Megan Hayes | News Editor
Indeed, everyone has bad days sometimes. Often, we chalk it up to personal faults, circumstances beyond our control, or even movement of the planets. However, there has recently been a conversation surfacing about “Hacking Our Happy Chemicals”—those being Oxytocin, Dopamine, Serotonin, and Endorphins— which brings light to the idea that the problems we face may be a call coming from inside the house: our brain. Recent information being popularized about this idea turns us to an original study by Anthony C. Hackney, PhD, CPH, which was published to the National Library of Medicine and shared by the American Psychological Association. Although this study is older, newer research as well as articles are coming out based on the original study on “Stress and the neuroendocrine system: the role of exercise as a stressor and modifier of stress.” This idea of behaving based on what sort of chemicals your brain can produce to make you feel better is now appearing more in health and beauty articles, as well as communities aiming to support mental health and wellness.
To summarize this idea, modern life can be so busy and confusing on its own, which makes it difficult and seemingly useless to try and pinpoint the problem which is making us upset. As college students know, even though doctors and parents alike harp on the idea of staying hydrated and exercising, sometimes it is not always achievable as there is so much additional stress in areas of life, with packed schedules, extracurriculars, social events, and more. Something which seems so menial and simple shouldn’t have that much of an effect on our bodies, but it does. Sometimes, when all else feels like it is going wrong, it is time to look back to the most basic yet reliable framework of human life: biology. As studies continue to be run within the psychological field, like a recent study on “Endorphins in Stress, Behavior, Neuroinflammation, and Brain Energy Metabolism” by Alexander Pilozzi, Caitlin Carro, and Xudong Huang as published in the National Library for Medicine, we are slowly realizing that neurotransmitters released within our body have a much larger role in aspects of our life than we realize, and this may be contributing directly to how healthy we are.
Within the human body, the nervous system is the key to regulation in most aspects of our life, with the most notable being physical and mental. Just like when you touch a hot stove and your hand jerks away almost immediately, there are quick responses like this that can play a part in your emotional state as well. This can be credited to nerves, which send nerve impulses all the way throughout the body until they reach the new “target” cell—which could be a muscle cell, gland, or cells within the brain. Within the brain, there are chemicals called neurotransmitters which are released when these nerve impulses reach areas of our brain. These aid in how we as humans perceive our surroundings. This knowledge then sparked an idea that Hackney wanted to study, as well as many adjacent studies which came about – leading us to proven scientific statistics on how physical exercise and mentally enriching tasks can affect the dysregulation of emotions, as well as endocrinology in our bodies. Endocrinology, which is the study of the endocrine system in our bodies and the hormones that get secreted, controls all the releases of chemicals. Just like how the brain releases the hormone GABA when we feel pain, Dopamine, the “reward chemical” in our brain is released when we do things like achieving our goals or expressing ourselves through creativity. Endorphins, another type of hormone, produce a “high” in our brains that give us a burst of energy, which makes us feel great after doing things like running or physical exercise. Adjacent studies relating to the effect of endorphins on the brain and body have revealed that the brain craves this “high”, which can also be given to users by chemically synthesized opioids – which is why both medical and illegal opioids have an extremely high chance of leading to “severe substance use disorders”, as provided by MedicalNewsToday.com. The brain is used to processing endorphins, but also processes opioids in the same way, which explains why these chemicals are so important to pay attention to, and especially what effect they can have on our bodies. However, there is no way to overdose on endorphins. The “high” that is produced by endorphins is released when our bodies feel pain or stress, and this response is both healthy and safe. Of course, the body is so complex that these processes need to go through many other different systems which have not been mentioned, like the hypothalamus and pituitary glands of the brain. However, having a basic understanding of how these chemicals work for your brain and body could potentially help you to determine what activities to do to ease some stress.
To use this to your advantage, it takes just a simple search online to a place like The Happy Place (thehappyplaceofficial.co.uk) to tell you what to do when you are feeling a certain way. This contains a push of information the audience which is based more on an emotional wellness approach than a scientific and medical approach, yet still highlight the benefits in such actions like physical exercise and mentally enriching tasks that Hackney originally included in his research. For example, when you are feeling just down or not confident, you could kickstart the production of Serotonin (mood stabilizer) within your brain by getting your heart rate up, meditating, fueling your body, or getting sunlight. If you are feeling unloved or frustrated, you could try to trigger a release of Oxytocin (love hormone) in your brain by being social, showing affection, or holding a baby. There are so many ways that this practice of being mindful about how to trigger the hormones in your brain could benefit you during these dreary winter months. Something as simple as holding hands, going for a run or lifting weights, doing something nice for someone, or checking off something on a checklist could have a huge impact on your mood, even if you are feeling lost or down. When the going gets tough, remember your anatomy is on your side!