Dopamine: What It Is & How It Affects You
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine, commonly known as a “feel good” chemical, is a neurotransmitter that is naturally produced in the body. So if you ever heard someone say they need more dopamine, it may be because they’re feeling down and could use a pick-me-up or some motivation.
Dopamine is sometimes called a chemical messenger for its role in sending messages between nerve cells. It is involved in many systems and functions within the body and brain that can give us an extra boost.
Dopamine Is Released When
This chemical is typically released when you’re either doing something that’s bringing you joy or participating in an activity with a reward involved. Depending on your favorite things, when dopamine is released will be different.
For example, someone can feel an overwhelming joy when they eat their favorite sweets. Maybe another person gets a euphoric release from engaging in sexual activity. Or, perhaps another individual gets a wave of relief when they puff on a cigarette. Dopamine can be unleashed through the body in a variety of ways; and it’s important to keep the levels just right.
How Dopamine Makes You Feel
Part of our ability to think, plan, desire, and search comes from dopamine. This chemical not only has a positive effect on mood and pleasure, but gives us the motivation to strive toward what we want out of life.
Dopamine may also make you feel:
- Alert & Focused
But like many other functions in the body, you may not consciously notice the release of dopamine unless something is off. We’ll let you know how to figure out if your levels are too high or low a little later.
Dopamine’s Effect on Body & Behavior
Dopamine works with other chemicals, like serotonin and adrenaline, to regulate or stimulate the following bodily and behavioral functions:
- Blood flow
- Heart rate
- Kidney function
- Pain processing
- Motor control
- Stress response
While dopamine can certainly help you improve in these areas, there are some downsides. Having dopamine levels that are too high or low may result in physical, mental, and emotional complications.
Are Your Dopamine Levels Off?
Your dopamine levels may be too low if you:
- Aren’t as alert as usual
- Can’t concentrate
- Experience a lack of coordination
- Have difficulty moving
- Aren’t feeling as enthusiastic or interested about your hobbies
- Aren’t sleeping
- Are feeling depressed
- Were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease
In contrast, they might be too high if you:
- Are always seeking the next sensation
- Feel manic/experience mania
- Hallucinate or have delusions
- Are engaging in indulgence — lots of food, frequent sexual activity
- Have a mental illness such as schizophrenia, ADHD, or substance abuse
As you can see, it’s not desirable to face the effects of irregular levels of dopamine. But with a regular routine and healthy lifestyle, you should be able to keep your dopamine up to speed.
Maintaining A Healthy Dose of Dopamine
To keep your dopamine levels high (but not too high) and healthy, try to:
- Keep a balanced diet (allow some pleasure foods!)
- Monitor your drug & alcohol intake
- Exercise regularly (also releases serotonin!)
- Practice mindfulness (meditation, yoga)
- Talk to a professional or mental health specialist
If you think your levels of dopamine may be off balance, contact your doctor right away. To learn more about dopamine and how it can affect you, contact our team of mental health professionals by giving us a call at 267.719.8689.