Boost your brain's happy chemicals

9 ways to boost your brain’s happy chemicals

Happiness, basically, comes down to chemical reactions.

Our brains react to certain things by releasing hormones and neurotransmitters that tell our bodies to relax, to calm down, and to feel happy.

These feel-good chemicals include things like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin and they all work to make us feel good.  And because our brains work on a positive feedback system, this initial boost in happiness generally leads us to more happiness.

The great news is that there are lots of different things we can do, none of which take all that much effort, to get our brains to release these happy chemicals.

 

1. Make the most of the daylight

Getting out into bright sunlight is a great way to boost the amount of serotonin that our brains produce.

It can be harder in the winter months, but make an effort to get outside in the natural light every day if you can, to give your mood a boost.  Another great benefit from natural sunlight is that it helps reset our body clocks.  It regulates the release of melatonin, which then helps us sleep better at night.

If you have a little one that doesn’t sleep well at night it might be worth a try to get them out in bright sunlight during the day as much as possible to see if it helps their sleep improve a bit.

 

2. Write it all down

When you’re feeling a bit low, try writing everything down.

Don’t censor yourself, don’t worry about making too much sense.  Whatever is on your mind, get it out and on paper instead.

Doing this is a great way to clear your mind, but there is another psychological benefit of writing about your emotions.  Studies have found that processing our emotions linguistically, as in writing them down, produces less amygdala activity than other ways of processing emotions.

The amygdala is the part of our brain that kicks into action when we’re in situations we see as dangerous.  It’s the root of the fight or flight response.

So when the amygdala is nice and calm, so are we.

 

3. Smile

Even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing.

When we smile, even if we’re faking it, our brains release those wonderful feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin.

Turns out that it’s not always a case of us smiling because we’re happy, sometimes we can end up feeling happy because we started smiling.

 

4. Go one better and laugh

Laughing works in the exact same way as smiling.

When we do it our brains react by releasing more happy chemicals.

So if you’re feeling a bit blue then try watching a film that always makes you laugh, or an old familiar series like Friends that is guaranteed to make you giggle.

 

5. Do some reminiscing

Try looking through old photo albums, listening to songs that remind you good times and playing back memories of amazing experiences.

When we think about happy times the levels of serotonin in our brains get a boost, and we feel happier.

So dig out those photos, write in a journal about a happy memory or chat about the good old days with a friend.

 

6. Hug it out

Grab your partner, your children, your mum, or whoever, and have a lovely long hug.

When we hug people our brains release oxytocin, which is the lovely feel-good bonding hormone.  It works to calm down the amygdala, and leaves us feeling happy and calm.

 

7. Try something new

You can start small with something like walking a different route home from work.  Or go big and do something you’ve never done before like bungee jumping.

Whenever we do something new our brains react by releasing dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter.  Dopamine boosts our mood and improves our attention and motivation to get things done.

So try doing something new as often as possible to get that dopamine hit.

 

8. Change up your diet

Eating foods that contain tryptophan can help when we need a feel-good boost.

Tryptophan is an amino acid, found in high-protein foods like turkey, that our brains convert into serotonin.  It works best when we eat these foods with carbs, so try a meal of salmon and brown rice, or a turkey sandwich.

 

9. Have a massage

It doesn’t matter if you go to the spa for a proffesional massage, or get your partner to give you one at home, the result is the same.

Massages give us a boost in both dopamine and serotonin, those lovely happy chemicals.  They also have the added benefit of reducing the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, that our bodies produce.

 

None of these things take all that much time or effort, but they can all have a big impact on how happy we feel, thanks to the feel-good chemicals our brains release when we do them.

 

How many of these things do you already do on a regular basis?

 

Which do you think would have the biggest impact on how happy you feel?
How to be more productive and get more done

5 ways to be more productive and get more done

Do you ever have days where it feels like you’ve been really busy but you’re not sure what you’ve actually got done?

Come on, I know it’s not just me that this happens to!

