Endorphins are the natural feel good chemical in the brain. Your brain naturally produces these neurotransmitters in response to pain or extreme exertion to take the edge off and generally make you feel amazing. Experts actually compare endorphins to opiates because they deliver such intense pleasure, says psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., M.S., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.
Without sufficient endorphins, we are more likely to experience emotional and physical distress, such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and pain, with a limited ability to experience satisfaction, pleasure, and joy. Boosting endorphin levels relieves emotional and physical distress and enhances our ability to handle stress and enjoy life.
There are a number of ways to release endorphins and get that natural high. Here is a list of 15 things you can do to boost your endorphin level and bring that smile back quicker:
- Vanilla Aromatherapy. Vanilla has been proven to help reduce anxiety which is often associated with depression. In a study Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, patients undergoing MRIs who breathed vanilla-scented air reported 63 percent less anxiety than those who breathed unscented air. A few ideas for adding vanilla to your day are add a drop or two of vanilla extract to the pot before the coffee brews, light some vanilla-scented candles, or add vanilla essential oil to your bathwater.
- Lavender Aromatherapy. In a study, conducted on college students, inhaling the aroma of lavender essential oil improved symptoms of depression and insomnia. Dab lavender oil on your wrists and temples or diffuse it in the air.
- Take Ginseng. Ginseng may benefit people who are feeling fatigued and over-stressed and those recovering from a long illness. The herb has been shown to balance the release of stress hormones in the body and support the organs that produce these hormones. It may also enhance the production of endorphins.
- Take a Group Exercise Class. Shared exercise gives you an extra endorphin boost. According to a recent study on rowers, those who rowed as part of a synchronized team had a higher boost of endorphins than those who solo rowed.
- Exercise. The continuous movement of exercises like running, rowing, dance, and aerobics puts one in a trans-like state which releases endorphins and encourages reflective thought. To find your happy place, do a mood check the next time you do strength training or cardio: Every five minutes, think about how you feel on a scale from one (not happy at all) to 10 (completely high on life). Increase intensity until that number goes up.
- Laugh. Besides triggering the release of endorphins laughter changes our perspective on our problems. Our problems tend to shrink as we release the stress and move our minds into a new state with a hearty laugh. Even the anticipation of laugher increases endorphin levels, plan your next date night at a comedy club, forward on that funny e-mail, or call your friend with that great sense of humor.
- Have Sex. Research shows that physical touch reduces stress, as well as alleviating pain and helping heal injuries, according to a study at Stanford University. Sex also sooths us, uplifts us (due to the endorphin release) and gives us a sense of belonging and security.
- Enjoy Some Chocolate. Chocolate provides protection against heart attacks and strokes. The polyphenols and other antioxidants in dark chocolate reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, reduce bad LDL cholesterol, boost good HDL cholesterol, and protect the health of your arteries. Dark chocolate also contains chemicals that boost the release of endorphins.
- Listen to Music. You brain produces more endorphins when you actively create music, however if you are musically inclined in that manner dance, tap, hum or bop around to your favorite tunes to release your endorphins.
- Eat Spicy Foods. Capsaicin, the chemical compound in foods that makes chili peppers hot, binds to proteins, or pain receptors, of nerve cells in the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth. The nerve impulse produced this way pass through the trigeminal nerve into the brain producing a painful burning sensation. The same receptors that react to heat, so when heavily spiced food is eaten hot, the effect are even more intense. However, the pain is off set by the bodies’ reaction, which is to release endorphins.
- Happy Hour. According to a 2012 study published in Science Translational Medicine a small amount of alcohol releases endorphins, however too much alcohol or actual opiates will actually turn off the production of endorphins which will kill your buzz.
- Comfort Food. Helping yourself to a bowl of pasta with cheese, ice cream or another carbohydrate-rich comfort food releases endorphins. People turn to these items during stressful moments because they really do make you feel better.
- Drink a glass of wine each night. Besides the fact that wine offers antioxidants, ending your day with a small amount of alcohol can boost endorphins, notes the “The Journal of Neuroscience.” Mice having low endorphin production were given alcohol and drugs, and a boost in endorphins was noted. While the drugs that the mice were given are illegal, a small glass of wine at the end of each day can help you feel better.
- Meditate daily. Meditation offers a myriad of benefits to those who practice it. Increased focus, a feeling of well-being and less stress are all side effects reported by those who meditate. It’s likely because mediation in a quiet space for a small amount of time each day can help boost your endorphins so that you end your session feeling relaxed and happy. Try sitting quietly for 5 to 10 minutes to start.
- Breathe. Most people breathe unconsciously without fully appreciating the benefits of deep, abdominal breathing. Yet taking deep breaths that stem from your abdominal region not only helps you feel more relaxed, it may also increase your body’s production of serotonin, endorphins and dopamine, another neurotransmitter that helps with mood regulation, according to Jeffrey Rossman, Ph.D., in an article for Rodale.com. Rossman suggests a specific breathing technique known as resonant breathing, which synchronizes your heartbeat with your breath rate and encourages the production of these neurotransmitters.
Boosting my endorphins through exercise is the one thing that really helped me to get my mind off my heartbreak and move me forward. I did not do anything strenuous, I walked…I walked a lot. My dog loved it, I toned up, and I lost weight in the process. It was good for me on a number of levels, but if exercise is not your thing or for medical reasons you cannot exercise choose something from this list that will boost your endorphins and bring your smile back faster.
What will you choose?