This is a formal invitation to pleasure yourself. After all of this pandemic mayhem, it looks like we may be stepping into the light after being hunkered down and isolated for over two years.
The loneliness, anxiety, isolation, fear, and loss we experienced during this time has left its mark on our bodies. Stress not only alters us emotionally, but physically. This is your call to healing.
Meditation, sleep, exercise, and entertainment have been our go-to stress handling techniques, but there are endogenous pathways we can stimulate to help the body cope with stress and make positive impactful changes.
While the research is still burgeoning, there are two pathways that when engaged have been found to ignite significant positive emotional and physiological changes, and when downregulated we suffer maladaptations; the endocannabinoid system and the oxytocin system.
I bet both sound familiar to you and you’ve heard these things are good for you. I want to explore a bit deeper the mechanics of these pathways and how simple life changes can upregulate the systems. Hello next level wellness!
WHAT IS THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM (ECS)
You’ve probably heard of the cannabinoids made from plants, like CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). But did you know that there are unique cannabinoids our own bodies produce and regulate?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is made up of endogenous (made in the body) cannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes to create reactions and degrade the cannabinoids. Similar to our nervous system, it helps our bodies run efficiently and has a part to play in pain, cognition, mood, immune function, protection against nerve damage, and homeostasis (systems of bodily balance).
We have receptors all over our bodies to produce and receive endocannabinoids and endocannabinoids have a “made to order” function as opposed to an “on tap” system; they are produced when the body needs to restore homeostasis. Interestingly, the nerves outside of our brain and spinal cord, have a great amount of receptors in sympathetic nerve terminals, which supports the theory that its presence is an antidote to sympathetic function bringing the body back into balance (Zou and Kumar, 2018).
WHY WE CARE
While very much a topic of debate, some research points to cannabinoid deficiency as the cause of many diseases. Clinical studies have found that patients with chronic pain had altered endocannabinoid signaling (Huang, Chen, and Zhang, 2016), and perturbation of the system can lead to increased risk of developing a psychiatric disorder (Lu and Mackie, 2016).
HOW TO UPREGULATE THE ECS
Noting the myriad of attributes our endocannabinoid (eCB) system regulates and enhances, and the possibility of it being the “missing link” to our modern health, here are three simple ways to enhance the function of the ECS.
1) Intake CBD from cannabis which are plant derived cannabinoids that interact with our body’s system.
2) Establish a constant exercise routine, because moderate exercise increases eCB tone in the brain, leading to a stronger response (Di Marzo and Silvestri, 2019).
3) Ensure that your diet is rich in quality fats as cannabinoids are lipid derived, and a diet with sufficient fat intake increases the concentration of these receptors (Di Marzo and Silvestri, 2019).
Another endogenous healing pathway is our oxytocin system; the calming feel-good hormone. While oxytocin is famous for its participation in childbirth and mammary gland function, this hormone plays a significant role in our resilience to stress.
WHAT IS IT?
Characterized by a sense of pleasure, calm, social connection and bonding, reduction of fear, it physically manifests by lowering blood pressure and heart rate, makes way for enhanced nutrition uptake and digestion, and increases circulation in our skin and mucous membranes.
We can increase the oxytocinergic system through touch, visual and auditory stimulation, and even by using your imagination to drum up mental images of pleasantness (Grahn, Ottosson, and Uvnäs-Moberg, 2021).
Oxytocin is considered our joy hormone. It’s created in our brain and the hormone is released into the blood for distribution throughout the body. It is also delivered directly from the hypothalamus (in the brain) to the nervous system as a neurotransmitter. It functions as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. Amazingly, it is a system we can intentionally engage and thus reap the benefits of.
WHY WE CARE
The targeting of this system helps counteract the effects or our sympathetic, fight or flight response.
While the fight or flight response gets a bad rep, it’s vital to our survival. However, in our modern world, we are constantly bombarded with our stressors and our systems are in overdrive causing a cascade of detrimental effects. Finding ways to mitigate and restore best leverages our health and find the balance our bodies so desperately wish to maintain.
HOW TO UPREGULATE
So what do you have to do to feel calm and connected and lower your blood pressure, etc? It’s really not too complicated:
1) Spend time in nature, especially in natural environments you think are most pleasing as we are born with natural preferences (Grahn, Ottosson, and Uvnäs-Moberg, 2021).
2) Receive physical touch -- be it familiar, sexual, or therapeutic like massage.
3) Engage in positive social interaction and bonding with humans and pets. Even a kind gaze from your pup’s eyes (Grahn, Ottosson, and Uvnäs-Moberg, 2021) increases oxytocin levels.
4) Move your body! While exercise, most famously increases the release of endorphins, it promotes oxytocin release as well (Jurek and Neumann, 2018).
The best thing about waking up these two systems is that they are no or low cost. So next time you receive some bad news or while you recover from an injury, think about ways you can activate these systems to counteract the effects of the stressful citations. You don't even have to wait for a negative shift to move you into action. Increasing your body’s capacity to evoke these systems brings you to next level health.