Aug. 29, 2022

The Neuroscience Of Self-Care And Why It’s So Important

The Neuroscience Of Self-Care And Why It’s So Important


Episode 113: The Neuroscience Of Self-Care And Why It's So Important

I talk a lot about self-care, and you probably have heard me ask my guests about what their top self-care activities are, so I decided to write about one of my newest (and favorite) activities - trail bike riding.

My wife, Julie, and I are riding up to three times a week on trails, and it's been so refreshing!

Doing something just for ourselves after working all day can be a wonderful way to treat yourself. 

Although I think Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle go way overboard with self-care once a year in Parks and Recreation, I do believe in treating yourself to care.

My warning - you should never go into debt, go on spending sprees, or go against your values in order to treat yourself. 


Self-care should be about taking a break from the stress of life and enjoying something that recharges your soul.


Parks And Recreation - Treat Yo Self!



Why Self-Care Is So Important

To understand why self-care is so important it's best to start with the dangers of stress and the harm it can do to our bodies.

Do you remember the last time you were overwhelmed and stressed? Maybe you're experiencing that right now.

When we are really stressed and overwhelmed our body goes into survival mode and starts to produce high levels of a natural stress hormone called cortisol.

Adrenaline increases our heart rate, elevates our blood pressure, and boosts our supply of energy. Then when we are overly stressed our body releases more cortisol to keep up with the perceived or real threat. 

Cortisol and other stress hormones are meant to help boost our immune system and help balance our nervous system.

But, when we experience prolonged stress our natural stress hormones send emergency signals to our amygdala and our body goes into a fight, flight, or freeze mode creating a hyperalertness of being under attack.

When this happens our body's emotional and physical regulation system is disrupted and can lead to dangerous health issues. 

Some of the health issues that can be caused by long-term stress are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive Issues (IBS, nausea)
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Migraines
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory loss
  • Distractibility

Podcast Episode (Behind the scenes)

John Cordray is the host of The Mental Health Today Show


Natural "Feel Good" Brain Chemicals Released 

1. Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and serves as the "reward center" of our brain. Our brains are wired to seek experiences that bring pleasure. When we do something fun and pleasurable, dopamine is released and we feel good. 

Dopamine is also a neurohormone released by the hypothalamus of our brain and helps with many functions such as:

  • Attention
  • Sleep
  • Arousal
  • Mood
  • Learning
  • Reward motivation
  • Behavior 

2. Oxytocin

Oxytocin is a hormone released by the hypothalamus into our bloodstream by the pituitary gland. 

Oxytocin is often considered the "love hormone" associated with childbirth, nursing, cuddling, sexual experiences, and when we fall in love.

This love hormone is released when we hold a baby, cuddle, spend time with our children, and spend time with a partner we love.

Low levels of Oxytocin are linked to postpartum depression and regular depression. 

Here are some ways to help boost Oxytocin:

  • Exercise
  • Physical touch - (massage, hug, cuddling, etc)
  • Listening to music
  • Singing out loud
  • Hanging out with friends

3. Endorphines

Our body creates natural endorphins to help relieve stress and pain, and they are primarily created in the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. 

You may have heard of the "runners high" that can develop with an increased level of Endorphines from running regularly. But, those with low levels of Endorphines are prone to depression and Fibromyalgia.

Here are some ways to boost your Endorphines:

  • Regular exercise
  • Giving to others
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Eating spicy foods
  • Eating dark chocolate (my personal favorite)
  • Laughing out loud (belly laugh)


Sign Up For The Mental Health Today Show News & Noteworthy List!


4. Serotonin

Serotonin is a natural chemical primarily produced in our digestive system and is made from an essential amino acid called tryptophan.

Tryptophan enters our body through diet in foods like nuts, red meat, and cheese. However, low levels of Serotonin can result in mood disorders.

Serotonin is considered to be a natural mood stabilizer and can help with sleeping, eating, and digesting.

In addition to helping with how we sleep and eat, Serotonin also helps with reducing depression, regulating anxiety, healing wounds, enhancing bone health, and helping ease nausea.



The Bible, Socrates, And Self-Care

The idea that self-care is integral to our personal development and emotional wellbeing is recorded in ancient writings dating all the way back to biblical times and to ancient Greece. 

The Greek phraseEpimeleia heautou, or care of the self, is central in Socratic writings, yet the idea of caring for oneself received criticism that it places too much emphasis on self, leading some to disagree that people needed to practice self-care.

Throughout the Bible, themes of hope, joy, grace, patience, and mercy speak to the human soul for care. Soul care is a term used by many in the church and it speaks to the human need to re-center our thoughts on God, especially during difficult and stressful times.



The Self-Help Movement Originated In The 1930s

The self-help movement began with the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 to promote and maintain sobriety. Most people have heard of AA, and it is offered internationally.

The hallmark of AA is the twelve-step program which centers on empowerment and self-help, creating accountability and ownership of one's sobriety.

Alcoholics Anonymous's whole mission is self-care. Caring for oneself is caring for others. 

Self-Care And The Civil Rights Movement

The concept of self-care first appeared in the medical community in the 1950s, and later became more mainstream during the civil rights movement, particularly with The Black Panther Party, with the common use of the term "counter activist burnout".

Activist leaders regularly fought for racial justice and they saw the lack of medical resources available to the black community in the United States. The activism lead to creating better access to health clinics, nutritious food, and community programs to help inform a better way of living.

The Black Panther party, among other activists, helped bring self-care to the forefront. 

During a 2018 AFROPUNK interview, Angela Davis talked about how she and Ericka Huggins adopted mindfulness practices and yoga as a primary way of taking care of themselves while incarcerated. 

Bike Riding For My Self-Care

I look so forward to our bike rides on the trail and a favorite trail takes us about 1 1/2 hours to ride and winds through a park, alongside a road, then under a tunnel, and into a forest reservation.

We frequently pass deer of all sizes, owls, groundhogs, rabbits, and other wildlife. We ride along a babbling creek and smell the sweet fragrance of the great outdoors.

We ride on forest trails, suburban trails, and urban trails, and we love them all!

This photo was taken on a suburban trail right outside of Grants Farm, where the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales can be seen. What a site!



You may have seen the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales in a Super Bowl ad or at a Cardinals baseball game.



To be clear, self-care is not selfish. Many people can confuse the two, but taking time for yourself - not exactly like Tom and Donna from Parks and Recreation - but taking care of your stress management can rejuvenate your soul.

If you have been stressed and not taking care of yourself, please start. It doesn't have to be a big trip, or even a bike ride on trails, just go for a walk.

Slowing your heart and your mind down, and trying to be present in the moment to enjoy the simple things in life can be just what you need.

Now, go practice some self-care! Yay!