If, like many citizens of the world, you’re feeling anxious and depressed these days, take a big, deep breath! With so much uncertainty bouncing through the air and fears mounting about an unknown future, it’s natural to feel less than yourself. But, rather than giving in to these negative emotions, it’s important to try all that you can to find hope, energy and happiness. That’s why building endorphins—or better known as ‘feel-good’ hormones—should be part of your new daily routine.
As defined by NASM certified trainer with RSP Nutrition, CJ Hammond, XPS, FMT explains, these chemicals released through the brain are what bring feelings of euphoria, serving as stress and pain-relievers. In addition to some ways you can probably guess—like exercise—there are many ways to super-charge these hormones, right from the comfort of your socially-distant home.
Eat some dark chocolate
We probably don’t have to tell you twice to whip out your secret stash of sweets. But before you nom on gummy bears and sour candy, remember that not all sugary-goods engage our endorphins. Rather, it’s one specific variety—dark chocolate—that’s been tied to zen. As explained by Dr. Marie Hayag, research has shown that chocolate can release endorphins and increase serotonin, both of which fight depressive symptoms. “Pick dark chocolate preferably with 70-percent cacao or more over milk chocolate because it can also increase serotonin production in the gut, and thus help the immune system, which is very applicable now with the COVID-19 spread,” she continues. “You only need one ounce: so very little a day.”
Pay it forward to someone else
No, you can’t visit your grandmother at the nursing home right now. And while you’d love to rake your parent’s backyard, it’s better to keep your distance with COVID-19. However, there are ways you can do good deeds virtually that will not only spread goodwill for others but help to improve your mood, too. As a life coach and author Sarah Steward, MSW, CPC explains, interacting with others and knowing we are making a difference in our life teaches us to feel gratitude. Whether you buy from a local struggling artist or photographer, order takeout to help a restaurant you love stay afloat, or even anonymously give to a single parent in need, all of these measures do wonders for humanity and your own sense of self.
Exercise, even for just 15 minutes
As the executive director of Innovation360 and a mental health expert, Dr. Kevin Gilliland, PsyD says the most effective way to release endorphins is to get your heart rate pumping. “If you’ve heard of the ‘runner’s high’, that’s what people are talking about but you don’t have to run that long or that far to get the effects,” he reassures. In fact, he points to some studies that indicate moderate to high intensity for a short period of time may be more effective in releasing those good-vibes chemicals. “ It may be high intensity for a couple of minutes in between exercises or it could be a run or bike ride at a high intensity for 15 or 20 minutes,” he continues. “Exercise is good medicine and some of the effects are due to the chemicals that get released.”
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class where balancing was part of the flow, your teacher probably suggested finding one still spot in the room to focus your attention. This is a similar practice of ‘anchoring’, a neurolinguistic programming technique that allows you to choose your mood at any given time, under any circumstance, according to Charleeta Latham, a NLP practitioner and master life and success coach. Rather than finding an outside source, you touch a certain point of your body to access any emotion you choose. “Think of it as your own personal ‘easy’ button. Want to feel empowered? There’s an anchor for that. Want to feel at ease? There’s an anchor for that. Name any feeling or emotion and there’s an anchor for that,” she shares.
Though most people hire a certified practitioner to guide them through the process, you can try it yourself from home. When you want to let go of anxiety, place your hand over your heart. Repeating this practice each time you experience symptoms will make it more effective.
Go through an ‘inner jogging’ exercise
If you’re not a runner, no worries. You can still utilize endorphins by practicing ‘inner jogging’, according to certified nutrition specialist and chiropractor Dr. Anthony Crifase, DC, CNS. What’s this? Laughing! “A solid laugh can lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, boost immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting cells and trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers,” he explains. Generally speaking, the more we giggle, the stronger our perspective and health become. Whether you call up a good friend who always knows what to say or you watch a TV show or movie that makes your side hurt, try to go on an ‘inner joy’ daily.
Have a deep-cleaning and dance party session
You may not enjoy cleaning but there’s never been more of an incentive to sanitize. But rather than making it feel like a chore, Hammond suggests turning it into a dance party that gets your mind far from the endless news cycle. As you vacuum, sweep, scrub and cleanse, put on your headphones and dance away. This forces you to focus your attention on the task at hand, rather than indulging your worries.
Listen to your favorite jams.
Dr. Crifase says music can be like a five-course meal for your ears and brain and can turn your mood from sad to happy within moments. After all, we all associate different tunes with periods of our life or specific emotions. “Certain music, such as heavy metal has the potential to trigger unwanted emotions such as anger or frustration while other music such as classical music or light pop can evoke more happy or relaxed emotions,” he continues. “Music with no words and just a melody such as a guitar or piano can also calm the mind and produce endorphins.” Whatever you pick, opt for the happy jams these days, rather than the depressing ones.
Get jiggy with it
If you are socially-distancing with everyone but your partner, you’ve likely found some creative and fun ways to pass the time. And likely, some of them don’t involve any clothes at all. Dr. Gilliland says sex is one of the best ways to release endorphins, even if it’s a quickie in between calls. “The anticipation of sex and the act of sex have mental and physical benefits beyond the purely pleasurable. There are a number of chemicals that get released in our brain that lead us to feel closer to someone, have a greater overall positive feeling, and also reduce our sense of pain,” he shares. “Yea, there’s a lot going on when we start talking about or having sex—and it’s good for helping reduce stress and boosting our feel-good chemicals.” If you are self-quarantined by yourself, consider having some solo action to reap similar benefits.