Your brain can naturally produce the same feelings that addictive substances give you. That said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are many substance-free strategies to boost your mood. These strategies don’t give you withdrawal symptoms or come with a “crash” after.
Understanding the Science of a Natural High
Your brain can make feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endocannabinoids. When you live healthily, your body rewards you with these natural good feelings.
Sometimes, your brain won’t produce as many happy chemicals as you want because of trauma or mental illness, but that’s okay because you can always get help.
When you go through periods of stress, trauma, or anhedonia, it’s understandable to feel tempted to turn to substances because they increase mood, especially when you suffer from withdrawal symptoms.
However, using these “highs” can cause problems. While they boost your mood briefly, it doesn’t last. Plus, after the “high”, you often feel worse because these substances prevent your brain from making its feel-good chemicals.
Addiction can also destroy the support structures in your life and keep you from overcoming your circumstances. It drains your wallet, destroys your relationships, threatens your livelihood, gives you illnesses, and even endangers those around you. Substances are also unsustainable because your body becomes tolerant to their effects over time.
Nourishment and Hydration: The Role of Diet in Achieving a Natural High
Staying nourished and hydrated are the basic things you need to stay alive and happy. Eating good food is the simplest way to achieve a natural high.
You can easily see this when you eat your favorite food, enjoy a hot meal on a cold day, or drink water on a hot day. The “highs” that come from food come from fulfilling a basic need and from the fact that gut microbiota or bacteria has emerged as a key player in regulating brain processes and behavior.
This is why healthy eating is directly linked to good thinking. Studies have found that higher fruits, vegetables, and nut intake and avoiding a pro-inflammatory diet, such as processed meats and trans fats, seems to confer some protection against depression.
Social Connection: The Dopamine-Inducing Power of Relationships
Unlike snakes or jaguars, humans can’t survive alone for long. Sometimes, you’ve been hurt or betrayed, and it becomes difficult to trust, much less connect with, others, so this may be a tough pill to swallow.
However, you’ll find something as simple as a genuine smile can do wonders for the mind. Making friends doesn’t come quickly for most people, but just because something is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t doable.
When it comes to cultivating relationships, the most important skill is listening. It’s well-known that people will always prefer a good listener to a good conversationalist. The more you make people feel loved, the more likely they will love you.
Social connections are crucial to keeping you happy and preventing or overcoming an addiction. No wonder, belonging and love are third place in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
With connections, it’ll be easier to access necessities and safety. On a neurological level, interactions with your loved ones, or even kind strangers, can sharply increase the amount of oxytocin in your brain.
Exercise: The Endorphin Booster
Exercise is a sustainable, substance-free strategy to get your brain to create happy neurochemicals as it excites the mind and body. That’s why people call the rush after jogging the “runner’s high.” With some high-level intensity exercises, the brain can release opioids and endocannabinoids.
There are many theories on why exercise is so beneficial to mental health. It increases antidepressant neurochemicals in the body while decreasing pain and anxiety, increases neuroplasticity, attenuates the brain’s response to stress, distracts you from your problems, and increases self-efficacy.
It doesn’t even have to be long or complicated. Exercising can be low-intensity, like walking or swimming. However, there are exercises that are more effective at boosting the mood than others, such as aerobics and strength training.
Mindfulness and Meditation: Calmness that Elevates
It’s easy to get stuck in your head and get caught in repetitive negative thoughts that can keep you in a dark place. Rumination is usually what starts and maintains emotional dysregulation.
This is why mindfulness meditation is one of the most effective substance-free strategies to ease emotional dysregulation. In fact, advanced practitioners of meditation are said to enter into the same “high” brought by some drugs, but without risking their health or taking out their wallets.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the practices said to be on par with psychotherapy when improving mental health. You don’t need any money, special equipment, or to be in a special place to practice mindfulness. You can do it whenever or wherever you choose to do it.
All you need is your breath and decisiveness to practice it. Mindfulness meditation teaches you to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment. That way, you won’t beat yourself up or feed the negativity but instead learn to take a more objective view of your situation.
The Healing Power of Nature and Creativity
Nature therapy is a very simple way to get a natural “high”. Studies show that exposure to facilitated physical activities in nature improves both self-esteem and mood regardless of duration or intensity.
In nature-based interventions, the key behavior that affects life satisfaction and happiness is the practice of mindfulness. It can produce altered states of mind to quiet your negative thoughts and feelings.
Art therapy can be healing and life-enhancing by providing a space for creative expression, helping you say things you can’t put into words, and assisting in emotional regulation. If you occupy yourself with beautiful things, you’ll find yourself in a beautiful state.
Substance-free strategies to get “high” without costing money or your health are simpler than you think. Just take care of your mind, your body, the earth you came from, and the people around you, and they’ll take care of you.But of course, if getting natural highs was easy in this cruel world, nobody would abuse substances. If you think you need a little push to get started on recovery, you’re always welcome at Pacific Crest Trail Detox.