Happy Girl Summer: How Can I Increase My Happy Hormone?
Hormones are chemicals that are produced by various glands throughout your body. They circulate in the bloodstream, acting as messengers and contributing to a variety of biological functions. When it comes to the happy hormone, or the chemical that influences mood, we are actually talking about more than one happy hormone.
- Your "happy hormone" is actually a set of hormones produced by your body to regulate stress and mood.
- When your body is out of balance, it can't produce the correct hormone amount to keep you happy.
- Doing things that keep you physically happy and make you feel joy will tell your body to bring on the happy hormones.
- If you feel like the happy hormones have shut down, you may have a chemical imbalance, talk to your doctor about treating for depression.
Almost all hormones have an effect on mood, including sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone and stress hormones like cortisol, but a tiny set of hormones has a disproportionately big impact. These hormones are dubbed "happy hormones" they include:
- Serotonin: This neurotransmitter or happy hormone, regulates mood, sleep, hunger, digestion, and memory. In general, when you have a lack of serotonin you will have difficulty paying attention and recognizing positive emotional experiences while fixating on negative ones. The most often prescribed class of antidepressant medications, SSRIs, target serotonin receptors.
- Dopamine: Another key player in your happiness is dopamine. This feel-good hormone plays an important role in the brain's reward system. It affects your capacity to enjoy yourself as well as plan and perform duties. Dopamine gives you that tremendous feeling of joy after checking tasks off your to-do list, crushing a presentation at work or even destroying the big boss in that video game you've been trying to beat for hours.
- Oxytocin: While serotonin and dopamine are more recognised as “happy hormones,” oxytocin also plays a crucial role in regulating our emotions. It is known as the "love" or "cuddle" hormone, it is generated in reaction to physical affection and plays an important role in interpersonal relationships, particularly in child-parent bonding. You can thank oxytocin for making you feel warm and fuzzy after cuddling with a puppy or a baby.
- Endorphins: These are the body's natural ibuprofen. Endorphins are produced by our body in reaction to stress, suffering or injury. When you engage in reward-producing activities like eating, working out, or having sex, your endorphin levels tend to rise.
Each of the happy hormones is produced naturally by the body, however, many people experience stress, anxiety and depression due to happy hormone imbalances. The good news is that there are a myriad of lifestyle changes that can help you increase your happy hormones and bring more joy into your life.
What to do to increase your happy hormones
1. Get Moving
You may already be aware of the link between exercise and endorphin release if you've heard of a "runner's high." However, exercising does not only boost endorphins. Physical activity can improve your dopamine and serotonin levels, making it an excellent way to boost your happy hormones.
2. Get Outdoors
Sunlight has been shown to boost both serotonin and endorphins. Studies also show that there is a clear link to depression and darkness. Both seasonal and locational depression are related to limited sunlight hours. Sunlight also tells the body to create vitamin D which is crucial to our bone and skin health.
3. Laugh (with a friend)
One study from 2017 worked to verify the old wives tale that “laughter is the best medicine.” This study showed that laughing boosted dopamine and endorphin levels. FOr an added bonus if you laugh over something with a partner you might trigger some oxytocin release in addition.
4. Play with a Pet
If you have a dog, cat or other animal, showing them attention is an excellent method to increase oxytocin levels in both you and your pet. It has been shown that when dog owners and their dogs cuddle, both of their oxytocin levels rise. If you are a pet lover, any interaction you have with an animal will release endorphins and if the bond is strong enough, oxytocin as well.
5. Get Cooking
In principle, this tip might increase all four of your happy hormones. The pleasure you feel from eating something tasty might cause dopamine and endorphins to be released. Oxytocin levels can be increased by sharing a meal with someone you care about and bonding through meal preparation. Hormone levels might also be affected by certain types of food:
- Spicy foods may cause the release of endorphins.
- Yogurt, beans, eggs, low-fat meats, and almonds are just a few items that have been associated with dopamine release.
- Tryptophan-rich meals (meals with chicken, eggs, turkey, peanuts, fish and more) have been related to elevated serotonin levels.
- Food and drinks containing probiotics like yogurt, kombucha, kimchi etc have also been linked to the release of happy hormones.
6. Turn on the Tunes
Simply listening to music that you appreciate can help you feel better. Serotonin production can be increased as a result of this good shift in your mood due to listening to music you like. A 2012 study found that musicians making and performing music, such as dancing, singing, or drumming, resulted in the release of endorphins.
Many studies show that meditation can trigger both endorphin and dopamine release in the brain. If you find meditation difficult, start small. At first one minute might be the max you can sit in stillness for and that's great! Any amount of time put toward this activity will have an impact on your stress levels and more importantly, your happy hormones.
Not getting enough sleep (7 to 9 hours is recommended nightly) wreaks havoc on your body in more ways than one. Sleep deprivation is known particularly to affect dopamine levels which affect everything because dopamine directly relates to motivation. If you are struggling to get enough sleep try:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time
- Cutting any caffeine intake during night hours
- Creating a restful environment (quiet, dark and cool)
Drugs and Antidepressants
While all of the recommendations above will help you balance your happy hormones in the long run, many people struggle with addiction because drugs are able to deliver a similar “happy hormone” feeling in basically zero time with zero changes to lifestyle (at first.) Whether it's nicotine, alcohol, THC, opioids or even prescribed antidepressants, your body will build tolerance. Tolerance means that it will take more and more of a substance to feel the same effects. In the short term, drugs may help but know that this can become a slippery slope very quickly and should not be the go to for happy hormone deficiencies.
Anyone who's lived has struggled with periods of time where they don't feel happy, that's just a part of life. The worst part about feeling down is that you do not want to do anything and that just prolongs the cycle. Staying in bed and isolating are the go to for most, but this depletes your happy hormones entirely and does not offer any opportunities to produce more.
If you are REALLY feeling down and isolating yourself, talking with a therapist or other mental health professional could be incredibly valuable. Try to remember to take it easy on yourself, being happy is not always easy and everyone is different. What makes someone else happy will not necessarily make you happy, however, the suggestions listed above, like sleep, exercise and diet are biologically proven ways to increase the amount of happy hormones flowing through your body. Best of luck to your happy girl summer!
Written by Kiana St. Onge