Hormones and Happiness

Hormones play a role on our level of happiness. Are you aware of the main ones?

Dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphin participate in the transmission of information in our body, between neurons (they act as neurotransmitters) or via the blood to the organs (we speak of hormones). Each of them is secreted in specific situations and is linked to the activation of so-called “positive” emotions. By focusing on these hormones, we can learn about our behaviors and situations that will trigger them.

  • Endorphin is produced during a significant effort: for example jogging or laughing. A few minutes is enough to feel the benefits. In addition to its short-term effects (sensation of pleasure, anti-pain …), endorphin is effective in limiting the harmful effects of stress.
    Tip: head over to the closest laughing or yoga club, or get ready for a good meal in front of your favorite comedy.
  • Dopamine is caused by situations that are assessed as pleasant by our brain and generates a feeling of pleasure (what we feel when we eat a piece of chocolate). The pleasure then felt becomes a great incentive to action our goals and create again this sensation. Dopamine then makes us want to experiment and take on challenges. In contrast, a low level of dopamine is found in people who have a tendency to procrastinate or lack enthusiasm.
    Tip: Break down your long-term goals into short-term achievable micro-goals.
  • Oxytocin plays a key role in our social relationships. Indeed, it is produced during positive social relationships (for example: a hug, compliments received or given, when we make or receive a gift …). It creates in us a sense of intimacy and trust that in turn facilitates social interactions and altruistic or cooperative behaviors.
    Tip: Allow yourself pure moments of tenderness. Take in your arms, your partner, your children or your animals.
  • Serotonin regulates our mood. It is known to be involved in the phenomena of depression. It is produced when we feel recognized for our true worth. It makes us feel serene and optimistic while a lack of serotonin promotes irritability and impulsiveness. Like endorphin, secretion of serotonin is facilitated by physical activity. In addition, exposure to the sun also promotes a satisfactory serotonin level.
    Tip: Learn how to value your successes. For example at the end of the day, take a few  minutes to write down what you did today.

I believe having an understanding of our body and how we can self-regulate our emotions is key. It helps us in being proactive and avoiding reaching out automatically for medication.

SACAC Counselling

Effects of Blue Light Technology and Impacts on Well-Being

In the day and age of the digital era today, many of us spend the majority of our waking hours staring at a digital screen be it the computer at work, our laptops at home, playing games, staring at our phones, going on social media, watching tv, carrying out activities on the iPad etc. Research propose that 60% of people spend more than 8 hours a day in front of a digital device.

Light consists of electromagnetic particles that travel in waves.  These waves produce energy and varies in strength and length. The shorter the wavelength; the higher the energy. Blue light in particular has garnered quite a fair bit of publicity in the recent years thanks to the rise in technology. Blue light can actually be found everywhere. In a natural environment like the outdoors, light from the sun travels through the atmosphere and when highly energized blue wavelengths of light collide with air molecules causing it to disperse, it is why the sky looks blue. Blue light aids in increasing attentiveness, reaction times, uplift moods, and well-being. However too much exposure to artificial sources of blue light (which is produced from digital devices) can then create the opposite effect. This in turn can cause insomnia / disrupted sleeping patterns, hyper-sensitivity / activity, headaches, eye strain, muscle aches, physical and mental fatigue which in turn correlates with stress and a negative impact on well-being.

We can decrease blue light exposure via various trajectories. Certain optical stores now provide patrons with blue lenses (with / without prescription) to decrease the glare of blue light coming from digital devices and these are helpful for individuals who are required to use the computer a lot at work; these are also helpful for children. Gunnar Computer Eyewear also produces computer / gaming eyewear for avid gamers to decrease eye strain and other negative impacts that may arise from long hours of gaming / computer / digital exposure. Apple users have a function on iPhones / iPads / iPods called the Night Shift mode that allows for its users to automatically adjust their screen to warmer colours and this also helps with migraines and headaches. There is a lot that we can do to help increase our well-being in turns of exposure to technology today.

Written by:                                                                                                            Dr Felicia Neo
Clinical Psychologist, Neuroscientist                                                              SACAC Counselling

The Wisdom of the Body

Do you ever have to think about how to brush your teeth in the morning or how to tie your shoes before you leave for school or work?  I’m guessing no.  This is because over the course of your life you have been doing these activities so often they have become part of your procedural memory –they happen automatically.   Just like the language you speak and riding a bike your brain is wired to just “know.”

Our body posture, how we carry ourselves, the way we hold tension, and how we communicate nonverbally are also procedural memories.  The patterns of our early childhood experiences and the messages we received have influenced our body to adapt to those environments. For example, someone who grows up in a family where achievement and trying hard are valued may tense up often in preparation to work harder or they find the extra energy to keep going and ignore body signals like tiredness and hunger.

When repeated over the course of childhood, these patterns can become habits in adulthood.  Our body has the intuition to guess that the future is going to be the same as the past.  This also includes the beliefs we hold about ourselves and in relation to others such as “I’m only as good as the university that accepts me” or “the more hours I put in the more I am valued.”

Sometimes what has worked before to gain the approval of those who cared for us becomes maladaptive for the present.  Going back to the example before, a person who is consumed by their work may have a low immune system, resist asking for help or have a hard time being emotionally available in relationships.  This can manifest into issues like depression, anxiety and relationship breakdown that often get presented in therapy.

By tuning into our bodies, we can start to attend to those patterns of being and relating that are not useful today as they were back then.  Just like we can learn to play a new instrument in adulthood with lots of practice and persistence we can also change old procedural memories to become more adaptive to our lives now.

Therapy interventions like Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org) developed by Pat Ogden and EMDR Therapy (http://www.emdr.com/) developed by Francine Shapiro are two types of evidenced based approached that integrate both the body experience with thoughts and emotions for sustainable change.  These approaches are both available at SACAC Counselling.  

Written by:                                                                                                        Kady Leibovitz
Licensed Clinical Social Worker                                                                    SACAC Counselling