Knowing some basic facts about your neuroscience can actually change your life. When I first learned how alcohol affected my brain chemistry, I was in for a shock. Alcohol lowers our receptivity to dopamine and our levels of serotonin and GABA. Just the very neurotransmitters that are responsible for making us feel happy!
Alcohol also induces the release of stress hormones that make us feel low, anxious, and depressed. It’s not just you—this is how alcohol works on the human brain.
Isn’t it a paradox? Most of us drink to RELAX. And yet that’s the opposite of what alcohol does to the brain.
When you take a break from alcohol, it allows your brain chemistry to rebalance. You may feel happier and experience much better moods (but please be patient, it takes a few weeks).
Because alcohol hijacks our dopamine response, it makes us numb to the natural pleasures of life.
When you drink to numb stressful or uncomfortable feelings you always have to remember, you’re not just numbing the bad, you’re also numbing the good.
When my brain chemistry rebalanced, I felt so giddy, I felt like I was falling in love. I would belt songs in my car, have dance parties with my dog, and just stare wistfully at clouds and trees.
Since then, I’ve been so interested in how we can bio-hack our happiness. Because happiness is no accident. We have to be intentional about bringing joy into our lives.
Let’s look at the four neurotransmitters most associated with happiness and how you can bio-hack them: (while I’m not a neuroscientist and the brain is radically complex, having a very basic understanding can help you!)
For a long time, scientists thought that dopamine was solely a happiness neurotransmitter. But now we know that it actually affects learning, motivation, and wanting. When a habit is important for our survival, like eating a piece of fruit, dopamine is released to lock in the learning. Dopamine is also implicated when you learn, grow, and feel wonder, awe, and appreciation. It’s tied to your sense of challenge, adventure, and completion of goals.
So if you want to bio-hack dopamine in your life, you’ll need to feel a sense of wonder and adventure. Maybe that’s hiking to a waterfall, riding your bike along the coast, or trying aerial yoga. It could also include setting new goals and learning new things, like a new language or how to launch a business.
Your brain is craving the stimulation of being an active agent in your own life. This is real living—not the artificial fireworks alcohol releases in the brain.
Serotonin affects our feelings of calm and relaxation. It’s released when we are meditative, mindful, or doing something comforting and nurturing four ourselves. If you want more calm in your life, you’ll need to practice calm in your life! Some ideas include meditating, journaling, taking a bath, making a nice cup of tea, watching your favorite holiday movie, or brushing your skin.
Relish your solitude and do something nice for yourself.
Endorphins: we know all about these because they are released when we exercise. Yes, your body releases endorphins after a good long run. But you also don’t need to get your sports bra and do a formal workout to elicit more endorphins in your life.
For example, when I’m preparing my coffee in the morning, I’ll play some upbeat music and dance. I also have a small trampoline that I use to jump on, sometimes just for 2 or 3 minutes. If I’m celebrating a win, big or small, I’ll also dance it out. You can also try running in place or jumping jacks for a minute, and see how it affects your mood!
Oxytocin is known as the love neurotransmitter. We feel it when we truly connect with other people. It’s also famously known as the neurotransmitter that floods a woman’s brain after delivering a baby.
Studies show that just hugging someone for 20 seconds is enough to release oxytocin for both parties. You could call your grandparents (I don’t have any left—if yours are still alive, CALL THEM!), go on a date with your partner, cuddle your dog, or grab coffee with a friend.
You also don’t have to physically be near anyone to release more oxytocin in your life. In the Buddhist tradition, monks meditate and visualize sending love and light to other people. I’ll do a similar meditation where I send love to those I love and actually see them smile as they receive it. I also send love and light to my clients, students, anyone who comes into my community.
How easy is that?
Again, I’m not a neuroscientist. The brain is complex and there’s a lot of nuanced things going on. But these four concepts are easy to understand and the activities we can do to bio-hack them are endless.
I appreciate you and I’m sending you my heart-loving light right now!
If you’d like some help to stop drinking and create the alcohol-life of your dreams, click here for details on my online course.