Endorphins! I think it’s quite interesting how they work.
Endorphins are chemicals that are produced naturally, primarily in the hypothalamus (area in the brain regulating hormones and temperature) and pituitary gland (Just behind the nose, by the hypothalamus, and controls the function of many other glands like adrenal and thyroid)
Endorphins are often called the “feel-good” or “happy” hormone because the relieve pain and improve mood. They do this because they actually work in the same way as opioids! Endorphins produce a feeling of euphoria, just like opioid medications which are used normally in the medical world for short term pain relief after surgeries etc.
The amount of endorphins released by individuals can vary, but there is evidence that you can improve your ability to produce these hormones. There are well documented ways of boosting your levels and practising getting your endorphin levels boosted to help manage stress, anxiety and improve mood more easily and regularly.
You may have heard of a “runners high” which is the feeling of elation runners describe after a good run, and the nickname comes because they are actually high on endorphins! Endorphins produce a feeling of euphoria, just like opioid medications which are used normally in the medical world for short term pain relief after surgeries etc.
1. Regular exercise- The easiest to make a change with. In 2008 we first managed to record the amount of endorphins in the body. The first study found an increase in endorphins after exercise. Exercise helps to regulate mood and can be used to help treat mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
2. Giving – being nice to others doesn’t cost anything! Volunteering, donating and giving your time to help others can boost endorphins to the same level as when you receive a gift or act of kindness from others. A study was done asking participants to do one nice thing for someone else each day for several months. By the end of the study social anxiety and depression levels in participants was down, and happiness up!
3. Yoga and meditation – I never used to believe in this but I’ve learnt more and more just how effective it can be. Reducing your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) though meditation can reduce pain and stress. There are many apps now you can download which can help show you how to get started.
4. Laughing – Not laughed in a while? It could be contributing to additional stress and anxiety. A good social life is key to maintaining happiness. Signing up to a club or sports society can help you meet new people and improve your social contact and happiness. Time to invite your friends/family around for dinner.
5. Dark Chocolate – Saving the best until last! A 2017 study showed eating chocolate boosts endorphins because of the cocoa. Dark chocolate has the highest cocoa percentage with the lowest calories. Aim for at least 70% cocoa and remember, everything with moderation!
Implement these strategies and repeat. All of these strategies contribute to a healthy and balanced lifestyle!
The importance of this? Low endorphins can contribute to several health issues:
1. Fibromyalgia – A condition where the pain system becomes overprotective. Stress, anxiety and lack of physical fitness can all contribute. Re-training your pain system to become less protective can often be done with graded exercise.
2. Depression – Seeking help and support to start implementing some of the strategies above is helpful when suffering with depression. Remember, you can always reach out to someone if you need support. Speaking up is the first step to getting help and moving forwards.
3. Sleep trouble – Exercise helps to regulate sleep, some evidence suggests this is due to the increased endorphins
4. Headaches – anxiety and stress lead to headaches and tense muscles. Reduce these and headaches should improve too!
There are loads of things to consider when dealing with depression, stress and anxiety, and it is unlikely that making a change in one single area of your life is going to be the thing that revolutionises your symptoms. However, making lots of small changes, and being consistent with them over time can be key to improving quality of life. You can transform your physical and psychological wellbeing in this way, and it’s been proven to work time and time again.
Not sure where to start? Reach out to someone you trust or someone who can advise in these areas. The first step is the hardest but often the most important. Be brave and you can get on track to start achieving your goals.