Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., shares ways that you can enjoy more happy brain chemicals during summer and as summer transitions to fall.
1. Avoid negative comparisons to enjoy more serotonin.
Summertime tempts you to compare your body to others and focus on your shortcomings. It helps to know that social comparison is a natural mammalian impulse. Mammals avoid conflict by comparing themselves to others and deferring to more powerful individuals. We have inherited a brain that seeks safety by scanning for signals of who is in the position of strength. When it’s you, your mammal brain releases serotonin and it feels good. But all too often it’s not you, because your mammal brain is skilled at noticing the strengths of others. When you understand the primal origins of your urge to compare, it helps you ease up on yourself. You can retrain your brain to focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses. This is harder than you expect, alas, because your brain evolved to avoid conflict with stronger individuals.
2. Avoid lazy days to enjoy more endorphin.
You may long for lazy days in the sun only to find that you don’t feel so great afterward. Your body is designed to move. Swimming is one of the best exercises there is. Don’t worry about looking good or quantifying your work-out. Just flopping around in the water stimulates endorphin because it activates muscles you don’t usually use. Laughing stimulates endorphin for the same reason, which is why volleyball is so appealing.
3. Avoid “end-of-summer-droop” to enjoy more dopamine.
Anticipating something good releases the great feeling of dopamine. Summer plans feel exciting thanks to dopamine. But you can find yourself in a slump when the excitement is over, so it’s useful to plan something rewarding for the beginning of fall. Make it something different from your summer project because our brain saves its dopamine for new rewards. The same-old thing doesn’t make you feel good, but steps in a new direction get your dopamine flowing.
4. Avoid the “fling” focus to enjoy more oxytocin.
A summer fling feels good because your oxytocin surges, but you end up feeling bad when the surge is over. You can enjoy a steady stream of oxytocin instead of peaks and valleys when you know how this chemical works. Oxytocin is stimulated by social trust. Trust and touch go together in the state of nature because any critter close enough to touch you is close enough to hurt you. Each time you enjoy reciprocal trust, neurons connect that help turn on your oxytocin in similar future circumstances. So focus on building trust and your mammal brain will reward you with a nice safe feeling.
5. Let the sunshine in.
We need sun to produce Vitamin D, and we need Vitamin D to produce all the happy chemicals. Our eyes need sun too, because they are the sensor that tells the rest of your body how much sun it’s getting. So protect yourself from the sun as necessary but don’t hide under a rock.
My book Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels explains how you can wire yourself for more happy chemicals.