As you go about your day, your glands release chemicals called hormones. These substances travel throughout your bloodstream, affecting functions ranging from metabolism to mood. Some of these hormones — serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins — can flood your body with positive feelings and emotions. The effect is so strong, in fact, that this group of chemicals has earned the “happy hormones” name. When you’re feeling down, happy hormones can help. To encourage your body to produce these feel-good chemicals, try one of these mood-boosting activities.
Hug a Loved One
Physical contact can often make you feel closer and more connected to the people in your life. It can also have a positive effect on your brain chemistry. When you get a hug or cuddle with a loved one, your body releases oxytocin — the “love hormone.” Massages can have the same effect. Higher oxytocin levels can create a range of positive emotions. You might feel a sense of trust and safety, for example. And, since oxytocin helps reduce the effects of the stress hormone cortisol, it can also help you feel more relaxed and less anxious. Hugging can also increase the levels of other happy hormones. It releases dopamine and endorphins, which can help you feel happier.
We get it — when you’re feeling blue, the last thing you want to do is work out. If you can overcome that feeling of malaise, however, you’ll probably feel better afterward. That’s because exercise causes your body to release endorphins, the hormones that help block pain signals and reduce your stress and anxiety levels. Physical activity can also boost dopamine and serotonin. You don’t need to run a marathon to enjoy the positive effects of endorphins. In fact, research suggests that you might be better off with a less-extreme option. A 2017 study found that low-intensity and moderate-intensity workouts tend to be more effective at boosting mood than high-intensity interval workouts. A moderate workout is one that increases your heart rate and causes you to sweat. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can test the intensity vocally. During a moderate workout, you should be able to talk but not sing. The exact workouts will vary based on your level of fitness, but some options include:
- Brisk walking
- Gentle hiking or incline walking
- Easy jogging
- Biking on flat ground
- Swimming with your kids
- Ballroom dancing
If you’re using a heart rate monitor or a smart watch, aim to stay within 64% and 76% of your maximum heart rate. To find the maximum, subtract your age from 220.
Spend Time Outdoors
When your body is exposed to sunlight, it helps to increase the production of serotonin, a happy hormone that impacts your mood, sleep cycles and digestion. If you’ve ever felt sad in the depths of winter, a lack of sunlight is probably to blame; shorter days and limited hours of direct sun can bring on bouts of depression. Serotonin is often called the “feel good” chemical. Normal levels of serotonin are often associated with a sense of happiness, well-being and stability. If your levels drop, you might feel anxious or depressed. Spending time outdoors is an easy, drug-free way to prompt your body to produce more serotonin. Even 15 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight can help you feel better. In the winter, when the sun is hitting the earth at an angle, you might need to stay outdoors longer to experience a similar effect. It doesn’t matter what you do outdoors — reading a book or sitting in the sunshine can create positive feelings. To take your happy hormones to the next level, try exercising outdoors. Walk around the block after lunch or make winter more fun by taking up cross-country skiing. Outdoor activities can boost your mood, but they can also have other positive effects. Since serotonin affects your sleep, you might find that it’s easier to get adequate rest. This in turn can improve your health and reduce stress.
Learn to Meditate
When you’re feeling stressed, sad or anxious, your system tends to go into fight-or-flight mode. In this highly activated state, the body releases a variety of stress hormones that can affect your physical and mental well-being. If you’re dealing with ongoing stressors, such as financial struggles or a demanding job, it’s important to find ways to manage your body’s natural response. Meditation is one option — a regular practice can help you mitigate the effects of stress. When you meditate, you consciously slow your breathing and calm your thoughts. Research shows that this process can reduce the stress hormones in your body. At the same time, it increases your endorphin levels, so you can walk away feeling happier. The effects are so pronounced that meditation has been used to relieve pain. Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need to do is find a quiet spot, close your eyes and focus all your attention on your breath. When thoughts come into your mind, let them go. Just 5 minutes of mindfulness meditation can have positive effects; as you settle into the practice, you can increase the time or try other techniques. If you’re struggling to calm your mind, try a guided meditation.
Find Something Funny
Think about the last time you laughed hard — chances are, you felt pretty great afterward. Laughing releases tension and creates feelings of enjoyment. Laughter also affects your body chemistry by increasing the level of feel-good endorphins in your body. As they travel through your system, you’re likely to feel happy and light. When you’re learning how to increase happy hormones, laughing is one of the most entertaining options. All you need to do is find something that cracks you up. You might go out to a comedy show, search for funny videos online or spend an evening chatting with an old friend. Every giggle will put you on the road to a better mood.
Get Help With Feeling Happy
What happens when these activities don’t increase your happy hormones? If you’re struggling to experience positive feelings, it might be time to seek professional assistance. Contact us at Sun Health Center by calling today. Our counselors are always available to help.