As parents we have so many things on our minds, so many things we’re juggling that it can be really hard to even know where to start some days.  There are a few tricks that I want to start using more though, to actually get stuff ticked off my to-do list.

If you could do with some help in that area too, then here are 5 interesting ideas of things you can try to be more productive and get more done each week.

 

Go into aeroplane mode

One of the biggest reasons I don’t get as much done as I could is that I’m always being distracted by notifications popping up on my phone.

I have all sorts of things set up to push notifications through, from Twitter and Facebook to emails and Instagram.  And then there’s things like ClassDojo and texts from the school keeping me up to date with various things.

When you need to put your head down and focus sometimes the best thing you can do is switch your phone to aeroplane mode.

This basically turns off your phone service and disconnects you from wifi.  So you won’t receive any calls or text messages and no pesky notifications will come through either.

 

If you want you can take this a step further and really drop off the grid for a bit.

Put a ‘do not disturb’ sign up on your door.  Shut down all unnecessary windows on your computer so you don’t see any notifications of new emails or Facebook posts.  Go as low-tech as you can and crack on with that to-do list.

 

Schedule in a power hour

This is just where you set aside an hour to focus on something.  To go at it with all your energy and just get. it. done.

Lots of people do this with cleaning their homes.  Pick an hour, put on some music and just whizz round getting as many cleaning jobs done as possible.  Don’t let anything side track you, just stay focused and crack on.

 

You can also use this power hour idea to get on top of all those niggly jobs that never seem to get done.

This is something that Gretchen Rubin has written about and I love the idea of it.  What you do is schedule in one hour each week to work through your list of jobs that need doing but have no real deadline to them.  Those little annoying jobs that need to be done but don’t NEED to be done so they end up, well, not being done.

You know the types of things I mean.

Jobs like actually taking that bag of clothes and books to the charity shop.  Sewing that button back on that fell off weeks ago.  Ordering prints and putting them in a family photo album.

Pick an hour a week, pick a job or two from that list and get them done.

 

Use the ‘one touch’ rule

This is something I learnt about in a random course I did when I worked an office job.  And while I don’t always stick to it, I know that it does make an impact on how productive I am when I do follow it.

The rule is this – only touch things once.

When the post arrives, sort through it and deal with each item there and then.  File anything you need to keep straight away.  Recycle junk mail immediately.  Respond to anything that needs a response there and then.  Don’t look through the pile and then put bits to one side to deal with later.  Touch it once, deal with it straight away.

The same goes for emails and text messages.

If you read them, respond to them at the same time.  If you know you can’t reply straight away then don’t read them yet.

When you read an email, then leave it to reply to later it sits in the back of your mind.  Draining your energy and taking a little bit of focus away from the other things you’re trying to do. So make an effort to only touch things once, either physically or metaphorically.  Deal with things there and then so you can put them out of your mind and move on to the next job.

 

Try narrating your life

This one is a bit more out there.

If you want to be more focused and, as a result, more productive then try narrating your day.  The idea is that you think ahead to how things are likely to go in your day, then pay attention and note to yourself how things actually go.

Studies have shown that people who do this are more focused and more likely to pick up on things that are out of the ordinary and react accordingly.

 

Get things out of your head

One of my favourite ways to get focused and tick more things off my to-do list is to do a brain dump of everything I need/want to get done.

Grab some paper and a pen and write down everything that is swirling around in your head.  All the jobs you need to get done, all the little things you’re keeping in your head to try and remember and keep on top of.

Once it’s all out of your head you’ll be able to think more clearly, process what’s important and urgent to get done and it’ll be much easier to actually do something productive and tick things off that list.

 

Which of these tips do you think will help you most with being more productive and getting more done?
Do you do any of these things already?
This post is linked up with KCACOLS.
ways to get your children to do what you want

5 brilliant ways to get your children to do what you want

If you find getting your children to do what you want a bit of an uphill battle then this post is for you.

