How do you feel when you go to work everyday? Do you feel excitement, dread, stressed? Did you know that there are ways to find happiness at work every day?
What is happiness? Is it that elusive feeling you get from the idea of being rich or famous? No, not really. Happiness comes from your own brain.
First let’s define happiness. The Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary refers to happiness as delight, pleasure, contentment or joy.
In our busy, stress-filled lives many of you are managing two jobs: your day job and your family at night. How can you stop & smell the roses, when you barely have time to get everything done?
I submit that happiness can be found in quick and easy ways throughout the day and evening.
First of all let’s look at where that feeling of joy actually comes from in the brain.
The brain releases four different happiness chemicals in reaction to different types of situations or stimuli. They are: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.
Most of the knowledge I’m sharing comes from a book entitled, Habits of a Happy Brain by Loretta Graziano Breuning.
I’d like to start with dopamine. Dopamine is about social rewards. For example, a football player scores a touchdown and does a victory dance. That’s dopamine. Seeing the first apple blossoms of the season, that’s dopamine. Spring is right around the corner, so look for those signs of spring.
Music is another source of dopamine, especially if the music is from a favorite song you have not heard in a while, or from a newer song that you really enjoy.
So dopamine is about rewards. For example, when you are doing a jigsaw puzzle , finding the piece you’ve been seeking feels good because of dopamine.
How can you find dopamine at work?
Accomplishing a task that you felt was going to be a big challenge – that took days, weeks or even months releases dopamine. It’s that feeling of achievement when you finished. Look for those little moments of accomplishment at work, if possible, and focus on them, even for a moment or two. Take a moment to soak up the pride of accomplishment you feel. When you go home that night, write down how that accomplishment made you feel so you can experience the joy of your hard work from that day.
Another way to find dopamine at work is to challenge yourself with a new skill. For example, many people come to me and say I’d like to learn how to speak in public, but I’m too afraid. Did you know that public speaking has been identified as the number one fear, above death? You could find a Toastmasters club or start one at work. Just go to Toastmasters.org to get started. After your first speech, and every speech, you will have a huge surge of dopamine.
The second happiness chemical is called oxytocin. Oxytocin comes from a feeling of trust or being able to lean on a trusted advisor or friend. It also comes from connection, belonging, and social alliances.
Do you have a best friend at work? My friend Laura Putnam, author of Workplace Wellness that Works, has cited having a best friend at work as an important part of combatting loneliness & depression.
Touch also triggers oxytocin. I’m acutely aware that you cannot go around touching everybody at work. However, you can touch your best friend, and sometimes you can even say, “I need a hug today.” Have you ever noticed a nurse touching the arm of a patient in bed? Nurses know all too well the healing power of touch.
Have you ever noticed that feeling you get when you volunteer for someone who needs your help? Some people refer to this as helper’s high. The recipient could be a seniors’ group, a group of school children, or the needy or sick, or your community. There is much research on the benefits of volunteerism to the giver.
Why not start a group in the office to volunteer once a month or at least once a year to pack school supplies for school children, read to school children, clean up your community, or visit the sick. There are myriad examples of volunteer efforts supported by many large companies including Target, Chevron, Salesforce and more. To find a group that needs your help go to volunteermatch.org.
Or why not help a younger member of the team with a difficult project?
Social alliances also stimulate oxytocin. That’s another vote for setting up some sort of club at work. In the recent years I’ve become aware of different clubs inside organizations, like women’s groups. Of course you can set up any type of appropriate grouping at work. Get together with your club once a month for lunch or a meeting. If your group is particularly helpful to the organization, then even better. For example, how about a walking club at work or a water challenge, or a healthy recipe club? Anything that promotes wellness would be well-appreciated by your leaders.
Do you have access to a fitness center at work where group exercise classes are offered? Go take a Zumba, Yoga or strength training class. You get a double does of happiness from the social connection and the endorphins, and of course, all the healthy benefits of exercise.
Serotonin is third happiness chemical and it comes from feelings of self-respect, respect from others, self-confidence and pride. I’m not saying go around the office and brag about yourself, but do let others compliment you on a job well done. Furthermore, when you are called upon to lead a project, say yes, not, no, even if you don’t feel qualified. The person who asked you would not have asked if they did not feel you could do it.
So serotonin depends on the your own expectations of yourself.
