We have all been on an emotional roller coaster ride the last few years. Rates of anxiety and depression are higher as stressors pile up. As the pandemic continues, it’s been hard to let our guard down and relax. However, for the sake of our physical and mental health we must find a way to regulate our nervous system. It sounds simplistic, but a powerful way to do that is through savoring moments of joy and peace that can be found during our everyday lives.
During these times, it is hard to believe we are hardwired for bliss and happiness. However, it is true! When all systems of the mind and body are functioning smoothly, a cocktail of feel-good neuro-peptides and transmitters can flow through our blood and nervous system giving us the experience of bliss, of feeling good. However, when the system gets blocked or shut down those bliss molecules don’t flow and that can contribute to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Candace Pert was a brilliant scientist who mapped the human body’s natural opiate receptors in the 1970s. Endorphins are naturally occurring opiates that dull pain and produce euphoria. She wrote that we are “hardwired for bliss” due to the physical endorphin pathways in our brain and the receptors for them on the cells. (Image credit: Mohammed Nohassi, unsplash.com)
You are a verb – an experience, an ever-changing flow of energy, information, and awareness, interconnected and always interacting with everything in your environment.
If we are biologically designed to feel happiness, why does it seem so out of reach at times? During my healing crisis when I dealing with autoimmune disease (my immune system was attacking my body), there were many factors blocking my own bliss molecules. My hormones were off due to thyroid disease and chronic stress/anxiety. My gut was inflamed, and the microbiome was not healthy. The gut-brain connection is well researched, and I can attest, when I was bloated and not digesting properly, I did not feel good mentally or physically. I was grumpy and tired all the time! 80% of the neural communication between the gut and brain are signals coming from the gut to the brain. This means if our gut is not happy, neither is our brain. Healing my gut and dealing with my stressors were important to the beginning of my recovery and halting the autoimmune process. The second phase of my healing was a deep dive to uncover the mental, emotional and spiritual factors contributing to my dis-ease. I learned that to feel better I had to feel the emotions I had been stuffing down. This message about bliss today isn’t about ignoring the pain or difficult emotions, it is about accepting, feeling and allowing them to move through so you CAN feel good again.
What we are is a dynamic system. You are not a static body with a separate brain, isolated from others and the world, including your Source. You are a verb – an experience, an ever-changing flow of energy, information, and awareness, interconnected and always interacting with everything in your environment. From this dynamic process, we are able to heal, repair and feel good again. Think of how your body heals a cut naturally. Our bodies naturally respond to injury, viruses, bacteria, stressors, in a miraculous way to maintain health. For a complex set of reasons, sometimes our bodies need help from medication and other treatments. But for the most part, the body-mind does an amazing job keeping us healthy and alive. This system is constantly monitoring and responding to our internal and external environments and requires a free flow of these molecules. I have come to learn that much dis-ease comes from blocking this flow of energy and molecules. We don’t ignore the cut on our finger, we respond to it with care and right action. So many teachings on positive emotions ignore the importance of accepting and feeling what is here and now AND taking right action.
With intentional practice, we can build the integrity of our own body-mind system and enhance this flow or communication network within the body-mind. This self-healing system has wisdom and is always desiring things to help you live longer, be happy and enjoy life. Think of the emotions and pleasure associated with food, sex, movement, connection, sleep, nature. These are all good in moderation for your personal health and also the survival of our species. Many people have turned to these to cope recently which can be good in some ways and not so good in others! Pay attention to what makes you feel good naturally – the lasting kind of feeling good, not just the quick fix. Find micro-moments throughout your day to savor.
What blocks this feel-good system?
Certainly the events of the past two years have us all feeling depleted! The following are many factors that block our bliss molecules that have been made worse by current events.
- Stress – floods our system with messenger molecules that help protect us from danger by preparing the brain and muscles to fight or run. These molecules result in feelings of fear and disconnection and can stay in overdrive after the challenge has passed.