Whether it’s tidying up their toys or being able to trust them not to eat the treats you’ve put aside for Christmas, there are a few psychology-backed things you can try to get them to do what you want without feeling like you’re nagging all the time.

 

1. Ask them early in the day

If you want your children to make a choice that might be hard for them, like picking out some old toys to give away to charity, then the best time to ask them to do it is early in the day, but after they’ve eaten some breakfast.

The science behind this is that making hard decisions uses a fair bit of brain power in processing and thinking, so our bodies need higher blood sugar levels to do it.

When our blood sugar levels are low our brains take short cuts and we go to the default, easiest answer.  In this case your child will most likely default to not wanting to give any toys away.

When we’ve recently had breakfast though and our blood sugar levels are nice and stable then we’re better able to make these harder decisions.

 

2. Put more mirrors up at home

This is an interesting one.

If you want your children to be more trustworthy, they try hanging mirrors up at home so that they can see themselves more often.

Studies have shown that people are more trustworthy and collaborative if there is a mirror on the wall of the room they’re in.  One study in particular placed people in a room by themselves, with a jar of cookies.  They were able to buy the cookies with an honesty box type approach, with no one checking whether payments were made or not.

The researchers found that people were more likely to make a payment for the cookies they took if there was a mirror in the room.

 

 

3. Give them a reason.  Any reason.

Various studies have found that you’re more likely to get what you want from someone if you give them a reason.  Even if the reason you give them doesn’t make any sense.

One study in particular involved office workers.  When someone asked if they could jump the queue to use the photocopier with no reason given only 32 % let them.  But when they gave a reason for needing to push in 92 % of people let them.  This figure was pretty much the same when the reason was ‘because I’m in a hurry’ and when it was the ridiculous reason that they ‘needed to use the photocopier’.

So next time you want your children to do something, anything, just give them a reason why.

Tell them you need them to tidy up their rooms because it’s nearly lunchtime.  Or that they need to put their shoes on to go out because it’s Friday.

The reason you give doesn’t seem to matter, just the fact that you give a reason is enough.

 

4. Get subliminal

If asking your children directly to do something isn’t working, they try planting the idea in their heads instead.

You don’t have to go to full-on inception style lengths to do this, just casually mention the thing you want done in conversation.

Lets say you want your toddler to put all their toys away.

You might say “Look at how much fun we’ve had with all these toys.  Now I wonder who might put them back in the baskets”.  Or “It would be nice if these toys were back in their baskets, then we could ….”.  What you’re doing then is putting the idea of tidying up the toys in your child’s head, without directly asking them to do it.

It might not work on every child but a lot of the time doing this will be enough for them to do what you want, while thinking it was their idea.

 

5. Focus on positive reinforcement

Make a point of praising and thanking your child when they do what you want, and try to ignore it when they don’t.

So going back to the tidying their toys example.

If you notice they haven’t done it, don’t say anything.  Don’t nag them to get it done.

Try instead to make a bit of a show when they do tidy up.

You can also do this on a much more subtle level.

If you want your child to sit and eat nicely at the dinner table then catch their eye, smile and nod when they’re doing well.  And try to ignore the moments when they are a bit wriggly or picking up their food with their fingers.  This is something that Derren Brown does to control what people do.  He’ll keep a blank face and have his head still most of the time, but nod his head when people do what he wants.

This subconscious reward encourages them to keep doing what he wants them to do.

 

Have you ever tried any of these things with your child?

Which do you think would be most likely to work to get them to do what you want?

 

This post is linked up with KCACOLS with A moment with Franca.

Build resilience in children

5 ways to build your child’s resilience

As my children get older I’m so aware of them taking more and more steps away from me, and out into the world on their own.

It’s wonderful and scary and bittersweet.

I hope that I’m doing enough to give them the skills they need to cope out there.  One of the big things that’s on my mind lately is resilience.  It’s such a key skill to be able to cope with all the knocks and troubles that life can throw at you.

So I’ve done a bit of research and found these 5 things that we can work on to help our children become more resilient.

