By Dr. Attia Anwar
Dopamine vs other happiness hormone
There is a lot of discussion about dopamine and its bad effects in this day and time. If we talk about the chemistry of happiness, we come to know certain chemicals are secreted in our body and they give us the mood boost or feeling of being well. In short, they make us feel good and we have pleasant sensations. There are four feel-good hormones.
Dopamine; makes us feel good. It is based on instant gratification. It drives our motivation and does habit formation. It promotes desires and cravings. It is highly addictive and keeps you coming back for more. High levels of dopamine are associated with overeating, gambling, drinking, and taking drugs.it is also associated with excessive use of social media. It promotes impulsive behavior. It also plays a role in habit formation. It is produced when a prize is in sight. It increases focus and motivation. Decreased level of dopamine results in difficulty in concentration. People usually talk about its harms, but it helps develop consistency. Its level is increased by certain good things like:
-Breaking tasks into smaller goals and achieving them
-Celebrating small goals
-Listening to music
– By doing an act of kindness
-Painting dancing and playing some instruments.
Oxytocin: This hormone is secreted in labor during childbirth. But it is also secreted by hugging, kissing, and meaningful connections. It is a bonding agent. It is secreted when love is in the air. It is related to closeness, touch, intimacy, belonging, and trust. It increases empathy and deep emotional connections. It increases immunity and calms the nervous system. It stimulates wound healing and is good for muscle health. It decreases stress and increases relaxation. Its level is increased by:
-When you engage in physical touch with loved ones.
-When you spend quality time with friends and family.
-By practicing acts of kindness and generosity
-When you give genuine heartfelt compliments.
-When you sincerely help someone
-When you bond with an animal or pet.
Serotonin: A lack of serotonin makes you cranky and depressed. Most of the antidepressant drugs increase the level of serotonin. It makes you feel good about yourself. It increases your confidence and self-esteem. It enhances memory and learning ability. It has a positive role in digestion, appetite, and sleep-wake cycle. It is good for mood, sleep, contentment and relaxation. Its production is increased by mindfulness, gratitude, and journaling. It is also enhanced by a good night’s sleep, reading, and bath. Some people say that healthy foods that are rich in tryptophan help in increasing serotonin, but we don’t have evidence for it. Factors that increase the production of serotonin include:
-By doing exercise
-Bring in the bright light, like spending some time outside
-Adjusting your diet.
– By doing an act of kindness
-Practice mindfulness, journaling, and gratitude
Endorphin: This is the natural morphine of your body. It masks pain. After an initial two minutes of discomfort, your body is flooded with endorphins. It is produced by running, deep belly laughs, and deep breathing. It has long-term benefits. It is a natural stress reliever and pain reliever. It decreases the level of emotional stress and fatigue. Its levels are increased by:
-Regular physical activity.
-Laughing and surrounding with positive people
-Watching funny things that make you laugh
-Eating dark chocolate
-Deep breathing and meditation.
All these hormones are deeply intertwined. And their balance is very important. Exercise increases endorphin serotonin and dopamine. By doing acts of kindness we can boost almost all of these chemicals, so altruism is new egotism.
Out of all these hormones, keeping an eye on dopamine is important. It is called pleasure hormone and it works on instant gratification. You can use this hormone for productive habits. But if you leave it on its own, you can be addicted to many habits that are neither healthy nor productive. It can be increased easily by social media, by playing video games, by notifications, and like on your post. Our brain works according to the amount of dopamine it gets. If you eat your favourite food your dopamine level will be high. Your brain will crave that food because it wants more dopamine. As happens with any receptors there will be downregulation. Tolerance will develop and you will need more dopamine to have the same effect of feeling good.
Two things are important for the use of dopamine in your benefit. One is that you should be engaged in some difficult activities that produce dopamine instead of easy ones like watching videos. Difficult or you can say slightly harder habits that produce dopamine are like reading and exercise. If you do them repeatedly you will have habit formation of them. They are good for health and wellbeing. The second thing is, if you do social media or the internet daily then take a break for the whole one day from that. That will check the development of tolerance. If you feel boredom while doing this, sit with that, walk, reflect, and meditate and increase your long-term happiness hormone.
That is how we can increase the production of happiness hormones in a healthy way and feel good with the long-term benefits of well-being. We can check simple pleasure-seeking behavior and temporary elation by dopamine because we know about the chemistry of happiness. Knowing about these hormones will help us to use them for our benefit.
The author Dr. Attia Anwar is a consultant family physician with a postgraduate degree from the Royal College of GP UK. She is a strong advocate of health and well-being and wants patient participation in decision-making regarding health.