In such a strange and unprecedented year, it can be hard to remember to take time for mental health and self-care. These things are incredibly important to keep in mind in order to be able to continue being as efficient and feeling your best. In a world of so much inundation of news, social media, and outside stressors, taking some time to take care of yourself can make a huge difference. This is especially important in times of high stress, such as the global pandemic that our world is still working towards recovering from. What can you do in order to make sure that you are taking care of your mental health just as much as your physical health in these stressful times?

It is important to keep in mind the science behind the reasons you feel the way you do, and what can help you feel better. There are four main chemicals that your brain produces in order to make you feel happier and more fulfilled. These four chemicals are Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Endorphins. Each of these has a specific role in making you feel happier and more fulfilled in life, and there are different ways to boost the amount of these chemicals that your brain produces.

Dopamine is the first on this list, and it is closely linked to motivation and productivity. It is the reason you feel good after getting work done, and why crossing something off of a to do list is so great. “It’s why you feel gumption when you set an exciting or important goal, and why it feels good to reach that goal. On the flip side, if you have low dopamine (which experts say can occur with depression), it can explain feelings of low motivation or loss of interest in something you used to enjoy.” The clearest way to increase the dopamine levels in your brain is to set goals, even small ones. If you set a goal and work towards it, naturally, the dopamine levels in your brain will increase with each step you take towards achieving that goal. It can be helpful to start with something small, and move on to bigger goals as you go, working up. With each goal, your brain will create more dopamine, which will in turn, give you more motivation. Of course, the motivation can be difficult to get at first, but even the smallest step is still progress. With each step, it will get easier to continue.

Serotonin, the next on the list, is crucial in reducing negative feelings such as depression and anxiety. A lack of serotonin can lead to strengthening of these feelings, which is detrimental to your mental health overall. However, raising your serotonin levels is possible. Confidence is a huge serotonin booster. Things such as writing down three things you’re proud of that you did in any given day, or even outside praise from those around you can help to boost that confidence, and therefore, your serotonin levels. “One way to do this is by working out or adopting a new exercise routine, which helps bolster your confidence when you stick to it over time. Something else you can try is finding ways to get out of your comfort zone each day. Every day that you challenge yourself to adapt to something new, even if it feels uncomfortable at first, you build more confidence.”

The third, Oxytocin, is closely linked to affection, love, and trust. This chemical can be boosted by everything from petting a dog, hugging your family, or talking on the phone with someone and developing a deeper emotional bond. “You can reach out to a friend or contact you’d like to get to know better. Send someone a thank you note or a card just to tell them you’re thinking about them.” Being around people who you trust and care about is an incredibly helpful way to boost Oxytocin in your brain, and your mood overall.

Finally, endorphins are the last of these four main ways to boost your mood using the natural chemicals your brain already produces. Endorphins are closely related to a rush of excitement or activity that “wakes” your body up and energizes you. “Laughter is one way to boost endorphins naturally — so is eating dark chocolate, watching your favorite drama on Netflix, working out and meditating.” Boosting the endorphins in your body can be through exercise, laughter, or any other activity that energizes you and excites you.

Of course, every single person is different, and their mental health and state will always be different as well. However, finding the certain things that work best for you can really help in making sure you’re taking care of your mental health in times of stress and anxiety. Understanding the science behind some of these things can help in knowing what sorts of activities might help you feel better in the long run.


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