Planning for laughter?!

Last time we had a closer look at the role of the neurotransmitters Oxytocin and Serotonin in experiences that lead to happiness. This time we will focus on how dopamine and the endorphins are produced and what we can do to stimulate their production.

 Dopamine produces a sense of excitement about an event that rewards us more than we expected. It can motivate us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when we achieve them. Many of the goals we had before lockdown have had to be postponed indefinitely, like celebratory events, or holidays we planned. So to produce more dopamine, we can focus on goals that are possible given our current circumstances. Is there something that challenges you, maybe something you always wanted to do? It could be learning a new skill, finishing something you previously started, tidying up a specific area, writing a journal, recording memories for your grandchildren. Breaking the task into bite-size pieces, maybe making a start of just a few minutes, makes success easier to reach. Crucial to the process is that we celebrate the achievements in some way – giving yourself a “gold star” obviously won’t work, but doing something you really enjoy after meeting your goal may do the trick.

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When last did you hug someone?

Although I am all for understanding our challenging emotions and growing through them, we need some happiness to keep us creative in the way we address our challenges. Happiness is associated with some of the experiences we cannot currently enjoy given current restrictions, like going to a party, a night out with friends or a long awaited holiday. If we break it down to brain chemistry, this is when neurotransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins are released. It may feel reductionistic, but maybe there is something useful to learn here. I have been reading about these neurotransmitters and practical ways (not medical) that stimulate our “happy chemicals”. It is a vast and complicated subject, and in writing briefly about it, I will no-doubt oversimplify. Perhaps it encourages you to find out more detail…

When we are isolated, our oxytocin levels fall. It is related to our sense of belonging. How can we increase our connection with others while keeping our spatial distance in one-to-one conversations? We have grown so accustomed to interacting with whatsapp messages and they definitely have their value, but hearing a human voice in a phone conversation connects us more. A video call where we can see a face without a mask has an even more positive effect. Could we aIso create more group experiences? Our extended family regularly meets up in group video calls, but there are many other options. Uniting towards a common goal is part of belonging. One of the classic ways we usually do this is in supporting a sports team, or belonging to a club with a common interest, or joining a support group around a common challenge. Many of these are now happening online or – in the case of sports – before cameras without live audiences.

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Nothing is exciting without a dance…

For a while I have been wanting to write something about exercise, but I am full of good intentions and little practical experience of regular exercise, so I have asked my friend Vivian Scheepers to do so instead. She is a better role model in terms of including exercise into her own routine and is passionate about children and the role exercise plays in a child’s life. She is currently teaching Sports and Gymnastics for ages 2 – 13 years and adult aerobic classes. In her own words:

Nothing is exciting without a dance…

Exercise defined:

  • Activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.
  • Activity carried out for a specific purpose.

Some say it’s amazing, I feel good, look good and I want to know that my body is balanced with good eating habits and a good workout.

Yet, others say, “ Aargggh! Why would I do that to myself?”

Whatever your adult mind decides exercise can or cannot be, research demonstrates that it is very important for a child to be active and exercising regularly. It provides a good balance between a healthy mind and body. In fact, we have also learned that they exist together.

I grew up in a home where I was told exercise is not important. All I needed was to be smart and that needed brain power. Later, when I became a mother, I started to learn about gross and fine motor skills. What you do inside the classroom is as important as what you do outside the classroom. On discovering this new information, I realized no child should go without exercise, it should be part of their lives…. Because we all want healthy balanced individuals, right? Therefore, it should not be a choice, rather we should figure out what exercise we like and will continue to do.

As defined above, regardless of what exercise we do, it will require physical effort and is done for a specific purpose. So, how do we make it fun? Well, some of us like to dance, some like to play sports and others prefer strength & flexibility.

The pandemic has made many of us realize we can do this from the comfort of our homes.

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This is not my battle…

I was chatting to a friend last week about the effect that the lockdown has had on us. We had hoped that we would have had time to assess what was really important to us, to learn to focus on what needs to change so that our lives display our values, to be grateful for what we have. Despite my friend being one of the most selfless people I know, she confessed that she had realised to her horror that she had become more selfish, rather than more outward looking. She had realised what important things she did not have, and what securities she wanted in the future. These things involve access to the private health sector and the required financial stability that gives access to it.

I could certainly identify. In terms of these longings, we are all on common ground. We don’t want to get sick. We want to be able to earn well enough to meet our needs for nutrition, shelter and health. The two are closely connected.

Taking a bird’s eye view of where we are as a country going into level 3, we also have these two common goals:

Limit the spread of covid 19 – don’t get infected, and don’t infect others.

Get the economy going – get to work, make an income, get others to work, so many of us can make a living.

These two are also interdependent. It feels too obvious to state, but I will any way: keeping infections low is key to keeping the economy open. I may feel I have little influence on getting the economy going, but I actually do have an important part to play:

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