Living With Chronic Pain

15 Ways to Boost Your Own Endorphins

Over the last two weeks, we’ve shared about opioid receptors in the body, what they do and how they are activated. Now let’s discuss ways we can promote their release on our own.

Exercise
This is probably the most well known mechanism for causing our own endogenous opioid receptors to activate and bathe the body in pain relieving hormones. This usually requires at least 20 minutes of continuous, moderate to high intensity physical activity before they’re released. Moderate to high intensity activity means you can still talk, but it takes an effort. Want an added boost? According to one study, exercising in a group boosted the already potent benefits. 

Exercise also boosts mood by increasing feelings of relaxation and optimism while reducing the levels of stress hormones. It’s been described as meditation in motion. It allows us to shed the anxieties and issues of the day while we focus on one single task.
Start slow and pick something you enjoy like walking outdoors, dancing, bicycling, or swimming. If needed, get help from a personal trainer or physical therapist to ensure a safe program is begun.

Meditation
Take a few minutes each day to de-stress, relax and refresh. Studies show simply relaxing and focusing the mind on meditation releases not just endorphins but increases dopamine, serotonin and melatonin as well. When this chemical cocktail floods the bloodstream, the effects are similar to a runner’s high.

Sit or lie comfortably. Light a candle and/or play soothing music in the background. Breathe in and out slowly and deeply. Don’t focus on any thoughts or issues that clutter the mind initially. Just focus on your breathing. Let it guide you inward to a state of relaxation and calm.

Smell the roses
Aromatherapy with euphoric essential oils helps to relieve anxiety and pain by releasing endorphins. These include: sage, sandalwood, lavender, rosemary, and citrus fragrances. Frankincense has strong anti-inflammatory properties. 

Spend time with friends
Ever notice how much better you feel after spending time with your friends? Most of us are just too tired or in too much pain to consider anything other than a hot bath and a bed after a long day of work. But, as I discussed in the post – “Friends are better than morphine“, more friends means more endorphins. So, even in today’s more rigid social climate in order to stay safe, maintaining and keeping our friends close will keep those endorphins firing.

Laugh until it hurts 
Norman cousins, a famous American journalist, once said laughing is like “inner jogging”. Now scientists agree. A wonderful, deep belly laugh can produce the same effects as a “runner’s high.” It gets the diaphragm, abdomen and heart to work while stimulating endorphins and decreasing stress hormones like cortisol and dopamine. Even a giggle releases endorphins which then has a domino effect. Just the act of laughing lowers blood pressure, helps muscles to relax, increases the number of antibody producing cells and draws attention away from negative emotions. Not in the mood to laugh? Watch a funny movie or comedian or call a friend. The results may amaze you.

Enjoy a drama
A great comedy isn’t the only way to improve endorphin release. There’s evidence to show dramas can do the same thing. It appears that anything that triggers an emotional response is seen by the brain as a type of pain. Emotional heartache is perceived the same way physical pain is felt. Anyone who has experienced the agony of loss will attest- it feels like a blow to the body as painful as any physical one. That’s why it too stimulates the release of endorphins and oxytocin. Not in the mood for a comedy? Pull out that favorite tear-jerker and have a good cry instead.

Go outdoors
Sun exposure is thought to be an evolutionary development. Thousands of years ago we lived in caves for safety and warmth. This not only decreased exposure to the sun but also decreased vitamin D production required for bone and reproductive health. In order to get us outdoors, we have opioid receptors in our skin that are triggered by ultra violet radiation. We feel happy because the same endorphins that act on our pleasure centers and are released with tobacco and alcohol use are released in the warmth of the sun.
Just 15 minutes a day is enough to reap the benefits. But don’t forget this can also increase skin cancer risks. So slather on the sun screen.

Make some music

Music not only soothes our soul and boosts our mood, but it has also been shown to motivate us to exercise, increase mental acuity, help with weight loss, improve sleep, lessen pain and enhance healing, and overall health. Listening to music releases a cascade of hormones- endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin, that make us feel calm, happy and relaxed. New studies show when we actively engaged with the music the amount of endorphins released is higher whether this is through playing an instrument or singing. Sharing a musical experience in a group also produces a larger endorphin release . That’s why live shows are always more exciting than recorded ones. The endorphin boost is greater.

