Everyone’s heard of runner’s high, the overwhelming sense of ecstasy you feel when you run really hard. Endorphins are responsible — your brain naturally produces these neurotransmitters in response to pain or extreme exertion to take the edge off and generally make you feel amazing. Really amazing. Experts actually compare endorphins to opiates because they deliver such intense pleasure, says psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., M.S., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.
The good news is that you don’t have to run a marathon (or call a dealer) to experience this kind of high. Try these tactics to coax your body into making more endorphins:
1. Chocolate. Unwrap, enjoy, and repeat, because cocoa contains mood-boosting substances such as phenethylamine, an organic compound that gives your body an endorphin boost, and theobromine, a chemical that suppresses pain so you can feel more pleasure, according to some studies.
2. Eat your very favorite food. Research suggests that chocolate’s not the only food that can produce pleasure. All palatable foods make your brain release endorphins to elevate your mood. Hey French fries, hey!
3. Exercise — and not just running. Working out stresses your system, so your brain pumps out endorphins to cope. But because no two bodies produce the same amount of endorphins in response to stimuli, there’s no way to tell exactly how much exercise you need to bring on an endorphin high, Lombardo says. To find your happy place, do a mood check the next time you do strength training or cardio: Every five minutes, think about how you feel on a scale from one (not happy at all) to 10 (completely high on life). Increase intensity until that number goes up.
5. Have sex. It should come as no surprise that sex releases a flood of endorphins plus a cocktail of other feel-good brain chemicals, like the love hormone oxytocin, which makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. “It’s cheap therapy!” Lombardo says.
6. Make music. If Spotify brings you pleasure, listen to this: Your brain spews out even more endorphins when you actively take part in creating music. If you’re not a classically trained musician (just guessing here), tap, hum, or dance along to your favorite tunes. Karaoke, anyone?
7. Take a group fitness class. A small British study found that athletes who rowed together could tolerate twice as much pain (a sign that endorphins are present) as athletes who rowed alone. Work out with others to improve your endorphin flow.
8. Eat hot peppers. Even if you love the taste of spicy foods, your body senses the heat and responds the same way it response to pain. Enter, endorphins!
9. Spritz lavender on your pillow everywhere. In a 2012 study published in Journal of Caring Sciences, women who sniffed lavender essence before IUD insertion reported less anxiety than women who sniffed a placebo. The study authors say aromatherapy makes nerve cells release a mix of neurotransmitters, including (You guessed it!) endorphins.
10. Spike your drink. Is it the healthiest habit? Nope. But they call it happy hour for a reason: When you imbibe, your brain releases endorphins in areas of your brain that are responsible for pleasure and reward, according to a 2012 study published in Science Translational Medicine. Just don’t party too hard: While a little bit of alcohol can stimulate endorphin production, drinking too much (or taking actual opiates) provide artificial pleasure that makes make your brain think it’s OK to take a break from producing endorphins, which kills your natural buzz, Lombardo says.
11. Get acupuncture. Why would anyone in their right mind want to be repeatedly poked with needles? Research suggests the pain sends a message straight to the brain, which releases endorphins as a remedy.