Carving a Path to Health through Chemical Boosts

happy-chemicals

Did you know that your body has a host of chemicals accessible to you for boosting both your health and happiness? As a health practitioner, I find this fascinating and exciting. I get to see my clients with a different perspective — which chemicals are they a bit short on that could be a player in their compromised health?

These chemicals — Serotonin, Oxytocin, Dopamine, and Endorphins — when released, provide you with opportunities to feel healthier and happier. In fact, you can turn them on for a boost by doing simple and fun exercises/activities throughout your day.

By learning about these naturally existing chemicals and how they detract or enhance our health, we can look for those things we can do to help them be released. These chemicals get released in short bursts and don’t tend to last. We can increase the frequency of their presence with new habits. We can create micro-moments of chemical boosts. Micro-moments add up over time to improved over-all health and positivity.

Here is a quick overview of our inner chemistry — the four major players for health and happiness. (Note: there are many chemical processes in our body happening all the time, these are the major players).

1. Dopamine: For most of us, when we are low in dopamine, we experience self- doubt and tend to procrastinate. When we have enough dopamine circulating we feel motivated. One of the easiest ways to boost our dopamine is to take our large goals and chunk them down to smaller goals. Each time we accomplish one of our smaller goals, consciously celebrate your work. Celebrations can be simple — no need for a party with all of your friends (unless you want to). I like to celebrate by going to my favorite bookstore or cafe for my favorite coffee or tea. I return with more motivation to go onto my next goal.
2. Oxytocin: Too little of this neuropeptide and we experience mistrust or separation. We can boost oxytocin through holding hands, hugging, touch (massage anyone?), and, my favorite, eye contact. Each day we can boost our oxytocin in simple ways that connect us to others leading to a calm and connect state of mind.
3. Serotonin: When we lack serotonin, we feel depression and/or loneliness. The easiest way to boost serotonin is to practice heartfelt gratitude. End your day with listing 3 – 5 things you are grateful for from your day. You will feel better and improve your sleep as well.
4. Endorphins: Most associated with the second wind that athletes experience. When we lack endorphins, we feel pain and increased stress. Exercise is one way to increase endorphins. Another way is a good laugh (a full belly laugh) or even a good cry. If the weather prevents me from getting out into nature (my favorite endorphin release), I keep a stack of movies that always bring on my laughter or my tears.

I hope you find this useful and will plan for daily boosts of one or more of your naturally occurring chemicals for health and happiness. Let me know how it works for you!

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Let’s Play A Game

“Games are not just a source of entertainment. They are a model for how to become the best version of ourselves.”
~ Super Better by Jane McGonigal

Our seaside cache!
Our seaside cache!

My fondest memories of summer as a child were the games we played. Nearly every evening our neighborhood — children and adults — played Hide And Seek or Kick The Can. We would begin after dinner as the evening light began to wane and continue until it was too dark to see our own feet on the ground. I remember the fun, the laughter, and the sense of community. Games were an integral part of every day.

On our short street in rural Pennsylvania, everyone knew everyone else — we were a micro community. Because of the games we played, summertime became a long “endless summer.” During the daytime hours, all of us children would meet in one or another’s yard and make up games. When the weather was nice (which seemed to be most days) we all were outdoors from morning until bedtime with breaks only for meals or when our mothers called us in for help indoors. Back then, playing outdoors was simply what every child did and we wandered from yard to yard or into the cornfields beyond our yard. (We didn’t experience the fear that so many parents and children feel today.) The summertime was one long game from morning until night.

On rainy days, we had board games — Monopoly, Checkers, Candy Land, Scrabble — or card games, like Go Fish, and, of course, the family jigsaw puzzle always in progress. We didn’t have video games, iPads, computers, or apps for games. We also didn’t watch TV except briefly in the evenings. Games for us were physical and mental as well as opportunities for everyone to join in. We were close as siblings, as family, and as neighbors. The games we played were about connection, fun, and laughter.

As I reflect back on those games, I realize that they also taught us valuable skills for everyday life such as cooperation, concentration, perseverance, self-efficacy, setting goals, and resilience as in games there is, often, more failure than winning. We grew up using our natural strengths for happiness, health, and success because we practiced and used those strengths in the games we played.

