If you’re happy and you know it, raise your hand! The chemicals that are released in your brain have the power to control our mood—taking us from grumpy to elated within a span of just a few minutes. For those of you who have ever completed an intense workout, you're probably familiar with the rush of endorphins that come over you and leave you on cloud nine.
We all want to feel as cheerful as we can as often as possible. Thankfully, you can participate in activities that are already enjoyable on their own but also benefit your brain throughout the day:
1. Try music therapy.
All of us have a favorite band or song that just resonates with us in a special way. We connect with it on a deeper level and find the mix of beats and instruments so pleasurable that we can listen to it on repeat. According to a study published in Nature Neuroscience, dopamine is actually released in the brain when you are listening to music that you particularly enjoy—almost reinforcing the enjoyable experience of the song.
2. Indulge in aromatherapy.
Essential oils are as popular as ever for any (and all!) of your wellness needs. It has been shown1 that lavender essential oil actually produces a calming effect similar to anti-anxiety medications like lorazepam, which work by stimulating serotonin production. This neurotransmitter is actually produced in the gut, also known as your "second brain," and is responsible for regulating your mood. Low levels have been linked2 to increased levels of anxiety and depression, so place a few drops of each in your diffuser at work or home for a constant stream of feel-good hormones.
Who doesn’t love a good joke? Well, the more you laugh, the more endorphins you release. Typically, endorphins are released through physical activity such as exercise, but when you laugh, your abdominal muscles contract, and it causes endorphin production as well. So learn to find the humor in your everyday life by surrounding yourself with comedic friends, watching yet another cat video on YouTube, or even attending a comedy show!
4. Go adaptogenic.
These natural herb and plant medicines have been used for centuries but are finally getting their turn in the spotlight in the mainstream wellness world. Certain adaptogens are used to target specific areas of your health that need a boost, and brain health is no exception. Mucuna pruriens contains the dopamine precursor L-DOPA, which is able to increase dopamine through crossing the blood-brain barrier. In addition, rhodiola also helps support dopamine by keeping your levels stabilized. Keep these on hand and add to your morning smoothie to start your day off on a high note!
5. Have more sex.
Oxytocin, often referred to as the "love hormone," is a neurotransmitter released by your brain's pituitary gland. This hormone peaks in both partners during orgasm and is so powerful that studies have actually shown it increases bonding in couples.
6. Light therapy.
The winter days give us ample time indoors to cozy up and get our hygge on. But with more time indoors comes less time out in the sun. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can leave us feeling lethargic and depressed. SERT levels (serotonin transporters) are higher in the winter causing serotonin levels to be low, which leave many to feel just plain sad. Blue-light therapy boxes are great for boosting serotonin when getting outside isn’t an option.
7. Hit the snooze button.
As if you need one more reason to stay in bed a little longer, dopamine signals your body to wake up and bring down levels of your sleep hormone, melatonin. This system only works with properly functioning receptors and studies have shown that lack of sleep corresponds to a decrease in the wakefulness D2 receptor. So those feelings of sluggishness throughout the day can be blamed not only on fewer hours of sleep but what that specifically does to your dopamine levels.
8. Turn up the heat.
Pass the peppers, hot sauce, and jalapeños: the hotter the better. Capsaicin, the chemical found in spicy foods is responsible for the burning sensation you feel after eating any of these fiery foods. Your body recognizes this heat as pain and releases endorphins to help you cope until the intensity subsides.
9. Increase your protein.
The amino acid tyrosine found in protein sources like meat and fish is needed to make DOPA, which is then converted to dopamine in the body. Support the production of this neurotransmitter by including enough tyrosine-containing foods in your diet. This nutrient is particularly high in grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, and tuna as well as cage-free organic eggs. For those who are not big meat eaters, you can still get this in through seeds, nuts, and legumes.
10. Keep learning.
If you've been putting off learning a new language, trying a new recipe, or perfecting a new song on the guitar—now is the time. Dopamine is associated with being rewarded, and when we learn something new and feel accomplished, dopamine is released3, acting as motivation to keep moving forward with that new skill. When activities are too easy or too hard, we aren’t as satisfied, so make sure to pick activities that provide just enough of a challenge.
Want to learn a new skill? Check out our 14-Day Meditation Challenge.
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian,The Inflammation Spectrum, and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.