We may not even realize it, but dopamine rules the roost when it comes to our sense of wellbeing. How is one neurotransmitter so crucial to the feeling of joy?
When you first wake up in the morning, and you smell that fresh pot of coffee brewing, you probably feel excitement. This anticipation is dopamine.
If you receive a raise at work, your sense of accomplishment will most likely be accompanied by a set of pleasant psychological and physical sensations – that’s dopamine.
When you enjoy your favorite music, laughing with friends, or experience an immense rush of adrenaline while playing a sport, dopamine is kicking in.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends signals between neurons and is a precursor of adrenaline. It plays an important role in a range of brain and body functions that are critical for your success, including motivation, memory, attention, focus, learning, creativity, and mood. When we experience the positive effects of dopamine, we feel well, excited and energized.
However, if we experience low levels of dopamine, we can become fatigued, apathetic and can suffer from addiction. poor memory, disrupted sleep, and even Parkinson’s disease.
What is the link between dopamine and addiction?
In the 1950s, scientists designed an experiment where they placed electrodes along the dopamine pathway in the brain of rats. When the rats entered into a particular corner of their cages, they received an electric shock. The discomfort of the shock therapy led scientists to believe that the rats would avoid entering the area where the shock occurred – but just the opposite happened.
Rather than avoiding the shock, the rats craved the dopamine so severely that they continued going back to experience the shock up to 700 times in one hour.
This compulsive behavior can be seen in people, too. Take substance abuse or gambling for example. Doing anything in excess may not feel good after the fact, but the dopamine rush can be so intense that a person will crave for more.
Quick dopamine fixes are tempting and appear everywhere in our modern world. Some examples for sources of a dopamine rush include caffeine, alcohol, video games, social media addiction, impulsive eating, mindless working or compulsive shopping.
To achieve mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, we should boost our dopamine in healthy and balanced ways that nourish our sense of self-worth and reinforce our connections with others.
Have you ever felt that warm tingling sensation of love and compassion take over when you feel gratitude for someone or something happening in your life?
Being grateful for all of the blessings you have in your life is a simple, inexpensive and practical way to enhance your dopamine levels. It also works to keep your life in perspective when times get tough.
One way to easily maintain a momentum of appreciation is to keep a daily gratitude journal. Remember, when difficult storms arrive, and you have troubles finding things to appreciate, it’s okay to be grateful for simple pleasures like a snuggle with a pet or a smile from a stranger.
Focusing on the present moment and practicing self-reflection offer us enormous amounts of benefits. When we pay attention to the environment, calm our thoughts and center ourselves, we experience a relaxed state-of-mind, so that we can fully relax and recharge.
Not only does the practice of mindful framing and mindfulness help us to let go of stress, but studies have shown the potential to increase the release of dopamine.
It can be tempting to reach for a junkie TV show to distract yourself from daily problems instead of retreating into pondering and reflecting about our ideas and experiences. In the long run, embracing a ritual of self-reflection will increase your dopamine levels in a positive, more profound way.
There’s no need to sign yourself up for a spin class that you are going to dread if spinning isn’t your thing. But finding an outlet to exercise that you genuinely enjoy can increase your dopamine and boost your physical wellbeing.
Whether you take up martial arts, dance or play fetch with your dog, your mind and body will thank you. Dopamine is released when you get your heart pumping.
For an extra rush of healthy dopamine, combine your activity with reaching a goal (such as increasing steadily you daily steps).
Exercise brings many other fantastic side effects into your life. Perhaps you lose a couple of pounds, look healthier and meet new like-minded friends during your activity.
White sugar and fast food can be highly tempting if you desire a surge in energy. But the mood-elevating spike caused by these foods is short-lived and often comes with an energy crash.
Our earth is abundant with fresh fruits, veggies and fiber for us to indulge in daily. And did you know that a healthy gut seems to be directly related to balanced dopamine levels?
Some foods that can support your dopamine levels are apples, bananas, beets, chicken, eggs and cheese. So start your day with a delicious cheesy omelet or fresh fruit salad to elevate your mood early on.
