Our feelings, whether they are of well being, joy and peace or whether they are of grief, depression and anger – are all regulated by hormones and neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that communicate information between the brain and body. They relay signals between the neurons or nerve cells. These important chemicals interact with receptors located throughout the brain and the body to regulate a wide variety of processes including emotions, fear, pleasure, joy, anger, mood and the perception of pain. Emotional intelligence lies in our ability to become aware of our inner state and understand how to make our emotions work for us, rather than allowing them to rule over our minds.
There are many chemicals that influence our feelings but they can be narrowed down to four main neurotransmitters which play an important role in feeling a sense of well being or happiness:
Dopamine – drives our brains reward system and its production is increased when we seek out ways to find pleasure or when we achieve an objective or goal.
Oxytocin – also known as the love hormone is directly linked to human bonding and increasing trust and loyalty.
Serotonin – commonly addressed as the confidence molecule, it increases feelings of worthiness and creates a sense of belonging
Endorphin – also known as “runners high”, its release has been shown to increase happiness, allowing people to handle extreme stress and pain, decrease hunger, and increase the immune response.
Each one of the above chemicals can be activated by making minor alterations to our lifestyles. Listed below are some ways to increase the production of these neurotransmitters naturally and without much effort:
- Indulge in physical activity – it is a well documented fact that activity of any kind increases the release of endorphins. You can choose to run, walk, do yoga or even dance to elevate the feel good factor. A sedentary lifestyle is one of the primary causes of depression.
- Spend time with loved ones – exchanging information, holding hands, cuddling, all these little interactions help in increasing the production of oxytocin. Get yourself a cat or a dog if you find yourself feeling alone
- Bask in sunlight at every given opportunity – exposure to bright sunlight activates melatonin which in turn helps regulate sleep/waking rhythms and also aids in the production of serotonin
- Eat carbohydrates, spicy foods, chocolate, nuts and seeds as all these have the ability to increase the amount of happy hormones circulating in our bodies.
- Indulge in aromatherapy – smells have a profound effect on feelings. Scents such as vanilla, lavender and rose are universally liked and are known to bring about a feeling of security and comfort. Pick a perfume of your choice and wear it often to feel good about yourself. Light aromatherapy candles or agarbathis around your house to help create a calm ambience.
- Laugh and cry without inhibition – laughter is known to increase production of the happy hormone but even crying helps. When you feel the urge to have a good cry, do so by all means as the body produces a rush of endorphins soon after you stop crying. This is the reason for the feeling of catharsis and relief we all feel upon letting the tears flow.
- Get a massage – take advantage of the power of touch. Even a basic foot massage helps reduce stress levels as cortisol is replaced by serotonin and dopamine.
- Smile – the brain does not know the difference between the real and the imaginary. Smile even when you do not feel like smiling and the brain will be fooled into producing more of the feel good hormones based on the muscle movement in your face.
- Listen to music – the power of sound is immense. It can take you to the heights of ecstasy or the depths of despair. Always surround yourself with sounds that suit you and play music which appeals to you. Sufi music, chants, popular songs – anything that works to make you feel better.
- Master new skills – learn an unfamiliar language or start to play an instrument or even just learn to crochet or play a new board game. The brain loves nothing more than a new challenge.
- Practice gratitude – the best prayer we can offer is to just be grateful for what life has given us. Expressing gratitude fills us with a positivity which results in a flood of feel good hormones.
The Vedas talk about how our basic nature is one of “Satchidananda” or eternal bliss. By making small shifts in our daily choices and by being mindful of our conscious behavior, it is possible to improve our brain chemistry, and in turn feel better about ourselves and the world around us and motivate ourselves towards achieving our highest human potential.
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