I believe we can be mindful about what our brains are doing, and change our behaviour to channel the dopamine response in the right direction. For me, that direction is creativity. I started to research creativity and ways to improve it and dopamine just kept coming up. Then other links and pathways. So a little link of posts in my creativity series continues with this dopamine post. It is a bit heavy in the biology department… But I am a nurse so that is how I get stuff so I do apologise.
Creativity and quilting is how my life is improving day by day so of course, I look for ways to improve that are all part of my process. I can put my desires to be perfect as I have discussed in other posts into the desire to spark my creative process and to spark my dopamine rush. I keep reading articles about quilting and how it helps to improve your health. Those long term quilters seem to giggle at this idea as they have always known this to be true. Besides saturating your brain with Dopamine and Serotonin, working with your hands is a kind of meditation, which allows you to process thoughts and emotions while you work.
Creativity is one of the greatest sources of happiness. I really believe that using your individual creative powers to make something, to learn new skills, and to develop your identity is one of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves. We all know that quilting makes you feel good, there is evidence that quilting is actually good for you. There are distinct properties that enhance well-being that cannot be replicated through other means. When you are doing something happy and doing something you love, your brain gets saturated with dopamine and serotonin, your feel good chemicals.
There are so many designs, colours and textures available to us in fabrics. Quilters enjoy colour therapy as well as what I call fabric therapy. Many of us like to just touch our stash. We fondle, re-organise and find touching it as calming as touching our pets.
What is dopamine?
When we are doing something that we enjoy or love we have a release of dopamine. Dopamine is also known as the “feel good hormone”.
There are 86 billion neurons in the brain. They communicate with each other using neurotransmitters. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and is a key factor in motivation, productivity and focus. It enables us to plan and achieve goals. It gives us a sense of achievement. Called the natural antidepressant dopamine is released by neurotransmitters in your brain. These neurotransmitters release dopamine when you do something pleasurable. Originally dopamine keeps us doing pleasurable tasks such as sex to keep the species alive. Dopamine functions as a survival mechanism by releasing energy when a great opportunity is in front of you. Now dopamine has evolved to involve many feel good tasks including…. Creative tasks.
Too little dopamine leaves you lethargic, unmotivated, unfocused and depressed.
Dopamine’s chemical signal gets passed from one neuron to the next. For motivation, specifically, dopamine specifically needs to take the mesolimbic pathway. This originates in the middle of your brain. It branches out from the middle of your brain and creates the reward pathway. One of these mesolimbic limbs stops in the nucleus accubens when is where the brain predicts rewards. Your brain knows if good or bad is about to happen and the motivation is triggered.
Unhealthy ways to increase dopamine can lead to addiction. Healthy ways include eating the right food, exercising and meditation.
Harnessing your reward system for a healthy stream of dopamine. You will feel more alive, productive and focused.
Activities that make us feel relaxed and feel good ↑dopamine flow – a warm bath, a cup of tea, catching up with good friends. This ↑ of dopamine also ↑ creative flow.
Dopamine boosting foods
These are foods made from the amino acids tyrosine. Diets higher in tyrosine. Increase dopamine building blocks. These foods include Almonds, apples, avocados, bananas, beetroots, chocolate, broad beans, green leafy vegetables, seeds, and turmeric.
Boosting dopamine with exercise
Exercise boosts production of new brain cells and improves the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Dopamine is said to be part of the contributing factor to a runners high. Because physical activity is something your body craves (even if you hate it sometimes), dopamine is released to make it more enjoyable to get you moving. Just by walking or gentle movements all create that, flow to the brain. An increase in blood flow leads to a boost of dopamine.
Boosting dopamine with meditation
Sometimes the best way to do something is by doing nothing at all. Specifically, you are doing nothing physically but your mind starts sorting your thoughts. Meditation is linked to an increase in dopamine. Regular meditators can experience and enhanced ability to learn, and increase in creativity and a deeper relaxation. I will be writing another post about meditation and creativity you will find it here when it is published.
So creativity and dopamine…
Dopamine rewards us when our needs are met. A dopamine surge makes us feel awesome.
Once you start something it might initially take longer to get going and then the flow of dopamine will take over. You will meet your goals, receive positive feedback from yourself and others. Understand your motivation and recognise what you need to do to motivate yourself.
When you are creating there is a decrease in stress levels. When you quilt there is a sense of accomplishment and that leads to the increase in dopamine levels and a decrease in stress levels. Quilting gets you into a rhythm state similar to a runners high. It becomes relaxing and anxieties diminish. This allows us to create.
Creating is beneficial for a number of reasons, one being that it allows you to become fully immersed in the moment to the extent that your worries fade away. This “flow,” according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the secret to happiness. As he stated during a TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?language=en
Creating art provides a distraction, giving your brain a break from your usual thoughts. The average person has 60,000 thoughts per day and 95% of them are exactly the same day in, day out! When you are totally immersed in your creativity you are in the zone or what Csikszentmihalyi calls flow: “When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life… You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.”
Think about the dopamine…. Just start no more buts – just do what make you happy. “Dopamine, in and of itself, is our natural anti-depressant,” I think that anytime we can find a nonmedicinal way to stimulate that reward centre the better off we’re going to be.”