Did you know your happiness is actually controlled by chemicals in your brain? The flux in levels of these neurochemicals can actually change your mood and personality. Learn more about these six neurochemicals and how they interact to make you, you!
Within your brain lives five powerful neurochemicals that make up your levels of happiness. These six neurochemicals are created by your body, and they consist of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphines, GABA (also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid), and adrenaline. Most of us have heard about these different chemicals in one way or another - from a running endorphine high to a lack of serotonin causing depression. Here's a quick overview of each chemical, what releases them in your brain, and how varying levels can affect you.
Dopamine - Your Brain's Reward
You know that feeling of joy you get after completing a difficult task or physically demanding workout? That's dopamine. Dopamine drives us to achieve and seek pleasure by controlling the reward-seeking behavior. When your body / mind completes something challenging, it rewards you with a hit of dopamine.
People with extroverted personalities are shown to have higher levels of dopamine than their introverted counterparts, making them more uninhibited. You can work to increase your dopamine levels by setting goals and working towards them. When you achieve those goals, you'll get a rush of dopamine and good feeling.
Oxytocin - The Cuddle Chemical
Have you ever felt that happy, almost euphoric feeling when cuddled up to your significant other? That's oxytocin. Often labeled the cuddle chemical or love molecule, oxytocin helps contribute to human bonding and improves trust. It has even been shown to contribute to increased romantic attraction. This is best explained when you're separated from someone for a long period of time and you have a feeling of longing for them. The lack of physical contact has resulted in a decrease in oxytocin, which makes your body long for that physical contact to refuel your oxytocin levels.
Oxytocin isn't just for romantic bonding. Working out with a partner, having a long conversation with a friend or even face-to-face daily interactions can boost your oxytocin levels. Even a K9 or feline companion can help boost your oxytocin levels!
Endorphins - You Favorite Running Buddy
If you've ever been on a long run, taken part in a strenuous activity, or even have had a long tattoo session, you've experienced and endorphin rush. Your body uses endorphines as its own, self-made morphine. These molecules are produced by the pituitary gland and hypothalmus to result in analgesic (pain relieving) effects. If you've ever heard of the term "runner's high," this is thought to be caused by a release of endorphins that help block pain and produce a good feeling in your body.
Endorphines are released during high intensity aerobic cardio and strength training. They're also released during sexual intercourse and orgasms. Daily exercise and a healthy sex life can help keep your endoprhine levels high.
GABA - The Calm and Collected Molecule
An increase in GABA helps slow the firing of your neurons to quell anxiety and calm you down. GABA is important for relaxation controlling the natural sedative actions in your brain. Yoga and meditation can have a real impact on your body's GABA levels, which is why you often walk out of a yoga studio feeling more relaxed.
Adrenaline - Your Fight or Flight Response
Adrenaline - or epinephrine - is the major contributing chemical to your fight or flight response. Have you ever been watching a scary movie or riding a roller coaster and you start to feel a rush of energy? That's adrenaline. That release of adrenaline increases your heart rate and increases blood flow throughout your body: a sensation that daredevils and so-called adrenaline junkies chase after. This response is triggered when your body faces distress or when you put yourself into a particularly terrifying situation (think skydiving) that you'll receive that rush of adrenaline.
Serotonin - A Jack of All Trades
Serotonin plays a pretty active role in your mental well-being. It acts as a neurotransmitter that's involved in the transmission of nerve impulses and is a crucial element in many physical and mental functions. A few of these include mood regulation, perception of pain, GI function (including the perception of hunger and satiety) and more. Serotonin is still not completely understood, especially in terms of mood disorders (including depression).
Your brain is a powerful system that controls the release of these chemicals to make you who you are. If you think you might be lacking on one of these chemicals, consider consulting your physician - mental health is crucial to living a happy, healthy life.