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up, up and away

Your body is a finely designed machine, containing everything necessary for total wellbeing. But, as with most intricate designs, a degree of balance and care is required for it to remain in good working order. This is difficult, even without the stresses, strains and temptations of the modern world.

Your brain is a veritable storehouse of chemicals, all working towards ensuring your body and mind are in top working order and that you react to certain situations appropriately.

Psychologist Robert Thayer describes mood as a product of two dimensions: tension and energy, wherein a person can feel at once energetic and tired, or tense and calm. The preferred state of being would be energetic-calm. Different to the concept of emotion, and perhaps contrary to the intensity of mood disorders, our frame of mind is most often described as good or bad, positive or negative, happy, sad or neutral. But what actually dictates your mood? Is it mere circumstance or does biology play a role?

BRAIN POWER

Your brain’s communication network is a maze of millions of connections capable of performing trillions of calculations per second – all of this incredible capacity is managed by neurons, which power the messages; neurotransmitters that create the messages; and receptors that receive the messages. And it’s electrifying – a single neuron can produce nearly one tenth of a volt and your brain activity can easily be measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG).  The speed at which these messages travel is around 240 km/hour.

WHAT’S IN STORE?

Your brain is a veritable storehouse of chemicals, all working towards ensuring your body and mind are in top working order and that you react to certain situations appropriately. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that kick things into gear – when endorphins attach themselves to a part or parts of your nervous system, that’s the signal to get going – from pain relief to pleasure, and of course, happiness. Your body and brain receives endorphins through opioid receptors, which are located throughout your body.

There’s a downside to endorphins, though. If you’re experiencing too much stress and strain that triggers them into action, your body can become flooded with them, triggering the fight or flight response for even small events and leading to anxiety and depression.  While endorphins are responsible for getting everything going, there are a few other neurotransmitters that are responsible for your state of mind.

  • Dopamine is the keeper of your brain’s pleasure centres and is the precursor to two other neurotransmitters, adrenaline (for bursts of energy, increased heart rate, constricted blood vessels to minimise bleeding and dilated air passages) and noradrenalin (increases focus and alertness). A lack of dopamine has been association with Parkinson’s disease and a lack of noradrenalin has been found in children with ADHD.
  • Serotonin is created in the brain, but it travels into your body, with 80% of it ending up in your gut where it regulates your intestinal movements. The chemical tryptophan in conjunction with tryptophan-hydrolase builds serotonin. It’s believed that a shortage of tryptophan in your body will lead to a shortage of serotonin. Although serotonin has been linked to depression, science is still unsure if a depletion of serotonin leads to depression or if depression leads to a depletion of serotonin. Nonetheless, increasing serotonin levels does help alleviate depression, even if it’s not clear why. Tryptophan also triggers the production of the hormone melatonin, which is released at night and suppressed during the day – assisting in regulating your sleep-wake cycle. With modern lifestyles that integrate a lot of artificial lighting, its believed that melatonin production isn’t as efficient as its supposed to be, leading to less effective sleep and then to depression.

GET HAPPY

A poor diet, lack of exercise, too little sleep and too much stress all cause your brain’s chemicals to become unbalanced and your neurotransmitters to start firing in the wrong order, too often or too little.

DID YOU KNOW: Nearly 30 years ago, Time magazine headlined stress as the epidemic of the 80s? It doesn’t look like the epidemic has abated, and more and more stress-related conditions are being recognised. Some people seem to be l