Different chemicals work together to help the brain and body function, including processing thoughts and affecting emotions. Several types of neurotransmitters, which carry signals from one neuron to another, influence how we experience happiness. There are four major neurotransmitters involved in positive emotions.
Many antidepressant medications focus on serotonin. Some block the reabsorption of serotonin so that more of it stays in the brain. Others block the breakdown of serotonin.
Many experts and patients have begun to question the use of these antidepressants after a study published in Molecular Psychiatry in 2022 found “no clear evidence” that depression is influenced by serotonin levels or serotonin activity. However, other experts have written rebuttals to these findings. Behavioral health providers need more high-quality studies to better understand the role of serotonin in the biology of depression.
Delayed gratification and meeting goals may trigger positive emotions associated with serotonin levels. You may also increase serotonin naturally by reducing stress, exercising, and getting plenty of sunlight.
Dopamine plays a huge role in feeling pleasure and reward. Eating delicious food or listening to a favorite song can give you a dopamine “hit” or “rush.” This serves to reinforce behaviors. Unfortunately, that includes more destructive behaviors like overeating, drug use, and gambling.
Dopamine also is involved in attention, learning, motor function, kidney function, sleep, pain, and the “fight-or-flight” response. High levels of dopamine can raise concentration, energy, and sex drive. However, it can also trigger more aggressive behavior or higher stress levels.
Encourage appropriate dopamine levels with healthy, pleasurable activities. Listen to your favorite music, eat a healthy but delicious snack, or try meditation.
Known as the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin helps produce feelings of affection and connection. The brain may release oxytocin during affectionate or sexual activity. Mothers may experience higher levels of oxytocin while breastfeeding. In fact, low oxytocin levels have been linked to postpartum depression.
Oxytocin is a crucial chemical in enhancing social interaction and bonding. You may be able to raise oxytocin levels by spending time with your favorite people and showing them affection.
Endorphins are released when you experience pain or stress, blocking the nerve cells that receive pain signals. This keeps your body functioning in high-stress or painful situations. They can help ease depression symptoms, boost self-confidence, and promote weight loss by regulating appetite.
More pleasurable activities that increase your heart rate can release endorphins. Sex, exercise, and rollercoaster rides are all ways to naturally increase this happy chemical. Laughter can also trigger endorphins, so visit a comedy club or watch a funny movie for an easy boost. In fact, endorphins may even be stimulated by eating spicy foods!
Mental and physical health involve a complex combination of factors. While brain chemicals are just one part of mental health, they play important roles that behavioral health providers and their clients should know about.
With the right treatment plan, your behavioral health clients can make better choices that improve their outcomes. Tracking their progress is crucial for creating the best plan.