How The Happiness Hormones Work With The Body
https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2012-24615-000Hormones typically play a significant role in maintaining your physical and mental health. They can affect natural functions like sleep patterns, sex drive, fertility, closeness with others, emotions, and more.
In this article, we’ll explore the various kinds of hormones that can make you happy and explain how they do so.
Different types of happiness hormones
The happiness hormones include:
Each is described in greater detail below.
If you’ve ever had a rush of endorphins, you may have felt like all your pains went away. Endorphins, shortened from the full name "endogenous morphine,” are released when the body feels stress or pain. These feel-good chemicals are also naturally obtained through exercise, sex, eating, and more. This explains why when you engage in one of these activities, you may start to feel happier, healthier, and more positive. Boosting your endorphins can be an effective and natural way to combat mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Serotonin is another hormone that can make you feel happier and improve social interaction. Those who experience depression or other mood disorders may have low serotonin levels. The following are some ways you might improve your serotonin levels:
- Researchers have found that spending time in nature can naturally improve your mental health and cognition. Heading into nature can give your skin vitamin D, and this is often attributed to helping increase serotonin levels.
- Thinking more positively may help you increase your serotonin levels. It can take time and effort to learn how to change your thinking patterns, but those who learn how to develop a more positive mindset may be able to increase their serotonin levels. You might be able to produce happier thoughts by writing in a gratitude journal or by working with a therapist, whether in person or online.
- Carbs may help give you serotonin. Milk, corn, and anything else with tryptophan may help increase your serotonin levels.
- Aerobic or low-intensity workouts can produce serotonin. If you need a boost in your serotonin levels, consider hiking, running, swimming, biking, or some other physical activity.
Dopamine is often known as the hormone of pleasure, and it can be released for a variety of reasons. For example, setting goals and accomplishing them may cause your brain to release dopamine in higher amounts. Other activities like having sex, shopping, working out, or experiencing something new can also increase the levels of dopamine in your brain.
While dopamine may be important for the brain and body, it can also be one of the reasons that addictions form. When you first experience a new substance,** you might feel stimulated and happy. However, as you try to recreate this rush of positive feelings, you may then develop an addiction. Other addictions, like gambling, can work in similar ways.
**The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) operates a free helpline to help people through common mental health conditions, including substance use disorders. It can also help you navigate treatment options. Call 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) to get connected.
Oxytocin is known as the hormone of love. It is often produced when a person hugs someone they love, when they have sex, or when they give birth. This chemical can contribute to the affectionate feelings you have for others and is involved in love and friendship alike. Exercise can boost oxytocin within the brain and body, as can cuddling, making love, getting or giving a massage, and more. Feeling connected to the people around you can be one way to feel happier, which oxytocin often plays a part in.
Happiness hormones and mental health disorders
The feeling of happiness you experience in life is related to chemistry in your brain. If the number of hormones in your brain is too high or too low, it can lead to mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. Below are some ways that too few or too many happiness hormones can lead to mental health disorders.
Endorphins may be linked to a few mental health conditions, including:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): A lack of endorphins may be one of the reasons why OCD develops. Endorphins can tell your brain when a task is complete. For example, if you complete a task, such as cleaning the kitchen, you may reach a point where your mind tells you there’s nothing left to do. A lack of endorphins might cause you to organize your kitchen obsessively until you feel satisfied, which can take a while.
- Anxiety or anger: Too many endorphins may lead to anxiety or anger. An excess of endorphins might give you that fight-or-flight feeling you have during an anxiety attack or overpower your emotions.
- Depression and self-harm: Intentional acts that cause harm to oneself may be linked to low levels of endorphins, along with depression. Activities that boost the number of endorphins in the brain, like exercise, may help individuals who are experiencing depression or thoughts of self-harm.*
*If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.
Serotonin deficiency can be the reason for a few mental health concerns, including:
- Memory problems. Those with low serotonin levels may not be able to remember events well.
- Insomnia. A lack of serotonin may be the reason why some people have trouble sleeping.
- Like endorphins, serotonin may lead to anger issues, impulsivity, and aggression when there is too little of the chemical in your body.
- Depression and anxiety. Low levels of serotonin may play a role in mental health conditions like anxiety or depression.
Dopamine can also be linked to mental health conditions in the following ways:
- Different substances and habits can lead to a rush of dopamine in the brain and throughout the body. As your body tries to get that rush all over again, an addiction can develop. You can be addicted to cigarettes, food, TV, gambling, social media, and more. Dopamine functions as a reward system. While it may be helpful in moderation, it can also have negative effects when produced in excess.
- Dopamine, like the other hormones, may have a link to depression. Too little dopamine may lead to depression or a low mood in general.