The fourth and final happiness chemical, endorphin, has been well-documented in many fitness magazines. Often referred to as the runner’s high, endorphins are released only when you push past your capacity to the point of ‘distress.’ So if you are a runner, try to find a different path, a harder path, or a longer run if you want the endorphin rush.
Also small drips of endorphin are stimulated by a belly laughing or a good cry.
Of course you can’t walk around the office laughing or crying, but you can take a walk with your friend and have a good laugh or listen to a funny podcast.
Heidi Hanna, known as the “stress detective,” reminds us to take a five-minute break every hour to rest & recharge. That would also be a good time to have a laugh. If you can’t take a break every hour, please take a break at least once a day.
So, the best way to find joy throughout the day is to look for opportunities to tap into your four happiness chemicals.
Dopamine comes from social rewards, feelings of accomplishment, and favorite music you haven’t heard in awhile.
Oxytocin comes from trust, social connection, belonging, social alliances, touch and volunteerism.
Serotonin is released from feelings of self-respect, respect from others, pride, confidence, and feeling important.
Endorphins are released from physical exertion beyond your current capacity, belly laughing or a good cry.
So the next time you are feeling pressured at work, grab a friend, get outside, go for a walk & have a belly laugh.
In my Banish Burnout Toolkit™ the first step is the Stress Audit™, in which you write about your reactions to any particular stressor or stressful event. In order to change your reactions to stress it is important to first look at how you react to stress so you can think about what steps you are going to take to change. We look at the various reaction types: physical, verbal, emotional, exacerbating (how upset did you get & how long did you stay upset?) and possible addictive behaviors. Of course addictive behaviors include actions like drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or drugs, shopping, staying in bed, and any avoidance behavior. Overeating is certainly included.
When I was discussing the stress audit with a mentor recently, he warned me to take care not to confuse the word addiction with habit when talking about the use of food for stress relief. He said that using the word addiction infers lack of control and that overeating was about habits.
So I began to wonder: is overeating caused by addiction or habit?
Normally I don’t dwell on the addiction piece in my talks because it is such a large & complex subject.
However I realize that it is an important piece of the food dilemma. Based on my decades of research and experience managing my own weight and maintaining a 50-pound weight loss for over 15 years, plus coaching and helping many others with their weight loss journeys, I have studied the subject ad nauseum.
First, let’s do some numbers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of Americans are overweight, and another third are obese. That’s two-thirds of Americans overweight and obese. The causes of overweight and obesity are many and complex, ranging from biology, to endocrinology, psychology & even to genetics.
To kick off my research I went to the Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary to look up the definition of addiction: “the state of having yielded to a habit or practice or to something that is habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.” Based on this strict definition, I would have to agree that overeating is not an addiction because cutting back on the portions of our meals does not cause severe trauma. While giving up sugar does cause a physiological reaction, that reaction is not traumatic.
On the other side of the argument lies Dr. Robert Lustig, pediatric endocrinologist, Professor of Pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco Medical School, who has been on a campaign to reduce sugar in the food supply and to educate all Americans about the amount of added sugar in many foods. Dr. Lustig, author of Fat Chance and several other books, came to the fore when his Youtube video, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” went viral.
According to Dr. Lustig, sugar is certainly addictive, causing the same reaction in the brain as cocaine. The reason is physical, just like with cocaine, when you ingest sugar. “An addiction causes thoughts, which then causes certain habits.” So in this case the addiction is what causes the habit.
So now let’s break down habits. A habit has three parts: a cue, an action, and a reward.
The cue triggers you to do a behavior. It could be something you see or smell, or a time of day, an emotion, or a place. The action is obviously the behavior, and the reward is the benefit you receive from doing the action. It usually includes a feeling of satisfaction or pleasure, which encourages you to repeat it.
So, for example, after I teach Zumba Fitness, I go for a healthy smoothie. The cue is the Zumba class, the action is going to get the smoothie and drinking it, & the reward is the good feeling from having replenished my electrolytes. Another example, which is not so healthy came in the form of a client’s complaint, “This weekend I have to work on a difficult report. For this, I’m going to need some chocolate.” In this case the cue is the difficult work, the behavior is eating the chocolate, and the reward or benefit is the temporary good physical feelings and mood-boosting from eating the chocolate.
With eating or overeating, the reward is feeling full after having eaten a meal, or in the case of sugar, a chemical reaction in the brain, which makes us feel good, at least temporarily.
