There are a number of key brain chemicals that contribute to your our overall sense of health and wellness.
Dopamine is the chemical that produces the feeling of satisfaction and well-being when you will succeed at meeting your needs. Times dopamine is released include:
- When you achieve a long-sought goal
- When you recognize the next step to take toward a goal
- When you take that step
- When you invest effort and expect to be rewarded. When you receive the expected reward
Some typical times dopamine is at work
- Learning to ride a bicycle
- Finding a parking spot
- Winning a spelling bee
- Discovering a new park
- Doing a crossword puzzle
- Planning a meal
- Exploring a new city
- Playing a musical instrument
- Getting a promotion
You can’t get a promotion every day, or control whether you get one. But working toward a goal with positive expectations itself stimulates dopamine. If you focus only on getting promoted (receiving an extrinsic reward), your positive expectations will quickly erode. Diversify your efforts to stimulate dopamine! Take on a new challenge, and take small steps toward it every day. Your brain will learn to stimulate dopamine in new ways.
Serotonin flows when you feel important or significant. You can find healthy ways to feel important.
You can’t control the world and the ways it reinforces your feelings of personal significance. You can train your brain to feel confident of your own importance regardless of what others say and do. You can appreciate the importance you have, instead of focusing on the importance you don’t have. When you’re an authentic person with integrity, people respect you behind your back. Keep that in mind instead of imagining the worst.
Oxytocin produces feelings of trust, love and devotion. It gives you a feeling of mild euphoria when you spend time with someone you trust. Social trust feels good because social alliances promote survival. Misplaced trust, on the other hand, compromises a sense of safety. Solid bonds of trust take time and effort to build.
You can stimulate oxytocin by enjoying the trust you have instead of focusing on the trust you don’t have. You can build new trust bonds in small steps over time. These bonds are built up each time social expectations are met. You can build trust with almost anyone if you take small enough steps. Negotiate expectations that both parties can meet; then repeat, again and again.
Oxytocin is actually a stress hormone; it’s as much about stress as epinephrine. It motivates you to seek the support you need to survive and thrive. Your biological stress response nudges you to be more social, to tell someone how you feel instead of bottling your feelings up. Your stress response also prompts you to notice when someone else in your life is struggling and in need of support.
Oxytocin is a stress hormone that actually strengthens your body’s response to stress. All the benefits of oxytocin are enhanced by social contact and support. When you reach out to help others under stress or seek help yourself, your brain releases more oxytocin. This gives you a healthier stress response and enables you to recover more quickly from stress.
How you think and act can transform your experience of stress. When you view stress as helpful, as an opportunity for growth and transformation, it can be a source of encouragement.
By choosing to connect with others when you are under stress, your create resilience. By viewing stress as a positive opportunity, you build up trust in your ability to handle life’s challenges.
Endorphins are the brain’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. They produce brief feelings of euphoria that mask physical pain. Both laughing and crying stimulate small bursts of endorphins. Varying your exercise routine can stimulate endorphins without harmful excess. Nearly everyone has heard of “runner’s high.” This state is produced by the release