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Your Brain’s Daily Dose

Susan Litwiller, is an executive coach with over 20 years of experience in leadership development and coaching. Susan specializes in serving the C-suite and helping executives achieve their personal and professional goals.

 
Executive Contributor Susan Litwiller

How to use your brain's feel-good chemicals (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins) for optimal happiness daily.

 

Happy woman waking up in the morning

Taking care of our health requires daily effort. We need enough exercise, follow nutritional diet, make sure to get some vitamin D by being in the sun, and of course, plenty of sleep. Even with all the efforts put into maintaining a healthy lifestyle, there is often one area that is overlooked. That is the brain’s capacity to enhance our lives by engaging the neuro-feel-good-chemicals working in our favor.


I call this, the daily DOSE.


Defining brain chemicals

DOSE is an acronym I am using which includes 4 mood controlling brain chemicals, Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins. The names of these chemicals are spoken haphazardly by various sources and on some level probably sound familiar. Let’s expand the definition on each one and offer some practical steps for how to identify various ways to engage these chemicals to work in your favor daily.


These 4 key neurotransmitters—Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins (DOSE) —affect brain function, thought processes, and our mental and emotional lives. Each neurotransmitter plays a unique role in and influences all aspects from mood and comfort to decision-making and social behavior. Understanding DOSE is key to using our brains for us to be successful and fruitful.


Dopamine

Effects on the brain: Dopamine is often labeled the "feel-good" neurotransmitter. It plays a critical role in various brain functions.


  • Reward and pleasure: Dopamine is released during pleasurable situations and stimulates one to seek out the pleasurable activity or occupation. This includes basic rewards like food and more complex ones like gambling.

  • Motor control: It's a critical component in the control of movement. Research indicates that a deficiency in dopamine is responsible for movement disorders in Parkinson's disease.

  • Regulation of mood: Levels of dopamine are also associated with mood swings, depression, and other emotional states. In fact, higher levels of dopamine can lead to feelings of euphoria, bliss, and enhanced motivation and concentration. Therefore, exposure to substances and activities that increase dopamine can become addictive to some individuals.


Effects on thought processes: Dopamine significantly influences motivation, attention, and memory. Its presence creates the drive required to act proactively and allows for reinforcement learning, influencing decision-making processes based on past experiences. High dopamine levels can promote assertiveness and quick decision-making, but they can also lead to impulsivity and higher risk-taking, reflecting in thought patterns and behaviors.


Oxytocin

Effects on the brain: Oxytocin is known as the "love hormone." It is crucial for human bonding, social behavior, and companionship.


  • Social bonding: Oxytocin is released in high amounts during touch and social bonding experiences. Specifically, close human contact activities such as hugging, childbirth, and breastfeeding. This fosters attachment and builds interpersonal connections.

  • Reduction of social anxiety: Oxytocin has anti-anxiety effects, helping create feelings of calmness and security, which encourage bonding and social risk-taking, like trusting strangers or forming new partnerships.


Effects on thought processes: Oxytocin influences cognitive functions relating to social interactions and emotions. It helps in recognizing social cues and promotes the processing of social information, enabling empathy, and understanding others' emotions and perspectives. This is helpful to facilitates prosocial behavior and emotional responses within social contexts. Additionally, it affects decision-making while engaging in interpersonal matters.


Serotonin

Effects on the brain: Serotonin impacts various psychological and other body functions.


  • Mood regulation: It helps regulate mood, keeping anxiety and depression at bay. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression and mood disorders.

  • Sleep: It influences sleep cycles and patterns, playing a role in wakefulness and sleep inhibition.

  • Appetite control: Serotonin impacts food cravings and appetite, and its regulation is crucial in eating behaviors and digestion.


Effects on thought processes: Serotonin's primary role in thought is related to mood and social behavior. It helps regulate stress responses, contributing to feelings of happiness and well-being, affecting overall cognitive function, including memory and learning. Its balance is associated with positive thinking patterns, a stable mood, and a balanced emotional state, whereas its imbalance can lead to negative thought patterns, impulsivity, or difficulty with emotional regulation.


Endorphins

Effects on the brain: Endorphins are released to minimize discomfort and promote positive feelings, working similarly to opioids by having a pain relief effect and inducing feelings of pleasure or euphoria:


  • Pain regulation: They help relieve pain by binding to opiate receptors in the brain, acting as natural painkillers.

