How can you control the chemicals in your body to boost your mood when you need it?

For a positive, productive mood, There are more than 100 physical intelligence techniques, all well supported by neuroscience. Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton offer some techniques to help you manage your mood

For many of us, 2020 has felt a bit like a rollercoaster ride with too many lows and not enough highs. At least on a roller coaster, we can see what’s coming (as long as we keep our eyes open) and prepare for it. Yet, throughout 2020 we haven’t had many thrills and we haven’t been able to see the peaks and valleys headed our way – a situation that is expected to continue into 2021. An environment with that level of uncertainty, where challenges are suddenly thrust upon us, and where we have to figure out how to navigate unexpected turns at a moment’s notice can wreak havoc with our mood.

Physical Intelligence (the ability to detect and actively manage the balance of certain key chemicals in our system through how we breathe, move, think and interact) can help. Right now, hundreds of chemicals are racing through each of our bodies in our bloodstream and nervous system. Those chemicals largely dictate how we think, feel, speak and behave. Most of us operate at the mercy of these chemicals, experiencing thoughts, reactions and emotions, without realising that we can strategically influence them.

Emotions are strands of chemicals, (neuropeptides with a negative or positive electrical charge). They arrive at receptor cells in our body and set off a chain of events. When we experience an emotion, it is because those neuropeptides are literally changing the chemistry of every cell in our body. A swell of oxytocin (social bonding and trust chemical) is felt as pride, a drain of dopamine (pleasure and reward chemical) as disappointment, a wave of adrenalin (fear and excitement chemical) and dopamine as excitement, and a flood of cortisol (stress and threat chemical) and adrenalin as fear. All emotions – positive and negative – need to be expressed, otherwise, they get stuck in our body, similar to the wrong key getting stuck in a lock. Until they are unstuck, they will create a toxic environment – and shift our mood.

For a positive, productive mood, we need to keep cortisol at an optimal low level and boost our three ‘feel good’ chemicals: oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin (our happiness chemical). There are more than 100 physical intelligence techniques, all well supported by neuroscience. The brain will believe the body as much as the body will believe the brain. For example, smiling at yourself in the mirror boosts serotonin; smiling at others, even through the camera lens of your computer/phone, boosts oxytocin; and when people smile back, it boosts dopamine. Here are a few more techniques to help you manage your mood:

Managing Cortisol:

  • Paced Breathing is the best technique for managing our cortisol level. Breathe diaphragmatically in a smooth, rhythmic way, breathing in and out in a regular ratio – counting the in and out breaths in your mind. Start working on paced breathing as you read this. Don’t push or pull the length of the breath. Discover the rhythm that works best for you. You may choose an even count (e.g., 4 in and 4 out) or an uneven count (e.g., 5 in and 7 out). If you are feeling extra stress, aim for a longer out breath. That helps dispel CO2 which is heavier than Oxygen and can build up in our lungs, raising cortisol levels.

Oxytocin:

  • Channel Kate Winslet (or rather her character in the Titanic) with this move: Stretch your arms out to the side as if you are about to take flight. Then, raise your chin a little and look up. Imagine that you have a string attached to your sternum (chest bone) and are being pulled forward and up by that string. Your arms will move behind you a bit. Close your eyes, breathe, open your chest, and expand into this stretch. Breathe in and out twice more, then lower your arms and come back to vertical slowly. You just stimulated 40,000 independent neurons in your heart and surrounding muscle, releasing oxytocin, which increases happiness and our ability to connect with and understand the world and others around us. This movement creates an inner state in which you can more easily connect with and build trust with other people. When you feel frustrated with others, this movement can change your state to one of compassion. If you feel isolated or are tempted to give up, it can change your state to one of connection, hope, and optimism.
  • Neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s research, published in The Trust Factor, reports that in organisations that share information broadly and intentionally build relationships, and where leaders ask for support, there is 76% more engagement, people have 106% more energy, they are 50% more productive, 29% more satisfied with their lives, have 13% fewer days sick and 40% fewer cases of burnout. He has tested oxytocin levels in the bloodstream of thousands of employees across many industries and cultures and has found that trust and purpose reinforce each other, raising oxytocin levels over a longer period.

Serotonin:

  • Our bodies are designed for movement, essential for health, mood and mindset – and for lowering cortisol. Twisting at the waist is particularly helpful because it releases serotonin. 95% of our serotonin is produced by independent neurons in our gut. Especially if you spend long hours in front of the computer, at least twice a day, twist at the waist. A series of golf swings or stretches will work. This also helps release toxins that build up around our inner organs throughout the day.
  • Three other quick ways to boost serotonin: Meditate and eat bananas or 70+% dark chocolate.

Dopamine:

  • Find something to enjoy and appreciate right now. You just created a ‘reward’ and gave yourself a dopamine boost.
  • Dopamine enables connections across multiple areas of the brain – including vision and imagination – and is released when things are novel, fun and when you look at them from different perspectives. It is also released when you see stimulating or inspiring scenery or art, and is critical for our desire to reach our goals. Don’t try too hard because making an effort to be creative impedes ideas – relax, let go, and allow ideas to surface naturally.
  • Visualisation, determination, motivation, and appreciation keep us moving toward our goals because they boost dopamine (and oxytocin). We feel motivated and we know that we are not alone. Appreciation is especially important. When showing appreciation for others, notice behaviour, share data, and be specific. Even if it’s not your natural style, appreciation is something you can practice and even schedule – but it must be sincere. Plants need to be watered more than they need to be pruned. People are the same. Sharing well-deserved appreciation will boost the mood for the giver and the receiver.

Have fun using these techniques to mix your mood-boosting chemical cocktail!

Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton are the directors of Companies in Motion and authors of award-winning best-seller Physical Intelligence (Simon & Schuster), available now in ebook and hardback, priced at £14.99.

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