Dopamine and all that jazz.
I live in Beijing, China and it has been over 13 months since I have been able to get back to see my family and in this type of situation it is never the best for the health, both mental and physical.
For the record, both are always interlinked. One always impacts the other and vice-versa.
In the last thirteen months there have been moments of real elation and moments of deep sadness as I have struggled and then flown through the days.
Now, kicking the date for getting back to see the family into the long-grass has been almost a weekly occurrence and the latest date is now looking likely to be June 2021…. resulting in 18 months away from home.
Not good for the personal happiness levels.
I have been working hard to keep myself busy, keep my mind healthy and my energy focused on positive things and the culmination of which is a number of personal projects that I balance with the demands of the day job.
This balance has kept me going and this has given me enough energy to enjoy each and every day. Almost.
One of the habits I have built up around the challenges of keeping positive, is the habit of reading, researching and trying to understand more of what makes humans tick, or more to the point…. what makes me tick and tock.
Recently, in the things that I have been reading, I have been running across a lot more of the insights into this idea of ‘neuroplasticity’ and how we can change the make up of our brains by changing our thoughts and leaning into some of the happiness chemicals that are naturally farmed inside our ever so complicated brains.
Neuroplasticity: the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury: neuroplasticity offers real hope to everyone from stroke victims to dyslexics.Websters Dictionary
First up, I am no doctor of the mind and I am very much just reading up on this stuff so please make of my comments what you want…
With all that said, I believe some of the things that I have been focusing and working on to keep my mind active during this period of challenge, absolutely fit into the categories that impact on the brain chemicals.
The four brain chemicals that I have been exploring are:
I have heard and read much about them before in books and podcast, you also have probably come across them mentioned often in various different contexts, from sports to books, news and magazine columns.
I have not always taken the time to absorb them to the point that I understand them and I have not taken the time to have a detailed look at them so as to realise the links between them and how they can impact on your health.
What I have been reading up on has been how to ‘hack’ the mind in order to be able to use the four brain chemicals, mentioned above, to manage your mood so that you are more positive and productive.
There are a lot of materials out there and as I am digging more into the subject, I thought I would take some time out to share what I have been picking up so far.
I am sharing this after coming from a place on high. Almost an old fashioned come-comedown.
I am writing this after I had a 90 minute FaceTime with my son, during our conversation I shared a lot of the things that I have been working on and he was sharing back his day, sharing what he was doing at school and how things were going.
It was a great conversation and it rocketed my mood to the stratosphere for the rest of the weekend. But now I am having a little bit of a crash landing.
I felt the super high from the conversation and wanted to understand more, so I took the notion and looked into the details on why I was so high from it and I recognise that I was most likely tapping into two of the four brain chemicals I mentioned previously…
Dopamine, which is the reward chemical and Oxytocin, which is the love chemical.
Dopamine is the what they call the Reward Chemical and it can be triggered and enhanced by achieving things, completing tasks and celebrating the little wins on the back of the achievement. It is also triggered when we are taking the time to look after ourselves by eating good food and working on personal development and growth through following a path of constant learning.
Oxytocin is the Love Chemical and it is tapped into when you are with family, holding hands with a loved one and doing all the other family related activities from playing with the family pet, holding a new born baby or simply getting out to meet friends and have a good wholesome catch-up over a coffee…. the other way to drive up your Oxytocin Chemical is to give recognition and praise… being nice to others is a way of being nice to yourself.
While talking with my son on the FaceTime, my son is seventeen years old, I was full of praise for him, because he has been doing so well with things in despite of being lockdown and out of schooling for weeks. Now couple that with how I was sharing some of the things that I had managed to achieve – learning final cut pro is a big achievement for me – then I can understand why I came away from the conversation on such a chemical high.
It was a sharing small wins and also a heaping on praise moment.
For the record, my son has actually had Covid 19 and apart from a few days of flu like symptoms, he is now doing great…. however, when you compare the life of a teenager now to our own experiences from way back in the day, I think we can safely say – the teenagers of today are getting a bit of a raw deal.
I have mentioned the four chemicals but only picked out the two that impacted me during that moment, but there is more.
The other two brain chemicals to explore are: Serotonin and Endorphin… one is great for helping to stabilise your moods and give an element of calmness to your thoughts and the other, Endorphin, can help manage pain… even physical pain.
Serotonin is the chemical that is released when you are meditating or when you run, exercise and get outdoors in the sun, the grease air and feel the earth between your feet.
I do need to get outdoors more, but at the moment Beijing is freezing cold. It’s like -10 degrees freezing cold… and although I get out and walk every day, it is not the most enjoyable experience.
I do exercise regularly and that helps, but this is a record of a point for the future months, after the Chinese New Year which usually brings in the warmer weather, and that point is certainly to get out into nature more and to explore all of what China has to offer.
The final Chemical for you to work on is Endorphin… although I am sure there is a whole lot more chemicals to get my head around once I read further into the details on the workings of the brain. Endorphin helps manage the pain and is known as the ‘pain killer brain chemical’…. it is also brought on from exercise and other activities such as watching comedy, laughing, sharing a joke and spending time in a healthy and positive environment that builds innovation and can ‘help take your mind off things’.
I often think of the Forrest Gump movie when I read about Endorphin and I reflect upon the scenes in the movie where Forrest takes up running and he just runs and runs… from coast to coast.. until he doesn’t need to run any more.
I think buried deep in there, somewhere, is the answer to my personal desire to keep moving and working towards becoming a digital nomad.
Living and working on the move…
However, I also read that Endorphins can be released by eating dark chocolate.
I happen to love dark chocolate.
So, while we are waiting for the pandemic to be controlled and for that moment where we can all get back to living in the ‘new normal’, then I think I will settle for all of the above…
…minus the coast to coast running.
However, I will substitute the thought of the pain from running coast to coast with my new found passion for seeking out the delicate variants of dark chocolate, of which, there are many in Beijing.