How to Boost your Happy Hormones for a Better Mood (Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins, Oxytocin)
Sometimes in life, bad or unfortunate things happen. That's just the way life is. However, you always want to look on the bright side and be happy about it. Let's find out what hormones are responsible for our happiness and how to boost them, and our mood.
Hormones are chemical substances that act like messenger molecules in the body. Produced by the endocrine system, these messengers molecules send messages to various parts of the body to help regulate your body’s processes, like hunger, blood pressure, and sexual desire. Although hormones flow through the whole body, they only affect certain cells designed to receive their messages.
Many hormones respond to changes in thoughts and feelings. One of the important functions of hormones is to regulate your mood. Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins, and Oxytocin are the quartet of hormones responsible for your happiness, positive feelings, and pleasure.
Both a hormone and a neurotransmitter, dopamine plays a major part of the brain’s reward system. It is widely known as “feel good” hormone. Most people associate dopamine with pleasurable sensations. However it is also linked to reward, motivation, learning, memory, attention, and motor system function.
High levels of dopamine creates a strong feeling of pleasure and reward, which motivates you to repeat a specific behaviour whereas low levels of dopamine is linked to self-doubt, procrastination, and lack of enthusiasm for things that would excite most people.
Break goals down into smaller attainable ones that do not seem too far away and are more achievable in the short term. A series of small goals allows frequent dopamine release that keeps you motivated to continue taking action towards your actual big goal, and gives you a surge of reinforcing pleasure whenever you achieve them and check off your list. Make sure you actually celebrate. It does not have to be anything extravagant, such as having a delicious meal at your favourite restaurant, or a game of bowling with friends.
If you are in a team or a group for school project, sending them encouraging text or emails when they complete a certain task could give them some dopamine-hit that increases motivation and productivity to continue on.
Also both a hormone and a neurotransmitter, serotonin regulates the mood as well as sleep, appetite, and digestion. When your serotonin levels are normal, you feel happier, calmer , more focused, less anxious and more emotionally stable.
A lack of serotonin results in loneliness and depression. This is also why most antidepressants focus on serotonin production. Someone who has low serotonin level is also more prone to joining gangs or has unhealthy attention-seeking behaviour.
If you need a serotonin boost, you can reflect on your past achievements. It allows your brain to re-live the experience and produce serotonin since the brain cannot tell the difference between the past and the future, the real and the imagined. Therefore gratitude practises are useful as they serve as reminders and mental pictures to all the good things you have experienced in the past. Examples include:
Journaling about things for which to be grateful
Thinking about someone for whom you are grateful
Writing/sending a letter to someone for whom you are grateful
Meditating on gratitude (present moment awareness)
Undertaking the “Count Your Blessings” exercise (at the end of the week, writing down three things for which you were grateful)
Practicing saying “thank you” in a sincere and meaningful way
Writing thank you notes
If religious, praying about your gratitude
Exposure to sunlight boost the production levels of serotonin. Stop staying indoors. Go outdoors and soak in sunlight while appreciating nature. It does not have to be troublesome and long. Just start with 10 to 15 minutes in your neighbourhood or park. If you are going for a long hike, you may want to consider some sunscreen. The average person does not have enough Vitamin D, and worse still if they do not consume a supplement.
Serving as a natural form of pain reliever, your body produces endorphins in response to stress or discomfort, which also helps to alleviate anxiety. Similar to morphine, endorphins also act as an analgesic and sedative, diminishing the perception of pain.
Endorphin levels increase when engaging in reward-producing activities such as eating, working out, or having sex. The euphoric “runners high” is one such example.
Apart from exercise, laughter is another way to induce the release of endorphins. In 2017, a small study of 12 healthy males showed the correlation between social laughter and increased endorphin levels.
I am sure you have heard of the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Attend a comedy show, taking your sense of humour to your friends and laughing at each other jokes, and sharing that funny video are great ways to keep your endorphins flowing.
Known as the “love hormone”, the release of oxytocin promotes intimacy, trust and bonding in relationships. Oxytocin increases fidelity, and is the glue that binds together healthy relationships. It is released by men and women during orgasm, and essential for childbirth, breastfeeding, and strong parent-child bonding.
