In order to be physically fit, doctors recommend that we take the right nutrition, watch out for bad habits, proactively get health check-ups and exercise. It is uncanny how every one of them is completely applicable for being mentally healthy as well. While being mindful and in tune with yourself is very important, it is also crucial to learn and educate yourself about general mental health. If there was a short cut, or a smarter way to get yourself into a better place, that hack is worth learning.
Even today, with all the advanced researching capabilities, much about our brains and the complexity of its functioning evades us. However, with the current knowledge, we can appreciate that the body is dynamic and constantly changing. One of the systems that plays a key role in our brain and nervous functioning is the endocrine system.
The 5 Key Hormones
The endocrine system is a network of glands in your body that makes hormones that help cells talk to each other. They’re responsible for almost every cell, organ and function in your body. There is a long list of hormones that your body produces to keep it functioning properly and an imbalance in the hormone levels can have a direct and acute impact on the mental state. Prolonged imbalance can lead to chronic effects like depression, weight gain and other major health disorders.
As much as the endocrine system affects our mental health, it is also a feedback system. The production of these hormones is in response to external stimuli. But artificially creating the right conditions can also result in these hormones to be released or curtailed resulting in a better and desired mental state. Here are 5 important hormones and how you can hack them for a better mental health.
Cortisol has received a bad rep for itself nowadays as the stress hormone. Cortisol much like Adrenaline is a hormone that helps in generating the ‘fight-or-flight’ response to a stressful scenario. It helps in quickly ramping up the blood pressure, regulates inflammation and controls your sleep/wake cycle. However, being in a state of constant stress can lead to hormonal imbalance and lead to adverse effects such as high blood pressure and increased chance of stroke.
How to Hack?
It is not an easy solution for this one. One cannot simply say, relax and de-stress. One hack would be to take a relaxing bath/shower, to mandatorily take a break so as to keep down that elevated and continuous stress level. This post from our Instagram shows simple breathing techniques that you could incorporate into your fast-paced routine.
In all its effects, Serotonin is almost opposite to Cortisol. Out of the 40 million brain cells, almost all are thought to be influenced by Serotonin directly or indirectly. It is a crucial neurotransmitter that influences mood, sexual desire and function, sleep, memory and learning among many others. It helps you be more calmer, happier, more focussed and less anxious and more emotionally stable.
How to Hack?
The hack for Cortisol suppression works just as effectively in boosting Serotonin. It is almost a no-brainer that being happy positively correlates with increased levels of Serotonin but did you know that you can simulate being happy by simply smiling? Even forced laughter or smiling can trick your brain into thinking you’re happy and releasing endorphins and Serotonin. Exposure to bright light has also been linked to increasing Serotonin. So open those curtains in the morning and flood your room with that Vitamin D!
The word endorphin comes from putting together the words “endogenous” meaning from within the body, and “morphine” which is an opiate pain reliever. In other words, endorphins got their name because they are natural pain relievers. Endorphins are released as a reward for important activities such as eating, drinking, physical fitness and sexual intercourse. They help in minimizing stress and maximizing pleasure.
How to Hack?
Exercise. There is no activity that is more effective or has a longer-term impact on the health of your brain than exercise. In this TED-Ed video, neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki goes into great detail on the effect of exercise on your brain. Doing a simple thirty-minute workout can flood your system with endorphins and start making you feel better almost immediately.
Dopamine is central to your brain’s reward system. Dopamine is released when we accomplish something or complete a task. It’s release reinforces pathways in the brain building confidence and motivation. In extreme cases, the imbalance of this hormone has been linked to severe disorders such as Schizophrenia and ADHD.
How to Hack?
Break down your goal into small sizable tasks and complete the easy one first. We often procrastinate as a way to avoid negative feelings. As we get closer and closer to the deadline, we stress over it and complete it at the very last minute and end up feeling we aren’t good at what we do. A simple step you can take in tricking yourself to feel better and also get work done is to start with the smallest and easiest task on a project. With the positive reinforcement from the dopamine flooding your system, that hill to complete the project might feel just a little less steep.
Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the ‘cuddle hormone’ or ‘love hormone’ because it is released when people snuggle up or bond socially. Oxytocin is an important hormone especially in new mothers and helps in mother-child bonding. It enhances the grasping of social information and consequently links sensory information to the brain’s reward system.
How to Hack?
It is as simple as a hug. The physical contact with another social being, even a pet, can lead to higher Oxytocin levels in yourself and also the pet animal. So, next time you get a chance to give a belly rub to your dog, know that it is doing you good as much as it is for the dog. Give your friend a proper hug, none of that pat on the back stuff.
While it is important to get out of the funk when it is getting you down for a long period of time, it is also vital to realise that feeling down, stressed, angry, or happy are a natural part of being human. We shouldn’t associate negativity to any emotions and must allow ourselves to feel the range of complex and inexplicable emotions that we are capable of. Similarly, we mustn’t misuse these hacks to immediately get out of a mental state when that state is perfectly reasonable. However, if for some reason you are constantly feeling down or for unexplainable reasons, then with this chemical key to your brain’s inner workings, you can hack yourself into a better place.
These hacks are not for adverse health disorders and it is recommended that you visit a certified health professional for a diagnosis. If you’re feeling down, chat with our listeners on LP Buddy in a non-judgemental fashion.