Take a hot bath
I’m a believer that taking a long, hot soothing bath reduces pain and can help anybody de-stress as well. It’s also been shown through studies, that a warm bath actually releases endorphins into the bloodstream. Just as the warm sun bathes the skin in ultraviolet light, water acts in the same way to activate our pleasure centers. 
Studies show it takes about 20 minutes to kick in but the longer the better. Add a scented candle, soft music or a good book to increase the benefits. Then just float away the day’s stressors.

Intimacy
The euphoric feelings we have during a sexual encounter are due to a surge of feel good hormones like endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin. Benefits that go beyond just feeling good but have also been shown to improve self esteem, reduce stress and relieve pain.
Don’t have a partner? The brain can’t differentiate between those triggered by you or someone else. The release of hormones are exactly the same when self stimulation is the goal. For far too long this perfectly normal sexual release has been maligned, especially when we all have the power to increase our sexual satisfaction, sex drive and self confidence. It’s also an easy solution to differing sexual appetites.

Touch
Humans are social beings. We require physical contact to survive. With the pandemic and the need to isolate and socially distance, touch deprivation has impacted most of us in some way. The usual hand shake or hug as a way to greet someone is long gone. All this exacerbates feelings of despair, loneliness, emptiness, anger and hopelessness. Not a great combination in an already volatile world.

A hug is so powerful commercial entities are desperately trying to reproduce its effects with weighted blankets in order to simulate one. But even holding hands, sitting closely, kissing, or cuddling boosts all our feel good hormones. Touch is not only a necessary part of being human but a requirement for our pets as well. In today’s age of isolation and stress, cuddling, hugging and stroking them gives everyone the same benefits.

Acupuncture
This is a type of Chinese medicine that uses long thin needles to stimulate pressure points. Numerous studies have shown placement and methodology can trigger the release of endogenous opiates. Practitioners believe the body has over 2000 points connected by pathways that create an energy flow- Qi. Acupuncture is thought to improve this energy flow.

Typically multiple needles are inserted, then left in place for 10 -30 minutes. A treatment program is usually 12 sessions over a 3 month period.

Massage
Deep muscle massage applies pressure with hands to pressure points. This increases not only endorphins, but oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. And just the act of touching releases all the benefits described above.

Not interested in paying for one? Trade with a close friend or partner. Remember there are many types of massages to choose from like Swedish, hot stone, deep tissue, trigger point, shiatsu. Read about the benefits of massage and how to do it yourself.

Random acts of kindness

Kindness is more than a behavior, it impacts every aspect of our well being. Physiologically, kindness actually has a positive impact on our brains by boosting serotonin and dopamine that give us feelings of satisfaction as well as causes the pleasure/reward centers to light up and release endorphins. Being nice always trumps being mean. It’s built into our DNA. Simple acts of kindness- from saying please and thank you, opening a door, giving your time or money, or passing on a compliment all activate feel good hormones.

Add a piece of chocolate to your day

The active ingredient- cacoa stimulates phenethylamine, which boosts endorphins and theobromine, which suppresses pain. Studies have shown it’s more powerful than a passionate kiss. Dark chocolate is preferable, due to its abundance of flavonoid- powerful antioxidants that reduce inflammation and blood pressure. Some studies have shown eating chocolate in moderation reduced cardiovascular disease by as much as 39%!

Endorphins aren’t a cure all or magic fix. But boosting them is an effective means to boosting overall good health and well being. The after affects of an endorphin “high” is a pleasant bonus that may help us reinforce those behaviors that bring it about.


Sources:

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/brain-imaging-reveals-joys-giving

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170601124121.htm

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320839#low-endorphins-and-health-conditions

https://n.neurology.org/content/79/8/807.abstract

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-increase-endorphins#baths

1 thought on “15 Ways to Boost Your Own Endorphins”

  1. This information was very helpful to me. I learned a great deal about endorphins. I want to thank Dr Courtney for this well-researched article.

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