Active addiction was a time when getting high was the most important need. However, the means to which one got high was highly external and superficial. Drugs and alcohol are addictive because they replicate neuro-chemicals that are already present within the body. The only problem is that when we use external chemicals, the appreciation as well as functionality of the internal chemicals becomes highly impaired. This causes addiction because the power of chemical regulation has shifted from the natural system of neurochemistry to the unnaturally self-controlled addiction to dangerous substances. How do we get back the “natural high”, which are locked away in our neurochemistry? Below are a number of ways to re-activate these gems of happiness by doing the following activities:
Intense exercise such as running, weight-lifting, and swimming helps to release two neuro-chemicals: Beta-endorphins and an endocannabinoid: Anandamide, which makes people who exercise feel a “natural high” after a workout. It is sometimes dubbed as the “runners’ high”. It is often suggested to clients in rehab to go for a rigorous workout whenever he/she feels depressed or tempted during early recovery. Not only will it help to remove obsessions, but leave the client in a better mental state as a result of the natural high exercise affords.
Rowers tend to feel more pain after their workout rather than during training. The reason for that is due to the fact that during training, rowers are part of something bigger than themselves. They are part of a team that works together for the better good of the whole. They feel the camaraderie and close kinship for each other, thus allowing the body to release the “love hormone” – Oxytocin. This neuro-chemical is responsible for strengthening the bonds they feel as a group. Therefore, going for a group workout is a great way to get a “natural high”, not just from the workout itself but also because performance will be much eased by the presence and support of others.
Bungee-jumping, sky-diving, and paragliding are examples of extreme sports. These sports involve our entire senses because they are interpreted by our primitive or “Lizard” brain as a means to die. The sport simulate near-death experiences through their mimicry of hazardous situations, making the body release an array of neuro-chemicals from adrenaline, dopamine, to beta-endorphins. Time slows down as a result of our acknowledgment of imminent death. Yet, the flurry of relief, which follow thereafter releases more neuro-chemicals leaving us in extreme/intense calm, surrounded by the serenity of achievement. Hence, exposing oneself to extreme sports to get in touch with the dangers of reality is a good way of building courage as well as releasing the “natural high”.
Love is the ultimate high. Naturally, humans look to others for support, nurture, and love when we feel insecure, fearful, depressed, or low. When it comes to love, the human body releases nearly all the neuro-chemicals in a massive cascade. Dopamine, Adrenaline, Vasopressin, Serotonin, and Oxytocin are released whenever we receive the love of others or provide love/care to others as well as ourselves. Hence works of charity, being with family, and friends or even being in a loving and caring relationship with a significant other: are all means to feel and experience love. This is one of the most effective methods to feel the “natural high”.
The forest is our ancestral home. Yet, we tend to forget due to urban/modern living that we came from that environment. Simply being in nature makes us feel different to being in the city. The freedom from urban clutter and whitewashed environments somehow makes us feel more authentic and connected to the world around us. Hence, one fine way to attain a natural high is to return to nature itself by maybe taking walks around the forest.
There was a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) imaging done on participants who listened to the music they loved and compared it with other choices or general noise. Regions of the brain that accounted for euphoria were highlighted when the music they loved were played. This shows that music has the power to induce stimuli that bring about emotions or “natural highs”. Music transports its listeners back in time to the memories of the song, which play much significance to the hearer, who then identifies with it. This came from a time when in our evolution, humans could identify with their community due to the rhythms and beats that went with their own people. Music equips its listeners with a sense of community and belonging, thus providing them with an internal high, which is filled with personal history and meaning.
When we dream every night, we release Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is a psychedelic compound. It helps to make us feel like our best heroes in a world of our own mind. Dreams evoke a natural high because it is a result of the sleep we get when our body rests and rejuvenates after a long day of productivity. Simply being in bed and dreaming can bring out our natural “highs”. So sleep early and get a chance to dream so that you can be nurtured by it.
Even watching or listening to some comic relief is good for our health. Laughter actually releases “Beta-endorphins”. This is why it is encouraged that enjoying a good laugh be it from television, the internet, or just simply experiencing and savoring something funny is a good way to end the day. Laughter is so highly prized in India that some have gone to laugh voluntarily without any funny stimuli such as in “Laughing Yoga”. So if at odds with what works, laugh yourself into a good time for a start in the right direction! In fact, in recovery, taking life less seriously has provided those with long-term sobriety an edge over others.
Capsaicin was designed by plants to fend off the herbivorous dinosaurs from eating and plundering the Jurassic forests. Posit 65 million years into the future and humans have adapted this chemical to spice up their food for pleasure purposes. Eating really spicy food releases adrenaline due to the activation of the central opioid system. Hence, treat yourself to some spice and enjoy the relaxing calm one feels after experiencing the intense pain, spice induces on those who dare!
One of the major benefits of getting our high naturally is that it will always be available because it is a part of our make up. There is no need to go out searching for something to get us high. We don’t get addicted to natural highs (except in certain circumstances of abuse such as in behavioral addictions like Sex and Exercise addiction) because being internal, the dispensation is controlled by our neuro-chemistry and not our external choices.
Furthermore, we don’t go to extreme measures to attain neuro-chemicals except when we activate them internally through the activities suggested above. These activities are deemed safe, legal, and nurturing as compared to the means addicts go to in order to attain the drugs of their respective addictions. Being non-dependent, natural highs bring people closer rather than the isolationism experienced in active addiction towards drugs/alcohol.
Regardless of all these differences between the external and internal highs, we should go for the natural high because it builds and sustains; rather than destroys; life – be it our own or those who care for us. In that sense, if we want to live in peace, we need to change the way we attain our highs from synthetic to natural.
The funniest and most ironic part of addiction is that we are prone to drugs that simulate the chemical properties of our own neuro-chemistry to the tee. The closer the simulation is to our own internal highs, the greater, the addiction. What this means is that our own neuro-chemical effects are what we seek in the drugs out there. So why not engage with the real “joy” rather than concoct it up in unnatural ways that imperfectly meet those expectations? The irony is that we seek what is already within!