 

1. Encourage a sense of humour

Laughing can be a great way to relieve stress, and actually has a lot of the same benefits as exercise.  As well as reducing stress it boosts our overall sense of well-being.

A study carried out in 2011 found that people in a ‘humour’ group showed a significant increase in self-efficacy, optimism and perceptions of control, compared to those in the ‘social’ group and the control group.

So having a good sense of humour can help us feel more in control of things, as well as being more optimistic about everything.

Make a point of joking with your children, tell them silly stories, laugh at their made-up jokes to encourage them to keep telling them.  You can also lead by example and find the humour in potentially stressful situations.

Laugh with them about how ridiculously long the queues are at the supermarket (and the fact you always pick the ‘wrong’ one!).  Tell them knock knock jokes when you’re stuck in traffic, rather than being stressed about being late.

Being able to take a step back and find humour in a situation is a great tool for children to learn to use, and will be a big help in boosting their resilience.

 

2. Let them explore and express their feelings

Emotional awareness is a big part of resilience.

If you’re feeling sad or stressed or disappointed, it’s really important to be able to understand what those emotions are, and why you’re feeling them.

So make time to talk to your child about their day, and how they felt about different parts of it.

Name emotions for them, and discuss times that you’ve felt the same way.

As they get older you can encourage them to write in a diary or journal regularly to express their feelings, to get them out on paper and to work through them.

 

3. Get them moving

There are so many benefits to regular exercise, from improved sleep to lower stress levels.  But exercise also makes us more resilient.

Studies have shown that exercising regularly boost stress resistance and our ability to cope with stress.  It’s mainly thanks to the feel-good hormones that are released when we exercise, but there might be even more to it than that.

Regular exercise reduces our baseline levels of stress hormones, like cortisol.  It also lowers our hormonal response to sudden psychological stress.  So when something happens that would normally send our stress levels through the roof, we don’t react in the same way.  Our bodies would normally release a load of hormones like norepinephrine when something suddenly startles us or makes us feel scared.  This hormonal response has been found to be reduced though, in people who exercise regularly.

So encouraging our children to move around, to run, to practice yoga, to swim, will help them have a more controlled response to stressful situations and make them more emotionally resilient.

 

4. Help them develop an internal locus of control

We all naturally tend to have either an internal or external locus of control.  Meaning we either believe that we are in control of our lives and what happens to us, or we believe that most things are out of our hands.

What’s good to know though is that you’re not stuck being one way or the other.

If your child seems to naturally feel that things are out of their control then you can help them develop an internal locus of control.  This way they’ll learn to believe that they are in control of their lives.

People with an internal locus of control tend to be happier, and feel more free and less stressed.  They know that they have control over how they react, even if certain circumstances are out of their control.

 

5. Encourage the right attitude

The way we think about life, the world and everything really, is incredibly powerful.

Working with your child to develop an optimistic view of life is a great way to help them cope better with whatever life throws at them.  An optimistic world view will help them see difficulties as challenges, rather than problems.  They’ll face them with ideas and actions, rather than feeling defeated and helpless about them.

Talking with your child about how strong they are, how capable they are, and generally encouraging a growth mindset will really help them become more resilient and better able to face anything.

 

There’s a quote that I read ages ago that really stuck with me, about how the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.

When it comes to resilience I think one of the best things we can do is talk to our children.

Remind them often how strong they are.  Discuss problems together and encourage them to come up with solutions and actions they can take to make things better.  Talk about your feelings and let them know it’s safe for them to talk with you about theirs.

 

Do you worry about your child being resilient enough to cope as they get older?

What do you think would have the biggest impact on boosting their resilience?

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Fit exercise into your life

10 reasons to fit exercise into your life

In my pre-children days I used to exercise loads.

I would do classes at the gym, jog along the seafront and do various workout dvds at home.  Then I had Rhys and it all basically stopped.  I’ve made more of an effort to start exercising again in the last year or so though.

