How to Use Brain Science to Reduce Anxiety, Manage Stress & Make Healthier Choices
As the founder of Badass Breakthrough Academy and a Physiologist, I love designing practical ways we can use the physiology of our body to improve our health and performance!
Recently, I was sharing with academy students “Biggest Bang for Your Buck” strategies to quickly shift the biochemistry of our brains to a state conducive to productivity, improved mind-body performance and progression of our goals.
The Bottom-line Is: When you understand the basic science of how your body works, it’s much easier to respond to its signals to maximize our health and feel our best!
Here’s a sample of what we learned and how you can use this simple, yet powerful strategy to help decrease everyday anxiety and better manage times when you feel a little down, anxious or frustrated.
What Does The Science Say?
Dopamine is known as the “feel-good” hormone. We get an increase or “hit” of dopamine when we exercise, create something new, or spend time in nature. Unfortunately, there are less healthy ways to boost dopamine too, like eating sugar, drinking caffeine and alcohol, and even seeking out social media “likes.”
Why Do We Care?
When we look at the spectrum of brains, some of us have naturally lower levels of dopamine than others. Adults who tend to have lower levels of dopamine might feel a need to be extremely active, frequently seek adventure, and can be more prone to addictive behaviors. Although this is an oversimplification of brain science, some people are more prone to be “dopamine seekers," meaning their body is frequently looking for ways to increase production of this feel-good hormone. Unfortunately, when dopamine levels are low, we may feel anxious, depressed, or on-edge. Add these uncomfortable feelings that accompany low levels of dopamine to living in a world where we are surrounded by many unhealthy dopamine-increasing choices, and we can find ourselves in a cycle of looking to increase dopamine in all the wrong places!
What Can We Do About It?
I don’t know about you, but I can think of many times throughout a typical week where I feel a little down, anxious, or frustrated. Now that we know the above physiology, it’s time for us to do something about it!
Rather than trying to ignore uncomfortable feelings, console them with unhealthy choices, or let them accumulate into an all-out bad day, you can instead recognize where you may benefit from incorporating intentional dopamine stimuluses into your day to lift yourself up. Here’s a simple 3-step process to ensure that you are seeking dopamine hits through helpful and healthful choices:
Think of activities or situations where you tend to feel down, cooped up, frustrated or antsy.
Accept that it's okay to feel this way (refer to the science above).
Select a productive way to boost your dopamine levels, such as light exercise, creating something new, or spending time in nature.
Here's an easy way to remember it: 1. Awareness 2. Acceptance 3. Activity
Example Applications To Maximize Your Well-being
Awareness: Do you recognize yourself being on edge and seeking less healthier options like caffeine and sugar when sitting for extended periods of time at work, after a long commute, or during dark winter nights inside the house?
Acceptance: Commend yourself for having this incredibly powerful self-awareness and use it to your advantage! What you do about it matters. 😊
Activity: In place of less healthy options, seek a dopamine “hit” in the form of a quick walk around the block, practicing light yoga or stretching, turning on upbeat music, or stepping outside to take a deep breath in the sun. If you’re like me, you might even embrace being the office weirdo who keeps stretch bands and a ball chair at your desk to use as needed!
I love that understanding this science not only helps us recognize it’s natural and normal to feel anxious, but it also provides valuable insight into practical ways to feel our best! Finally, because this strategy involves adding small bursts of physical activity into our day, this Physiologist considers it a “Biggest Bang for Your Buck” high-performance living strategy worth giving a try!
Louise Valentine, MPH, CHES, CSCS, ACSM-EP, EIM II, CPT, BCTMB is a multi award-winning health, fitness & performance expert. Owner of BreakingThroughWellness.com, she coaches active women & runners to achieve goals, quickly break through setbacks & thrive after 35 with more energy, less stress! Follow Louise on Facebook & Instagram for more simple science-based tips to be unstoppable!
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