The Covid-19 global pandemic has changed the way most of us live our lives. While we maneuver our way through month after month of new restrictions, it’s taken a toll on many people’s mental health. The way we used to live our day-to-day lives has changed drastically and although it is hard to keep up, stay positive as there are many things you can do to boost your mood and mental wellness at home.
It’s important to understand that there’s a beautiful quartet of brain chemicals that boost your “happiness” in a day, these include: serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins (a personal fav).
So, what can you do today to boost your happiness brain chemicals?
Well, many situations cause these chemicals to be released and flow through your body, however there are ways for you to naturally increase this flow, so let’s get to it!
Serotonin is known as the “happiness chemical” and is a neurotransmitter that affects many functions in the body and brain. One scientific theory is that serotonin helps regulate stress and anxiety and may also promote patience and the ability to cope. Serotonin is responsible for good mood, happiness, well-being, better sleep and regulation of digestion.
Seems pretty important right now, right?
There is a lot of research on how to boost serotonin levels naturally but we won’t get into the nitty gritty of that research in this article (it’s just too much). The important thing for you to know is that low levels of serotonin are often seen in people with anxiety and depression so it’s important to boost serotonin levels today and reap the rewards of this incredible chemical.
Serotonin levels are affected by stress, exercise and sunlight.
There are many simple ways to boost serotonin levels and increase its flow, these include (but are not limited to):
- Moderate exercise for 30+ minutes
- Get outside and feel the sun on your face
- Eat food that includes tryptophan (hello, turkey dinner!)
- Practice mindfulness and gratitude
Dopamine is known as the “pleasure chemical” and it has a major role in our feelings of pleasure and reward. Dopamine acts as a motivator to take action towards achieving a goal and rewards you with a boost of pleasure when you achieve them. In short, dopamine helps us release the energy we need to get the rewards we want.
It’s a big ‘ol surge of pleasure in response to achievement.
To increase the flow of dopamine, you can try the following:
- Set small, manageable and achievable goals and “baby step” your way to a larger goal. Each time you achieve one of your “baby step” goals, you’ll get a dose of dopamine
- Celebrate little wins every day
- Eat foods that have high levels of dopamine (e.g.banana, avocado, plantains)
Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone”, the “cuddle hormone” and is considered to be a “bonding” chemical. It’s that hormone in your body that fills you with warmth and ooey gooey feelings of adoration and love. The release of oxytocin creates trust and strengthens relationships.
Touch is one of the keys to releasing oxytocin in your body. So, while hugging and touch is restricted during the pandemic, you’ll need to find different ways to get this hormone flowing through your body.
To increase the release of oxytocin, you can can try the following:
- Hug the people in your bubble – hug them long and snuggle them in closely. One family therapist suggested that we need 4 hugs for survival, 8 for maintenance and 12 for growth.
- Book yourself in for a massage
- Do something nice for someone
- Play with a dog
All of the above suggestions should boost your oxytocin levels and make you feel a little more loving toward yourself and others – an important part of emotional resilience and managing life during Covid-19.
Endorphins are known as the “painkiller” chemicals in the body. They are released in the body in response to pain or stress and also help alleviate anxiety. Not only do endorphins alleviate pain and anxiety, they also work to boost your immune system and improve your mood.
The great news about endorphins? They’re an easy chemical to release in the body by doing simple things that will help improve your overall health.
To increase the release of endorphins, you can try the following:
- Exercise at a moderate to moderate/high intensity
- Laugh – laughter truly is the best medicine
- Watch a comedy/something funny on (there’s that laughing piece again)
- Eat dark chocolate or something spicy
- Use aromatherapy – particularly the smell of lavender and vanilla have been shown to release endorphins.
The above 16 ways to increase your quartet of happiness chemicals don’t need to be done all at once, but you can certainly incorporate quite a few into your day.
For example, start your day with writing down three things you’re grateful for, then go for a 30-minute jog outside. Follow that with a lovely shower with some lavender soap and then crawl into some soft pajamas and snuggle on the couch with a loved one to watch a show that makes you laugh.
You’ll have many lovely chemicals flowing through your body on a day like that!
Take care of yourself right now as best you can and try to implement a few of the strategies listed in this article to help you feel happier, more focused and motivated.
Author, Lindsay Goulet, Community Development Manager & PhD in Exercise Physiology