Our bodies are fascinating, substance-producing machines capable of making us feel stimulated without having to ingest drugs or alcohol. In fact, the human body is flush with brain chemicals, hormones and other types of neurotransmitters that can elicit different variations of a satisfying, feel-good buzz. Here’s a salute to the seemingly magical ways many of us achieve natural highs.
Oxytocin is sometimes called the “cuddle chemical” or “love hormone.” Its primary function is to increase uterine motility and nipple stimulation after labor. However, its effect on the emotions is pretty powerful. In a nutshell, oxytocin allows us to zoom in on our social interactions and feel through them at an intensified level. This facilitates trust and emotional bonding between partners as well as between mother and child. The rush oxytocin produces is both genuine and exhilarating and is experienced during intimate moments such as orgasm, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
Endorphins are strong neuropeptides that reduce the perception of pain and decrease stress as well as cause a sense of euphoria and a bout of positive feelings. These mighty, naturally-occurring substances are typically produced during exercise and often praised for their ability to better a myriad of ailments ranging from depression to chronic pain. Exercise and other types of stressors to the body also release adrenaline, which can increase both energy and speed. Exercise can even trigger the release of serotonin, which plays a significant role on maintaining mood balance.
Even if it’s forced, a smile usually makes you feel better. This sounds like a joke, but it’s true. Smiling triggers the reward mechanism in our brain, which causes us to feel good. Usually, it works the opposite way: our reward mechanism is triggered because we perceive something to be good, causing us to smile. However, smiling is such an important part of the cycle that the physical action itself can also trigger our brain to feel good even with no positive external stimuli. This is a great trick to use when you’re feeling down and looking for an immediate and easy pick-me-up.
With this knowledge at hand, combat your next craving by savoring your body’s natural highs. Whether it’s by forcing a smile, exercising or simply curling up next to a loved one, remember that these are the types of highs that are actually good for you, as gifted by Mother Nature.