In our blog post A Powerful Dose for Enhanced Resilience we talk about needing to keep ourselves dosed up on Happy Hormones in order to build our emotional and psychological resilience and enhance our mental wellbeing.
Many situations can trigger these hormones naturally and often we don’t have to give much conscious thought to this. However, when we are experiencing a particularly challenging or stressful time, we may need to be more intentional about triggering our Happy Hormones.
How can we give our Happy Hormones a boost?
So, how can we intentionally increase these happy hormones in ourselves so that we feel ‘good’ more often? In other words, how can we intentionally DOSE ourselves up with Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins?
The answer is by applying the Three Principles of Positivity:
1. Positive THOUGHT
2. Positive ACTION
3. Positive INTERACTION
When we intentionally engage in positive thought, take positive action and interact in a positive way we improve our overall mental wellbeing and enhance our mental resilience and performance.
You may have heard the phrase ‘What you think about you bring about’?
What this means is that every thought we have has energy and that energy translates to activity. So, when we think something, it creates a feeling and that feeling drives our behaviour – which then manifests in an outcome.
So, if we think that something won’t work out, or worse, that something will end up terribly, then that creates feelings of negativity and hopelessness, or expectations of failure. As a result, we behave in a way that mirrors our thoughts and when we do that, we are more likely to create that outcome.
Equally, if we think that something will work out well for us, then that creates feelings of positivity and hope, or expectations of success. As a result, we then behave in a way that mirrors these positive thoughts and when we do that, we are more likely to create a positive outcome.
Examples of Positive Thought
Limit your news consumption
Take some time to consider how much media exposure you need to enable you to feel informed on the current situation, whilst also considering the right level to protect your mental wellbeing.
Also recognise that when we focus in on positive news stories, we stimulate Serotonin, which encourages us to access to the intellectual part of our brain where we can make a realistic assessment of the situation, seeing the positives and the negatives in perspective and context. This enables us to come up with a solution that we feel confident in and that will help us get the best outcome.
Actively making a plan can minimise feelings of panic and overwhelm and create a sense of being more in control, which is a great Dopamine generator.
List three things you are grateful for each day
Writing down the things we are grateful for everyday (and they don’t have to be big things!) helps the brain to focus on what we have rather than what we don’t have, which increases Serotonin.
This simple act has been shown through many scientific studies to have a huge impact on our levels of stress and anxiety, because when we intentionally think of things that are positive, we encourage access to our intellectual brain.
Remind yourself of the value you bring to the world
Reminding ourselves of what we know, what we can do and the benefit of the experiences we’ve had are all things that impact positively on our mental wellbeing.
Understanding how we contribute to the lives of others also provides us with a sense of identity and purpose, which enhances Serotonin and reminding us how we make a difference to others, provides us with a feeling of accomplishment which generates Dopamine and increases our confidence. The better we feel about ourselves, the more likely we are to have a positive view of our life and future goals.
Positive action is about doing things that will lead to positive outcomes and that can almost be anything at all. When we do this, we can generate any one of our Happy Hormones, making us feel happier. Also, the action of doing it and the outcome it creates causes the release of Dopamine which activates our reward system, giving us the motivation to take more positive action.
The challenge is that when we feel stressed or anxious, we don’t feel motivated to do much and that’s because Dopamine is a reward hormone and it is connected to taking positive action. So, the key is to remind ourselves that as soon as we begin to take positive action, our internal reward system will kick in, motivating us to keep taking positive actions – and do it anyway, even if we don’t feel like it.
Examples of Positive Action
Prioritise getting quality restorative sleep
When we sleep properly, our brain re-runs the events of the day and processes them before we slip into a deeper more restorative sleep pattern.
This is the part of our sleep pattern that we call R.E.M (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and it is designed to enable us to process all the stress and worries that have accumulated in our metaphorical stress bucket during the daytime, so that we wake up without yesterdays stresses. When this process works well, our Serotonin levels are stabilised, but when we don’t get enough sleep we are unable to empty our stress bucket and this can lead to it overflowing, which causes us to lose access to our intellectual brain and, in effect, our ability to find solutions.