- Overwork/burnout – so many people are stressed and exhausted by the pandemic, making ends meet or stuck in a work culture that demands ridiculous hours to just meet the requirements for the job.
- Trauma – increases those same stress molecules which get stuck in a reaction loop. These memories actually block the cells’ ability to receive the feel good molecules. Some trauma experts believe just about everyone has experienced some form of trauma in their lifetimes. Is this why we have an epidemic of mood disorders?
- Junk nutrition – food also contains information molecules for your system. The quality of the food you take in determines the quality of the information and energy being sent to all the cells in your body. Sugar, chemicals, inflammatory fats all block those beneficial molecules.
- Unhealthy gut -caused by certain foods, chemicals, too much caffeine and alcohol, stress, infections, antibiotics, frequent use of Motrin or Alleve.
- Uppers and Downers – Caffeine, alcohol, and many drugs interrupt the feedback loops that allow the network to function in a natural and balanced way. Smart consumption is key.
- Media/information overload: Your nervous system will respond to a stressful event that is occurring in your immediate surroundings or you are reading about or seeing in a video in the same way. Curate your media consumption. Protect your nervous system!
- Suppressing emotions – we need to feel emotions to release them to free up connection sites on our cells for the bliss molecules. That is why it feels so good to cry!
- Being socially isolated – we are wired for connection. Our nervous system evolved to feel safe through our connection with others. Unfortunately, some early childhood experiences can be traumatic so connecting with others can be complicated. Seeking out relationships that you feel safe, loved, accepted in are really important for your health.
How to naturally access bliss?
- Movement – when we move, we shake up and release those stress molecules. Natural opioids are released when we exercise.
- Being in nature
- Singing and dancing
- Hugs and laughing with friends and loved ones
- Compassion – acknowledge how hard it’s been and give yourself and others compassion.
- Meditation – quiets the mind/body, builds the ability to become aware of your stress patterns and emotions which helps to keep everything flowing. Adding a spiritual dimension to meditation helps us to connect with our soul, a higher power or something deeper within ourselves. We are “hardwired” for spiritual experiences as well which can be very transformative.
- Crying – accepting and processing your emotions is so very important to allow for the natural flow that will eventually lead to peace and happiness.
- Eat the highest quality, best tasting food you can and heal the gut.
- Reduce stress – check in with yourself throughout the day and notice your nervous system state and take mindful breaths.
- Love yourself and your body – you are alive! Celebrate that and remind yourself frequently of what you are grateful for. What messages are you sending your body through your thoughts and actions?
- Give yourself permission to rest. The world won’t end if you take a nap.
- Making choices and decisions that reflect and honor your needs. I know this is complicated with work and family obligations but often we say yes to situations that do have alternatives. We don’t ask for help or set boundaries; we don’t demand change.
When was the last time you felt really good?
Where were you? What were you doing? Who were you with? Be honest about how you answer this question. Was is artificially induced? Meaning, did you feel good by using something like sugar, alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping? These also give us a burst of feel good molecules. Many addictions stem from this desire to feel good, to temporarily numb pain or on the flip side, to feel alive. Trauma is at the root of much addiction which makes healing so important.
Pay attention to what makes you naturally feel good and relax and savor the moment. Savoring for 20-30 seconds helps to build new connections and pathways in the brain and nervous system. I felt bliss this past weekend several times:
- At the farmer’s market, surrounded by amazing food, happy people, and music playing.
- Having a delicious dinner outside despite being a cool 50 degrees. We were warmed by 2 heaters on a beautiful deck at one of our favorite restaurants.
- Hiking in a beautiful nature preserve enjoying fall colors and the expanse of Lake Michigan.
Make it a daily practice of savoring your feel-good moments and they will grow and multiply! This will help you heal all your systems – mind, body, emotions, spirit. This is how we are wired.
My coaching/healing work can address the factors that block your bliss. I invite you to schedule a free consult to see if working together is a good fit. To read more in depth about this topic, check out the book, Molecules of Emotion by Candace Pert, PhD. Photo credit: De’Andre Bush, unsplash.com.