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Hack Your Brain

The brain is an amazing organ functioning inside the living organisms. It is an organ of soft nervous tissue contained in the skull of vertebrates, functioning as the control center of emotions  and intellectual and nervous activity [1]. The brain acts on the rest of the body both by generating patterns of muscle activity and by driving the flow of chemicals called hormones. Moreover, neurotransmitters aka chemical messengers help to transmit neuro-signals from one neuron to another. The combination of these two agents moderates our feelings of well-being, and lifestyle factors affect them. Hence, it will be beneficial for us, as living beings, to know how these can affect our day-to-day activities. Most importantly, it will be more helpful to know the ways we can manipulate the presence of them to improve our productivity.

Dopamine

DophamineDopamine motivates and drives you to act towards your goals, and gives you the deluge of boosting pleasure when achieving them. When you’re praised and complemented at work for a doing a good job, it will give you an excellent dopamine shot resulting an energetic mood. It will drive you for seeking more pleasure; ultimately allowing you to achieve more goals. When you have low levels of Dopamine, it causes procrastination, self-doubt and lack of enthusiasm, and make you fail at your ambitions. Hence, it is really important to maintain a good level of Dopamine in your body.

Start setting a few realistic goals regardless of the significance of them. You can start with smaller tasks such as “tidying your desk” and “hit the gym after work”. And make sure you make these goals S.M.A.R.T. [2], then you can actually feel when you accomplish them. So, it is better to track your goals. You can have a to-do list in your pocket or even on your smartphone, where you can tick-off the finished tasks. Then you will have the feeling of completing them when you’re ticking them off.

If you have bigger goals, break it down into smaller goals. Then rather than having a single release of Dopamine, you’ll get a series of Dopamine shots, where each one will encourage you to reach the next sub-goal. These frequent Dopamine releases will drive you smoothly to your bigger goal. It will also avoid the Dopamine hangover, such as spending half of your money for a party when you reach your goal with the huge excitement.

Give some credit to yourself when you achieve a goal. Buy yourself something you like, get a favorite meal from your favorite restaurant. It will feel you rewarded and motivate you to achieve more.

When you feel that you’re achieving one of your goals, add another goal to your list. It will keep the rhythm of experiencing Dopamine. Then you’ll eventually get addicted to the feeling of achievement.

If you’re a team lead or an employer, make sure your colleagues and employees feel the same way. Send out an email appreciating their work, give a small extra incentive once in a while and it will be a “Dopamine-hit” for them. That will definitely improve the productivity of your team or organization for sure.

Serotonin

Serotonin“Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important”. This is a highly effective anti-depressant, and contained in most such medicine. When you recall your past achievements, it allows your brain to re-live the experience. The brain is not completely able of differentiating what is real and what is imagined. So it produces Serotonin in both cases.

If you’re having a stressful day, take a few minutes off and recall the past achievements. If you’re a team lead, recall the achievements of your team during meetings. This will help to decrease the stress level of the team members, which will lead to the improvement of productivity.

Another way to boost your Serotonin level is to go outside once in a while. When you’re exposed to the Sun, your skin absorbs ultra-violet rays, and promotes Vitamin D and Serotonin production.

The most effective way is to exercise daily. This is one of the main reasons that walking and jobbing boost up your mood.

Keep in mind that you need to stay cheerful in order to make use of your brain in the most efficient manner. If you feel stressed, what you need is a “Serotonin-shot”.

Oxytocin

OxytocinThis is categorized as both a neurotransmitter and a hormone, more often called as the “Love Hormone” or the “Cuddle Hormone”. Researches have found that there is a significant effect on life satisfaction levels in women compared to men, under the effect of Oxytocin.

Spending time with your loved ones, and being kind and affectionate stimulates Oxytocin. Even though Oxytocin act as an anti-stress chemical, stress itself block the production of Oxytocin. So, make time for your loved ones.

Researches explains that interpersonal touch not just raises oxytocin, but also reduces cardiovascular stress and improves the immune system. Instead of just a handshake,  go in for the hug. Eight hugs each day is recommended.

If you’re a team lead, it is tricky to raise the Oxytocin levels of your team members. However, instead, you can give presents to your team members on their birthdays.

Endorphins

Endorphins

Endorphins (endogenous morphine) are produced by the central nervous system and the pituitary gland [3]. Endorphins are released in response to pain and stress, and they help to ease anxiety. Vigorous aerobic exercise can stimulate the release of endorphins in the bloodstream, leading to an effect known as a “runner’s high” [4]. Apart from exercise, laughter may also stimulate endorphin production, where researches have shown that the people who have watched a comedy show demonstrated increased resistance to pain.