According to a report on NPR.org, “The negative effects sugar has on our bodies are staggering: sugar alters our hormones so we don’t register hunger the way we normally would, making us eat more; it spikes our dopamine (happiness chemical in the brain), requiring us to eat more sugar for the same effect; and it affects our liver in the same way that alcohol does.”
So according to this line of thinking, it would follow that sugar is addictive.
So, is overeating caused by habit or addiction?
After careful thought and deliberation, I have decided that the answer is: both.
Ingesting sugar sets up a chemical reaction in the brain causing us to want to eat more.
And the reward from overeating is the contentment and comfort provided by eating a big meal.
I know that the Corona Virus is on everyone’s mind these days and that everyone is feeling and experiencing fear, frustration, and yes, even depression.
Our routines have been uprooted. Everything we are used to doing has changed. The gyms are closed. We can’t meet friends for coffee or a meal in a restaurant. It’s not even advised to invite anyone to your home because we don’t know if they might inadvertently be a carrier. By the way the incubation period is two to fourteen days, with a median of five.
So this situation got me thinking: what can we do to protect our mental health during the Covid-19 crisis?
First and foremost, we need to remember that we care about each other and we want and need to do what’s best for our families and our community, and if you’re in human resources, or are a business leader, our employees. That means, as you know, shelter in place.
Also we want to try and focus on resilience. Resilience is about being able to respond to any challenge. We’ve never had a challenge that has impacted the whole world simultaneously, in most of our lifetimes. I believe the last was the Spanish Flu 100 years ago.
Remember, there are things we can control and things we can’t control. We can’t control the virus, as individuals, but we can control our thoughts, which impact our feelings, our actions, and reactions. This is not to say that I have not had a moment of anxiety or fear or frustration, but when I stop, I realize that fear is not going to be helpful, and that I could heed my own advice and monitor my thoughts. Also, I remember that we are staying home because we want to save lives and slow the spread of the virus.
We don’t want to let this situation freak us out, but we do want to be careful. We want to stay focused and as much as possible remain positive.
Recently my friend, MJ Shaar went on Linkedin and taught us that “Positive emotions are the best defense we have right now against fear, besides handwashing and social distancing.” We can still remain social, just by different means.
And speaking of positivity, did you know that laughter brings us happiness chemicals, like endorphins? So put on a funny video and get to laughing.
So, let’s all focus on the beauty of the situation…instead of worrying about what you are going to do at home all day with your kids. Cherish that time together and take advantage of some of the online resources. Do projects together – make drawings, games, etc. Teach your children how to cook healthy meals.
Also try to focus on the good things,the silver lining of the Corona Virus:
- First it unites us as a people worldwide against this common a deadly virus. We are in this together.
- Second, it brings us closer to our families.
- Third, it shows us that we are more alike than different.
- Fourth, it gives working people the opportunity to eat healthy, home-cooked meals and to save time not commuting.
- Fifth, it forces us to dig deep to find three good things to be grateful for.
- Sixth, we have more time to exercise. How about taking a hike with your family or dancing to some popular music? I’ve been teaching Zoom-based Zumba classes and I realize how much better I feel because I’ve had a good workout.
In terms of working remotely, the key is connection and communication. Look at what will work, rather than what won’t. So don’t practice social distancing, just physical distancing.
Finally and most important, we will discover that we are resilient and that we will come through this pandemic stronger and wiser. We are in this fight together. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. This is a great time to connect with old friends and relatives.
We all can learn to live a life of compassion and care for one another, looking for what makes us alike rather than different. So, let’s take that lesson and carry it forward into the future.
I wish you all health and safety during this crisis and beyond.
Janice Litvin is a workplace wellness speaker and coach offering VIRTUAL as well as LIVE presentations and workshops. She can be reached at Janice@JaniceLitvin.com or on Linkedin or all the other social media, including Youtube.
The issue of managing stress in the workplace is not really new, but what is new is the relentless pace of business today. The “always on” nature of our world which some bosses take advantage of by expecting people to be responsive 24/7. This attitude is causing staggering statistics; studies show that over 40% of all workers face high stress in their jobs, which negatively affects their productivity & their health.
This lively interactive program teaches anyone how to re-frame their behavior patterns by understanding the source of their behavior patterns and then understanding how to change them. All participants receive the Banish Burnout Toolkit™
- Learn how we developed mental patterns of dealing with stress.
- Learn how to recognize signs of burnout so you can head it off.
- Learn three powerful strategies for managing stress for life.