Even under normal circumstances, this time of year can always feel hard; long and cold winter nights, lack of any significant sunshine and a palette of browns, greys and beige seems to dominate the landscape. But after an incredibly difficult 2020 for many people, this 3rd lockdown feels the toughest. By now we have all been affected either directly or indirectly by COVID and dealing with the grief and stress of this pandemic is having an even bigger impact on our already frazzled lives.
These are challenging times, but with the vaccination rollout beginning, there is hope on the horizon that we might begin to take confidence in this finally being the start of the end.
So, with the end in sight, how do we draw on what reserves we have left to get us there and come out smiling?
Lockdown restrictions mean we are limited to how we can spend what leisure time we have outside the home, but listening to our bodies and understanding what it is missing might help to target that need quickly and in some cases might be just a case of paying someone else a compliment or listening to some feel good music to get back to a happier equilibrium.
Our bodies produce a number of hormones which are created and distributed around our bodies. I am fascinated how our minds and bodies are connected and that our hormones are the driver behind it and is responsible for how we behaviour, even without us knowing it, although anyone living with a teenager might be slightly more aware of how their behaviour if affected by their hormones.
Each of the hormone our body produces can aid with fixing different issues we’re feeling, for example, have you ever felt an overwhelming need for a hug (especially now when physical contact isn’t allowed amongst those not in our household or social bubble) but are not particularly sure why, well that could be due to our Oxytocin levels being low, the hormone that makes us feel closer to loved one, reduces stress and makes us feel loved and safe. Hugging someone, even the family pet for 20 seconds releases a big dose of this hormone, known, not surprisingly, as the ‘bonding’ hormone. But if a hug is out of the question, other ways to make our bodies release this wonder hormone can also be achieved by something as simple as giving someone a compliment or making and sharing food with someone, it gives us that warm fuzzy feeling and strengthens bonds.
When our bodies are producing Oxytocin, it also releases another hormone called Serotonin, this helps to stabilise our moods and floods us with happy feelings. It also helps regulate sleep patterns and reduces anxiety. I remember when we first moved into our house 3 years ago and I was feeling particularly irritable and grouchy, I was tired, ill-tempered and desperate to get some order restored. Boxes were everywhere and I didn’t know where to start first and suddenly the sun came out and lit up a ray of sunlight across the living room floor, so I lay down in that shaft of light and just soaked up the sunlight for a few minutes, it was bliss and exactly what I needed. Feeling the sun on my face isn’t something reserved just for holidays or walks outside, it’s for any opportunity we can grab to top up vital Serotonin levels. But overcast days this time of year means sunshine isn’t always a given so other ways of getting this crucial hormone can be doing something simple such as trying a few moments of meditation or getting out for some fresh air. Feeling more energetic? try some aerobic exercise, cardio is best for stimulating Serotonin. Again, drawing on personal experience, my daughter has been making me join her in doing an online HIIT (high intense interval training) class, 20 minutes of frantic, fast, and frankly crazy dance moves that although is strenuously intense, is such good fun, and gives my daughter, who has been home schooling for months now, a real boast in her mood.
Dopamine, another of our bodies hormone, is a good friend of mine, it appeals to all the things I love in life. It is triggered by eating favourite foods, receiving praise, listening to music that makes you happy and starting or finishing a task. No wonder it is called the ‘reward’ hormone. Lockdown has given lots of people extra time on their hands and who isn’t guilty of taking on some home improvement jobs they have been putting off for ages. Doesn’t it feel great to finally get that task done and dusted? Then it gets addictive and you suddenly start other projects just so you can get that feeling of satisfaction. It gives us feelings of pleasure and gratification, boosts mood and attention. But it can also be responsible for the reason why we can never stop at eating just one biscuit when your levels are low, as you sub-consciously seek out pleasure, so if you’re looking to improve Dopamine levels without expanding the waistline, maybe try eating foods rich in tyrosine including soy, seeds, nuts, beans and lentils. Avoid processed foods, high-fats, sugar, and caffeine and get some proper sleep which also fuels dopamine production.
Next time you feel you have a task too big to tackle, break it up into smaller manageable jobs and the bonus to this is you’ll get a Dopamine hit after you reach each target – bonus!!
Incorporating even some small changes into your daily life as mentioned above to improve your hormone levels can result in a positive effects. Left unchecked it can cause a hormonal imbalance and can lead to chronic issues.
So making simple lifestyle changes can help to restore levels of hormones and we can emerge from lockdown bursting to go.