Neurotransmitters are responsible helping you feel happy, relaxed and motivated are also involved in the regulation of eating, sleeping, motivation, energy levels and pain. Each person may experience these imbalances differently. For example, when you experience chronic pain and have a flare up, the following scenario might occur…You start experiencing pain. A sense of frustration and helplessness begin to emerge. You get in a “mood,” because you are frustrated about the relapse. Pain causes a release of stress hormones. These hormones and the pain itself contributes to difficulty sleeping, fatigue, an inability to focus and lack of energy to do anything. Motivation wanes. Depression increases. Self-esteem starts to decrease because you are not able to be the spouse/parent/employee/friend you think you “should” be. Additionally, pain increases because you are focusing on it, their neurochemicals are getting progressively out of whack because of prolonged stress, leading to increased apathy, fatigue, irritability and depression.
Serotonin and norepinephrine imbalances are often implicated in both depression and anxiety. Too much serotonin or norepinephrine can cause irritability and depression. Too little serotonin or norepinephrine can cause apathy and depression. When you are stressed or anxious for a long time, your body may sensitize to the norepinephrine, so things that would normally be motivating will have little or no effect. Unfortunately, the interplay between the neurochemicals is not straight forward. As one goes up, another may go down. Additionally, the availability of some of these neurotransmitters is impacted by hormones including cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone to name a few. The amazing thing is that your body knows how much of which chemicals need to be made, and it strives to balance itself, so don’t get bogged down with the specific chemicals. A healthy diet will give your body all the building blocks it needs.
Other things that can cause neurochemical imbalances include lack of sleep, poor nutrition and negative thinking patterns. Yes, your thoughts do have an actual effect on your body. If you are thinking negative or anxiety provoking thoughts, your body will respond by producing more stress chemicals to prepare you to fight or flee. Similarly, one of the reasons meditation and yoga can be helpful is that thinking positive thoughts and being in touch with your physiological responses can train your body to release relaxation chemicals. Like the hot and cold water in a warm bath, it is a constant balancing act.
Be aware that most people have depleted their building block storehouse, so your body has to get the supplies, make the neurochemicals and adjust to having enough on hand. This will take a few weeks. In the meantime, avoid adding any extra stress, and do things to help your body focus on repair and rebuilding (sleep, good nutrition, relaxation). If you are saying “Relaxation? What is that? I don’t have time for that.” I would ask you to consider that most things take a lot longer and get done with less precision when you are mentally or physically exhausted. Tony Robbins refers to it as sharpening the saw. He uses the analogy that it takes about the same amount of time to sharpen the saw before cutting as it does to try to cut with a dull saw.
Trust me, I didn’t believe it either. After several years of working 6 days a week, taking care of a farm, raising children and trying to stay in shape, I was worn down. I was back in the classroom teaching three days after my second child. I was back at work 4 days after major surgery because of heart problems. The prospect of taking a day off let alone a week was almost incomprehensible. My body had other ideas. I finally got sick and just could not shake it. I couldn’t even stay up and focus on doing work for more than three hours in a day. IN A DAY! Finally, I just quit resisting and took a week off. I started feeling better, but was still not 100% I had several weeks of leave time on the books…. I took a second week off. The third week I had renewed energy and focus I hadn’t had since before the birth of my first child (15 years earlier). This is not a lead in to some magic elixir. Those don’t exist. It is simply my testimony to the fact that, at a certain point, your body will force you to take a break if you do not have some semblance of balance in your life.
Do as I say, not as I did! 🙂