By Elana B. Multi award-winning writer, advertiser, speaker and internationally published author
Certain scents, actions, and foods can lift your mood by influencing the production of endorphins—the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals.
It’s not uncommon to hear someone talk about getting an “endorphin rush.” Kissing, sex, exercise, even hot peppers—all sorts of things are credited for these euphoric highs. So what are endorphins, and are they really responsible for our feelings of excitement and satisfaction?
Endorphins are the body’s natural opiates, designed to relieve stress and enhance pleasure. It’s common knowledge that exercising releases endorphins, a chemical in your brain that leads to feelings of happiness, even euphoria. But exercise isn’t the only way you can release endorphins. Laughing, smiling, eating certain foods, and smelling “feel good” scents can also do the trick. There are many ways to harness our natural endorphins to help life’s problems melt away.
By Emanuele Spies from São Leopoldo, RS, Brasil [CC BY 2.0]
What else are endorphins responsible for? Endorphins are produced as a response to certain stimuli, especially stress, fear or pain. They originate in various parts of your body—the pituitary gland, your spinal cord and throughout other parts of your brain and nervous system, and these endorphins interact mainly with receptors in cells found in regions of the brain responsible for blocking pain and controlling emotion, especially feelings of pleasure. It’s widely believed that these feelings of pleasure exist to let us know when we’ve had enough of a good thing and also to encourage us to go after that “good thing” in order to feel the associated pleasure.
10 examples of ways to stimulate positive endorphins:
1. Take a bite of dark chocolate
Have you ever noticed how eating chocolate seems to give you a mood boost when you’re feeling a little low? That’s because it releases endorphins that help you relax. Chocolate contains anandamide, which mimics the effects of marijuana, although the effect of chocolate is nowhere near as extreme.
• Choose dark chocolate, since it contains more actual chocolate and less sugar and other fillers that don’t affect your endorphins
• Give in to your cravings in small doses. Consider taking a chocolate bar with you and having a square when you need a boost. Remember, if you eat too much you will have a chocolate meltdown, not unlike the lazy, relaxed feeling that marijuana induces
2. Eat hot peppers
Cayenne peppers, jalapeno peppers, and other hot peppers contain capsaicin, which releases endorphins. Try eating a piece of raw pepper. When the initial fiery sting subsides, you should feel euphoria. If you don’t want to have to deal with the smarting pain to enjoy the pleasure of capsaicin, sprinkle a little cayenne pepper on your food for a milder boost in mood.
3. Have some comfort food
Help yourself to a bowl of pasta or another carbohydrate-rich comfort food that releases endorphins. People turn to these items during stressful moments because they really do make you feel better. (with pasta…don’t do this often unless it is a small portion. If unused by the body, pasta turns to sugar and fat).
• You can enjoy comfort food without going off your diet. Try a bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal with a little honey and coconut milk or natural almond milk stirred in. You’ll benefit from the carbohydrates without suffering from the consequences of eating refined carbohydrates
• To elevate your mood even more, try pairing two endorphin [stimulators] together. Put some dark chocolate chips in your oatmeal, or add hot cayenne to veggies, potatoes, or your favorite dish of pasta
• Take a nice big sniff of vanilla extract or lavender. The scent of vanilla has been shown to help reduce anxiety, which is often associated with depression. Inhaling the aroma of lavender essential oil has been shown to improve symptoms of depression and insomnia. Remember, with vanilla and lavender, it’s the smell, not the taste, that affects your endorphins, so be sure to take a deep whiff
• Try adding a drop of vanilla to your coffee, or stirring some into yogurt or oatmeal. You can get the same benefits from smelling a vanilla-scented candle, lotion or essential oil
• Lavender has similar properties and is also shown to stimulate endorphin production.
• Add a drop or two of lavender oil to your bath and breathe it in as you soak and relax
• You can also dab lavender oil on your wrists (unless allergic…test in a small spot first)
4. Ginseng for those feeling fatigued, over-stressed or recovering from a long illness
There is some scientific evidence that ginseng improves mental performance, including memory and concentration, and is useful in reducing blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Other benefits may include treating some cardiovascular conditions (including high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels), and some menopausal symptoms.
