Chasing a natural high
Issue 16, April 2015
Chasing a natural high and living the best way you can day to day.
Some people say that there is nothing like the adrenaline rush you get when you exercise, the well-known term “runner’s high” that athletes achieve with prolonged exercise, is all down to the release of the bodies natural pain-busting hormone. Endorphins are considered the body’s natural “feel good” hormones and are similar in structure to opiates like morphine. As a matter of fact, the word “endorphin” is actually a mix of two words, endogenous and morphine, which together means morphine from within (the body). We release endorphins during stress and as a response to pain. When endorphins lock into special receptor cells, they block the transmission of pain signals. In addition to decreased feelings of pain, the secretion of endorphins leads to feelings of euphoria, modulation of appetite, release of sex hormones, and enhanced immune response. With high endorphin levels, you feel energised, fatigue is reduced, alertness improved and your overall cognitive function is enhanced, all of which helps your body to counteract the negative impacts of stress and, most importantly, we feel pain less. For chronic pain patients, feeling less pain is the holy grail, so I wanted to explore how I could release more of this pain-busting natural hormone daily.
There are many ways to harness our natural endorphins to help life’s problems melt away, I explored some things that you can do daily that can help release your own natural and free pain relievers! Here are some of my favourites that I complied as part of my ‘Release Endorphins & Feel Great Daily’ wellness plan
So how can we reduce our stress and enhance the brains natural feel-good chemicals?
Top of the list is exercise, but for pain patients like me, demanding exercise routines are just not suitable, the extent of my daily exercise is a gentle walk. So if you can’t exercise your body, exercise your funny bone!
Laughter is the best medicine.
Try to actively seek out laughter every day, take a moment now and give it a try. Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile and then give a laugh, even if it feels a little forced, or watch a clip from your favourite funny movie. Once you’ve had your chuckle, take stock of how you’re feeling. If you don’t believe me then google “laughter therapy”, also called humour therapy. This is the use of humour to promote overall health and wellness. It aims to use the natural physiological process of laughter to help relieve physical or emotional stresses or discomfort. That’s the natural wonder of laughing at work.
These are the funny facts: A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce physical pain.
So don’t think of laughter as merely a little pick-me-up. If you practice laughter daily, over time your body will actually create its own natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders. Plus, let’s face it, it is hard to wallow on negative thoughts if you are laughing, you will be feeling more positive, and that positive mindset will help make it easier to cope with the reality of chronic pain.
Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and make you feel happier. What’s not to like about that? Keep funny movies or comedy albums on hand for when you need a humour boost. Spend time with friends who make you laugh, and make it a habit to share funny stories or jokes with those around you. Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
Use your senses.
We are so privileged to possess the five sensory ‘gatekeepers’ of our bodies: taste, smell, touch, sight and hearing, so actively use them daily, make a decision every day to be aware and appreciative of your surroundings and wait for the wonderful feelings of pleasure, general well-being from the release of endorphins.
Spicy foods actually help you to stimulate the production of endorphins. When the spicy part of the food comes into contact with taste buds on your tongue, receptors at sites on the tongue send a signal to the brain; the signal is similar to a pain signal. The pain signal triggers the release of feel-good endorphins. This may be why eating spicy foods seems to be so addictive.
If you don’t like spicy try something sweet, chocolate-lovers will be delighted to hear that chocolate is good for you, that’s why we crave chocolate during moments of emotional distress. Chocolate has the ability to improve mood and restore a sense of well-being. Chocolate contains chemicals that prompt the release of endorphins, so chocolate is a natural pain reliever – Hurray!
If you don’t fancy hot or sweet then reach for something natural like the herb ginseng. It is well known for its positive effects, improving blood sugar control and reducing weight. However, ginseng may benefit people who are feeling fatigued and over-stressed and those recovering from a long illness, as it also promotes the feel-good factor. The herb enhances the production of endorphins. It helps maintain the condition of the cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous systems, an individual feels elated, causing a positive feedback, which promotes the further release of endorphins.
