The Happy Chemicals?
In my last post I wrote about the intelligent brain, governed mostly by our pre frontal cortex. I also spoke about the primitive brain, with the most influential bit of this brain being the amygdala and our fight/flight button. The amygdala is associated closely with another part of the brain, the Hypothalamus. I give you the name so you can research more if you wish, though in short the hypothalamus regulates chemical responses in the body and mind.
Chemicals we hear of the most are adrenaline or norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Today I would like to talk about how we stay logical, positive and coping. Serotonin and dopamine.
Serotonin is what we want to have consistently in our bodies to cope with life. Good levels of serotonin keep the glass half full, help us see the funny side and ultimately help us cope with life. Serotonin is made in the gut so eating well will help keep your serotonin levels consistent. Neuroscientists have also discovered that positive actions, positive interactions and positive thinking also help us keep that constant flow of serotonin. In Solution Focused Therapy we call it the 3 P's and we encourage you to find your own 3P's and do more of it! Getting some good 3P's can be phoning a friend for a catch up, cuddling your cat or thinking about making something nice for dinner. Serotonin really appreciates the simple things in life.
When we don't have enough serotonin we struggle a bit more, feel a bit flat and a bit stuck in a rut. People can be prescribed serotonin in the form of antidepressants which help utilise the serotonin we have in our bodies already, but they cannot create more for us without some side effects. the side effects are due to the serotonin attaching itself to parts of our brain that don't need it and can decrease our appetite, motivation and libido. Creating our own serotonin through the 3P'sis the best way to ensure we are getting all the good stuff and no side effects. Antidepressants are such a wonderful invention to help those who need some external help and can provide people with that extra boost to keep getting better, but the decision to make a full recovery must come from your mind first and foremost. Start small with one P, stick at it for a week and you will see a difference.
Dopamine was originally seen as the 'reward' or 'pleasure' chemical but we know now it's more relevant to motivation and movement - the desire to spring into action. When we are going about our normal day low levels of dopamine are released. This is controlled by our pre frontal cortex (read the blog below for more info). If our prefrontal cortex didn't regulate this release of dopamine we would be crazed, purely pleasure seeking beings with a disregard for most other things - not ideal when you have to sit in meetings all day and watch the kid's nativity. Dopamine output increases when we get excited about something - we begin imagining what the end goal would be and dopamine makes you want to get up and start working towards that goal.
However, there is such a thing as too much dopamine. Let's imagine when you were a child and you were allowed some sweets, or a teenager getting ready to go clubbing with your friends, then an adult getting your first job and driving your car. None of these things now give you quite that same rush, so it takes a bit more to get that "dopamine fix". You need bigger goals to keep you motivated. This is where some people begin to become unsatisfied with our lives and involve themselves in more risky behaviours. For some, it's plane tickets but for others - it's drugs. Certain class A's give a dopamine hit almost 1000x more than anything the body can naturally produce, it's easy then - to lose that PFC logical control and become that kind of dopamine chaser. Addiction can be overcome with a lot of work to engage that pre frontal cortex, so back to your 3P's. Ask for help.
With social media showing us what it would be like to be a billionaire, or have the perfect photoshopped body it's easy to quite frankly, dream too big. Unless you want to be the next huge entrepreneur and make SO many sacrifices in your personal life it's time to really start appreciating the small things. They're what's real and that is where we exist.
I am a Solution-Focused Hypnotherapist based online and in Horsham,