The good news is we can also manufacture extra R.E.M. through guided relaxation – click here to listen to our free relaxation recording here.
Get out in nature: notice the trees, the birds and the weather
There have been many studies on the connection between our mental wellbeing and our interactions with nature. Being outdoors boosts levels of our Happy Hormone serotonin, helping to lift our spirits and if we combine that with movement and/or exercise, we activate Endorphins too, with help with easing the effects of physical and emotional pain.
Also, by practicing mindfulness and consciously noticing our surroundings and what’s going on in the present moment we can keep our minds from dwelling on past situations or from worrying about the future.
Getting outside everyday can make a huge difference to our mindset, whether that be finding a shaded spot to work in the garden, lunch on the balcony or simply a walk around the block.
Put on your favourite feel-good music!
A positive action can be as simple as listening to some feel-good music. Studies have found that listening to music encourages our brain to release the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter, dopamine – one of the key ingredients in our Happy Hormone cocktail.
Dopamine literally drives our brain’s reward system, urging us to seek pleasure and motivating us to achieve goals. It also regulates our emotional responses, enabling us not only to identify where rewards might be, but also to take action to move toward them.
So, turning up the feel-good tunes really does help to make us feel happier and more motivated.
Maintaining positive relationships is beneficial to our mental health, because it makes us feel supported and cared for and as a result, increases our confidence, and when life becomes challenging and difficult to cope with, this can make a big difference.
For people without this sense of support, loneliness can kick in and loneliness has been shown to have negative effects on both our mental and physical health. In fact, recent research indicates that loneliness can shorten a person’s lifespan as much as obesity, a condition that public health takes very seriously.
There is therefore a strong argument for prioritising positive interaction in our lives and this is especially important at this time when we have to change and adapt our usual methods of social interaction.
Examples of Positive Interaction
Keep connected to people by phone, messenger and video call
In the same way we have basic needs for food, water and shelter, we also have a basic need for connectedness and when we interact positively with people and especially with our loved ones we release Oxytocin (otherwise known as the ‘love’ or ‘hug’ hormone), which makes us feel connected. This helps manage our stress response because it makes us feel supported and cared for and as a result, increases our confidence – and when life becomes challenging, this helps us cope.
So, now is the time to message, phone and video call your family, friends and colleagues and check they’re OK, and to reassure them that you’re keeping well too.
Be kind to everyone; smile and share some words of comfort
When we are kind to or help others, positive physiological changes associated with happiness occur in the brain and these changes are often followed by longer periods of calm. Helping others also reduces feelings of isolation and increases our sense of belonging, which enhances Oxytocin levels.
In addition to this, making a point of smiling consciously when we encounter people (at home, in the supermarket, from a distance online, or over the garden fence) can have quite a significant effect on how we feel.
The act of smiling sends a signal to our brain that we are happy (even if we don’t feel particularly happy!), and triggers the release of our Happy Hormone Serotonin, which makes us feel happy.
And, smiling is contagious too. So, if you pass on one thing, let it be a smile!
Play games with your kids, partner or house mates
In our normally, hectic, day to day life we are often so focused on work and our other commitments that we don’t have much time for play.
Making time for play as an adult has many benefits, including, inducing happy hormones, relieving stress, improving brain function, increasing creativity and enhancing our sense of connection with others. Play can also make us more productive when we are working!
You might choose to play with your pet, your kids, your partner or your house mates but we can also continue to connect with a play with friends, family and work colleagues online, over the phone, or via video calls.
By intentionally applying these three principles of positivity everyday and especially when we are feeling low or lacking in motivation, we can improve our overall feeling of happiness and keep our stress bucket level low and when our stress bucket level is low, we are able to access our intellectual brain where we have all of the resources we will ever need to deal with whatever life throws at us, enhancing our mental resilience and performance too.
Take a look at our Facebook page for extra ideas and inspiration on how to keep yourself dosed up on those Happy Hormones through Positive Thoughts, Positive Actions and Positive Interactions.