Life is dynamic, a steady source of experiences and ideas, and dopamine mobilizes your brain and body to be motivated, creative and achieve peak performance. Don’t waste this precious elixir by disrupting the fine-tuned alchemy of neurotransmitters and hormones. Be gentle with yourself and let the natural processes in your organism take over without ‘artificial sweeteners.’
Can you imagine a workplace full of intelligent machines and robots but no warmth, no emotional bonding? This environment can be very productive but psychologically devastating. We are human beings, not human doings. We need to be emotionally connected with family, friends, coworkers, even with pets, to achieve mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
When we hold hands with our loved one and have a feel-good sensation throughout our bodies – that’s the hormone oxytocin kicking in.
When we regularly distrust other people’s intentions and withdraw from them, it may signal a deficit of oxytocin.
What is oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a hormone that is formed in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain important for controlling many bodily functions.
Without oxytocin, we would become extinct- literally; it is essential in human reproduction. Oxytocin is necessary for contraction of the womb during delivery, as well as breastfeeding.
Oxytocin is also important for our social wellbeing. It helps us bond with others and maintain eye contact with them, remember faces, show empathy, trust others, have a sense of self-worth and good social skills. We feel more connected and in tune with others.
Oxytocin improves our tolerance to pain and reduces stress and anxiety by controlling the release of cortisol, the stress hormone.
If we have low levels of oxytocin, we may be afraid, anxious, depressed, and aggressive toward others.
Oxytocin as a drug
Oxytocin, which means ‘quick birth’ in Greek, is used as the prescription drug Pitocin to induce labour and reduce bleeding after delivery.
Oxytocin has also been used to improve symptoms of Asperger syndrome, autism and schizophrenia. Additionally, it has been shown to help with withdrawal from alcohol and drugs.
These are 4 simple ways to naturally boost our oxytocin levels.
Physical and emotional love
Life is busy. With work, running errands, looking after kids, preparing supper… the list goes on, the last thing in your mind at the end of the day is to cuddle with your partner.
Oxytocin helps us stick together creating emotional bonds. A study conducted in men found that those who were given a dose of intranasal oxytocin were more interested in emotional instead of physical bonding when meeting for the first time an attractive woman.
What’s more, physical proximity with our loved one releases oxytocin. Studies show that oxytocin increases our sex drive. When we make love, we also feel less anxious, calmer, and have an improved sense of overall wellbeing, these are effects of oxytocin.
Have you ever felt the weight of the world drop right off your shoulders after listening to soothing music? This is because our brains produce more oxytocin when we listen mindfully to a bird’s song, natural sounds or relaxing music.
Mindfulness meditation and mindful framing have been shown to increase serotonin levels with regular practice. Anyone can benefit from just a few minutes of self reflection in a quiet place, listening to silence or soothing sounds.
So, take a break, relax and listen to some classical, jazz or smooth music, whatever tunes you find soothing for your soul, and watch your cares melt away.
Do you feel stiffness in your neck? A massage may be just what the doctor ordered! Research shows that oxytocin levels increase both in the person receiving the massage, as well as in the person giving the massage!
When you get a massage your anxiety level decreases, your sense of well-being improves, you feel less pain, and your cortisol and blood pressure level drop- all effects of oxytocin.
So, go ahead and treat yourself to a massage, even a self massage- you deserve it!
Dogs have been called man’s best friend for a reason- they provide us with unconditional love, and don’t take much to please!
Having a pet at home makes us feel less lonely, forces us to leave the couch, and even helps us develop relationships with others, all factors that lead to emotional wellbeing. It’s no wonder that so many people talk about dogs and cats as if they were real people!
Did you know that petting a dog releases oxytocin? It also boosts dopamine and serotonin- other feel-good hormones, while decreasing stress-producing cortisol.
Life is too short to live in fear and distrust. By naturally boosting our oxytocin levels, we can feel a deeper connection with others and increase of sense of self worth. Take a first step today and follow the path to more meaningful, deeper relationships.
You hear it all the time – to be happier and more productive you should balance your work and life. But in practical terms, what does this mean?
