Summary: Learn about the four types of happy brain chemicals we naturally make and how they help us attain optimal wellbeing in our mind and our body. And experience the Self Hug to produce oxytocin, which is known as the bonding or love chemical.
- [00:00] Introduction to the Happy Brain Chemicals
- [03:14] Dopamine
- [04:41] Oxytocin
- [07:24] Serotonin
- [08:55] Endorphins
- [10:43] Oxytocin Combats Fear
- [13:23] Motion – SELF HUG
- [18:29] Oxytocin is Vital
- Feldenkrais Method
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Hello, my friends. Pamela here. Thanks for joining me. In today’s episode, this is the second one of the series for the Mental Health Month of May, and we’re going to be talking about happy brain chemicals. The chemicals that I’m including are neurotransmitters, peptides, and hormones. They have different effects in different parts of the body depending on where they’ve been made and how they’re used, but generally speaking these four that I’m going to be speaking about today could be called happy brain chemicals because they do help to make your brain feel safe and promote optimal wellbeing. If we don’t make enough of these particular molecules, we can have situations where there’s a syndrome or a disease or an illness of some kind—mental illness as well as physical illness—so it is vitally important that we have these happy brain chemicals and that we make these regularly. So I thought it would be important for you to know what these molecules are and how we can make them, and then we’ll do a motion today that will help you make some of one of them. In the series in this show, Move Into Resilience, I have included motions that will help to stimulate the production of these happy brain chemicals because it is important for our optimal functioning and also for our optimal wellbeing in both our mind and our body. The four different molecules are dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Now endorphins actually are a group of about 20 different molecules. I’m not going to break that down, but we’ll just group them together as one. And so you can look at this as D O S E for the first letter of each of these molecules and it spells out the word “dose”, so it might help you to remember that if you have a dose of these happy brain chemicals you will be doing yourself a good favor. Let’s talk about them a little bit.
Dopamine is one of the ones that if we don’t have enough of, it can cause things like addiction, Parkinson’s, restless leg, ADHD, ADD, schizophrenia, fibromyalgia, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, nausea, and diabetes. It’s considered to be the motivation or reward chemical, and how we make more is discovering new things, learning, movement, accomplishing something, smiling, reflecting on reward-related memories, creating, and listening to music that you enjoy. In Move Into Resilience, in this show, we do quite a lot of these things: we’re learning new things, we’re discovering things about our body, we’re moving, we accomplish things. So I like to think that if you stick with this show, you’re going to be making dopamine regularly.
The next chemical is Oxytocin. Oxytocin sometimes is called the bonding molecule or the love chemical (love molecule). But what’s important about oxytocin is way beyond just that. It also, because it helps dopamine get used in our system, it will decrease cravings. So it’s important if you are trying to recover from an addiction, boost that oxytocin. That’s going to help your dopamine work better and that’s going to decrease your cravings. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem. It improves our sleep and our ability to calm ourselves. It increases optimism and trust and life mastery—the ability to do this thing called life with ease and comfort. It helps with gut motility. It decreases our blood pressure. It helps with infections, intestinal inflammation, food sensitivities, autoimmune disorders, and candida. And how do we make more oxytocin? Movement, mindfulness, deep breathing down into the bottoms of the lungs, sigh with relief, getting warm, expressing or sensing loving kindness, when we appreciate, when we hug. And this is important to know it doesn’t even have to be real. It can be an imaginary hug. When we sing with others, we also make oxytocin. When we listen to soothing music or look at cute things, and when we cry calmly. It’s not the big loud bawling kind of crying, but just gentle crying, which happens oftentimes when we feel that sense of love and connection to others.
Serotonin is the third chemical I’d like to talk about today, and it is called the learning or memory or mood chemical because it helps us control our mood, but it also helps with learning and growing new brain cells. It helps us know when to eat when not to eat, so our appetite. It helps us with our digestion, our sleep, our sexuality, our cardiovascular system. It helps our muscles, our hormones, our body temperature, and our social behavior. And how do we make more? We make more by remembering happy events, by doing aerobic motor activity with a reward, through touch, when we relax, when we reduce stress, and smile. And when we get outside and get some sunlight, even through the clouds, even through our eyelids. When we decrease sugar and the saturated fat in our diet; when we eat crunchy foods. In fact, every time your teeth touch together, you make a little serotonin. And foods with omega-3 fatty acids will also help with that production.
The fourth happy brain chemical is endorphins, and as I said before, there are actually 20 different kinds of endorphins. These are the body’s pain-relieving chemicals, and they induce feelings of euphoria. The word “endorphin” comes from “endogenous morphine”, and they’ve combined those two words to make one word—endorphins. Endogenous means inside of us or from the source and morphine is a pain-relieving chemical, so our body makes its own pain reliever. And we make endorphins when we meditate; when we give ourselves positive affirmations; through touch; when we breathe deeply; smiling, and when we smell vanilla or lavender, which I find very interesting. It’s also known that we make endorphins when we exercise strenuously, but as I described in a previous episode, No Pain No Gain, the reason why strenuous exercise makes endorphins is because we are putting ourselves into danger, according to our nervous system, and so we’re relieving that by producing endorphins. So it’s not the exercise, the strenuous exercise, it’s the relief of not doing anymore exercise. But there are many ways to make endorphins other than hurting yourself through exercise.