Time is a huge factor for me, so when I do exercise now it’s with one of my trusty old dvds.  The 30 day shred is one of my favourites because the workouts are a little over 20 minutes long, but they are really effective.

I do have to fight with myself to keep at it though.  My motivation to do it is nowhere near what it used to be 10 years ago.

If you’re like me, and are looking for that little extra push to get you moving, here are 10 amazing reasons you should fit regular exercise into your life.

 

1. Exercise reduces stress and anxiety

Studies have shown that all levels of exercise work to reduce our stress and anxiety levels.  So even a gentle stroll around the block can help if you’re feeling anxious.

One study in particular though, by Cox et .al 2004 found that people who exercise at a higher intensity level experience the biggest reduction in feelings of anxiety.

What’s interesting though is that exercise of any kind seems to have a long lasting effect on anxiety levels, so you get the benefits long after you’ve finished your gym session.

 

2. It can help with depression

As well as reducing feelings of stress and anxiety, regular exercise can also help with depression.

Loads of studies have been carried out in this area.  A review of 39 of these studies found that, as a general rule, exercise can give moderate relief from depression.

 

3. You’ll get some self-control

It’s not a long-lasting thing, but studies have shown that short bursts of exercise can give us an immediate boost in self-control.

Worth bearing in mind next time you’re feeling tempted by something that you know you shouldn’t do.  See if a quick set of push ups and star jumps gives you the self-control you need to resist it!

 

4. You’ll sleep better

This is another one that’s not a miracle, immediate cure.

But if you stick with exercise and get active on a regular basis then, studies have shown, you should see an improvement in how much you sleep, and the quality of your sleep.

 

5. It makes you happier

A study by Thayer et. al 1994 found that exercise was the most effective way of getting a happiness boost.

This is thanks to all the feel-good hormones that our bodies produce when we work out.

 

6. You can get some relief from migraines

If you suffer with migraines then it might be worth taking a look at this study by Varkey et. al 2011, that found that people who worked out 3 times a week for 3 months, experienced improvements that were equivalent to taking anti-migraine drugs.

 

7. It can improve your memory

A study by McMorris et al. 2011 found that people’s working memory improves after half an hour of exercise.

So if you’re studying for a test, or working on something that takes a lot of concentration, it could be worth going for a 30 minute run or doing a half hour class at the gym before sitting down to work.

 

8. You’ll be more productive…

Exercise increases blood flow to our brains, making us more alert and more on the ball.  This then naturally leads to us being more productive both at work and at home.

Research carried out with dental health workers found that those who exercised regularly were more productive and had more energy than those who didn’t get as much exercise.

 

9. …and more creative

As well as boosting productivity, regular exercise can also boost our creativity.

If you’re feeling uninspired then try going for a relatively high intensity workout, which can increase creativity for up to 2 hours afterwards.  And if you do something like go for a run outside, you’ll get the added benefits from being out in nature.

 

10. It can boost your brain power

As well as increasing blood flow to our brains, regular exercise can also go a step further and help new brain cells to grow.

Exercise has also been found to improve executive function, which basically covers all sorts of things like our ability to filter out distractions, make plans, and effectively switch from one task to another.

 

Now if none of that will motivate you to get moving, I don’t know what will!

Let your feet talk for you

Let your feet do the talking

80% of communication is non-verbal.

Or maybe it’s 90%, or possibly 55%.  It depends on what study you’ve read really.

The point is, a lot of what we communicate to other people is done through our body language rather than the words we say.

What’s interesting is that when we think about non-verbal communication we generally think about our facial expressions and the gestures we make with our hands.  But have you ever given any thought to how much you communicate with your feet?

 

When we want to make a good impression we focus on maintaining eye contact and smiling.  We might make a point of giving a good, firm handshake or keeping an open, welcoming posture with our arms uncrossed.  But I don’t think many of us pay any attention to what our feet are doing.

Turns out though that our feet give away more than we think.

