Have you ever wondered how your body endures pain? Or ever spent time laughing with friends and had all your stress seemingly melt away? What you’re experiencing is your brain releasing something called endorphins in your body. And it turns out these endorphins not only help reduce pain but also help you feel more social and happy.
By understanding how to integrate activities into your life that release these feel-good, pain-relieving hormones, you can boost your physical, emotional, and social well-being!
In this article, we’ll explore the functions of endorphins, their role in social interactions, and tips on how to release more of these feel-good hormones!
What Are Endorphins? (Definition)
Endorphins1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470306/, often called “feel-good” hormones, are a type of neuropeptide, or small protein-like molecules that are naturally produced in the brain and nervous system. These remarkable chemicals are structurally similar to opioids, but they are produced by our own bodies. Endorphins bind to specific receptors in the brain, primarily opioid receptors, adjusting pain signals and influencing our emotional state.
Endorphins play a vital role in our well-being. While they are known for their association with pain relief, stress relief, and pleasure, the social aspects of endorphins are equally intriguing!
What Are the Functions and Benefits of Endorphins?
The function of endorphins includes pain regulation, mood enhancement, and stress reduction. Let’s look a little deeper at each of these functions.
One of the primary functions of endorphins is to alleviate pain1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470306/. When released, they bind to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, inhibiting the transmission of pain signals and reducing pain perception. This natural pain-relieving effect can relieve acute and chronic pain, contributing to overall well-being.
Endorphins contribute to positive mood regulation and can induce feelings of happiness, euphoria, and relaxation. They promote a sense of contentment and are often associated with the “runner’s high” experienced during intense exercise. However, more recent research2https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-truth-behind-runners-high-and-other-mental-benefits-of-running suggests that a runner’s high is more likely associated with something called endocannabinoids, which are naturally occurring signaling molecules that affect the nervous system.
Endorphins help to combat stress3https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/22/1/338 by mitigating the effects of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. They can counteract the physiological and psychological symptoms of stress, reducing anxiety levels and promoting a sense of calmness and relaxation. Releasing endorphins during activities like exercise or pleasurable experiences can help alleviate stress and improve overall well-being.
According to research4https://www.pnas.org/doi/abs/10.1073/pnas.1700712114, endorphins promote empathy and compassion, enhancing our ability to connect with others emotionally. They facilitate social bonding5https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.2021.0176 and create a sense of unity within groups. They also contribute to the experience of pleasure derived from social interactions and reinforce positive social behavior.
Trust and Cooperation
Studies6https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0301051117301151 have shown that endorphins can foster trust among individuals who do activities that require cooperation with one another (like singing, playing music, participating in sports, or dancing together). Higher levels of endorphins are associated with an increased willingness to cooperate, share resources, and engage in prosocial behavior.
How to Release Endorphins: 10 Tips to Boost Well-Being
There are several ways to release endorphins to boost well-being. However, people will vary in how their body responds to these different activities. Explore what works best for you!
#1 Move your body (ideally with other people)
Physical activity, especially aerobic exercises like running, tennis7https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/well/move/the-best-sport-for-a-longer-life-try-tennis.html, cycling, playing sports8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/, or dancing9https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27540276/, stimulates the release of endorphins, especially if you have to cooperate6https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0301051117301151 with others. In fact, research10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4650190/ also shows that dancing with others promotes social bonding!
Here are some great exercise options to release endorphins:
- Cardiovascular exercise: Running, swimming, dancing, kickboxing, HIIT, etc.
- Strength training: Weight lifting, squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, deadlifts, etc.
- Team sports: Basketball, softball, tennis, soccer, baseball, pickleball, etc.
- Outdoor activities: Hiking, walking, trail runs, biking, etc.
- Yoga, Pilates, or martial arts: Incorporate movement with mindfulness, breathing, and strength.
Action Step: Block at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise two to three times a week to reap the benefits. Bonus: Get a bigger boost by working out with a buddy or playing a group sport.
#2 Have a laugh
Here are some ideas if you’re looking for a laugh!
- Check out our favorite funny Youtube videos for a laugh during your lunch break!
- Attend a comedy show or check out a comedy special on Netflix.
- Watch your favorite funny movie.
- Spend time with people who have a great sense of humor!
- Listen to a funny podcast.
- Host a game night and engage in play with friends.
Action Step: Mark Fridays as fun days to schedule an activity that brings you laughter and joy!
#3 Listen to your favorite music
Listening to music you enjoy can evoke positive emotions and release endorphins. Choose uplifting tunes that resonate with you, and let the music elevate your mood and energize you. Better yet, attend a concert and sing along! Research shows12https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27158219/ that group music performances can elevate your pain threshold and boost social bonding.