Be humorous at work, forwarding funny emails, finding random things to laugh during work are some of the great ways to keep your Endorphin level up.

Scent of vanilla and lavender, is linked with the production of endorphins. Studies have shown that dark chocolate and spicy foods will trigger the brain to release endorphins. You can keep some scented oils and dark chocolate at your desk for a quick endorphin boost [5].

Estrogen

Estrogen

In women’s body, Estrogen helps to form Serotonin and protects from irrita­bility and anxiety, keeping your mood steady. Estrogen levels decreases with menopause, and smoking and extreme. The estrogen/progesterone [6] imbalance in perimenopause can also negatively affect on mood. Stress management can balance these two, since stress hormones (such as cortisol), interfere with the secretion, action and function of the two hormones.

Progesterone

Progesterone

For a woman, Progesterone helps to sleep well and prevent anxiety, irritability and mood swings. Level of Progesterone drops as women enter perimenopause (after age 35 or 40), and this can be accelerated by excess stress and unhealthy foods. Taking care of yourself and having a good diet is the first defense for balancing hormones [7].

References

[1]         Wikipedia, “Brain,” Wikipedia, 2016. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain. [Accessed: 13-Aug-2016].

[2]         Wikipedia, “SMART Goals,” Wikipedia, 2016. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria. [Accessed: 14-Aug-2016].

[3]         Wikipedia, “Endorphins,” Wikipedia, 2016. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorphins. [Accessed: 15-Aug-2016].

[4]         Wikipedia, “Neurobiological effects of physical exercise,” Wikipedia, 2016. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurobiological_effects_of_physical_exercise. [Accessed: 15-Aug-2016].

[5]         Wiki-How, “How to Release Endorphins,” Wiki-How, 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.wikihow.com/Release-Endorphins. [Accessed: 15-Aug-2016].

[6]         Wikipedia, “Progesterone,” Wikipedia, 2016. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progesterone. [Accessed: 15-Aug-2016].

[7]         Dr. Susan Biali, “How to Boost Your ‘Happy Hormones’ | Best Health Magazine Canada,” Best Health, 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/mental-health/how-to-boost-your-happy-hormones/. [Accessed: 13-Aug-2016].

 

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Praneeth Peiris

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Here is an easy and novel mind hack to increase opioid and dopamine levels in the brain and raise both pleasure and attentive arousal. It is derived from the work of the distinguished affective and behavioral neuroscientist Dr. Kent Berridge of the University of Michigan, who has vetted and endorsed my argument. The procedure that follows in the linked little book below (pp. 43-45), is novel, short, succinct, simple and easily testable, and if it doesn’t work, you will know it fast. The book is based on professional journal articles published by this author that are linked in the MS, and is open access.

    (one brief correction to your otherwise accurate post- dopamine is NOT a pleasure chemical, that is reserved for opioid systems. Endorphins are endogenous opioids and also result in pleasurable feelings.. Dopamine elicits a feeling of attentive arousal, not pleasure)

    Below is my argument in a nutshell:

    Individuals who engage in tasks in which they perceive a consistent and high degree of present and anticipated novel and positive outcomes or ‘meaning’ (e.g. sporting events, creative activity, doing productive work) commonly report a feeling of high alertness and arousal that may be construed to be due to the activation of mid-brain dopamine systems. However, a significant subset of these individuals also report a feeling of pleasure that is characteristic of opioid release, but these reports occur only in non-stressed situations when the musculature is relaxed. Since relaxation engages opioid systems in the brain, and because opioid and dopamine systems stimulate each other, the resulting blissful states or ‘flow’ like states require the simultaneous engagement of resting protocols and meaningful cognitive states, behaviors that are very easily achieved. In this way, which engages both resting protocols and an active sense of meaning, both dopamine and opioid release can be increased in the brain, and provide a level of blissful engagement with life’s challenges, or ‘happiness’ or ‘flow’ that can effectively mitigate stress and anxiety.

    https://www.scribd.com/doc/284056765/The-Book-of-Rest-The-Odd-Psychology-of-Doing-Nothing

    Cheers!

    • Thanks for your wonderful response. And I do agree with you. However, I believe what the author had meant by “pleasure” is in general terms. So, yeah, it is an arousal.

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