This may be hard to believe…but it’s still January. January may just be the longest month of our lives – coming right after the festive holiday season where all productivity went out the window. As a busy publicist in our Los Angeles Public Relations firm, I couldn’t have been happier to have some time off to shut down and recharge.
But after a few months of celebrations, stints of time-off, the excitement of giving/receiving gifts, eating (and drinking) just about anything put in front of you, sleeping in, etc., this can be hard to recover from. Many of us feel exhausted even after the first week of January and we feel as though we need a vacation from our recent vacation.
It’s obvious, right? Too much time off and we forget how to be productive. But science is telling us a different story. It’s not just about feeling lazy after not using your brain productively for a time, it comes down to the chemicals in our brain – all working together to regulate our systems. You’ve got Tyrosine, Phenylalanine, Pregnenolone, Serotonin, and Resveratrol, oh my!
But there’s one chemical that seems to feed off all the others, one that is responsible for inciting motivation, happiness, reward, memory and attention – important stuff! It’s Dopamine – nature’s drill sergeant. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that our brain produces to nudge us into doing stuff. It’s the main reason why we can focus and achieve great things. Important stuff that, you guessed it, contributes to productivity!
So, it’s safe to say that we all need a healthy dose of dopamine in our lives. Your brain produces dopamine, so you can’t take a magic pill for it, but there are some things you can do to naturally increase this important chemical – which means increasing your productivity level during the long, long month of January – and beyond!
- Eat protein: Tyrosine (typically produced by proteins) is a building block of dopamine, so you must make sure that you have enough protein in your diet – and this may be tough coming off months of glutinous dining. Fortunately, you can find good protein in a ton of foods, many of which are easy to incorporate into your diet. Some of our favorites are nuts, avocados, fish, beef, chicken, eggs, yogurt, bananas, dark leafy greens and chocolate (YES!). I’m fortunate enough to work in food and beverage PR, so the delicious brands I work with keep me packed with good protein.
- Exercise: Regardless of how much your brain will protest it, physical activity really is something your body craves. It’s tough to get started, but once you get going your brain actually releases serotonin (a fun chemical!), endorphins and yes, dopamine, to help motivate you through your workout and the desire to do it again (regardless of how much your brain says “it’s a trap, don’t do it!”)
- Sleep: Dopamine creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness. Naturally, large amounts of dopamine are released in the morning when it’s time to wake up and decreases at night when its time to go to sleep – however loss of sleep disrupts these natural rhythms. Getting a good night’s rest will help regulate your body’s natural dopamine rhythms making you feel more alert and awake.
- Listen to music: Studies show that if you listen to music, the brain releases dopamine as a response. Good music triggers our pleasure centers, so open that Spotify playlist or download Pandora to your desktop and get your favorite tunes crankin’. If music distracts you, there are a few white-noise productivity stations you can listen to as well. We recommend Brain.fm – music to improve focus, meditation and sleep.
- Meditate: They say that ‘sometimes the best way to do something is by doing nothing’. By quieting your busy mind with meditation, or some other sort of self-reflection, these activities will increase dopamine levels.
- Get some Vitamin D: Sunlight increases dopamine (and your daily dose of Vitamin D which activates genes that help release dopamine).
- Hug an animal (preferably a pet you know, we don’t recommend hugging random animals as that can result in a rabies shot): Nothing feels better than a soft snuggle – and animals need it as much as we do. Dopamine is released with the feeling of soft fur (and increases when the animal reciprocates the happiness of being pet). Petting animals is also known to lower heart rate and blood pressure. Some studies show it can also boost long-term memory!
- Make a To-Do List: Ever wondered why it feels so good to check off items on your to-do list as done? Dopamine is released after you finish something – big or small. So, if you want more dopamine “hits”, break down those big jobs into smaller ones and check them off one-by-one.
- Have a Dance Party: Hear me out on this one. I realize that the office is not a dance club, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do a quick victory dance when it’s necessary. Dancing is naturally contagious, which means when others see you do it, they are destined to join – increasing dopamine for everyone! Celebrating even the smallest win releases dopamine into your system, increasing the ‘want’ to keep doing it – which means you’re going to be motivated to keep achieving wins!
- Walk It Off: We’ve already talked about exercise, but if you can’t squeeze a full workout into your day, a simple, quick walk around the block will do the trick. Movement creates blood flow, which triggers the creation of dopamine. If it’s tough to get outside during the day, take a walk around the office – just saying hello to your colleagues without needing something in return will release dopamine and help to reduce stress.
Dopamine is important – it’s the driving factor behind a ton of great things – motivation, happiness, reward, memory, attention, and yes, productivity! And as we enter our 74th day of January 2020, dopamine will be all that keeps us from completely losing our minds!