Endorphins: Your Key to a Natural High


Endorphins are easy to generate.

If you ask anyone—a heavy drinker or otherwise—why people drink, the first thing you’ll get is some kind of look like you’re a bit thick.  After that, they’ll tell you about the way it loosens you up and numbs your face and suppresses your problems and leaves you this booze-logged sloppy mess with little idea what’s going on and no desire to find out.

And all of that is true.  But for its depressant properties and inhibition smashing skills, alcohol also does something not a lot of people want to give it credit for.  It releases endorphins.  That wouldn’t be a lot of folks’ first guess, since we associate endorphins with activities that push our physical limits, like running, not sitting around on a sofa listening to blues records or playing video games.  But, you will agree that alcohol kills pain, so it makes sense, right?  That’s where so much of the pleasure and euphoria of drinking comes from.

You’ve also heard that endorphins are all about the natural high.  That’s true, too, and that’s why the chemical is so important to recovered drinkers.  You need your endorphins, and the good news is that a lot of the things that release them are good for a variety of reasons. Here are several right now:

1. That’s Right, Running

Running is my thing.  I did it a bit in middle school and high school, got more into getting my endorphins in the manner mentioned at the very beginning of this post, and didn’t wear my running shoes very often in the 80’s.  After kicking the bottle, I got back into running, which is aided nicely by the advent of the mp3 player.

There’s no question there’s a runner’s high.  But it’s not like I’m some sort of sidewalk junkie, doing a couple of miles for some buzz, even if it is a natural one.  I’m a bit more interested in the feeling of satisfaction and general well-being.  I’d like to think there’s something in the way of oxytocin that comes from feeling that I’m doing the right thing, improving my body and physiology, etc.  If you have one athletic bone in your body, you’ll try some running to facilitate your recovery.

2. Laugh a lot

This just in: laughter releases endorphins.  A researcher at the University of Oxford determined this beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Crazy though it sounds, they gave some subjects humorous TV shows, etc., others nothing, and then subjected both groups to pain.  In short, the laughing group could tolerate more pain, meaning more endorphins.  The idea is that laughing involves many quick exhalations, which exhaust the abdominal muscles, thus shooting endorphins through your veins.  Plus, you’re either watching some great TV or making fun of one of your friends.  Win-win-win.

3. Be generous

When you help someone in need, you get a rush of endorphin.  No pain is involved, but, like oxytocin, sometimes endorphin comes from deep and meaningful activities.  It’s probably a good thing this is the case or else kind and generous acts may be even more rare than they are.

4. Sniff vanilla

Did you ever think Sam would advise you to do some vanilla sniffing?  Well, we’re all about improvement here.  Vanilla candles or scented oil helps release endorphins.  A Sloan-Ketting Cancer Center study showed 63% less stress in patients who’d been exposed to the aroma of vanilla.

5. Spicy foods

As you can guess, you get a little pain from chili peppers and the capsaicin in them.  Now, Sam isn’t suggesting you torture yourself, just eat the spicy foods you love, perhaps a bit more often.  Perhaps going just a bit spicier will help you.  The dish will taste better, you’ll feel some endorphin, your improvement will go much better, and everything will be great.  Except for the heartburn.

6. Sexual intercourse

Yes! There is something good about sex.  It does reduce endorphins, thus reducing stress.  Now, we’re all busy, but you can have sex while smelling vanilla, and if you’re talented, munching on some spicy thai food.

7. Ginseng

Ginseng, available in supplement form, has a wide variety of health benefits, including cardiovascular health.  It is associated with reducing stress, and researchers believe it releases endorphins.

8. Lift Weights

This is, of course, a very common method for copping an endorphin high.  It’s why you see people walking around in a dazed haze at the gym.  Lifting weights can give you the kind of endorphin buzz that washes over your whole body.

9. Have a moving Experience

And I don’t mean eating a chili pepper here.  Joel Fuhrman, a family physician, says that being moved by something like hearing some incredible music or seeing a great piece of art, perhaps watching a poignant movie, will keep your endorphin level, rather than spiking.

10. Think Positive Thoughts

This is, up to a point, a way of tricking your brain.  You think positive thoughts and your brain responds in kind, seeming to think that something positive is happening.  Once the endorphins start flowing, it’ll be that much easier to have even more positive thoughts.

Again, my main thing is running, though, I do many of the things on this list as well.  While larger projects concerning self-improvement are really the mainstay of your recovery, it’s also key to layer your methods of improvement and positivity.  That’s where endorphins can come in, giving you quick bursts of positivity to give you just a little boost during your day.

Photo Credit Wearerubbish1 on Flickr