- Parkinson's disease is related to a lack of dopamine in the body.
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be linked to the poor production of dopamine.
Oxytocin treatments have shown some promise for treating various mental health conditions. The science continues to develop, but there is hope that one day it will be an effective treatment for various conditions, including:
- Anxiety and depression. Individuals with anxiety and/or depression may have fewer episodes through oxytocin treatments.
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Those with ASD have been shown to have healthier levels of functioning once they are given oxytocin treatments.
- Addiction. Individuals experiencing an addiction may benefit from oxytocin treatments.
Although oxytocin treatments may be highly effective, it can be difficult to treat humans with it due to its potential side effects. Oxytocin treatment may cause cardiovascular problems and other problems. Currently, the goal of many researchers is to find an effective oxytocin treatment that is safe for humans.
Looking at human emotions from a scientific standpoint, you can observe that your feelings are a chemical reaction happening in the brain. If you don't have enough chemicals, you might feel sad. If you have too many, you may feel angry. If you have just the right amount, you might feel happy. This doesn't devalue human emotion but instead can give it a reason for existing. Recognizing emotions as intricately connected to the chemicals in your brain and body may make happiness seem more achievable.
Online therapy with BetterHelp
There are many reasons why you may not be getting all the happiness hormones you need. Sometimes, it's situational. Alternatively, there may be a mental health condition that could be causing an imbalance of happy hormones. No matter the cause, you could benefit from therapy to address these concerns. Working with a licensed therapist through BetterHelp, an online counseling platform, you may be able to learn new techniques for cultivating happiness in your life. The feelings of happiness can come and go, and it may be difficult to prolong treatment while you wait for a therapist to become available in your area. With online therapy, there are no waitlists, and you can message your therapist at any time of the day. This may allow you to seek mental health care more frequently and regularly.
The effectiveness of online therapy
Online therapy can be helpful for a variety of mental health concerns. One study found that physicians using an online intervention experienced reduced symptoms of fatigue and a greater quality of life. Researchers conducting this study relied on previous literature that showed that multiple targeted tasks and electronic delivery of micro-tasks can improve happiness and “lead to improvements in multiple dimensions of positive mental health.”
What happens if you have too many happy hormones?
The happy hormones dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, also known as “feel-good hormones,” are responsible for several different bodily processes, not just mood management. Excessive amounts of happy hormones can lead to miscommunication and dysfunction throughout the body, just like if there is too little. For example, a shortage of dopamine molecules can cause motor disturbances like Parkinson’s disease, and too many can cause mania, hallucinations, and schizophrenia.
Similarly, excessive serotonin can lead to serotonin toxicity, also called serotonin syndrome. While a low level of serotonin is correlated with mental concerns like depressive disorders, too much serotonin can result in tremors, increased heart rate, and confusion. Although the happy hormones are associated with positive effects on mood, like almost everything in the body, they exist in a balance that can be disrupted by either too much or too little of a certain hormone.
What activates happy hormones?
Happy hormones can be activated in many different ways. Achieving a goal or engaging in a pleasant experience, like spending time outdoors, activates the brain's reward system, which raises dopamine and serotonin levels, producing mild euphoria and an elevated mood. Oxytocin operates similarly. Often called the “love hormone,” oxytocin release occurs during bonding activities and serves to help people feel a deep connection with one another.
Another happy hormone - or rather a group of hormones - known as endorphins is activated in several different instances. Endorphins reduce pain, lower stress, and reduce inflammation, helping the body grow and heal. They are typically released in response to pain or stress and help manage unpleasant mental or physical sensations. However, endorphins are also released when the body isn’t injured, such as during moderate to vigorous exercise.
How long do happy hormones take to work?
The endocrine system, which manages hormones, and the nervous system, which manages neural signals, interface with each other to communicate within the body. The nervous system can send electrochemical signals very quickly, within fractions of a second. Conversely, the endocrine system relies on producing and releasing chemical messengers - hormones - which is a longer process. The endocrine system is well-suited for situations that require widespread and stable chemical management.
The amount of time hormonal communication takes to work depends on the amount of hormone released, the hormone’s function, and its target. The hormone is released into the bloodstream and must travel to its destination before interfacing with its target. Because of this, hormonal communication usually takes at least a few seconds at its quickest. At their slowest, hormones may take several days to demonstrate a change.
What happens when you lack happy hormones?
Like all hormones, happy hormones are chemical communicators that exist in a balance. Too many happy hormones don’t lead to excessive happiness, instead causing harmful effects like mania or hallucinations. Similarly, low levels of happy hormones can have physical effects in addition to adverse impacts on emotional well-being.
