Today we are going to talk about how to feel a little happier every day, or to put it another way, how we can reduce our feelings of anxiety or low mood at the moment.
We are now into our 8th week of lock down and I am sure for many the novelty is well and truly wearing off, perhaps you are starting to miss the little things, or indeed the big things! Our familiar day to day routine is gone, we miss seeing our friends and family, home schooling and work are putting a strain on things and perhaps your mood and energy is low.
The thing is it is a bit tricky to measure or quantify our emotions and our mood, our feelings are constantly changing, and we just accept them, don’t we? We experience a whole spectrum of emotions throughout our day so to say you are 7/10 happy today or 8/10 stressed doesn’t fully do it justice.
What is actually going on behind the scenes when we are experiencing these different emotions? Why do we feel feelings of happiness?
Here’s the science bit……
You have the most amazing internal pharmacy within your body responding to what is going on around you and producing the right chemicals and hormones to support it. For example, when you get a fright or experience sudden stress your body produces stress hormones like adrenalin. This is our protective state – our fight or flight response where the brain perceives a threat and you need to be ready to fight or run away. All the blood is diverted to your heart, brain and muscles. I am sure you are all familiar with that feeling of the blood rushing around your body, your heart beating faster, your breathing become shallower.
But what about happy chemicals?
The bit of your brain that we are interested in is your pituitary gland or our master gland. This tiny pea shaped gland is found at the very bottom or your brain just behind the crook of your nose. Now this gland produces a lot of different hormones but th ones that we are interested in today are Endorphins.
Endorphins are our happy hormones, they produce a feeling of pleasure, of contentment, euphoria, enjoyment. Endorphins are also our natural pain killers within the body.
We release endorphins when we do something that we want to do. Now this is pretty key to how we feel pleasure. When you think about the words that we use when describing a task, we use words like NEED and MUST. Think about how these words make us feel. NEED as pressure…. I NEED to clean the house; I NEED to walk the dog. The word SHOULD makes us feel guilty I SHOULD to go for a run; I SHOULD do my accounts. It makes it feel like these things are chores or actually cause us anxiety and stress. The word we must focus on to release endorphins is WANT. What do I WANT to do? These things are not about chores, responsibility or the never ending to-do list. We release endorphins when we do tasks that are enjoyable, pleasurable and we actually look forward to doing. We are all very different and so these tasks are pretty subjective. What makes me happy may not be the same as what makes you happy. Some of us love gardening and find that relaxing while others would find gardening stressful, I love a good jigsaw, but I am sure there are many who don’t share my passion. Exercise is one of our biggest surges of endorphins, I am sure you have heard of the runners high? After 20 to 30 minutes of hard aerobic exercise, endorphins are released and will result in a mood and energy boost for two to three hours, and a mild buzz for up to 24 hours. This is why we know that exercise is so good for our mental wellbeing, reducing stress and anxiety and feelings of depression.
Here are some examples of endorphin boosting activities:
Eat dark chocolate
Exercise (any form of exercise will do, but exercising in a group is even better)
Create music or art
Have a bath
Enjoy your favourite dish
Get a massage
Eat something spicy
Try some aromatherapy
Watch your favourite TV
Practise relaxation or self hypnosis
Random act of kindness
Imagine you have an endorphin piggy bank in your brain and the more enjoyable activities that you do in your day, the more your piggy bank fills up. This store of endorphins will keep those feelings of happiness flowing all day and keep stress away. You cannot release happy hormones and stress hormones at the same time, consequently over time this enables a long term feeling of emotional calm and a stronger resilience to stressful triggers.
It is easy to forget to include these activities in our day as we become bogged down with the chores and the to-do list. A useful way to remind ourselves is to create a visual endorphin piggy bank, this could be a jar of marbles, a chart on the fridge or set a regular alarm on your phone to remind you. The more activities we do the better we feel!