That feeling of light-headed giddiness, during and after a workout, where your body feels grounded and your mind feels light and clear, or that wave of pure joy that dances from your brain down along the length of your spine when you eat something you absolutely love, share physical intimacy with someone or laugh at a really funny joke – is the feeling of endorphins being pumped out of your brain and traveling through your body, creating a feeling of intense pleasure and wellbeing.
What are Endorphins?
The term “endorphin” literally comes from a combination of two words, “endogenous” (meaning inside the body) and morphine (a well-known opioid painkiller). Endorphins are, therefore, analgesics that your body naturally produces to relieve stress and ease the pain.
They work similarly to opioid drugs in producing euphoric feelings by binding to and blocking pain receptors. Heroin, an infamous and illegal opioid, is a highly addictive and intensely powerful pain-reliever. The use of which has an extremely high incidence of harrowing addiction, overdose, and death. But through nature’s magic, however, our body is capable of producing similar chemicals that can give us safe, healthy and completely natural “highs.”
Endorphins help us function, despite stress or injury; they help us form bonds with other people and help regulate key survival activities like eating, drinking, physical fitness, and sexual intercourse. They boost self-esteem and help in reducing unwanted weight. Furthermore, mental health issues like depression and anxiety are closely linked to low endorphin production and activities that boost endorphin production can be very useful in treating depression, hypertension, and anxiety.
Endorphins are also secreted during pregnancy and labor to help with physical pain, as well as, to allow mothers to bond with their offspring which, from an evolutionary standpoint, is necessary for the survival of a species. Endorphins are also responsible for other functions that are still not completely understood.
Symptoms of Low Endorphin Levels
Some symptoms may include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Headaches and physical pains
- Impulsive behavior
How to Boost Endorphins?
Our bodies function like machines do and sometimes they malfunction and perform in a less than ideal fashion, but there are many changes in our diet and lifestyle that can help them perform better, minimize the risk of illness and give us a much higher quality of life by maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.
There are quite a few well-known ways to boost endorphin levels and show real results for people struggling with low endorphin levels.
- Regular Exercise
Who hasn’t heard of the “runner’s high”? Regular exercise helps you optimize bodily function in a multifaceted way and your body rewards this activity by producing a waterfall of endorphins. There is empirical evidence of brain scans before and after exercise that shows increased production of endorphins. Mild to moderate depression and anxiety can be treated with regular exercise on its own or coupled with other treatments.
Many fitness enthusiasts will report being addicted to the gym which is really just an addiction to the endorphin release accompanied by the workout. Working out in groups is supposed to accelerate and accentuate the same results.
When they say laughter is the best medicine, they know what they’re talking about. We feel great spending time with friends and family because we smile and laugh with them and just the muscle contractions in our face and body signalling joy, release endorphins.
- Dark Chocolate
Ordinary chocolate contains very little cocoa and lots of sugar and fat but dark chocolate, that is at least 70% cocoa, has many health benefits including endorphin production. Cocoa powder contains flavonoids, chemicals that are reported to benefit brain function and can be used to optimize endorphin count but in moderation.
- Meditation and Yoga
Yoga has been trending globally and for all the right reasons and meditation is also closely linked to better stress management especially in the kind of stressful and fast-paced world we now find ourselves living in. Some research suggests that both yoga and meditation can increase endorphins and decrease stress if adopted as lifestyle changes.
- Spicy food
Here’s one that might be unexpected: spicy food! Have you ever wondered why some people derive so much pleasure from burning their taste buds off? It’s because of the painful sensation in the mouth produced by consuming spice triggers pain relief mechanisms that release endorphins.
Humans are social beings and connection amongst them is not just incidental. People need people. This is why volunteering, donating and helping others, helps us feel connected and good about ourselves. Researchers have found that people who are more giving both emotionally and literally in terms of donations have more active pleasure centers in their brain.
Dancing is a magical activity. It’s known to have an amazing exercise component but also regulates emotion and mood. Whether it’s out at a club or alone in your bedroom really letting your body take control leaves you feeling invigorated and happy afterwards. Body movement is closely linked to endorphin release, be it in exercise, during dancing or via physical intimacy.
- Sexual Intercourse
For adults, sexual intercourse is a greatly known stress reliever and having a healthy sex life is linked to better standards of living and improved mental health. Sex releases many healthy and feel-good hormones like dopamine which produces pleasure and oxytocin that helps you bond with your partner and – yes you guessed it! – Our good old endorphins.
- Alternative methods
Saunas, massages, aromatherapy and acupuncture and even something as simple as enjoying a glass of wine, are all techniques used to relieve stress by stimulating endorphin production. They don’t work for everyone in the same way but are great options to try in maximize our wellbeing by curating a lifestyle full of activities that give us endorphin rewards.
Endorphins are in no way a “cure-all” or guarantee of prime mental and physical health but engaging in activities that boost endorphin release may be an effective way to increase overall well-being and the quality of our lives.