In Animal studies, there is some evidence to suggest it helps protect nerves from damage, as well as possibly helping the liver restore itself after damage. Further studies suggest that it might aid digestion and protect the stomach against ulcers caused by too much acid or aspirin.
The Ginseng 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. Many long-distance runners and body builders take ginseng to heighten physical endurance. However, before using ginseng, it is best to speak with your doctor or naturopath first. Some people think by using more ginseng they will reap more benefits. In truth, too much ginseng can be dangerous as it can speed up your heart rate. So watch out for high doses, and if you are a diabetic, pregnant, or have a history of thrombosis, be certain to ask a doctor before using ginseng.
ANOTHER CAUTION: Don’t take Ginseng or Ginseng mixtures with coffee as it will accelerate the effects of caffeine on the body and can cause diarrhea.
5. Find more reasons to laugh
It’s an everyday, immediate way to gain an endorphin rush. The act of laughing stimulates the production of endorphins and helps you feel good instantly. Laughter helps to relieve stress and has many other physical and emotional benefits.
• Laughing has so many therapeutic benefits that some people practice “laugh therapy” to schedule in some healthy laughter as often as possible
• Sharing a joke with friends or finding something genuinely funny is the best way to make the most of laughter. Go for a deep, belly laugh that takes over your whole body
6. Smile, but make sure it’s a real one
True smiles result in the production of endorphins, giving your mood a boost. A real smile is one that engages your entire face, including your eyes. It’s almost impossible to fake, and it only happens when you’re really feeling happy. So let go of the days stress and just go with the comedy flow. A smile that just engages your mouth and not your eyes, does not have the same beneficial effects.
• To boost your mood with a smile, try looking at pictures that make you smile or talk to a person who makes you happy
• Watch a ridiculous comedy
• Another way to laugh…give in to positive not negative gossip
Studies show that gossiping stimulates pleasure centers in the brain and releases endorphins. Scientists believe that since we’re social animals and gossip that developed as a way to stay connected; we are rewarded for gossiping with an improved state of mind. How to keep it positive? Only talk about the positive things, or funny things that have happened. Remember that gossip is the act of talking about other people, but it doesn’t have to be negative. Just updating your mom on what your sister or cousin has been up to, or cracking jokes about your brother’s antics, is a way to strengthen family bonds, laugh, and improve your mood.
7. Be open to love and affection
You know the feeling when your loved one walks into the room and it opens the floodgate of endorphins. Adding more love into your life is a great way to improve overall happiness levels. It may not happen overnight. Sometimes it takes a bit to find the right person who stimulates your endorphins, but when it does you will reap the benefits. This is true of both romantic love and platonic love. Hanging out with a close friend or relative that you have a great relationship with can stimulate the boost of endorphins.
8. Exercise – any kind helps
This is a quick, effective way to increase your production of endorphins. All types of exercise cause endorphins to be released into your bloodstream, considerably improving your mood. While the famous “runner’s high” that marathoners feel can be awesome, you don’t have to be a seasoned athlete to reap the benefits of exercise. You can release endorphins by doing any of the following activities:
• Walking, hiking, jogging, biking, or swimming
• Team sports like softball, basketball and soccer, tag-football
• Gardening, yard work, cleaning, organizing and even moving furniture
•Try a group exercise class.
Physical activity paired with social interaction can stimulate extra endorphin production. When you’re doing something with a group of people, the energy level is higher and more endorphins are released. It has been shown that when you are flailing, your partner can spur you on and the combined effort, as well as the natural stimulus of smiling and happy banter, releases more endorphins. Try signing up for group class in one of the following activities:
• Dance of any kind
• Kickboxing, karate or another martial art
• Pilates or yoga
• Spin classes – cycling is great exercise
Regardless if you do any of these activities with friends or alone, all exercise is good. No one else around, try walking, dancing, aerobics and running to release endorphins.