A lot of people judge others by the shoes they wear.  And studies have shown that we can quite accurately guess personality traits based on a person’s footwear.

I’m not sure how fair this is when there might be various factors that limit a person’s options when it comes to shoes.  If you have particularly wide feet, for example, or have medical issues that mean your feet are bandaged or swollen, then you won’t be able to wear the pointy-toed, high heeled shoes that you would love to wear.

If you’re choosing women’s wide fit shoes you don’t have to end up with something boring though, there are still plenty of fun and pretty options that can show more of your personality to anyone checking out your feet!

 

There’s so much more to this than our choice of shoes though.

The way we position our feet, how much we move them, the way that we move them, all give away so much more than we might think.

Body language expert Joe Navarro explains that all sorts of emotions and personality traits can be revealed through our feet and legs, including stress, fear, boredom, joy, confidence, playfulness and anger.

 

You can often tell if a person is nervous, for example, by keeping an eye on their feet.  Studies have shown that women tend to keep their feet still when they’re nervous, but men move their feet more.

The thing to remember though is that you need to look at the person as a whole, not just their feet.

A woman who doesn’t move her feet or legs much might not be nervous, she might see herself as an alpha female, and keep her body still as a way of showing control and dominance.

So look out for a mix of non-verbal cues to work out what sort of person you’re dealing with!

We tend to be quite aware of our facial expressions so someone who is nervous might be hiding that quite well and look relatively calm, but their feet staying especially still can give them away.

Professor Geoff Beattie has said, “Whilst people might know what their facial expression or hands might be imparting, they will often have no idea whether their feet are moving or the messages their feet are sending out.  The weird thing about feet is that most people know what they are doing with their facial expression, they may or may not know what they are doing with their hands but unless we specifically think about it, we know nothing about what we are doing with our feet.  People can mask smiles, or mask what they are doing with their eyes, but feet are actually a bit easier to read because people don’t know what they are doing with them.”

 

So if you get the feeling that someone might not be being entirely straight with you, check out what their feet are telling you.  And if you want to make sure that you’re sending a particular message with your body language, then pay attention to what your feet are doing too!

 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post

things to try when you're stressed

3 things to try when you’re feeling stressed

When we feel stressed out or anxious it can be really easy to get caught up in our thoughts.

Quite often the best thing to do is get out of our heads, and bring our focus to our bodies instead.

Here are 3 things you can try to shift the focus to your physical body to help calm you down when you’re feeling anxious or stressed.

 

Move your body

Getting some physical exercise is one of the best things you can do when you’re feeling stressed.

When we move our bodies we get a rush of all sorts of feel-good hormones that makes us happier and more relaxed.  There’s also the feeling of satisfaction that comes from pushing yourself a bit and knowing you’re getting physically stronger.

If you can get out and exercise in the fresh air then you’ll get even more benefits.

The natural light and surroundings of your local park for example have been shown time and time again to give us a boost and lower feelings of stress and anxiety.

 

Stand still

If you’re in a situation where you can’t just go for a walk in the park or head to the gym, then try standing still instead.

Find a quiet spot where you can stand still and just focus on something.  It might be that you clench and unclench your fists, focusing on how it feels to tighten and relax your muscles.  Or you could try focusing on your feet.  Notice how they feel in the shoes you’re wearing, or how the ground feels underneath them.

When you focus fully on something like this, there’s no space for your mind to worry and you should feel less stressed.

 

Check yourself

If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or just a bit ‘off’ but you’re not sure why, then check in with yourself.

Are you hungry or thirsty?  It might be as simple as your body needing a glass of water to start feeling better.

It could also be that you’re tired and need a rest, or possibly actually in need of physical activity if you’ve been sat at your desk all day.

Take a bit of time and check in with your basic needs to make sure they’re being met.  If they’re not then do what you can to eat well, rehydrate and get enough sleep.

 

What do you tend to do to help yourself when you’re feeling stressed or anxious? 

Please do let me know by leaving me a comment.