  • Stress response: Endorphins are part of the body's stress response and can help mitigate the negative effects of stress, promoting a sense of well-being.


Effects on thought processes: While not directly involved in complex cognitive processes, endorphins contribute to feelings of comfort, satisfaction, and well-being, which can have an indirect influence on thought. By alleviating feelings of pain and reducing the stress response, endorphins can promote positive thinking, improve overall cognitive function under stress, and potentially boost problem-solving and rational thought by creating a more conducive mental state.


Practical application

While there are several activities we can begin to implement into our daily schedules, it’s important to set intentions to practice using our brains to work for us. We have the capacity to think about what we think about. If the thoughts and behaviors don’t serve us, we can change it. In an instant.

Here are a few suggestions to get started on engaging our DOSE each day:

 

Dopamine (The reward chemical)

Set small goals by breaking down tasks into smaller, achievable goals. Completing these can give you a sense of accomplishment and trigger dopamine release.


Self-care routines: Establish routines that you enjoy, such as reading, gardening, or any hobby that gives you a sense of accomplishment. 


Healthy eating: Foods rich in tyrosine (like almonds, bananas, avocados, and eggs) can increase dopamine levels naturally.


Oxytocin (The love hormone)

Physical touch: Hugs, handshakes, and cuddles can increase oxytocin. It’s often called the “cuddle hormone” for its role in bonding. 


Connect with friends and family: Spending quality time with loved ones can boost oxytocin levels, enhancing your sense of connection and trust.


Pet a dog or cat: Interactions with pets can stimulate oxytocin production, improving your mood and reducing stress.


Serotonin (The mood stabilizer)

Sun exposure: Spending time in sunlight can boost serotonin levels, improving mood and helping regulate your circadian rhythm. (Use sunscreen of course!) 


Exercise: Regular physical activity increases serotonin and endorphin levels, improving mood and overall well-being. 


Healthy diet: Foods rich in tryptophan (like turkey, eggs, and cheese) can help increase serotonin levels. Incorporating a balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is also beneficial.


Endorphins (The pain-killer)

Regular exercise: Activities like running, cycling, or team sports can trigger an “endorphin rush,” reducing pain and boosting pleasure. 


Laugh more: Watching a comedy or spending time with friends who make you laugh can increase endorphins. 


Spicy foods: Consuming spicy food can trigger endorphin release, similar to the "runner's high" experienced during intense exercise.


Summarizing integrating DOSE into daily life


  • Morning routine: Start your day with a healthy breakfast, some sunlight, and a bit of exercise to kickstart dopamine and serotonin levels.

  • Workday: Set small, achievable goals throughout your day to keep dopamine levels up. Take short breaks to stretch or chat with a colleague to boost oxytocin.

  • Evening routine: Engage in activities that promote relaxation and happiness, like spending time with loved ones or pets, to increase oxytocin and endorphins. Consider ending your day with a book or a hobby to relax and achieve a small goal, boosting dopamine before bed.


Imagine taking just a few small steps to employ your natural brain chemicals to shift your entire day to be successful with an amazing sense of accomplishment. Not only will you have energy and enthusiasm, but all of this is also achieved with the resources you are born with and are always with us. That is, the complex and marvelous system located between your ears.

 

 

Susan Litwiller, Executive NeuroCoach

Susan Litwiller, is an executive coach with over 20 years of experience in leadership development and coaching. Susan specializes in serving the C-suite and helping executives achieve their personal and professional goals.


Susan holds an Ed.S degree and an MBA, providing a deep understanding of both education and business. Her dissertation work focused on the impact of employee engagement and structural empowerment on workplace environments. This research provided Susan with a solid ability to gain insights into the drivers of employee motivation and satisfaction. Additionally, as a certified Master NeuroCoach, Susan applies the latest neuroscience research and techniques to help clients achieve their desired outcomes. She helps both individuals and organizations overcome barriers to success and reach their full potential.


As a leadership expert and strategy coach, Susan partners with clients to develop their leadership skills, enhance decision-making abilities, and increase emotional intelligence. Her approach is collaborative, supportive, and results-driven. She has a unique way of weaving brain science with leadership and management principles to create innovative solutions to today’s complex challenges.

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