[10:43] Oxytocin Combats Fear
So one of the very important pieces that I’d like to make sure I get across today is oxytocin, one of these four happy brain chemicals as we called it the bonding molecule or the love molecule, the love chemical. What it can do for us besides all of the things that we mentioned, such as reducing cravings and all of these things. One of the things that is I think the most intriguing is that it our amygdala, which is part of the alert system in our brain letting us know when there is danger when there’s trouble. Oftentimes the amygdala can get kind of stuck in the “on” position, and this is what we would refer to as a stress response or a trauma response, and oftentimes, unfortunately, leads to the diagnosis of PTSD, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. And I’ve talked about this in previous episodes. What this molecule does, oxytocin, actually the amygdala has receptors for oxytocin, which tells us that if we want to have our amygdala come to a normal baseline where it’s not activated, alerting us that there’s danger in some way. If we have oxytocin in our system, the amygdala receptors will receive that oxytocin and turn down that trauma response. So what a beautiful benefit of oxytocin is to reduce that stress response, turn off that trauma response, and get us back to a regulated state rather than dysregulated, which is what we see when we look at the symptomology. The inability to regulate the emotions and the mental state is what results in mental disorders or mental illnesses. So if we can regulate ourselves in our emotions, then we can reduce the possibility of mental illness.
[13:23] Motion – SELF HUG
So let’s make some oxytocin. The motion that we’re going to be doing today, we have done it before, but I wanted to reintroduce it because it was in an episode that we really didn’t talk too much about this kind of stuff. And so here’s a new version of it. It’s called the SELF HUG. So one of the ways that you can make oxytocin is through hugging, but it doesn’t have to be with another person. That’s what I’m going to show you here now. You can do this for yourself. And I have created this SELF HUG as a little bit of a different way of doing it than it was originally taught. I learned it through the Feldenkrais Method, but the way that they’re doing it is a little different, because they’re doing it in a way of pulling and releasing the body in a rocking way. And that’s great, but what I’ve done is I’ve added in a little difference to it that you’ll see. I’ll explain that to you. So the way that this SELF HUG works is you’re going to be bringing one hand across the body to the other side. So let’s say your left hand is underneath your armpit of your right arm and just holding there. The right hand will then come to the upper arm on the deltoid muscle. And that’s what’s important here is that it’s the deltoid muscle. So if we’re having our hands in these two places, holding here will stimulate, specifically the hand on the deltoid muscle, will stimulate a reflex that relates to what we identify in our system as connection. The episode just before this one we talked about connecting. This is what we’re doing here, is having that hand on that deltoid muscle allows us to feel connection, so just holding here. Or you can tap your hands. You can tap them at the same time or alternating, just tapping your fingers gently in those places. Just holding here and just being here with yourself, for yourself. Just feeling that connection, just breathing gently and just holding here. And trying to hold with as little effort as possible. So it’s not that we’re squeezing ourselves, but just gently holding like we would a small child or a small animal. Just gentle and kind and breathing. And you may notice after a little while, you feel a little more settled, a little calmer; finding a little ease. That’s great. You’re producing oxytocin right now. And then go ahead and let your hands relax; let your arms come down. Take a little break, and notice how you feel. Notice any kinds of sensations that might be happening for you. And then we’ll go ahead and switch to the other side. So now you’ll take your right hand and bring it underneath your left armpit and just hold that side of your body, the side ribs there, and then your left hand is going to come to the deltoid muscle, which is on the upper arm just below the where the shoulder starts. And we’re just holding here gently. And you can pat with your hands. Do one then the other. Pat back and forth, or at the same time, or you can just hold gently. And again we’re just staying here, just being here for ourselves and enjoying the sensations. Breathing. Just being there for yourself. So nice. So nice making oxytocin for ourselves. We’ve got some power here. You can do this for yourself anytime. And then go ahead and let your hands come away from your body. You can relax them down in your lap or by your sides, wherever it’s comfortable.
[18:29] Oxytocin is Vital
So we made some oxytocin using the SELF HUG. And allowing ourselves to make this oxytocin can turn down the response of the amygdala, which is where we are alerted to danger—it sends out signals that say, you know, we’ve got to be ready. There might be some problems here. So we’ve combatted that with this oxytocin that we’ve just made. And as I said before, there’s a lot of really important benefits of oxytocin that are so valuable and so vital for us. And it is my personal belief that there’s just not enough oxytocin right now going around in our own brains and bodies. And so if we could do this for ourselves and invite more oxytocin production, I really feel that the fear is going to decrease on the planet, and that we will have better relationships because it does make us feel more connected when we can connect with ourselves this way. So I wish you well and I hope that you’ll use this regularly. Making oxytocin; allowing yourself to feel calm and at ease and connected, and to know that it is also turning down that fear response in the amygdala is a beautiful benefit.
Thank you for joining me today. We’ve learned about the happy brain chemicals, which include dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. And remember, that spells out the word “dose” D O S E, so you can think of it as getting my daily dose of happy brain chemicals if that helps you to remember. I will have a link in the show notes for a document that I created which shows all of the things that we talked about today, so you can see that and have that for yourself. My little gift to you. We did SELF HUG, and I hope that you’ll practice that regularly. I do it often right as I’m trying to fall asleep or laying down to fall asleep. I will hold myself like this and breathe and just allow myself to sort of drift into sleep. It’s a really pleasant way to go to sleep. So that’s what I have for you today. Thank you so much for joining in. Send yourself some appreciation for doing this with me today. This has been Move Into Resilience. I’m Pamela Stokes. Take it easy.