“Each of our cells is a living entity, and the main thing that influences them is our blood. If I open my eyes in the morning and my beautiful partner is in front of me, my perception causes a release of oxytocin, dopamine, growth hormones – all of which encourage the growth and health of my cells.
But if I see a saber tooth tiger, I’m going to release stress hormones which change the cells to a protection mode. People need to realize that their thoughts are more primary than their genes, because the environment, which is influenced by our thoughts, controls the genes.” ~ Bruce H. Lipton
Dopamine is essentially a neurotransmitter that sends signals between nerve cells or neurons. It regulates a number of things such as: movement, memory, emotional response, pleasure/reward, cognition and behavior, attention, sleep, mood, pain processing and learning.
Dopamine allows us to not just feel blissful and joyful but feel motivated to act on our desires.
Known as the ‘motivation molecule’ it helps keep up the intense focus that’s needed to complete tasks. Our neurochemicals are naturally self-sustaining but the majority of people today live a stressful lifestyle, and high levels of stress is one of the greatest causes for dopamine depletion.
Here are some ways to increase dopamine levels, naturally!
1) Change your diet
Food and mood have been known to influence each other for millennia. A well-balanced and healthy diet goes a long way in your mental well-being. Bananas, watermelon, beets, avocado and apples are great fruits to start with.
Sesame, pumpkin seeds, almonds, oatmeal, lima beans, green leafy vegetables, green tea, wheat germ and fava beans also do the trick. All these are also high in tyrosine, one of the key amino acids used to raise and maintain certain neurotransmitters.
Curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric crosses the blood-brain barrier and boosts dopamine production. Ginko Biloba, a type of tree leaf, has been used to boost memory, fatigue, depression and anxiety, helps the brain to secrete more dopamine and acetylcholine.
L-theanine, a compound found in Green Tea. Foods high in natural probiotics like yogurt, kefir and raw sauerkraut can also increase dopamine levels.
2) Do a cleanse
Alcohol, tobacco, processed (and large doses of) sugar and other stimulants reduce dopamine levels in the brain. Although coffee is said to increase dopamine levels, but all it does is shoot out a large amount over a period of 3 to 4 hours, leading to depletion of natural levels over time. If it’s too difficult to stop stimulants altogether, ration your intake. Do weekend cleanses.
Fruit cleanses have incredible health benefits as well. Start your day with freshly squeezed lemonade to alkalize the body. This involves one glass of water mixed with four tablespoons of lemon juice. You can add half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper as well to flush out toxins.
3) Regular exercise
Physical, intentional movement is one of the most vitalizing, powerful things we can do for our bodies and minds. The concept of ‘exercise’ was not around in the old days when physical tasks were much more taxing and everything had to be done by hand. So all intended movement was practiced not only as a means to maintain the cuts and curves of the body, but also to keep the mind in shape.
It’s important to incorporate mindfulness aspects in our daily exercise routine. We can boost production of new brain cells, slow down cell-aging, improve the flow of blood and nutrients to the brain which in turn all level our neurochemicals and neurotransmitters. Dr. John Ratey, psychiatrist and author, has found that exercise increases baseline dopamine levels by promoting the growth of new brain cell receptors.
The mind has a tendency to follow thought loops that cause us great stress and anxiety. Through mindfulness meditation, we can train our minds into removing us from our experiences and into the role of the observer.
As an observer, we do not feel the same negative emotions as we have cut the cord to our ‘ego’ selves or the selves we assigned an identity to. Meditation is used as a tool to quiet the mind, and also improves and regulates levels of dopamine as well as other neurochemicals in our brain.
5) Listen to music
Listening to music activates the same pleasure centers as when you make love or eat a good meal. When you listen to music that really moves you, your brain releases dopamine and immediately you feel a sense of well-being, motivation and inspiration.
We were born to the rhythm of our mother’s heartbeat and expand into a world of symphonies. It does not take a musician’s trained ear to appreciate this and feel connected to it. In fact, just remembering your favorite tune can give you that same rush of upliftment.
6) Nurture your creative side
Human beings are the ultimate conscious creators. Our need to fulfill our creative drives, our experimental nature and natural curiosity, is immense. When we create something, be it a piece of art or cooking, we feel a certain sense of accomplishment. Our reward centers start to chime full-swing and this reminds us of the meaningfulness of life.
7) Set long & short term goals or set a new challenge
Sometimes having only long-term goals can be frustrating. It’s important to also have short-term goals that are easier and quicker to accomplish, as every time a goal is achieved certain amount of dopamine is released.
Similarly, taking on a new challenge can be extremely rewarding too. Dopamine is released every time we do or experience something new and exciting, like starting a new course, learning a new skill set, travelling, trying a new work out, all lend themselves to that driven feeling.
Adventure sports are so addictive for the exact reason that they evoke a feeling of newness no matter how many times the same action has been performed.
8) Wean off your addictions
Addiction doesn’t limit itself to substance abuse. It could be toward a person or relationships in general, or an irrational routine or action, or to anything for that matter. In fact it can be argued that addicts are not addicted to the substance they’re using, but seeking that dopamine rush.
When we start taking stimulants, our natural secretion gets inhibited so we need more and more of the substance to balance it out. Without that rush, we feel manic, depressed, unstable and hostile. There will also be a pre-existing type of emotional condition like an abusive or non-involved family, to create addict-like behavior.
So the natural thought patterns that do not cause stress did not occur to them. Feelings of self-appreciation, ecstasy and reward are then chased through unhealthy ways of increasing dopamine. In this case, it’s important to fill your life with things that inspire and move you, and to speak positive affirmations to yourself.
It is our natural state; the state we came into as babies that formed the building blocks of our life. It’s important to maintain that ability into our adulthood, to find wonder and enjoyment in the moment.
When we play, we are not stuck in the traumas of our past or worries for our future, we are just being joyful in our essence with full focus on the activity at hand. Play a game of ball, scrabble, cards, video-games or whatever makes you happy, with people you love.
Remember that everything we practice is to balance our minds and bodies and not to make a disproportionate rise in dopamine levels. It may feel incredible when we start, but will soon become a crutch, which is why it is important to go about it in a healthy way.