Endorphins are yet another type of ‘good chemicals’ produced by the body. They are natural morphine-like chemicals whose function is diminishing pain while triggering positive feelings. That is why endorphins are also known as ‘the body’s natural painkillers’. After experiencing pain or stress, we release endorphins to help reduce the physical sensation.
In the previous sections of this article, we illustrated how all feel-good chemicals are overproduced as a result of substance abuse. Eventually the brain is hijacked and incapable of sensing positive feelings by itself. Alcohol and drug misuse – in particular of opioids such as morphine, heroin, codeine, fentanyl – accustom the body to large, unnatural rushes of endorphins. This generates a dependency.
As always, there are activities that we can do to generate the natural flow of endorphins, negating the need for drugs:
Cardiovascular exercise raises our heart rate for a prolonged period of time by using large muscle movement. Examples of cardio exercise are jogging, swimming, cycling, or walking at a brisk pace. New research has found that the intensity of exercise may affect the amount of endorphin release. While walking alone is enough to increase energy levels throughout the day, higher production of endorphin is achieved through more energetic activities such as running or swimming. Many regular runners and swimmers define exercise as ‘addictive’ precisely for the rush of endorphins released when they finish a good workout.
Due to its universal appeal, yoga has grown in popularity in recent years. It can be practised anywhere and it is suitable for any fitness level. Movements as easy as stretching the arms and legs provide endorphin benefits. Besides, as yoga is centred on breathing and being present in the moment, it encourages a calmness of body and mind that can reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
American researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that doing volunteer work, donating money, or helping others can improve endorphin levels in the brain. The study showed that giving voluntarily generated greater brain activation. For example, donating funds to a cause or treating a friend for lunch is thought to release endorphins.
Spicy foods may trigger a pain sensation in the mouth that prompts an increase in endorphins. Dark chocolate – with at least 70% cocoa – contains chemicals called flavonoids that appear to be beneficial to the brain. Although chocolate should be consumed in moderation due to its high calorie and fat content. There is also scientific evidence that ginseng can release endorphins as well as improving mental performance, including memory and concentration.
The health benefits of laughter are well documented and demonstrate that laughing increases endorphins. Laughter is sometimes described as ‘inner jogging’ as it has a similar feel-good effect as exercise. In addition to lowering blood pressure and boosting immune function, it produces a general sense of wellbeing.
For those in recovery looking for a safe and natural way to regain some pleasant feelings, endorphins released through a healthier lifestyle are considered an excellent replacement. By becoming passionate about an exercise routine or a volunteering project that we can do regularly, we can achieve a wonderful sense of purpose. Through this, our loyal friends – the good chemicals – can support us in experiencing a richer, more gratified life.