Today, life is quite different. Few children (especially in urban areas) play outdoors unless supervised. Life is scheduled with structured activities and when not scheduled, too many children spend hours in front of the TV, their iPhones, iPads, or computers using Social Media and playing online games. Much of the disappearance of outdoor play is due to fear from the climate many children live in, I know. Yet, social media, TV, and online games aren’t necessarily learning and using valuable lifelong skills.

The good news (and there is always good news, if we look for it) is that games are making a comeback because who doesn’t like a good game whether old-fashioned fun or healthy competition between teams? How is this, you might ask? Children and adults can, indeed, be challenged with a good game that uses physical activity combined with technology for fun, cooperation, and connection. There is also growing scientific evidence backing the benefits of playing games — such as challenging us and improving our abilities both in and out of the game; increasing self-efficacy (the belief that you, yourself, can effect positive change in your own life); learning & nurturing greater resilience; increasing brain neuroplasticity; and increasing dopamine in the brain which is associated with faster learning and better performance. The science of games is quite interesting and, certainly, has encouraged me to play more games.

In just two weeks, I witnessed and participated in two games that combine technology and activity into the fun of game playing…

The first game I heard about and began seeing Tweets about is the new Pokemon GO. More on that in a moment…

The second game I learned about while out hiking, from a Dad with his two young children. The game they were playing is known as ‘Geocaching’ or a modern day, cooperative treasure hunt that uses a GPS to track a hidden cache. Totally intrigued, I asked them about geocaching since they were clearly excited and on a mission! Dad told me they were spending the day geocaching and there were four geocaches in the vicinity — the children excitedly showed me their small toys they’d retrieved from a previous cache.

On my return home, I googled ‘Geocache’ and was surprised at the number of results from a main Geocache website explaining all the rules and good practice guidelines as well as a number of YouTube videos on how to play and of adventures others had been on around the world. I Iearned that Geocaching began in 2000 to test GPS technology and quickly became a game played worldwide. Coincidentally, my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren were just introduced to a geocache near their home that was discovered by a neighbor and his children who are geocacher’s.

We registered with the Geocache website and planned our own adventure to find several in their area. We all went together (Mom, Dad, Gramma, and grandchildren) and had tremendous fun finding two out of three caches within miles of their home. We spent the day focused on a challenge, cooperating, being with and connecting with one another, and having fun with the added benefit of being outdoors in nature. My granddaughter who turned six that day, was ecstatic and has already been out to find more!

The second game, Pokemon GO, (I am sure you have already heard it mentioned somewhere) is a game that, within several weeks since being launched, is already popular in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK (with more countries soon to follow). Pokemon GO is an easily downloadable app onto your Smartphone. And, yes, I have heard many negative judgements about the game and even more positives. My curiosity was intrigued because of the premise of the game — you must be outdoors and/or moving to play. There are also opportunities to play the game with others. Everywhere I go, I see people playing the game and having fun. I’ve talked to teenagers who are already experts. I’ve talked to a father and daughter who play together. I’ve also noticed an increasing amount of mentions on social media — it is certainly the new trend in games that goes above and beyond the sedentary nature of many video games, watching TV, or the focused attention online in front of a computer.

In my recent travels while standing in a line, I asked a woman in front of me (who was playing) if she would answer a few of my questions about the game. She was most interesting as she was also a grandmother, her excitement was contagious, she admitted to the addictive quality of playing, she plays along with her grandchildren, and she gave me a mini-tutorial on how to play. Her one comment was most intriguing, she said “For an introvert, I’ve met more people in two short weeks because of the game!” She told me that everywhere she goes she meets people — young and old — interacting and having fun! (I want to be like her — a cool grandmother!)

As I looked around the busy roadside rest area off the highway, I saw people connecting, having fun while being challenged and moving about — you simply cannot play Pokemon GO while sitting still! (Of course, I’ve been playing!)

Whether your interest is in a traditional game of Monopoly or Hide-and-Seek or you want to try something new and trendy with technology (I like both) — it’s good for our physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being. So let’s play more games!