Humans are hard-wired for social connection. Aristotle hypothesized on this theory and scientists today have cited proof for almost two decades. So, with social distancing as our current M.O., and the recent affirmation that this will be our norm for another 30 days, how do we cope and work to thrive in these conditions?
It’s helpful to have a clear understanding of how our brains are being affected during extended times of near isolation. First, let’s put the extrovert/introvert mentality to rest. We all need human connection, social interaction and deep, trusting relationships. Certainly, the more extroverted individuals have come to rely on more social activities for energy and flow; but all humans need connectivity to achieve homeostasis (psychological and physiological health). One undeniable piece of evidence is that the behemoth of sustainable mental contentment is oxytocin. Unlike other pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters, oxytocin is also a hormone as well as a neuropeptide. This means that it has the greatest and most sustainable power to keep us feeling bliss and fulfillment. Some neurotransmitters that contribute to happiness, such as dopamine and endorphins, can be elevated during times of solitude. But these do not last for more than several hours while oxytocin levels can last up to two weeks. The challenge though, is that we need others to create oxytocin naturally. Oxytocin is most often and easily created as a result of touch, generosity, trust and love.
And so, during times of isolation our oxytocin levels naturally decline. Oxytocin is also the biggest player in reducing the stress hormone cortisol. The result is while we are avoiding touch and human connection, we are putting a lot of strain on our qi (sometimes spelled “chi”) or vital energy. But do not despair. A deeper understanding of how oxytocin makes us feel so good will also give us the insight needed to combat these effects and elevate our joy and energy during a time of heightened isolation. This deeper understanding is found in our endocannabinoid system. When oxytocin levels are high, the production of anandamide is elevated. Anandamide is often referred to as the bliss molecule because it binds to our cannabinoid receptors and gives us feelings of elation and glee. If you are connecting this to your understanding of cannabis, you’re on the right track. CBD oil, the latest supposed panacea for physical and mental stress, is said to produce anandamide. So yes, CBD oil could significantly elevate your mood and minimize feelings of gloom. Here’s a trusted resource for CBD products.
Let’s use this Talk to the Brain insight and take charge of our attitude and energy now. We know we need to elevate our oxytocin levels and our anandamide production as we navigate deeper into this unchartered new normal.
Here are 10 simple action items for elevating those neurotransmitters and putting us closer to our happy place.
- Touch with intention. If you are in semi-isolation, meaning you are home with a partner and/or children, then you have the greatest opportunity to increase your waning oxytocin levels. Hug completely. Give each other shoulder, neck, foot or head massages. Take a long, hot bath with your partner and leave all electronic devices out of earshot.
- Give. Giving is proven to dramatically elevate oxytocin. My daughter’s friend had a surprise smoothie delivered to our door! Sending inexpensive, thoughtful gifts is a lot of fun. But you can also give of yourself with your heart or your talents. Write to special people in your life and express how much they mean to you. Or give away your talent – sing, paint, craft or create like only you can and give it away!
- Tapping. Are you familiar yet? Tapping, or EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique, is similar to acupuncture but you use your own fingers and hands in the form of acupressure. Here is one article to get you started but the resources, especially on YouTube, are countless.
- Metta Meditation. If you meditate regularly you only need to make some adjustments during this time of silo-living. Metta meditation starts with you but then you take that energy and focus it on others. You devote your thoughts to the health, fulfillment and joy of people you know and care about. Projecting your positive energy on others will elevate your oxytocin through the reminiscing of these treasured relationships. Here are some tips.
- Virtual party. Put on a favorite shirt, freshen up and get social in the digital world. I’m sure you’ve seen people doing this. Be these people! Why not host a cocktail party with friends from college or even high school? Take an hour and connect on screen. Not only will you boost your spirit, but it’s the easiest, safest cheapest cocktail party you will ever host! You don’t need to clean the house, you only need to serve one choice from the bar, and no worry about anyone driving home after imbibing. Cheers!
- Vitamins and herbs. These are proven to minimize the breakdown of anandamide and support production and proper function of oxytocin: vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium, caffeine, chamomile, fenugreek, jasmine oil, and anise seed. First consult your doctor to make sure adding any of these are safe for you.
- Exercise. Any form of exercise can help boost your mood through production of anandamide, endorphins and stress relief. During these times it is especially beneficial to move with your quarantine peeps or take online community classes. For the optimal anandamide+oxytocin boost, yoga is at the top of the list and most studios are offering virtual classes. Also, PELETON is offering 90 days free during this challenging time!
- Music and expression. Another great choice is simply dancing and singing at home in your kitchen. For a double dose, turn your virtual party into a lip-sync contest. Courageously stepping out of your comfort zone in the company of friends is a proven oxytocin amplifier.
- Eat your kaempferol. Ok don’t worry about remembering that word. But simply it’s a flavonoid found in particular foods that block the breakdown of anandamide. So give up on that toilet paper aisle and hit the produce section when you venture out next time. Stock up on kaempferol flavonoids with kale, beans, spinach, broccoli, cucumbers, endive, green beans, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, apples, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, and peaches.
- Eat pure chocolate. Chocolate slows the breakdown of anandamide. It is also believed to increase anandamide production as well as ignite endorphins. But you need the purest, dark chocolate you can find. For the very best results, add pure cocoa powder or cacao nibs to your diet in small bits throughout the day. (I sprinkle cacao nibs on my Ezekiel cereal with almond milk. Yum.) The other foods that elevate and retain anandamide are black truffles, black pepper and long pepper.
There you have it — 10 ways to fight the effects of semi-isolation on your mind and spirit! Let’s encourage each other not to accept a stagnant, repressed, unfocused existence just because our environment is not ideal. Let’s take charge of our productivity and by employing as many of these action-items as we can!
If these tips make sense but also seem overwhelming or not sustainable right now, I encourage you to visit and learn from Jared Levenson. He has taken charge of his habits and intentions and teaches others to do the same. Learn more at https://eatingenlightenment.com/ and read his story here.
Wishing you health, new discoveries and an elevated sense of gratitude,
P.S. Be on the lookout for next week’s post. I am embracing number 2 above: GIVE. I will be giving my time and talents to help small businesses survive and thrive in this spiraling economy.
P.P.S. Speaking of giving…. forward this on to all your friends who have been sentenced to work at home.
Talk to the Brain