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Boosting Happy Neurochemicals for Better Mental Health 

I was speaking with a client recently who recognizes that in the past she would give a boost to the pleasure center of her brain through drug or alcohol use.

 

I offered that she is not alone in this way of coping and looking to minimize pain and /or just feel better.   Many people have taken to food, drugs or alcohol to cope with the challenges of the day, the pain of their past, or just because they enjoy the feeling  these habits bring.

 

We all have a brain that is constantly asking “ what do I want right now, or what would make me feel better?” Think about the desire (and then action) of going to your favorite coffee shop for a latte.  You went through a brain process first of desire, awareness of the desire, and then your brain went through a very brief process of asking yourself, “how much work or energy will I need to expend to get that latte?”.

 

If the answer is I just need to jump in my car and drive 5 minutes to get it, then you might just find yourself driving towards your nearest coffee place with eager anticipation.

 

We are all wired to move toward pleasure and move away from pain.  Sadly, if we had exposure to people – family, older siblings, friends, etc. that used drugs, food or alcohol as a means of coping, then these are the behaviors  that were modeled for us.

 

Additionally, for those that want to kick some bad habits, it can be more difficult since we live in a culture that normalizes over indulgence.  Our environment and our peers can be very influential in our own choices and therefore daily habits.

 

But we don’t have to be stuck with our current habits just because it’s what we’ve always done.

 

That is the good news here; what we now know about neuroplasticity!

 

Neuroplasticity is a big word that essentially means you are not stuck with the brain you have.

 

While it can take time for neural pathways to shift, there are many things within your control that can help. These things must be practiced over time before you will likely see a shift in your choices.

 

-              Start with Awareness-  Where are you, who are you with, what are you thinking and feeling when you first want to grab a drink, break out the twinkies, or resort to a drug to feel better?  Start paying attention so you can look for triggers and patterns.

-              Create a list of Alternative Ways to Feel Better-  As simple as this sounds, your eyes, brain and heart need to see in writing that there are other ways to achieve a similar desired effect of what you get when you overindulge or partake in the stuff that makes you feel better in the short run but ruins your health in the long run.

-              Start experimenting with activities that could help you cope better with life.   Some ideas would be trying things like walking, jogging, yoga, swimming, dancing - in other words anything that moves your body and brings better blood flow.  When you are moving and loving what you are doing you will enjoy a good happy neurochemical hit to the pleasure center of your brain.

-              Start Re Examining what you want for your Life.  You are the architect of your life! Maybe you are numbing out because it is easier than dealing with a horrible job or a toxic relationship.  Start getting honest with yourself about what needs to change and begin to make a plan to take the first step in achieving your goals.

-              Learn to Reframe Your Thoughts.  We all have a thought life- an inner dialogue that really drives our feelings and choices.  The more you tune in and listen and then question the thoughts that are keeping you stuck, the better this process goes.  Do you really need that bottle of wine to feel better or are there other ways to achieve your desired feeling?

-              Seek out a Competent Counselor or Life Coach if you need to heal from your past, need new and better coping tools and the guidance to implement them.  It can be tough to break longstanding habits, and sometimes we need the infusion of new ideas, tools, encouragement and accountability. 

 

 You have a choice every day what to feed your body and brain both in terms of your thoughts and what you actually put in your body.   There are so many small things you can do throughout the day to give the pleasure center of your brain a good hit of happy neurochemicals.  Even petting your dog or cat releases oxytocin, the cuddle hormone.

 

Start finding the people, places, things, activities that bring you joy.  Re engage with your faith, start a passion project, start moving your body- these things  can begin to help you start a beautiful new journey where you are back in the driver’s seat of your life.  Enjoy the journey!

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