How We Can Harness Dopamine To Make Us Healthier
If the current millennium had a chemical mascot, it would likely be dopamine: the double-dealing neurotransmitter that keeps us wanting more. More coffee, more clothes, more food, more beer, more love, more money. Who would think all this want begins with a chemical exchange between synapses in your brain?
The problem with dopamine is, it sometimes feels too good, and all of a sudden we're hooked on something that can hurt us. Yet, without it, we would have no motivation even to survive. For instance, lab rats who were denied any dopamine would not even eat to save their own lives. In contrast, with too much, they wanted to eat more than they should. Unfortunately, this feeling is all too familiar for many of us.
Actually, the reason that drugs so easily lead to addiction is that the delicious feeling produced by excess dopamine tricks us into thinking it will promote our success. Interesting, recent evidence hints that we can give dopamine a run for its money in these instances, and choose to shop elsewhere for our dopamine. As a matter of fact, there are millions of healthy ways to elevate dopamine. Indeed, this is where our power over our own destiny lies.
DOPAMINE INFLUENCES OUR BEHAVIOR
Metaphorically, if your body is a symphony of biochemical interactions and dopamine the violin soloist, you alone hold the conductor's wand. In essence, you have the power to choose where and when it will shine. The opening sonata, adagio, or scherzo; it's up to you. More to the point, you can choose to go on a run, dance in the rain, or eat an entire pan of brownies if you want.
Certainly, dopamine plays a part in all three of these experiences. So why not choose the run or the dance? The fact is, a similar amount of pleasure and desire can be felt in each of these scenarios. Most importantly, you can choose to invite the tricky neurotransmitter into your success rather than your vice.
WHAT IS A DOPAMINE DEFICIENCY?
As we can see, dopamine plays an essential role in all kinds of emotions and impulses in our daily lives. As it turns out, imbalances in levels of it affect mood, sleep, memory, focus, and a host of other vital functions. Symptoms of a dopamine deficiency include:
- Lack of focus
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sugar cravings
- Low motivation
- Feeling hopeless, sad, or guilty
- Feelings of anxiety
Moreover, when someone feels these symptoms, they may become tempted to seek quick fixes like prescription or nonprescription drugs, excess food, or alcohol. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to increase dopamine levels naturally, even without prescribed medications.
4 OF SKYTERRA'S FAVORITE WAYS TO NATURALLY BOOST DOPAMINE LEVELS.
We've made a list of some of our favorite natural dopamine-enhancing activities at Skyterra Wellness Retreat. Of course, as the conductor of your own bodily symphony, you can choose some of these over more destructive dopamine enhancers.
1) BOND WITH ANIMALS
Skyterra's therapist Shannon Worley enjoys playing with her dogs when she wakes up in the morning. In fact, a cuddle with your pup, or bunny, or kitty triggers oxytocin release, helping you to bond with your pet and alleviate stress. Likewise, even quietly interacting with wildlife disperses dopamine. "You release oxytocin, adrenaline, and serotonin," said scientist Meg Olmert to The Daily Mail. "So, all of these great reward chemicals and anti-stress chemicals can be released in both you and the pet."
(Skyterra Wellness Retreat encourages guests to bring their furry dopamine enhancers with them to increase their health and wellness potential during their retreat. To tell the truth, dogs enjoy the beautiful, mountain trails as much as our human guests do.)
2) WALK OR RUN IN NATURE
Ever climbed to the top of a mountain and suddenly felt as if the view before you transforms you like a magic vitamin? This is dopamine, adrenalin, and serotonin. Have you skied in fresh, untracked powder? How about run freely on a trail along a river with the wind in your hair? That rush of adrenaline you experience doing those activities raises serotonin which causes a spike of dopamine in your brain.
The dopamine makes you want to do it again. Indeed, it's that pleasure/desire combo that kicks in between the synapses in your brain. Long distance runner Jennifer Jordan describes the runner's high:
"Sometimes I reach a place where I feel like I can run forever. I tap into a reservoir of unlimited energy and feel completely in the moment, lighter in my body. I'm more aware of my breath and surroundings. It can be euphoric at times; kind of like an out-of-body experience. Actually, it makes me want to come back to that place again and again."
3) EAT FOODS HIGH IN TRYOSINE
The amino acid tyrosine plays an essential role in the production of dopamine. Chicken, fish, eggs, and legumes are all high in tyrosine and can easily be incorporated into many diets. Additionally, Skyterra dietitian Lindsay Ford recommends tyrosine boosters such as avocados, bananas, broccoli, and spinach.
She also highlights the importance of cruciferous vegetables like kale, collards, and cauliflower which are rich in sulfur and B vitamins. Sulfur compounds boost glutathione levels which contribute to optimal dopamine release. Likewise, Lindsay encourages people to eat enough healthy carbohydrates. In effect, extreme carbohydrate restriction can hinder the release of dopamine.
4) LISTEN TO OR PLAY MUSIC
A new study reported in Psychology Today found that dopamine plays a direct role in the reward sensation induced by music. For example, Skyterra's yoga teacher Lori Manske incorporates singing bowl sessions into her classes in the tradition of Tibetan meditation. Many of the participants in her classes feel transported to a place of meditative euphoria during the performances. "I felt as if I were in kind of a trance," said one of her students recently in the Yoga Yurt after class.