We talk about stroppy teenagers being ruled by their hormones and if you menstruate then you’ve probably been accused of being “hormonal” at some point. But what, if anything, does this actually mean??
You’ve no doubt heard of oestrogen and testosterone, the main female and male sex hormones. And you’re probably also aware of endorphins and dopamine, the “happy” hormones associated with exercise.
But rather than being subjugated by our hormones, what if we were able to name them & recognise how to trigger them, in other words what if we could hack our own hormones?
What are hormones?
Hormones are neurotransmitters, chemical messengers produced by the endocrine system, a network of organs and glands that are sent into the bloodstream to the various tissues in the body, sending signals to those tissues to tell them what they are supposed to do.
The main hormone-producing glands are:
- Hypothalamus: responsible for controlling body temperature, hunger, moods, sleep, thirst, sex drive and the release of hormones from other glands
- Pituitary: Considered the “master control gland,” the pituitary gland controls other glands and makes the hormones that trigger growth
- Parathyroid: controls the amount of calcium in the body
- Pancreas: This gland produces the insulin that helps control blood sugar levels
- Thyroid: produces hormones associated with calorie burning and heart rate
- Adrenal: Adrenal glands produce the hormones that control sex drive and cortisol, the stress hormone
- Pineal: This gland produces melatonin which affects sleep
- Ovaries: produces the female sex hormones – oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone (yes women produce that too!)
- Testes: produce the male sex hormone, testosterone and sperm
So now you know a bit more about what makes up the endocrine system, let’s introduce a few more of the hormones we experience day to day. We’re going to focus on the “happy hormones” – we call them the FitFor Four!
Think of the warm feeling you get when you’re in the company of good friends, petting your dog, listening to music you love, lovingly sharing a meal with friends or family, or being sexually intimate with your partner. That warm feeling is oxytocin, more colloquially known as the love or bonding hormone. Now we all produce oxytocin naturally but if you want to feel the love try one of the following which have all been show to stimulate oxytocin levels:
Yoga & meditation
In addition to reducing cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and improving sleep patterns a 2013 study on a group of patients suffering from schizophrenia who practised yoga for a month demonstrated an increase in the subjects’ ability to recognise emotions and increased levels of oxytocin.
Regular meditation will reduce stress & anxiety levels and help you feel more compassionate to yourself and others. You will also target oxytocin levels by focussing your practice on someone you care about.
Listen to Music
Whilst musical tastes vary hugely, most of us enjoy listening to some kind of music. A 2009 study showed that cardiac surgery patients who listened to music as they recovered had higher levels of oxytocin than those that didn’t.
Spend time with friends
Strong friendships can really boost your emotional wellbeing. The good feelings you experience around close friends can help you feel more positive, supported and less alone in the world. The more time you spend the stronger the bond will become. Oxytocin at work!
Pet your dog
Great news for dog lovers like me, stroking your dog will elevate both yours and your pooch’s oxytocin levels – a win win! Several research studies have shown this.
Sexual intimacy and orgasm in particular will raise your oxytocin levels for both you and your partner.
Think fight or flight response – endorphin is a natural pain killer that acts on the opiate receptors in the brain in the same way that morphine does. It is released when we are in pain but also when we’re eating or working out in the gym. Tap into it by…
Hit the gym, do an online workout, work up a sweat and feel that endorphin rush. Do it regularly and your body will soon be demanding it!
Eating dark chocolate
Yup, you heard that right! A few mouthfuls of the really high cocoa stuff in particular will trigger an endorphin rush. And there’s also some serotonin in there for a double-hormone-whammy!
You can literally laugh yourself healthy! Laughing has been shown to reduce the stress hormones and releases endorphins. Even a fake laughter will do it if you want to hack your hack!
The reward chemical, it’s triggered by praise, positive outcomes and food. Stimulate it by…
Celebrating the little wins in life
Every day, find something to celebrate – it doesn’t have to be a huge thing – revelling in life’s small victories, however mundane they may seem can trigger a dopamine hit.
Complete a task
Tick that box, complete that list, pat yourself on the back and bathe in the dopamine reward that comes with it.
Eating your favourite healthy treat
Now careful here – we’re talking healthy treat but allow yourself – you’ve earned it.
Commonly associated with mood regulation, serotonin enables brain cells and other nerve cells to communicate with each other and helps with feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Encourage it by:
Getting some sun
Not so easy in norther Europe between October and March but when you can, get out in the sun.
Go for a walk in nature
Preferably with a loved one and a pet for an oxytocin / serotonin cocktail!
Go for a run, swim, cycle or HIIT class
Aerobic exercise is best for stimulating serotonin as it will release tryptophan into the blood stream which is what your body converts into serotonin.
So there you have our tips for encouraging these four happy hormones – some habits and practices that will make your mind and body feel their very best.