Our bodies are equipped with naturally occurring wonder drugs, little wonder molecules that, when properly ignited, are capable of lifting your spirits in ways you never thought imaginable. These endorphins are neurotransmitters that offer a variety of health benefits, including emotional elation, stress reduction, improved immune systems, and decreased pain perception.
It’s actually quite easy to get your endorphins flowing and to begin the transformation from tired and over-worked mom into a joyful ball of energy:
—Laughter: We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine — and more and more evidence is proving this adage to be true. Cardiologists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that laughter increased blood flow about as much as some cholesterol-lowering medications or light exercise. Although the researchers did not recommend laughter over exercise, they did recommend a combination of both. Laughing also triggers the release of endorphins and may improve our immune systems.
—Chocolate: When consumed responsibly, chocolate may even be good for you. Scientists have found that dark chocolate contains antioxidants that can help maintain cardiovascular health. Although the jury is still out on the degree of health benefits offered by chocolate, I can tell you it does wonders for my soul. It helps rev up endorphins and is associated with feelings of comfort and contentment, both of which come in mighty handy in the fast-paced world of motherhood.
—Chili Peppers: The hotter the better when it comes to chili peppers and endorphins. Bell peppers are relatively mild, while habaneros will have you doing a jig! The ingredients from chili peppers are also used to treat arthritic pain when used topically.
*Caution: Avoid use in the very young and very old.
—Exercise: The “runners’ high” experienced by athletes is a sought-after feeling. Although I do not run, I can “ellipticize” my little heart out — all for the purpose of achieving that awesome endorphin rush. Remember, regular exercise not only helps our bodies look fitter and more toned, it also helps us smile.
—Massage: A professional massage releases endorphins, increases circulation, and stimulates the nervous and lymphatic systems. If you can’t afford one from the pros, 3-year-olds are easy to teach!
—Meditation: When our bodies are in a relaxed state, as with meditation, this triggers the outflow of endorphins. It’s easy to do and is free-of-charge. Just close your eyes and concentrate solely on your breath going in and out in a slow and relaxed state. Meditation also increases blood flow, slows heart rate, and decreases muscle tension.
—Acupuncture: The thought of needles makes me squeamish, but when these sharp instruments are in the hands of a certified acupuncturist, they may help more than hurt. Acupuncture has been employed in the treatment of chronic pain because it stimulates the release of endorphins; it has also been used to ease insomnia and fatigue.
Whether you decide to take a family trip to Hershey Park this Mother’s Day, or opt for a private spa excursion, remember that happy moms equal happy homes. Don’t take endorphins for granted!
*P.S.S. (Parent Sanity Saver): Dark chocolate contains approximately three times the amount of caffeine as regular milk chocolate products so you may want to avoid its use too close to bedtime.
TARA KOMPARE is a Doctor of Pharmacy, mother of two, and chocoholic. E-mail
questions/comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.themedicinemom.com.