By Sumathi Ramjee, Special educator and Arts Based Therapy Practitioner
“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life” is what William Morris said about happiness and during this pandemic experience that we are all going through, it seems most relevant as we have to make do with just the ‘details of daily life’. Dwelling on the idea of emotional wellness got me thinking of the source of well being and physiologically speaking it pointed to the four happy hormones – serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. Then like a jigsaw puzzle falling into place all the components that lead to the happy hormones clearly showed the path to emotional wellness.
Dopamine, helps you feel pleasure, like for example when you eat something delicious or hear your favourite song, or when you complete a task, or celebrate little wins. Since it is also heavily involved in the brain's reward system and influences motivation, it makes one come back to doing the task. So, bringing into our daily routine, something that brings in the ‘feel good’ factor will produce dopamine in the body leading to a feeling of wellness.
Serotonin, helps regulate sleep, appetite, and mood. Because about 95% of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, it is important to eat foods that promote gut health to boost serotonin. A healthy diet helps to boost more than serotonin — it is also linked to dopamine regulation in the brain. So, keeping a watch on our diet and ensuring a healthy and balanced one will produce the required serotonin.
Endorphins trigger positive feelings in the body and are released whenever you do something you enjoy like exercise, eating sweets, laughing, and listening to music. The feelings caused when endorphins are released mimic morphine, according to research. In fact, a "runner's high" is the product of endorphins. Endorphins get produced with exercise, and they stay in the bloodstream and make us feel good. So, into our routine comes in the much-needed physical exercise which we all know will go a long way in not only maintaining mental health but our physical health too.
Oxytocin, also referred to as the ‘cuddle hormone’ and connected to maternal behaviour, lactation, social bonding, and sexual pleasure, is produced in the hypothalamus — the "command centre" of the brain. Oxytocin also has social functions. It impacts bonding behaviour, the creation of group memories, social recognition, and other social functions. One review of research into oxytocin states that the hormone’s impact on “pro-social behaviours” and emotional responses contributes to relaxation, trust, and psychological stability. Brain oxytocin also appears to reduce stress responses, including anxiety. Playing with a puppy or a baby, holding hands, getting a hug, or getting a compliment can be a part of daily routine to boost the production of oxytocin which will lead to better social functions, a deficit that we see across the autism spectrum.
So let’s work towards getting our own optimal doses of the ‘happy hormones’ and ensure our young adults and adolescents get their required doses too.
References: https://www.insider.com/happy-hormones https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html