Take a moment to picture an average day in your work and personal life. Let’s imagine you are a parent who works from 9-5 and still manages to find time for healthy meals and downtime with your children. Work and life seem to be clearly separated by the time allocated to each activity. Right?
Wrong. Interconnectivity and the way our brains are wired make this separation impossible. This parent cannot simply forget the kids from 9-5 or ignore work responsibilities after 5.
For many, a thriving career serves as a powerful motivating force that provides life’s meaning through goals and satisfaction. For others, work provides the means to pursue personal goals.
There is a middle ground. Rather than striving to separate work and life, an effort that can lead to anxiety and stress, why not weaving them together? Follow these 3 rules for a seamless work-life integration.
Reconsider your occupation
It’s a given that no matter what’s your profession, there will be always be pros and cons for your chosen career, ups and downs in your workplace.
Wouldn’t be amazing if most people could enjoy the profession they chose and their current workplace? Moreover, wouldn’t it be nice to feel a natural inclination or urge to complete the tasks at hand – instead of dreading every assignment.
Start by taking a look at your profession and career path to see if it feeds and nourishes your passion for excelling and expanding. Let’s imagine you work in a publishing house as a staff writer, if you love your work you may be naturally inclined to wake up and write.
On the other hand, you may hate sitting in front of a white screen ready to write a new piece. This doesn’t mean you need to start thinking about a career change, just take some time to evaluate what your honest heart’s desires and potentially refocus towards a new path.
With renewed motivation, you can certainly begin writing and publishing daily. Small steps everyday go a long way when changing the course of your career’s direction.
When you are satisfied with what you do, it’s a joyful process to incorporate work into your life with ease.
Realize that it’s okay to love what you do
At times, we feel an urge to work in an exciting project in our personal time, even sacrificing a well-deserved weekend or vacation time. We need breaks, but we also need to feed our desires to excel and achieve. Sometimes you will feel a strong momentum and sense a powerful life force that requires our full attention and effort. Go for it!
There are also times when our personal life should be a priority. For instance when a family member needs support or we need to take care of our health.
Integration means not feeling guilty when answering emails late at night and tying up loose ends from work after spending a time with your family or unwinding. These few minutes will make your next day more streamlined and efficient. It’s okay to work your job into your home life and to consider personal matters while at work.
Modulate your energy
It takes a lot of effort and stress trying to draw a distinct line in the sand between work and life. The two mingle together often, so rather than creating unrealistic expectations, why not finding ways to recharge your energy throughout your day?
Every single one of us has energy spikes, dips, and times when we coast. It’s entirely fine to feel down and without motivation. It will pass.
Being aware of our energetic mood helps us to realize where we are at emotionally, physically and mentally.
In an article from McKinsey & Co, Gila Vadnai-Tolub explains that we have different energy modes: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Each type of energy offers us a unique form of fulfillment, but we can’t expect to be highly functioning for all of them every moment.
It’s okay to realize that during work, you might need a moment to watch a fun YouTube video so your brain relaxes. And at home, your may want to spend time thinking on a new project from work.
Being aware of what we need in each moment to achieve emotional and energetic satisfaction helps us to meld both work and life together.
Vadnai-Tolub suggest 3 approaches to leverage our energy levels:
- Allow yourself the time and space to not always be in high energy mode. It’s okay and desirable to find time to slow down and relax. Be lazy some times!
- Choose to see the good. Remain attentive toward what is going right in your life and work. We all have room for improvement. Take it with a grain of salt, improve when you can, and keep moving toward goals with optimism.
- Boost your energy. If you work at a desk all day, maybe you can go outside during lunch hour and appreciate the fresh air, even dedicating some time to thinking or resolving personal matters. Also, you can find moments of inspiration by letting your mind wander towards what you appreciate and love in life.
Life doesn’t have to be cut and dry. Our modern lives call for modern solutions. This may mean that it’s time to stop trying to draw lines and create compartments in our lives. Let’s discover what we love to do… and do it!
Do you feel as though life moves too fast? If you sense your to-do list nipping at your heels, you’re not alone.
It can be all too easy to be swept into the momentum of day-to-day affairs and no longer feel in charge. But there is hope. Let’s discover the 6 essential drivers behind the mindset of the leaders in creativity and productivity.