Other ways you can enjoy music include:
- Learning to play an instrument
- Exploring new music genres or artists
- Hosting a Karaoke night
- Writing your own lyrics to popular songs
- Playing music while doing activities like laundry, driving, or exercise
Action Step: Create a playlist of your favorite tunes, or plan a night out to see your favorite musical artist!
#4 Spend time with people you love
Spending time with loved ones, engaging in meaningful conversations, and participating in social activities can boost endorphin levels. Plan social outings, join clubs or groups that align with your interests, host a game night, and prioritize quality time with friends and family.
Here are just a few other activities you can enjoy with loved ones!
- Explore new restaurants.
- Take a weekend getaway.
- Host a potluck dinner party or BBQ.
- Take a class together like painting.
- Volunteer together.
- Start a book club.
Action Step: Set a weekly block on your calendar to spend time with friends or loved ones.
#5 Practice random acts of kindness
Acts of kindness13https://bjgp.org/content/66/648/e525.short, whether big or small, can promote the release of endorphins. So when you help someone in need, volunteer for a cause you care about, or perform random acts of kindness throughout your day, you can experience the feel-good hormones that come along with it!
Here are some random more acts of kindness ideas you could try!
- Pay for someone’s coffee, meal, or groceries.
- Surprise someone with a kind note.
- Volunteer for a cause you care about, like an animal shelter or hospital.
- Support a small local business and leave a positive review.
- Clean out your closet and donate items to charity.
- Participate in a walk, run, or charity event.
- Leave encouraging comments on social media posts.
Action Step: Think about someone in your network who might benefit from a boost of encouragement, and do something to boost their spirits or alleviate their stress.
#6 Get outside in the sun and nature
According to research14https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S001393512030534X, spending time outdoors, especially in natural environments, can enhance endorphin release. Soaking up sunlight, walking in the park, or engaging in outdoor activities are great ways to connect with nature and boost your mood.
Here are some more ideas for activities you can do in nature!
- Pack a picnic and eat outside in a local park.
- Take a camping trip with friends or family.
- Visit a local wildlife sanctuary.
- Take up nature photography and photograph flowers, landscapes, or animals.
- Bring your yoga mat to a park and practice outside.
- Try geocaching and embark on a treasure hunt!
- Enjoy the water! Go swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, or fishing.
- Try nature crafting. Collect natural materials like leaves, pinecones, or shells, and create something new.
Action Step: During your lunch break, walk outside and soak in some sun!
#7 Engage in creative expression
Research indicates15https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/edit/10.4324/9781315624303-7/creativity-role-christa-kagin that creative activities like painting, writing, playing a musical instrument, or dancing can stimulate the release of endorphins. Here are a few ideas you can try to add more creative expression to your life!
- Take an art class or experiment with drawing or painting on your own.
- Explore writing poetry, short stories, or journal entries about your day.
- Experiment with photography, including angles, lighting, and compositions.
- Take up an instrument or singing lessons.
- Try out a local ballroom dance class.
- Join a local improv or theater group and learn how to act.
- Try upcycling old furniture or DIY projects around the house.
- Experiment with film and video editing (you can even start on your smartphone!).
Action Step: Sign up for a class or check out a free YouTube video series in a creative activity you’ve always wanted to try.
#8 Express daily gratitude
Expressing gratitude has been linked to increased endorphin levels. The simple practice of writing down what you’re thankful for in a gratitude journal can help shift your focus to positive experiences and enhance your overall well-being.
Here are some other unique ways to express gratitude:
- Write heartfelt thank you notes, and share them with others.
- Create a gratitude jar, and write down things you’re grateful for throughout the year. Revisit the jar when you need a reminder of your blessings.
- Create a gratitude collage or vision board as a visual representation of what you’re thankful for, including people, experiences, and memories.
- Practice gratitude meditation and focus your mind on things you’re thankful for.
Action Step: Start a gratitude journal! Need some tips? Check out our helpful list of gratitude prompts and templates!
#9 Practice mindfulness or meditation
Mindfulness and meditation16https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/wk/jglau/2018/00000027/00000012/art00011 techniques have been shown to increase endorphin levels. By cultivating present-moment awareness, you can improve your mood and reduce stress with the natural release of endorphins in your body.
Here are some ideas to help you build a mindfulness or meditation routine in your life.
- Try out a guided meditation app like Headspace or Calm.
- Practice body scan meditation and bring attention to your body from head to toe, noticing how you feel, generating awareness, and promoting relaxation.
- Take slow walks in a peaceful setting, noticing the sights, sounds, and smells around you.
- Spend time observing nature, taking in everything around you.
- Practice loving-kindness meditation by bringing your attention to someone you love.
- Create a mindful morning and bedtime routine where you spend five minutes setting your intention for the day and then later reflecting on the day’s experiences.
