Our bodies are fascinating machines, working tirelessly to keep us alive and functioning. One of the ways they do this is through the production of various chemicals - called neurotransmitters - which affect our mood, feelings and overall well-being.
Here, we will discuss four key chemicals - dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins - that are essential for us to feel good and live a happy, healthy life.
We will also explore ways to naturally boost these chemicals and the impact of their deficiency on our mental and physical health.
Dopamine: The 'Reward' Chemical
One of the most prominent neurotransmitters that impacts human behaviour is dopamine, which is aptly named the 'reward' chemical.
Dopamine is responsible for making us feel accomplished and satisfied. It also affects our movement, memory and focus, and can be the driving force behind many of our behaviours.
A release of dopamine is an indication to the brain that it was a pleasurable experience and so it is likely to want to experience again.
When we have a healthy dose of dopamine our motivation increases - we’re productive, plan efficiently, driven and attentive. It also helps us be creative and increases our empathy for other people.
It’s that burst of happiness we get when we have completed a task, celebrated a win or worked towards our goals.
However, a deficiency in dopamine can cause our motivation to crash, resulting in a change of emotions and behaviours. This can cause self-esteem issues, anxiety, fatigue, procrastination, lack of focus, brain fog, low energy and lowered sex drive. Extremely low levels of dopamine can result in an inability to gain pleasure from activities previously enjoyed and depression can follow.
A lack of dopamine can cause people to want more of it so they change their behaviours in order to pursue activities that will give them this dopmaine fix. It becomes an issue if the activies they pursue are harmful (e.g drugs or alcohol) or repeated in excess (e.g. gambling, consuming unhealthy foods, gaming, social media scrolling). These can create an unhealthy reward system response in the brain, which can lead to addictive behaviours and addictions.
How to Naturally Increase Dopamine
Trying something new
Listen to feel-good music
Move your body and get the blood pumping
Celebrating a win (no matter how small!)
Working towards a goal
Serotonin: The 'Feel Good' Chemical
Next, we have serotonin, the 'good mood' chemical. It is found in many parts of the body including the digestive system, blood platelets and throughout the central nervous system.
Serotonin is mainly produced in the gut and is involved in regulating many of our bodily functions including our social behaviour, appetite, healing, digestion, sleep, and even memory.
It also plays a big role in regulating our mood and anxiety levels.
In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, we talk A LOT about serotonin and I often refer to the ‘3Ps’ - Positive Action, Positive Interaction and Positive Thinking - to get our daily boosts of serotonin.
Lack of serotonin can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, low mood, insomnia, low self-esteem and depression.
One of the most common prescribed type of antidepressant medication is known as an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), which aims to increase serotonin levels in the brain by blocking its reuptake. The hope is that more serotonin will be available to pass messages between nearby nerve cells.
Common forms of SSRIs include: Citalopram, Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Sertraline.
However, antidepressants are not for everyone. Many people want a more natural way of dealing with their anxiety and some find that SSRIs are not effective or they experience negative side effects such as an increase in anxiety, reduced sex drive, indigestion and change in appetite.
How to Naturally Boost Serotonin
Being in nature
Catching up with friends
Sunlight exposure (ideally first thing in the morning)
Noticing the good things around you
Oxytocin: The 'Love' Chemical
Oxytocin, often referred to as the 'love' chemical, is known for its role in social bonding, sexual reproduction, childbirth and the period after childbirth.
This chemical enhances feelings of trust, empathy and bonding in relationships.
It’s typically linked to that warm, fuzzy feeling you experience when you’re in the company of, or thinking about, someone you love - pets count too!
On the downside, deficiencies in oxytocin can lead to feelings of loneliness, disconnection, stress, anxiety, low energy and post-partum depression.
How to boost Oxytocin Naturally
Cuddles and physical touch with someone we love
Listening to our favourite music
Giving and recieving compliments
Endorphins: The Pain Reliever
Last but not least, we have endorphins - our body's natural pain relievers. These chemicals are produced in our brain and act as messengers in our body.
Endophins are released when our body feels pain or stress. They interact with the receptors in our brain to reduce our perception of pain by blocking the nerve cells that receive the pain signals. This triggers a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine.
Research has shown that endophins help in a number of ways, including relieving stress and anxiety; boosting our self-image, contributing to weight loss and easing pain in childbirth.
A deficiency in endorphins can lead to aches and pains, mood swings, impulsive behaviour, sleep issues, anxiety, depression and even addiction.
How to Increase Endorphins
Exercise (think ‘Runner’s high’ - although you don’t have to necessarily run to get endophins, any form of exercise that you enjoy will work!)
Eating dark chocolate
Watching a funny movie
The Impact of Deficiencies
Deficiencies in these chemicals can lead to a range of mental and physical health issues, including anxiety, depression, mood swings, low energy, and more. It is, therefore, crucial to engage in activities that naturally boost these chemicals.
It's also important to remember that while these activities can help increase these chemicals, they're not a substitute for professional help if you're dealing with mental health issues. Always reach out to a healthcare professional if you're feeling unwell.
If you would like to know more about how Hypnotherapy you can naturally boost these feel good chemicals so you can feel happy, healthier and more in control of your mind and body, then get in touch by clicking here.
Remember, your well-being matters, and understanding how your body works is a vital step towards a happier, healthier life.