9. Kiss or have more sex
Being intimate with someone releases endorphins that make you feel great. You have the combined feeling of love plus the benefits of physical touch and the endorphin rush of having an orgasm or being highly stimulated. Having sex will boost your happiness right away. Too young for this…don’t rush out and have sex; kissing can be even more of a stimulate for those who have never had sex. The excitement and thrill of the unknown is quite pleasurable.
10. Try exciting activities
For a real rush, try activities that stimulate your “fight or flight” response. Although it’s not practical to think of daredevil activities as an everyday way to boost your mood, it’s something to keep in mind when you are looking for an exciting new activity to try. Here are a few activities on the wilder side that will give you a rush:
• Bungee jumping
• Hang gliding
• Roller coasters
• Rides that have a quick drop
• Rock Climbing
Endorphins and Emotions
On the psychological and psychiatric side, endorphins, or more accurately a lack of endorphins, may be responsible for certain forms of mental illness such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. When you, the average person, are washing your hands, there’s a point when you register that the task has been satisfactorily completed. If endorphins are at least partly responsible for saying “when,” a person who doesn’t have enough endorphins may never receive the mental prompt to stop washing his hands and will continue until that signal is received. The same goes for several other obsessive-compulsive disorder problems such as: locking and unlocking doors…checking the locks again and again or turning off and on a light-switch a certain number of times. Without your brain chemistry registering that a certain function has been performed and that it is satisfactory or a “finished” job, “well done,” a person continues to perform the function.
It’s been theorized that problems with endorphin production or the binding process may be responsible for clinical depression or sudden shifts in emotions. Some people who engage in self-hurting behaviors may do so in part to experience the feelings of euphoria and emotional isolation that can, for them, be prompted by controlled amounts of self-inflicted pain.
Endorphins may also be responsible for heightened states of rage or anxiety. If your endorphins overdo their job or the hypothalamus misreads the endorphin “signal,” you could be flooded with “fight-or-flight” hormones at the slightest hint of trouble or worry.
So how do we keep these endorphins regulated? We keep regulated by healthy living, which includes a combination of healthy, nourishing foods, activities that stimulate our body’s endorphins, and proper sleep cycles that average six to eight hours a night. That means, for the most part, is that we should seek our endorphins naturally.
Since endorphins affect us like codeine or morphine, but without the addiction, regular users of opiates generally aren’t the best models of emotional stability and steady, controlled endorphin release is something akin to a fairy-tale. To make matters worse, some of us have brains that act like pushy, determined drug dealers; whereas others of us only dabble now and then when needed. This variation can help explain why one person reacts differently from another to the same stimulus. So if you are looking to get high, or relieve pain, do so the natural way…exercise, get a massage, receive chiropractic or acupuncture treatments, eat some dark chocolate or spicy peppers, and go watch a great comedy and laugh until it hurts. Even better, do so with a friend. A joke is always funnier when shared.
Want more on exercise and happiness? Try the articles listed below.
Consult your doctor before using any health treatment — including vitamins, herbal supplements, natural remedies and exercise. Also, tell your doctor if you have a serious medical condition or are taking any medications. The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is in no way intended as a substitute for medical counseling.
About the author: Elana B. is an award-winning writer, advertiser, speaker, and internationally published author. As a writer and ghostwriter she has written hundreds of stories from shorts to books to screenplays. As a healthcare enthusiast she has studied nutrition, health and wellness.
A gifted storyteller, Elana B.’s new children’s series, Too Terribly Busy and the “Too Terribly” Series of books, teach in a fun, creative way some of the most important lessons in life. Through this entertaining series of books, children will learn morals, manners, and how important it is to achieve goals, as well as conflict resolution. Sneak peek of the first story in the new series: TooTerriblyBusy.
More by Elana B. and other helpful articles:
Overwhelmed – 7 Things You Can Do to Calm Down
Signs of Depression and How to Feel Good Again
8 Benefits of Regular Exercise
Heart Disease…The Ticking Time Bomb
30 Minutes of Physical Activity
Medical Conditions and Triglycerides
5 Tips to Help Improve Relationships
Natural Ways to Reduce High Blood Pressure