Low dopamine levels are associated with dysfunction of the reward system in the brain and motor disorders like Parkinson’s. A deficit in the production of serotonin has long been associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety, although that theory has recently been called into question. Low oxytocin production has also been linked to depression, especially postpartum depression. Finally, too few endorphins may amplify both physical and emotional pain and increase psychological stress.
Do hormones affect who you like?
Hormones can affect many aspects of cognition, emotion, and behavior. They are implicated in romantic attraction, and hormone levels may influence who you find attractive. For example, some evidence suggests that heterosexual women are more attracted to traditionally masculine features when two hormones, estradiol and progesterone, are high and low, respectively.
Hormonal influence over who you like isn’t restricted to purely physical attraction. Hormones are a big part of falling in love and maintaining a loving relationship. They can change how you make decisions, and the fear of losing love may cause you to recalculate your attractions and commitments. Hormones can also affect how you make decisions in general, which may give your heart an edge when deciding who you like most.
How do hormones affect emotions and behavior?
Hormones are chemical messengers that help control and maintain almost every bodily system. Hormonal communication is a delicate balancing act; too much or too little of a specific hormone can have significant adverse effects. Emotions and behavior are both affected by different hormones, and dysregulation of some hormones can significantly impair mental health. For example, despite dopamine being commonly referred to as a “feel-good hormone,” too much dopamine doesn’t produce extreme happiness but instead can result in mania and psychosis.
Dopamine and other common hormones typically have dozens, if not hundreds, of uses within the body. Disrupting the level of a certain hormone can impact any of the processes it interacts with, which can produce secondary effects that result in additional mental and physical symptoms. Under normal circumstances, hormones help control emotions and behavior by stabilizing a person’s affect - their expressed emotions - and contributing to goal-driven behavior.
How can I increase my happiness hormones in everyday life?
Spending time exercising is one of the best ways to boost serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins in everyday life. 90 to 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week is associated with increased happy hormones and a subsequent reduction in mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety. The health benefits of exercise, like improved cardiovascular function, are associated with improved bodily health and better overall well-being.
You can also engage in enjoyable social activities to raise your oxytocin levels, which is associated with a decreased risk for depression. Group exercise might be an ideal way to get physical activity and socialize at the same time. Almost any enjoyable activity, like listening to music or walking in nature, has the potential to increase serotonin and dopamine by activating the reward system of the brain.
How do you balance your hormones?
Your hormones naturally balance themselves in a process called hormone homeostasis. The balance ebbs and flows naturally, following biological cycles like your circadian rhythm. In some cases, hormones can become imbalanced beyond what is typical, which may cause symptoms like weight changes, fatigue, weakness, reduced libido, or depression.
If you are experiencing symptoms that you believe may be related to a hormone imbalance, consult a medical professional. Many things, including stress, injuries, or endocrine system disorders, like hypothyroidism or Cushing syndrome, can cause hormone imbalances. Working with a medical provider to rule out potentially serious causes of hormone imbalances is important.
If you’re pursuing a maintenance regimen for hormone balance and are not currently experiencing possible symptoms of an endocrine disorder, you can try the following tips to balance hormones naturally:
- Adopt a regular exercise routine.
- Make sure you have the recommended amount of protein in your diet.
- Reduce your sugar intake.
- Lower your daily stress level.
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule and get a good night’s sleep each night.
How do you release all happy hormones?
One of the best ways to release all happy hormones concurrently is to adopt a moderate exercise routine. 90 to 150 minutes of weekly exercise raises your body's serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin levels. Exercise also prompts the endorphin release during and after exercise. You don’t need to push yourself to the limit but try to choose exercises of at least a moderate intensity. For most people, a brisk walk or gentle jog is appropriate.
How do hormones affect a person's daily life?
Hormones have a massive impact on a person’s daily life. They help control sleep, eating patterns, mood, alertness, and decision-making, just to name a few. Hormones are involved in almost all bodily functions and work alongside the nervous system to communicate and control bodily processes. They impact mental and physical health; hormone imbalances can cause physical disorders, like Cushing’s disease, and mental disorders, like depression.
Hormones are also implicated in how the body manages stress and anxiety. They are an intricate part of the fight-or-flight system and help your body generate energy when a threat is perceived. Because the endocrine system - the body's hormone system - is closely connected to the nervous system, hormones can significantly impact mental health.
Hormones in the brain or nervous system are typically called neurotransmitters, which are necessary for every thought and feeling a person has. Without hormones, the body could not control its many biological feedback loops, leading to complete dysfunction. The brain also requires hormones to function. Without them, cognition or emotion would not be possible.
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