It's a jungle out there.
I attended a fascinating webinar by Loretta Breuning for Action for Happiness last night. Called ‘Happy Brain Habits’, we learned a whole lot about the ‘feelgood' hormones we can produce and how they’re linked to our mammalian selves:
Dopamine is produced in expectation of an unmet need. It’s a motivator for survival and keeps lions hunting their prey etc. Flow stops as soon as we meet that need … that sense of anticlimax we all know is actually dopamine dropping! It’s worth looking at what excites and obsesses you, and where that might have been triggered. Perhaps you were given chocolate as a child if you hurt yourself … now if you’re hurting emotionally you crave a Walnut Whip, but once you’ve eaten it (or the whole pack) how do you feel?
Oxytocin is known as the hugging hormone but there’s more to it than that … we don’t get an oxytocin buzz when we hug any old random! We need to trust that person, feel safe and protected with them and be able to let our guard down. Rather like a zebra in the middle of a herd, shielded from that dopamined-up lion by its fellow zebras. It’s important to trust our mammalian instinct and not let that be skewed by errors of judgment we’ve made in the past, but also to recognise when someone is not meeting our need to feel safe.
Serotonin makes us feel calm and confident and is the hormone of social recognition … but it makes us judgmental! Imagine a monkey, feeling self-assured in its troop but keeping an eye on the dominant chimp, waiting for its time to challenge their leadership. It'll also be checking out the other contenders - its rivals. If you find yourself being judgmental, either of others or of where you feel you should be right now, remember it’s a natural thing to do and that we’re all doing it thanks to serotonin! Understanding this can help us be aware of when judging leads to healthy competition or unhelpful thoughts.
Endorphins are natural opiods and help us get through crises … when that lion brings down a deer, endorphins help distract the deer from the fact it’s had a chunk taken out of its leg and masks the pain for around twenty minutes … giving it a greater chance of escape. Endorphins are triggered by physical pain and aren’t there to get you high. The relief they give can be at the root of impulses to self-harm. Interestingly though, they can also be triggered by our muscles activating when we laugh!
So what can we learn from this? Well, that we need to give our inner mammal what it needs to feel good … motivation, a sense of safety, a sense of purpose. None of these hormones is meant to be flowing all the time so it’s important to have a variety of skills in our self-soothing toolkit to help us get by. Finding new and exciting things is what our brains are programmed to do and helps us grow positive thought pathways. We will always be drawn to our most well-trodden mental routes, but trance/meditation frees us from those old thought patterns and helps form new, more helpful routes towards our own perception of success, and gets those feelgood hormones flowing, encouraging positive emotional change.
Do get in touch to start our journey of positive change soon!
... oh, and if you find this stuff as fascinating as I do you can find a recording of the webinar here.