Countless peer-reviewed studies, notable authors and teachings of ancient cultures show that being mindful and aware of stressful thoughts and situations is a key element of a creative and productive life.
In 2017, the American Psychological Association, conducted a stress survey and found that the most common stressors for Americans were politics, money, and work. Identifying the internal and external drivers of your stress is essential to achieve mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Mindfulness may not be a magic pill that will optimize your life in one go, but with time and a self-reflecting and mindful lifestyle, you can alter essential traits of your personality.
Life is complicated. We live in an interconnected and rapid changing world. When assessing any thought or experience, we ought to take into account the social, cultural and political context. Context means to take a step back and observe ourselves and our surroundings within our environment, such as our mood swings, workplace or family dynamics.
Not an easy proposition, but seeing things in perspective is an indisputably vital way to tame our thoughts and inspire calmness. Our modern era calls for a different mindset not necessarily relevant just a few decades ago.
To gain this situational perspective, we require a mental framework that we can carry with us at all times – a practical way to see ourselves in third person. One approach is mindful framing, where you visualize being the director, producer and screenwriter of your own life. Rather than be pulled waist deep into the mud of anxiety, you can use your mind’s eye to see yourself in a movie set, in the context of your own thoughts and environment.
Be Here for Yourself
Whether you choose to day dream, be creative, be mindful, socialize, work or relax, one thing remains the same: You.
Ensure in every moment that You are in charge, not a marionette or mindless robot. You should invest quality time in self-reflection. Find solitude by skipping passive activities, such as watching shows, scrolling news feeds, and overindulging in social media.
Spend time with yourself, in silence, doing ‘nothing.’ Be careful though, your mind will try to take over and lead you into stressful thoughts, avoid them by being aware and assessing the context of the moment. Over time your mind will start delivering creative ideas and a sense of calmness essential to cope with every day’s life challenges.
Be There for Others
Often, we believe the more we do for others, the better. We may even connect what we do to our inherent social value. Sadly, the endless strive towards mastering superficial engagements creates frustration and confusion.
Just being there, open and available to others provides immense support. People notice within seconds our social status and essential cues about our attitude. Let’s just be authentic, be in the moment and show empathy.
Take a new job, for instance. At the beginning of your new role, you will inevitably struggle to keep up with all the different tasks. You could spend all day answering every email that enters your inbox, or you could spend time learning about the company’s culture. Identify how individuals and teams, their personalities and networks are driving work streams.
Instead of barely skimming through a ton of superficial engagements, you can be more effective by focusing on a few in-depth interactions.
Be in a Flow State
Given a choice, would you prefer to receive electric shock therapy, or be alone with your thoughts?
It might sound like a silly question. But a study conducted at the University of Virginia discovered that participants would rather subject themselves to electric shocks than dealing with their minds.
When we eliminate distractions and allocate time to a focused task, either work or leisure, time passes much faster and we are much more productive. We are in a flow state.
In his best-selling book Flow, the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi observed that to achieve a flow state requires the five C’s of the flow mindset:
- Clear goals
- Centered on the task at hand
- Choosing the right opportunities
- Challenging yourself
Be Stress Free
It might seem natural to avoid stress by distracting ourselves with work, leisure and digital or social engagements than face our thoughts. And in some ways, it’s not our fault. There tends to be a culture of productivity and hyperactivity that tells us to avoid boredom at all costs.
We may even feel that doing nothing is lazy and unproductive. But nothing is further from the truth.
Ever notice how you feel more clear headed after a vacation? Well, our brains need vacations daily, not just a few weeks out of the year. Manfred Kets De Vries, an INSEAD Professor of Leadership, explains that allowing the brain ‘downtime,’ enables us to improve our mental health, incubate new ideas and reduce stress.
Our world moves at lightning speed, and in some ways, there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of fast-paced drive. But having a mindset able to allocate downtime throughout the day while keeping productive bursts of energy generates better results than steady pressure at work.
By learning and practicing how to deploy these 6 mindset drivers you train your mind to relax and clarify your thought processes. You are entering a new mental space; you are becoming the fearless leader of your mind.