As you probably know, endorphins are “feel-good” hormones that are produced during exercise. They boost your mood, leaving you positive and energized—psychologists have even likened them to opiates because of the amount of pleasure they can bring. However, you don’t need to turn to drugs or run your butt off to enjoy the benefits of these chemicals. The great news is that there are plenty of easy, natural ways to increase endorphins. Try some of these ten smart tricks the next time you’re feeling a bit low.
1. Sniff lavender
If you use lavender essential oils to scent a room or a pillow, your endorphin levels will quickly begin to rise. Lavender also encourages the release of other neurotransmitters that improve mood. One study of anxiety levels in a gynecological clinic even showed that women who sniffed lavender before the insertion of a contraceptive IUD felt less anxious than women who merely sniffed a placebo scent.
Perhaps surprisingly, experts say that the process of meditating promotes feelings of relaxation and well-being in part through endorphins. Psychologist Elaine Slater explains that meditation boosts endorphin levels because it triggers the hypothalamus and stimulates the pituitary gland. Levels of cortisol—the so-called “stress hormone”—are lowered at the same time, helping you let go of worries and embrace calmness. If you haven’t meditated before, perhaps start with a simple mindfulness exercise (such as closing your eyes and trying to focus on your breathing for 5 minutes).
3. Make music
When you make music, your brain responds by producing endorphins. If you’re thinking that you don’t have any musical skills, don’t worry—even just humming along to a favorite song, doing karaoke or whistling in the shower has the same effect. There is also evidence that just listening to the songs you love can increase endorphin levels—all the encouragement you need to make a great new playlist!
4. Try ginseng supplements
Although you should always consult your doctor before trying any kind of new supplement (due to potential interactions with other medications or health conditions), it may be worth taking ginseng if you’d like to enhance your mood. Studies strongly suggest that it reduces stress and fatigue, and researchers suspect that some of its benefits come from its ability to increase endorphins. As a bonus, it is famous for enhancing physical endurance, so if paired with exercise it could provide you with a double dose of feel-good hormones.
5. Have sex
Sex is not only associated with a increase endorphins, but also with improved healing and a reduction in pain levels. Further, if you have sex with someone you really care for, you’ll benefit from an intense rush of oxytocin—the “cuddle hormone” associated with closeness and romantic attachment between partners. However, although sex is enjoyable, it can be difficult to make time for it when you have a busy life. Consider ways to make sex more of a priority, or perhaps seek the assistance of a therapist if you’re struggling to maintain physical intimacy in your relationship.
6. Enjoy the scent of vanilla
If you have a bottle of vanilla oil (or even a candle), inhaling its sweet scent will prompt your brain to produce a fresh burst of endorphins. For example, one neurological study showed that patients scanned in an MRI machine where over 60% less anxious if they were breathing vanilla-scented air at the time. You can also try dropping some vanilla extract into hot coffee or tea to enjoy a mood-lifting drink.
7. Eat Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are a fantastic source of an amino acid called tyrosine, along with selenium. Both of these nutrients are known to increase levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, and some nutritionists suspect that these nuts also increase endorphins.
8. Try exercises classes
Although just about any type of physical exertion will leave you feeling better because of the release of endorphins, it turns out that group exercise is particularly effective in this regard. For example, one intriguing study performed in 2009 found that college crews who engaged in synchronized rowing experienced greater endorphin increases than participants who rowed solo. So, taking part in a fitness class with others could be one of the best ways to improve your mood—and it will also help to keep your motivation high when you might otherwise be tempted to give up.
9. Munch some chocolate
While it’s generally viewed as a “naughtier” snack than Brazil nuts, chocolate is known to improve mood due to its phenethylamine content. This compound increases endorphin production and also prompts your body to release theobromine—a chemical that reduces pain perception and appears to enhance pleasure perception. In fact, you shouldn’t really feel guilty about regularly eating dark chocolate, because it cuts cholesterol levels, inhibits inflammatory chemicals, and reduces your risk of heart disease by close to 20%.
Finally, when you’re genuinely entertained and laughing so hard that you might cry, your body is producing endorphins that heighten your pain threshold. Consequently, it’s a great idea to seek out things that make you laugh—from good friends to favorite movies, funny stories, and fond memories. Laughter also lowers blood pressure levels, and even improves immune system function by helping your body release more infection-fighting cells.