You can increase oxytocin levels through acts of physical affection such as kissing, cuddling, and sex. A simple way is to give someone a hug when they are feeling down. Studies have shown that interactions between human and animals releases oxytocin too. Therefore, if you have a cute pet, petting and cuddling it works!
Since most activities raises the levels of two or more happy hormones combined, below are other activities and ways that can boost them.
Cooking a Meal
Preparing and cooking a meal with someone, especially a loved one, boost oxytocin levels as you guys bond, while enjoying the cooked delicious meal triggers the release of dopamine and endorphins.
According to a 2016 research, massage has shown to increase both endorphins and oxytocin levels and decrease childbirth pains of 100 pregnant women. Another study also shows that serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy.
You can get massage from a licensed massage therapist or even a playful one by your loved one will give you extra oxytocin.
Insufficient or poor quality of sleep can impact your mood and physical health negatively, due to a hormonal imbalance, particularly dopamine. Getting sufficient sleep of 7-9 hours a night will result in hormonal restoration. Avoid caffeine, blue lights from phone and computers close to bedtime, and keeping a regular wake-sleep cycle can help improve your quality of sleep.
Diet & Supplement
I am someone who prioritises having a well-balanced and healthy diet over supplements. But sometimes, due to our hectic lifestyle, you need to supplement whatever nutrition your diet lacks in.
While harmful gut bacteria have been shown to decrease dopamine production, probiotics have the ability to increase it, which may boost mood. Studies of probiotics have been shown to increase both serotonin and dopamine levels in mice. For natural food sources, you can go to fermented products like yoghurt of kefir.
The active ingredient in turmeric, known as curcumin, comes in capsule, tea, extract, and powdered forms. Research has shown curcumin to have an antidepressant effect, which boost serotonin and dopamine levels.
For natural food sources, you can grind the turmeric root or just buy curcumin powder and sprinkle a little over your dishes. Beware though, it can colour your food orange, but the taste is not that noticeable. Bonus tip: Adding a small amount of black pepper (1/20 of a teaspoon) will increase its absorption rate.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish contains 2 types of omega-3 fatty acids namely Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA/DHA is important for the human brain and has been linked to improved mental health. It has an influence on dopamine regulation. This study shows that a fish-oil enriched diet resulted in 40% higher dopamine levels in the frontal cortex of rats.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 2 servings of fish per week that is high in omega-3s such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna. There are many different types of fish but try to go for fish with low mercury levels like salmon.
However, if you are unable to consume sufficient fish either due to cost or the fishy taste of it, I would suggest you consider a supplement like this. Since everyone requirements for fish oil differs, a minimum of 500mg to an upwards of 5000mg of EPA+DHA is safe for daily consumption by adults.
Most people probably know green tea for its antioxidant-rich properties and fat-burning capabilities. However, green tea also contains an amino acid, L-theanine which increases brain serotonin, dopamine, GABA levels and has micromolar affinities for AMPA, Kainate and NMDA receptors.
Green tea also contains a stimulant known as caffeine. The good news is the caffeine levels found in green tea is one-fifth that of coffee. Hence, you will not feel the jittery effects caused by the high levels of caffeine in coffee. This research has shown that caffeine activates noradrenaline neurons and seems to affect the local release of dopamine. Many of the alerting effects of caffeine may be related to the action of the methylxanthine on serotonin neurons. L-theanine and caffeine work hand-in-hand to give a synergistic effect in improving brain function.
Personally, I enjoy drinking my packet Pokka Green Tea that is low in sugar. A healthier option would be to go for those green tea sachet with just water, no sugar added.
Stress is everywhere and something that everyone experiences from time to time. A little stress is also beneficial to push you to become a better version of yourself. However, regular stress or dealing with high stressful events can reduce your serotonin and dopamine production. This can negatively affect your health and mood, causing a downward spiral and making it even harder to manage stress.
Ways to manage stress include: physical activity, social interaction, laughter, and meditation. Either of this will not only decrease your stress, but also boost your happy hormones.
What are your favourite activities to boost your 4 happy hormones? Comment below!