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Beat the Seasonal Blues by Boosting Your Brain’s Happy Hormones

Warrior Antoinette Wallace takes a walk, which helps boost happy hormones.

Even if you live in sunny latitudes, you might experience winter blues – that blasé feeling during cooler and shorter days. It’s not surprising that cool January is associated with feeling blue.

For veterans and their caregivers, the past year and a half proved challenging, with 72% of the veterans WWP serves reporting feeling depressed. That is consistent with a long-term trend of PTSD and depression among post-9/11 veterans. So, what can we do about the double punch of depression and winter blues?

Welcome to the world of happy hormones. Meet your new friends with funny names — dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.

You don’t have to remember their names – just read on to learn how to make the most of the natural chemicals in your brain that can help manage winter blues and other challenges.

1. Dopamine – gives you a boost in motivation and concentration. This hormone rewards you with a pat on the back and a “you did it!” when you accomplish a goal. To keep dopamine flowing, exercise regularly, spend time in nature, try to sleep better, get a massage, and take steps toward a goal. 

2. Oxytocin – known as the “loving hormone.” It rushes in when you hug a loved one, pat someone on the back, or even shake hands. Oxytocin enhances social interactions and gives you feelings of warmth, openness, and generosity. It encourages the production of another hormone called anandamide, which forms new nerve cells in your brain, and helps reduce anxiety. When you connect with another human, pet your dog, get a massage, or give someone a special gift, you unknowingly get washed away in a wave of oxytocin.

3. Serotonin – gives you a feeling of well-being, especially when you receive attention or feel appreciated. It regulates sleep, digestion, libido, memory, and learning. You can boost serotonin in your brain by staying connected with others, going outside to soak up some sun, recalling happy and positive memories, exercising, and volunteering.

4. Endorphins – around 20 brain chemicals that act as natural painkillers. The word “endorphin” comes from endogenous (from within) and morphine (masks pain). They reduce stress and give you that “runner’s high” associated with a state of euphoria or bliss. Think about how you’d feel if you just finished a roller coaster ride or a bungee jump. But you don’t have to get that wild. Moderate physical exercise is one of the easiest ways to encourage the free flow of endorphins.

In case you didn’t notice, exercise, more often than other factors, is a common way to boost your happy hormones. So, talk with your doctor about the right type of exercise for you. It might be something as simple as walking, and it can be adapted to your ability and comfort. 

“I don’t think people realize the connection between their body and mind, and how much they impact each other,” Erika Myers, WWP Talk manager said. “It’s easy for people to notice how much better they feel after a good workout or cooking a new meal, but I don’t think it’s always a conscious thought.”

Erika said that understanding the connection between the body and mind is important because there are many small things we can do to boost our happiness and reduce stress and tension.

“Knowing how our brain chemicals and actions interact could help people make healthier choices, and ultimately seek mental health support to work through challenges and achieve their goals,” Erika added.

Another key to boosting happy hormones is to keep angry hormones at bay. Seems like a no-brainer – but there’s science behind it. Stress and anger can trigger the production of a hormone called cortisol, which can throw a wrench in your blissful efforts and stifle your good hormones. Holding a grudge, even one against yourself, increases cortisol. Consider activities like meditation, talk therapy, practicing forgiveness, and counseling to reduce your stress and find ways to let go of negativity.

Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) offers mental health services for veterans and families coping with the invisible wounds of war. Some of these free services include WWP Talk, a one-on-one emotional support program via phone; and Project Odyssey®, an adventured-based workshop with a 12-week follow-up that helps veterans jumpstart their mental health. Get connected today or read more about how WWP helps.

Contact: Raquel Rivas – Public Relations, rrivas@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.426.9783

About Wounded Warrior Project

Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.

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