How you experience life boils down to the chemicals in your brain. Have a happy brain. Happiness, sadness, anger, anxiety – all can be traced to what’s going on inside your head. In the past decade we’ve come a long way in the science of happiness and have a pretty good idea of what happy looks like in your brain these days. Rather than being in the passenger’s seat of this process, science has proven, without a doubt, that you can take control of your brain and hack into your happy neurochemicals.
Happiness can be found in the seemingly insignificant, mundane things you do every day. These give your brain a boost of feel-good chemicals and keeps them flowing. Your brain is a positive feedback system, meaning that being happy often leads to more happiness. Usually all it takes is a small attitude adjustment to keep your brain feeling good or start it on an upward cycle.
What works for one person may not do anything for another, but there are many little things you can try today to give your brain a more positive slant. So whether you’re depressed, feeling anxious, or have found yourself in one of those crisis freak-out moments, there are simple steps – backed by neuroscience – that you can take right now to start your brain on a more positive path.
1. GIVE OR GET A HUG. A long hug releases the neurotransmitter oxytocin, the bonding hormone, which calms down your amygdala, the fear alarm, and just makes you feel warm and fuzzy.
2. GET OUT IN THE SUN. Bright sunlight helps boost the production of serotonin in your brain.
3. PUT YOUR FEELINGS ON PAPER. Studies have shown that linguistic processing of emotions produces less amygdala activity, helping you to feel less distressed.
4. REMEMBER SOME HAPPY MEMORIES. Just thinking about happy times boosts serotonin levels in your brain, according to research.
5. SPLASH COLD WATER ON YOUR FACE. Seriously. Find a sink, fill your hands with cold water, and rinse your face. Doing this will slow down your heart rate by indirectly stimulating your vagus nerve, which regulates a variety of vital bodily functions including your heartbeat and the muscles used to breathe.
6. SMILE. It’s a simple thing to do and really does improve your mood. Most people think we smile because we feel happy, but it works the other way too. You can feel happier if you smile.
7. LAUGH. Laughing works for the same reasons smiling does. You may feel silly, but opening your mouth and letting out a chuckle or thinking of something funny to make you giggle can make you feel happier.
8. BE AROUND OTHER PEOPLE. If you start to feel your mood slipping go somewhere around other people, like a coffee shop, book store, or break room. You don’t even have to interact with them, just being in the same physical space does the trick.
9. SPEND TIME WITH A PET. Just stroking your pet or even someone else’s can increase the oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine in your brain. How much do you adore your furry loved ones?
10. DIAPHRAGM BREATHING. Taking long, deep breaths into your tummy slows your heart rate and activates the calm, parasympathetic nervous system. Place your hand on your diaphragm, the center of your stomach a couple of inches below your lungs, and take slow, full breaths. Count to six and make your hand move in and out with each inhale and exhale. After you get the hang of it, you can practice diaphramatic breathing anywhere without using your hand.
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