Dopamine is in the headlines a lot lately with a plethora of articles about how this neurotransmitter affects our mood and behavior and impacts on our energy level and focus. It is certainly an important chemical in our body, acting to regulate our movements and our emotional responses. It is part of the brain’s reward and pleasure center which makes us able to actively seek out pleasure and rewards. What many of these articles fail to mention is that dopamine levels can be affected by our perception or other factors. Here are 10 ways you could work toward increasing your natural dopamine levels.
1. Avoid Addiction
When we suffer an addiction we crave the quick reward that the drugs, alcohol or whatever it is gives us. However, dopamine production does not work this way; it does not provide a quick hit and needs to be produced naturally. Often people turn towards an addiction because their dopamine levels are already low so, in effect, they are using the addiction to fix a pre-existing physical problem. To make dopamine we have to find ways of feeling fulfilled, and the addiction is an easy way to fill that gap.
Low dopamine may be a result of a specific lifestyle, our environment, finances or relationship problems – the lack of any perceptible rewards mean that dopamine is simply not produced and is replaced with an addiction.
In order to remove the risk of addiction you need to increase the rewarding parts of your life. By filling your day with rewarding and inspiring things you are less likely to fall victim to any kind of addition because your dopamine levels will remain high.
Addiction has also been linked to past trauma so it is important to seek proper help to work through this and by doing so you will open yourself up to more rewarding life experiences.
2. Checklist Small Tasks
Finishing tasks is a form of reward and dopamine loves a reward. Checking off tasks on a list gives your dopamine a boost so writing everything down even if you know that you will remember it is a good thing, just because you can check it off later!
Task motivation is something that has an important effect on our dopamine levels yet it is known that if a task means you have a 25% or greater change in routine you will probably not feel able to achieve it. If there is not enough difference, say under 10%, a person just won’t do it because it has no meaning. The key is to set tasks that fall within the range of 10-25% to give yourself the best chance of completing them and checking them off. If you can link a task to what is truly important to you then you will see the relevance. This will not only increase the chances that you will do it, you will also get a greater reward, followed by a rise in your dopamine levels.
3. Be Creative
Dopamine flows when people get creative – when you become totally absorbed in something like a job, craft or activity. If the end result means that you create something it is dopamine that makes that happen. It is also the reason you feel so good about it. The trick is how to find something that you find really inspiring.
First of all you need to stop looking at the creations of others and look at your own beliefs and wants and what you can create. Comparing yourself to others will not encourage you to express yourself creatively and that can effect dopamine levels because you won’t see your own creations as rewarding, but feel that they are inferior to the creations of others.
One way of doing this is to start looking critically at other people’s achievements. That is not to be negative but to actually recognize that their endeavors are no more perfect or imperfect than your own. If you can do this your own creations will become more meaningful and rewarding.
Exercise is a key way of relieving stress, increases your physical fitness and encourages the release of various neurotransmitters – notably endorphins, serotonin and, of course, dopamine. However, exercise needs to be properly integrated into your life in order to avoid it merely becoming another addition. Place a higher value on the exercise so you consciously seek to incorporate it into your routines. Using something called ‘functional training’ is great for this because it looks at which exercises will help you achieve your life goals rather than just being an abstract fitness regime. If you can see the benefits of it in the way that your daily tasks are achieved with ease this, in turn, will inspire you to continue to exercise.
5. Make Your Mark
Make sure you give yourself a boost by marking off your achievements to give a visual representation of your success. Getting a calendar and marking off each day you do a workout, for example, can show you exactly how much you have achieved each week and month, giving a boost to your dopamine production.
This can have a downside if your actions are not helping you towards a goal so make sure you find ways to improve over time, make a goal, and see how the activity is helping you achieve it.
6. Increase Tyrosine
Tyrosine is one of the chemicals contained in dopamine so it stands to reason that you need to make sure you have enough of this. Lots of foods contain tyrosine so start to include them in your diet. Choose foods you like so that it is a reward in and of itself, not something you just have to do. If you do this the foods will also help produce those feel-good chemicals simply by eating them! Choose from things like avocado, banana, chicken, beef, chocolate and coffee among others. Tyrosine needs to attach itself to another molecule to enter the brain, it helps your body maintain good digestion and other functions freeing the brain to work on producing dopamine.
7. Listen to Music
Music has an important role in dopamine production. It makes us feel as good as eating delicious food or watching our favorite movie and is the perfect counter to low mood. If you want the buzz you get when listening to your favorite tune to be more than just a transient experience don’t rely too much on music alone to get your dopamine levels up. Music has long been a part of human society but should be part of life rather than become the only thing that ever makes you feel good. Some music is specifically designed to appeal to the dopamine center of the brain so be sure you are not just creating another addiction.
Alongside exercise people are becoming more aware that regular meditation has many benefits. It can certainly help if you suffer from overthinking – another modern day addiction – which is a distracting habit that leaves us feeling anxious. Meditation can increase your dopamine production by clearing your mind of unnecessary and negative thought processes and replacing it with a feeling of fulfillment.
There are different definitions for Meditation. The one most are familiar with is typically indentified as derived from Eastern Meditation where one empties their mind and tries to think of nothing. But there is some fantastic research that this is not the most effective form of meditation. In fact, the most effective form is by oneself, in nature, but contemplating something - gratitude for blessings, gratitude for opportunities, gratitude for relationships in your life. This denotes more of a prayerful element of meditation where there is an object in mind and realizing the power is not within you.
9. Use Supplements Wisely
There are a number of natural supplements available that can help increase the levels of dopamine in circulation. Although these can be useful they should not be used to replace your natural feelings of fulfillment. The supplements can give you an idea how you should be feeling, giving you something to work towards and should be used as a temporary fix to give a reference point to work with. Useful supplements include:
Acetyl-l-tyrosine: Assists the brain in dopamine production
Curcumin: Found in curry spice and turmeric.
Ginkgo Biloba: This is said to boost dopamine production and keep it active in the brain for longer.
10. Remove Toxins
Our body can accumulate toxins that are not good for us including endotoxins which can upset our immune system and reduce dopamine production. If you eat fermented food, avoid too much fatty or sugary food and make sure you get enough sleep you should be able to remove any unwanted endotoxins quite quickly. Fatty and sugary foods are most tempting when we feel unfulfilled so make sure you work on your own internal sense of fulfillment to prevent overeating or seeking out sugar as a quick fix. Focusing on what is really fulfilling will take away the temptation to binge on foods that are just not good for you and boost your dopamine levels too.