Action Step: Check out our article on meditation to find out which meditation style is best for you, and try it out!
#10 Practice deep breathing
Deep breathing17https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5890366/ exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing18https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/learning-diaphragmatic-breathing or alternate nostril breathing19https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3681046/, can activate the relaxation response, increase endorphin levels, and reduce stress. Here are some breathing exercises you can incorporate into your daily routine:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing: Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise as you fill your lungs with air. Exhale slowly through your mouth, feeling your abdomen sink back down. Focus on the sensation of your breath and repeat this deep breathing pattern several times.
- Box Breathing: Visualize a box shape in your mind. Inhale slowly through your nose as you trace the first side of the box, filling your lungs. Hold your breath as you trace the second side of the box. Exhale slowly through your mouth as you trace the third side of the box. Finally, hold your breath again as you trace the fourth side. Repeat this box breathing pattern for several rounds.
- 4-7-8 Breathing: This technique involves inhaling for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven, and exhaling for a count of eight. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and take a deep breath through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat this pattern for several cycles.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation with Breath: Combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation. Start by taking a deep breath, and as you exhale, focus on releasing tension from a specific muscle group. Begin with your toes and work your way up through your legs, abdomen, chest, arms, and finally, your face. With each exhale, consciously let go of tension in each area.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing: Close your eyes and bring your right hand to your face. Use your thumb to close your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril. Pause briefly, close your left nostril with your ring finger, and exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril, pause, and then exhale through the left nostril. Repeat this alternating pattern for several rounds.
Action Step: Spend five minutes a day (maybe right after you brush your teeth in the morning) taking long deep breaths or one of the breathing practices above and focusing on your intention for the day.
Bonus Tip: Have sex!
Some experts suggest20https://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/hidden-health-benefits-sex/ that when you’re aroused, your brain releases endorphins (as well as oxytocin and dopamine), which contributes to the pleasurable sensations and feelings of relaxation and well-being associated with sexual experiences.
While more research is needed21https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Marjan-Khajehei-2/publication/328418584_Endorphins_oxytocin_sexuality_and_romantic_relationships_An_understudied_area/links/5bcd476f458515f7d9d0250b/Endorphins-oxytocin-sexuality-and-romantic-relationships-An-understudied-area.pdf in this area, sex is known to enhance your mood, promote a sense of intimacy, trust, and connection with your partner, and contribute to overall feelings of happiness.
Action Step: Get some date nights on the calendar (and please be safe, friends)!
Yes, activities such as exercise, meditation, and listening to music can trigger the release of endorphins, even without direct social interaction. For example, during meditation, you focus your attention and achieve a state of deep relaxation. This practice has been found to increase endorphin levels, promoting a sense of calm, happiness, and overall well-being. Listening to music is yet another example of a solitary activity that can lead to the release of endorphins. Research has shown that listening to music you enjoy can stimulate the brain’s reward system, triggering the release of endorphins.
Yes, studies suggest that meaningful interactions in virtual environments can still stimulate endorphin release and provide social benefits. Despite the digital nature of these interactions, a sense of connection, shared interests, positive feedback, emotional support, and social bonding can be experienced, leading to the activation of the brain’s reward system and the release of endorphins.
While endorphins can create pleasurable sensations and reduce pain, they are not addictive in the same way as opioids. Their release is regulated by the body, and natural endorphin production is not thought to lead to dependency. That said, it seems that research is inconclusive on whether people can become addicted to exercise due to endorphins.
Engaging in regular exercise, practicing mindfulness, enjoying social activities, and cultivating positive relationships can all help increase endorphin levels naturally.
For example, here are a few of the activities that naturally boost endorphin levels:
1. Activities like running, dancing, playing sports, or any form of physical exercise
2. Practicing mindfulness and techniques like meditation or deep breathing
3. Focusing on the present moment and fostering a state of relaxation
4. Social activities and cultivating positive relationships with others
5. Interacting with loved ones, engaging in hobbies, or joining social groups
In summary, take note of these tips to experience improved well-being!
- Move your body. Dance party, anyone?!
- Have a laugh. Watch a funny movie or spend time with friends who make you laugh.
- Listen to your favorite music. Start a feel-good playlist or go to a concert.
- Spend time with people you love. Host a game night!
- Practice random acts of kindness. Do something for someone in need.
- Get outside in the sun and nature. Take walks on your lunch breaks.
- Engage in creative expression. Take a class on something you’ve always wanted to try.
- Express daily gratitude. Start a gratitude journal.
- Practice mindfulness or meditation. Find your meditation style and notice the difference.
- Practice deep breathing. Even five minutes a day can make a difference.
- Have sex. Schedule a date night!
Looking for more ways to boost your mood? Check out our article How to Get Out of a Funk.
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