Q: For those of us who have never felt DOSE (elevated emotional states), can you address how that feels in the body and how to recognize when we are in DOSE as opposed to CAN (negative/stressed states)?
A: Before I answer, just to clarify for those who may not know, D.O.S.E. is an acronym that stands for Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins. These are the "happy-feel-good" neurochemicals in our brain. They influence our levels of happiness and feeling good physically as well as mentally/emotionally. (Click here for an article that contains a little bit more information on each one separately). The hormones connected to negative or stressed states include (but are not limited to) cortisol & catecholamines, including adrenalin and norepinephrine (click here for a very brief article on what happens in the body when we are stressed).
It is not uncommon for people who are deeply entrenched in limbic system impairment, deep depression, or in a chronically stressed state to have trouble accessing happy-feel-good states. The dominant neurochemistry is the opposite of this, and of course as we know, the longer we spend in a particular state, the more our brain adapts to that state. Then, the easier it is to be in that state and the less of a trigger it takes to activate it. Eventually it becomes our "normal" or baseline of operating in the world. The production of other neurochemicals (including the happy-feel-good ones) decreases, and it becomes harder to access or activate that neurochemistry. If we have lived like this for a while, we may have trouble even remembering what it was like to be in a feel-good state or question if we ever were in that state before. The good news is, because of neuroplasticity, we can retrain our brains to release the positive emotional neurochemistry and ultimately change our neurochemical signature so that feeling good, over time, becomes our new baseline from which we operate. As we start to spend time in the feel-good state, we begin to access the memories that were created in that state and we start to remember other times we felt good. This helps us in reinforcing the feel-good neurochemistry. Once we start to access it, we want more of it because it does feel good. This assists us in shifting the neurochemical balance in our systems.
So, how do you know if you are in an elevated state? Well, there are many different variations of elevated states and each one has a slightly different feel. Combine that with each person experiencing emotional states slightly differently, and the possibilities become endless. That being said, there are some common characteristics that many people experience. Physically, there is often a feeling of warmth particularly in the chest and core area, and tingling sensations or a flow of energy in the body. Often the body feels lighter, there is an ease to thoughts and sometimes to movements. Often tension releases as the muscles in the body relax. Breathing gets deeper and slower. Sometimes people notice the world looks a bit brighter and colours are more vivid. There is a sense of safety, ease, and of connection (with oneself, another, the world or the universe/divine). Being in a negative neurochemical state is usually the opposite of this. We feel tense, our breath is shallow and quicker, our thoughts race, we might feel angry or irritated. We may also experience a heaviness or lethargy in the body, find it hard to do things or focus, and feel sad or numb.
To help you get in touch with your own elevated emotions and what they feel like, think about someone (person or animal) you love or deeply care about. What are your favourite qualities about them? Or perhaps there is a favourite memory of a time you spent with them. When you bring these to mind, step into your curious observer and ask yourself, "What do I notice?" In this moment when I think about my son, I get a feeling of warmth in my chest, the tension in my muscles release and I feel my shoulders drop a little bit, I notice a slight smile creeping onto my face, my eyes soften, my breath becomes slower and deeper into my belly, my chest opens and expands, I get a bit of a tingly feeling especially heart area and in my hands and feet, and I feel lighter overall. In my mind, my thoughts slow down, almost savouring the image of him, and it is easy to stay focused. This feeling I call love has a sense of permanence to it, knowing that no matter how old he gets, how far apart we are, or how much time passes, it will always be there. There is a reassurance in that and it makes me feel safe and connected.
Remember, elevated neurochemistry doesn't just come from feeling love. Any positive or elevated state can be useful, including gratitude, joy, awe, wonder, contentment, humour, appreciation of beauty, connection, playfulness & fun, and being creative.
There are little ways we can help our brains start to release more of these neurochemicals. Physical touch with another person or animal helps (including hugs), we can hug ourselves or use our hands to cradle our face or rub our arms. We can smile, even if it isn't genuine. As long as the smile reaches your eyes it will send messages to the brain to release good neurochemistry. The same is true for laughing. It doesn't have to be genuine to be beneficial. We can spend two minutes a day writing what we are grateful for and why. We can appreciate beauty in nature or art. We can engage in creative endeavours. We can physically connect with the earth by getting barefoot, sitting or lying down on the ground. Each one of these things assists us in being in a happy-feel-good state. Even if we don't feel it at first, by consistently doing things like this, those neurochemicals will come online once again and you will begin to feel it, and then over time it will become deeper. You will want to do this because it feels good, and the more time you spend there the easier it becomes to be there. Eventually this will be your new normal. And that, my friends, is a happy day!
Until next time!
If you have a question, please email me at email@example.com
Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She has a background in nervous system regulation, trauma, grief & loss, mindfulness, somatic therapy, & positive psychology. She taught the DNRS in-person program for 5 years, has over a decade of experience coaching brain re-trainers & provides mentorship to other coaches. Candy works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com