eating veggies instead of Mc Donalds. When we truly take care of ourselves, we feel an added boost of reward and achievement.
Some self-care basics to boost your dopamine levels are:
- Completing tasks
- Eating good food
- Celebrating wins/ small victories
- Getting enough sleep
- Hugging a loved one
Ever wondered why you usually feel better after a hug? There’s a science to the sense of comfort, and it’s all to do with the oxytocin it releases.
- Deep conversations
A good old DMC (deep meaningful conversion) where we feel understood or with someone close to us, provides a sense of connection, raising our oxytocin levels. If you have that one person in your life you know you can talk to about anything, it might be time to give them a call.
- Playing with animals
If you have pets (that you can touch and know want to be touched) giving them a little cuddle or some extra TLC is a great way to feel better, as anyone who’s come home to their animals after a long hard day of being human can attest to. Spending time with dogs, in particular, is known for lowering stress levels too.
- Giving compliments
Positive comments, especially when we give them, produce positive chemicals like oxytocin. Sometimes making someone else’s day can make yours too.
Endorphin production and stress relief from laughter is no joke. Find whoever, or whatever gives you the giggles (TikTok, your hilarious neighbour or the TV show you know cracks you up every time (shoutout to The Office) and let yourself enjoy some well-deserved laughs.
One of the first things people trying to get you to exercise will say is: ‘you’ll feel good afterwards,’ which is actually true thanks to the endorphin release exercise stimulates. As it is with self-care, it might not feel good in the moment, but the aftermath will have you feeling better, and in a different mindset from when you started.
Cocoa has a superpower, and that power is that it releases endorphins. Obviously, this doesn’t mean chocolate all-day-everyday should be your go-to pick-me-up, (sugar highs and lows are very real experiences) but a little nugget of chocolatey happiness can go a long way for your brain.
- Spicy Food
When you eat something spicy, receptors in your mouth and nose react as though you were facing the sun’s heat. So your body reacts the same way when you enjoy a spicy treat – with a little pain and sweat, and behold, endorphins are released both ways.