Where are you? In a coffee shop, in your office, sitting at home? Take a look around you and find the nearest human. If you cannot locate one, go take a look in the mirror. Do you see it? Do you see the epitome of advancement in living things? Go ahead, you’re allowed to stare and ponder for a while. Take a look at your fingers. Your toes. You have complete control of these items without having to think twice about it. We can play the piano, make a sandwich, and even stroke that lovely chin when times of deep thought arise.
Let’s think about your imagination for a moment. Unlike the majority of animals (to be debated), you have an infinite movie playing in your head, that can create and destroy anything you wish. If magic does exist, the human imagination will definitely fall into this seemingly fictitious category. Go ahead, let loose for a moment. Imagine an elephant sitting beside you on the couch, telling you all of his hopes and dreams, while passing you the delicious bag of Doritos (We all love them!). It is safe to say that something as simple as an ant of the ground or bird of the sky probably does not contain this amazing ability. No need to fret, it comes free of charge in the majority of all of us humans at birth.
Although we are host of these amazing abilities and many more, we are a victim of our own emotions. These are the detrimental puffs of nothingness that lead us to sadness, isolation, and of course our friend, anger. Yet, emotions also drive us to become something great. They are a fuse, which ignites our inspiration and our dreams. These fall alongside our love of art and our search for a companion. We all know from experience, good emotions can drive you to complete amazing feats, and the emotions falling in the negative category will, conversely, make us sit on the internet all day and feel sorry for ourselves. How can we gain control of something that arises so spontaneously and flees in the same manner?
The answer, my friends, appears in the form of a small molecule. A neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that transmit nerve impulses across synapses. Synapses are spaces between these nerve cells (neurons) where these cool, little things transmit a form of electricity. If you burn yourself, neurotransmitters cause you to lift your hand. If you eat something tasty, a neurotransmitter (dopamine) is released to reinforce and tell you, “Hey, that was delicious and it fuels your body. Store this in your memory and remember to eat it again.” If you are sad, there is simply a chemical in your brain being released and connecting to tiny little receptors, like a plug in a wall socket. The sadness is a result of the chemicals plugging into these receptors. It is as simple as pie. Easy as pie. Whatever.
Your brain is home to hundreds of these nerve cells. Many of which control your emotions. We shall start with serotonin or in terms of the brain, 5-HT.
This neurotransmitter, when plugged into its receptor (think plug and wall socket), helps to reduce our appetite, or need for sexual behavior (not always a bad thing), and it also suppresses our perception of pain. When we don’t have enough serotonin or serotonin receptors, humans tend to experience a nasty aggressive behavior, a negative emotion. It has been shown that people with depression also tend to have fewer receptors in the Hippocampus of the brain (involved in memory consolidation and mood regulation). Antidepressants take this lack of serotonin into account. You have heard of Prozac and Zoloft. These types of medicine are called serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). When the brain decided it has had enough of this transmitter, little ferries (re-uptake carries) scoop up the excess and store it for late use. Zoloft and Prozac stop these ferries from scooping up all of the serotonin, leading to a more positive emotions. Neat, huh? SCIENCE.
HOW CAN I GET IT? -If you want a healthy boost of this wonderful chemical or feel you are lacking, start adding protein to your diet. It contains tryptophan, which is what the brain uses to make serotonin. This is called a “precursor” to serotonin. 5-HT is our own natural antidepressant.
This neurotransmitter can be thought of as the “lovey-dovey” molecule. That just tickles my fancy already! This molecule is released to help support feelings of love, trust, and comfort in animals, including us super-groovy humans. Having plenty of oxytocin helps us to have confidence, more self-esteem, and it just so happens to lower cortisol levels in the blood and blood pressure (punches stress in the mouth). Want to get rid of stress, help build the relationship with your significant other, gain confidence in your job and future? You need some oxytocin in your life.
HOW CAN I GET IT? -Quick ways to access this natural neurotransmitter are the simplest things you can do. First, touch someone. Come into contact with them. This can be a hug, and handshake, or even gazing into someone’s eyes. Even reading a great novel can lead to this chemical-induced form of happiness. Remember when we talked about that cool imagination box attached to your neck? Guess what? Even thinking about these acts will help lead to a release in oxytocin. SUPER DUPER.
For those of you who love a thrill, this will be your favorite neurotransmitter. Endorphins, or “endogenous morphine” is the easiest method to gain a natural high, that won’t leave you feeling terrible afterwards. Endogenous meaning made inside the brain, morphine meaning that awesome stuff doctors give you to take away all of your pain and worries. If you have ever experience a “runner’s high” you have experienced a release of endorphins. These are the brain and body’s way of coping with extended amounts of exercise or stress. They are our own healthy and natural painkillers, which help us perceive stress or pain as being lower than it actually is.
HOW CAN I GET IT? -If you want a nice dose of endorphins, just go for a run or exercise a little bit. Not only will you look and perceive yourself better, you will FEEL BETTER. An easier way is to take a bite of a chocolate bar. Chocolate tends to give most humans a tiny endorphin rush. Ever wonder why we crave it so much?
The human brain is covered with millions upon millions of these self-created chemicals that make us happy and help to regulate these emotions that control us, ever so much. We simply must know how to access them when the time of sadness or anger arises. Are you down in the dumps? Go get a hug, eat a snickers, or take a stroll down memory lane in your imagination. Are you stressed to the point that you can’t think straight? Go pet and play with your dog. Go read a great novel. Go for a run. As trivial as these things may seem, when you can’t control your emotions, just play your cards right and let the neurotransmitters do the work for you. Gain control of yourself, your mind, and fulfill your dreams and wishes. What else do you have to do, honestly?