Certain aromas can lift your mood by influencing the production of endorphins. So, what fragrant feel-good smells should you sniff out? Try a few drops of the scent of vanilla. Studies show the sweet smell of vanilla helps reduce anxiety, and improves mood. You can get the same benefits from lighting a vanilla-scented candle, lotion or essential oil.
If you don’t like vanilla try the aroma of lavender, it has similar properties and is also shown to stimulate endorphin production. Try applying lavender extract on the neck, wrists, hair or temples. In a study, the scent of lavender was found to promote a substantial decline in anxiety levels and help endorphin production. It also helped to decrease depression and insomnia.
Treat your self to a relaxing massage or a hands on Reiki session. Touch affects your nervous system through nerve endings in your skin, stimulating the release of endorphins, and you get that natural high and the feel-good factor will help induce relaxation and a sense of well-being. It will also relieve pain and reduce levels of stress. Try a big bear hug, the simple act of embracing floods our bodies with oxytocin, a bonding hormone that makes people feel secure and trusting toward each other, and this reduces stress. Hold hands with the one you love, simple touch can reduces stress-related activity in a brain.
It will come as no surprise that having sex is good for you. We are programmed to enjoy sex, but we often give it low priority, so it simply doesn’t happen. But this is to ignore one of nature’s great relaxants and amore joyful de-stressing activities.
If you’re a pet owner, cuddle up with your furry four-legged friend you’ve no doubt noticed you’re less tense when scratching your animal behind the ear, in fact dog petting has also been shown to improve immune function and to ease pain. So don’t resist when your pet curls up with you, spending quality time together may be just what the doctor ordered.
Maybe try something very simple like going barefoot outside, feel the grass under your feet, take a walk on sand or feel the ocean at your toes, touch is one of the best mind-body medicines.
Have you ever experienced love at first sight? Is it a chemical romance? Well, it is true that endorphins, the body’s natural morphine, accounts for the pleasurable feelings of “being in love.”
And that is one of the chemicals released by your body when you see something that you perceive to be attractive. So beauty is something more than just in the eye of the beholder. Surround yourself with beautiful sights. Our brain perceives beauty as important so surround yourselves with the beauty of nature, maybe put up a bird feeder and watch the birds eat breakfast each morning. Go to an art gallery and take in the beauty of art, or wander around a garden centre. Find your happy place.
Soothe all your stress away! Listening to music you love triggers joy by unleashing feel-good brain chemicals. Can music produce physical and psychological healing in the body? Yes! music. enhances endorphin production and recent studies prove what many already know, listening to music actually has many health benefits, physically, mentally and emotionally. If music is not your thing then maybe try sitting in your favourite beauty spot and listening to the sounds of the birds singing, or make a daily habit to listen to a healing relaxation or hypnosis. You could even record yourself saying some positive affirmations about your health, doing this ritual everyday can bring improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms of pain, as well as bringing about positive changes in health attitudes and behaviors. So turn on your favourite tunes and release those endorphins!
By relaxation I don’t mean putting your feet up and watching TV. By relaxation I mean the act of allowing your mind and body to fully relax, letting go of the day’s thoughts and allowing your mind to be free.
As mentioned the daily practise of listening to a healing relaxation or hypnosis as part of your day to day relaxation is a great way to reduce stress, deep breathing and meditation are all a factor in it too. Meditation can take time to master, but the benefits are worth the dedication and practice! Meditation stimulates the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, this triggers the release of endorphins. That explains the feelings of joy and the lingering calmness you feel after your meditation. Meditation also increases production of serotonin, dopamine and melatonin, all related to positive moods, happiness and relaxation. Plus, regularly practicing meditation can help you lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. During the relaxed state brought about by meditation, the brain reaches a Theta state. This state can be easily achieved through meditation and it can also be achieved through deep hypnosis, or by using self-hypnosis and affirmations.
Work with your body and practice activities daily that will help you access those happy hormones to get all the benefits of our bodies natural painkillers – endorphins.
Finally, trust your instincts and do what is best for you medically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.