There are two regions of the brain that will influence our everyday behaviour. We refer to them as the intellectual mind and the primitive mind. The intellectual mind represents the prefrontal cortex, one of the more evolved regions of the brain, involved in higher order processing like thinking, problem solving, decision-making, planning and regulating emotions. The primitive mind or limbic system is the less evolved part or the brain that responsible for processing our emotions (both negative and positive), memories, learning, pleasure and reward. The hypothalamus is the part of the limbic system that regulated the chemical responses in our body and mind – we sometimes refer to it as “The Chemist”.
The chemicals we are most familiar with are adrenaline or norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. When we are happy, we release our happy hormones (serotonin, dopamine oxytocin and endorphins).
Serotonin is what we want to have consistently in our bodies to cope with life. Good levels of serotonin keep the glass half full, help us see the funny side and ultimately help us cope with life. Serotonin is made in the gut so eating well will help keep your serotonin levels consistent. Neuroscientists have also discovered that positive actions, positive interactions and positive thinking also help us keep that constant flow of serotonin. In Solution Focused Therapy we call them the 3 P's and we encourage you to find your own 3P's and do more of them! Getting some good 3P's can be phoning a friend for a catch up, cuddling your cat or thinking about making something nice for dinner. Serotonin really appreciates the simple things in life.
When we don't have enough serotonin we struggle a bit more, feel a bit flat and a bit stuck in a rut. People can be prescribed serotonin in the form of antidepressants which help utilise the serotonin we have in our bodies already, but they cannot create more for us without some side effects. The side effects are due to the serotonin attaching itself to parts of our brain that don't need it and can decrease our appetite, motivation and libido. Creating our own serotonin through the 3P's is the best way to ensure we are getting all the good stuff and no side effects. Start small with one P, stick at it for a week and you will see a difference.
Dopamine was originally seen as the 'reward' or 'pleasure' chemical but we know now it's more relevant to motivation and movement - the desire to spring into action. When we are going about our normal day low levels of dopamine are released. This is controlled by our prefrontal cortex. We can get dopamine by completing tasks, eating food we love, doing self-care activities, celebrating small wins and achieving goals.
Dopamine output increases when we get excited about something - we begin imagining what the end goal would be and dopamine makes you want to get up and start working towards that goal. Dopamine increases our attention, improves cognitive function, decision making and stimulates our creativity. It makes us more social and extroverted and helps us to form romantic and parental bonds.
However, there is such a thing as too much dopamine. Let's imagine when you were a child and you were allowed some sweets, or a teenager getting ready to go clubbing with your friends, then an adult getting your first job and driving your car. None of these things now give you quite that same rush, so it takes a bit more to get that "dopamine fix". You need bigger goals to keep you motivated. This is where some people begin to become unsatisfied with their lives and involve themselves in more risky behaviours. For some, it's jumping out of a plane but for others - it's drugs. Certain class A's give a dopamine hit almost 1000x more than anything the body can naturally produce, it's easy then - to lose that prefrontal cortex logical control and become a dopamine chaser. Addiction can be overcome with a lot of work to engage that prefrontal cortex, so back to your 3P's. Ask for help.
Oxytocin is our love hormone. We can get a large hit of oxytocin by playing with pet, physical affection, doing something nice for someone or giving someone a compliment. Oxytocin can induce anti-stress-like effects such as reduction of blood pressure and cortisol levels. It increases pain thresholds, exerts an anxiolytic-like effect and stimulates various types of positive social interaction. In addition, it promotes growth and healing.
Endorphins are our pain killer. We receive endorphins by exercising, watching something funny like a film or comedy performance, smelling essential oils and eating dark chocolate. They can reduce pain and discomfort, bring about a better mood and good self-esteem, increase pleasure, reduce stress and improve your sense of well-being.
Hacking your own happy hormones is easy – just simple things like relaxing, stroking a pet, giving someone a compliment, catching up with friends or spending time in nature will all give you a happy hormone hit. Your natural happy hormones promote all the positive feelings like pleasure, joy and love. They bring about the warm and fuzzy feelings that we call happiness.
Although happiness means different things to different people, our life experiences and other factors such as education, career, popularity, health, responsibilities and achievements all have a role to play in making our life complete. Every person is capable of making a success of their life in one way or another and focusing on the positive things in life is the first step towards that.
Hypnotherapy can help give you all the tools to help you hack your own happy hormones all the time so that you can start to live a more happy and positive life.