Meet your happy hormones

Use your happy hormones to your advantage and take control of everything from your weight to your state of mind.

Hormones are the yin and yang of keeping the body balanced. For example, the effects of oestrogen before ovulation (when the egg or ova is released) are balanced by progesterone after ovulation. Hormones are chemicals or messengers sent from one organ (mostly the brain) to another, telling it what to do.

For example, the pituitary gland in the brain sends a message (by way of the follicle-stimulating hormone) to the ovaries during menstruation that it’s time to start another cycle. Hormones are part of the fascinating and hard-working endocrine system, which is like a computer’s motherboard – when it’s faulty, all the other systems are affected. Because hormone doses are miniscule, and their initiation and effects are slow-acting, they can be
effective from a few hours to a few weeks. This means that conditions associated with hormonal problems, such as
mood, health, weight, and fertility can go undetected and even undiagnosed for some time before they become symptomatic.

READ MORE: CAN YOU CATCH STRESS

What are ‘happy hormones’?

Hormones control most bodily functions, for example reproduction, metabolism, sleep, growth and development. But there are specific hormones that control our moods. Here are a few:

Oxytocin is the ‘love’ or ‘bonding’ hormone. It’s the hormone that new-borns get lots of when they’re cuddled,
skin-to-skin in the comfort of their mother’s arms. Without love, babies fail to thrive. This amazing hormone also floods the mother’s brain during breast-feeding. It ensures her new-born’s survival by helping her to fall in love with the baby who, just a short while ago, gave her hours of agonising pain!

Throughout life, oxytocin is stimulated by touch, and touching means bonding. Our need to connect with the people we love is not just emotional – it’s also physical. Bonding is the glue that keeps couples together. Happy couples make happy families – even under difficult circumstances. Bonding is a vital part of relationships that
builds trust. Estranged couples and families go through emotional trauma when bonds are broken. This can lead to
distrust and depression, with its associated complications.

Dopamine is a ‘motivation and reward’ hormone, and comes from the prefrontal cortex, an important part of the brain where decisionmaking takes place. It’s one of the most important ‘messenger chemicals’ in the brain because it controls behaviour depending on what the person has learned through life’s experiences. Dopamine is also known as the ‘agony and the ecstasy’ hormone because it encourages people to be bold and brave, to try new things, to face their fears. It’s vital to living a healthy, normal life. This hormone gives people the courage to be adventurous – get married, look for a new job, start a business – even when the odds are against them.

Dopamine is also stimulated by risk-taking. Teenagers and young adults, who are notorious ‘adrenaline junkies’,
thrive on ‘dopamine highs’. Without it, mankind would never have circumnavigated the world, climbed the highest
mountains or launched rockets into space. Women wouldn’t have babies!

Serotonin is the ‘satisfaction’ hormone. It controls your mood by telling your brain when you’ve had enough – from food and sleep to stress. It improves your memory and motivates you to have sex. Serotonin also plays a part in the body’s natural cycles, and keeps them in balance (like keeping periods regular), ensuring health and
happiness. Serotonin is made in the brain and intestines, and it’s used where it’s made.

Serotonin is also called a ‘neurohormone’ or a ‘neurotransmitter’ because it sends messages from one brain cell to another through synapses. These play an important role in the way people think, behave and desire. Hello libido! When there’s not enough serotonin, depression can set in.

Endorphins are the pain-relieving hormone. They can lead to euphoria (intense happiness) under circumstances of pleasure and can act as natural morphine when there’s extreme pain. Endorphins come from the central part of the brain known as the limbic system, where emotions and motivation, pleasure and pain originate. During labour, endorphins help women to cope with painful contractions. They’re also associated with pleasure and are released during sex – especially when a woman has an orgasm.

READ MORE: 7 STEPS TO A HAPPIER LIFE

Using ‘happiness hormones’ to your advantage

There’s no price tag attached to ‘happiness hormones’. You don’t have to subscribe to get them – they’re there for the taking, providing you make them.

Happiness is contagious. It’s like a flame that lights a thousand candles, and can light a thousand more without
becoming smaller! But like a flame that needs oxygen, happiness hormones need to be nurtured, and the best
way to do this is to use them to your advantage at every opportunity, every day.

The science of the benefits of skin-to-skin care immediately after birth during the first ‘magic hour’ of life have been well documented. Premature babies have been ‘loved’ back to life using kangaroo mother-care. Kissing it better before cleaning a wound dries a child’s tears. Cuddling your toddler during storytime before bedtime helps tots to sleep. Holding hands connects you in an intimate way with those you love.

Everyday challenges and hurdles can become batons and badges when you face your fears and imagine these to be events to look forward to rather than dreading. The successof a meeting, landing the job you were hoping
for, beating the traffic, turning out the perfect sponge cake or passing a test all boost dopamine levels. But
the challenge begins with the planning when you tell yourself ‘I can do this!’ Look around you and see
how nature is balanced. A bird’s body supported on stick legs on the telephone wire is perfectly balanced.

When a woman’s hormones are balanced, her menstrual cycle is regular. When melatonin is balanced with sufficient sunshine, sleep cycles are regular. Learning to listen to your body helps to control serotonin levels,
and this synchronises body rhythms, ensuring health and happiness.

Natural endorphins that peak with childbirth go a long way to alleviate and even prevent post-natal blues while
hormones readjust to a nonpregnant state. The agony of any physical endurance test is rewarded with regular
endorphin boosts – ask any long distance runner or athlete. The woes of the world can be lifted off your shoulders
when endorphins are released during sex. It’s the best pickme- upper!

So, how do you boost your ‘happiness hormones’?

  1. Smile. It’s contagious. Most people will smile back. Little dopamine boosts will give you the courage to do bigger and better things.
  2. Laugh. It’s the best medicine and releases oodles of serotonin.
  3. Eat healthy – especially serotonin-boosting nutrients like eggs (that’s why they’re good for breakfast), cheese, pineapples, tofu, salmon, nuts and seeds.
  4. Exercise in the sunshine – this boosts serotonin and melatonin levels.
  5. Remember the healing power of touch. Boost oxytocin levels. Massage your partner and let him massage you.
  6. Don’t let stress become distress – make everything you do enjoyable. Start a hobby. Be creative. Get dopamine driven!
  7. Reduce artificial sugar. Too much of it confuses serotonin levels.
  8. Learn to forget and forgive! Holding on to past hurts can block the release of these essential hormones.
  9. Have more sex. If sex is an issue, try all of the above. If your libido doesn’t respond, ask for help.

Feature: Burgie Ireland and photos from Fotolia.com

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