While you were addicted, you probably found yourself living for the next high. Maybe you were trying to recreate that first high you felt, and once you started, you just never looked back. Now that you’re sober and in recovery, certain life experiences and activities can provide a similar “rush” or “high” without all the negative effects.
Although living life to get “high” naturally or with drugs is not a healthy way to live, there are certain activities that are both pleasurable and beneficial to a life in recovery.
The Science Behind the High
There’s a reason getting high feels so good. When you use drugs, they go straight to the brain’s reward system and kick it into high gear. Because your brain is wired to repeat activities that make you feel good, the drugs essentially trick the brain into becoming addicted by targeting the reward system and flooding it with dopamine (a natural chemical found in the brain).1 As a result, you find yourself chasing that feeling over and over again, without regard to the negative consequences.
Although a drug-induced high is the one we need to avoid in recovery, certain activities can produce similar feelings of pleasure and euphoria without the use of drugs or alcohol by influencing the production of endorphins. Endorphins are peptides that are produced by the brain. They are often referred to as the “feel-good hormone.” They help reduce pain and increase feelings of happiness and positivity by binding to opiate receptors in the brain.2
9 Endorphin-Boosting Activities for a Natural High
While chasing any type of high (natural or drug-induced) can be dangerous, if you keep balance in mind, there are many natural highs that can support a life in recovery. Here are nine great ones.
1. Physical exercise
Running may offer what’s known as a “runner’s high” but it’s not the only physical activity that makes you feel good. Studies show that almost any kind of moderate to intense physical exercise stimulates your brain’s release of endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine, which work together to provide positive feelings and stress relief.4 While any type of cardio or aerobics will provide a natural high, so will recovery yoga, team sports, a group exercise class, biking, or hiking, among many other activities. Physical exercise has many benefits for people who are in addiction recovery, but the feel-good endorphins are just one.3
They say laughter is the best medicine and there is some truth to the saying! Research shows laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which makes you feel good all over. But that’s not all it does. Laughter has also been scientifically proven to reduce the level of stress hormones in the body, boost sickness-fighting T-cells, improve heart health, lower blood pressure, and give you a more positive outlook on life in general.4
Meditation is another activity that releases endorphins while also stimulating the production of dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin in the body.5 Even just ten minutes of meditation each day can leave you feeling calm, happy, and relaxed. As a person in recovery, daily meditation can also provide time for reflection and help you develop a disciplined schedule and lifestyle as you adjust to sobriety.
Music is a great recovery tool. In fact, one research study even found music has the same effect on your brain as drugs and sex.6 It has a consistent emotional impact and listening to music or creating it influences the production of dopamine, oxytocin, prolactin, serotonin, and epinephrine in the body. People have consistently ranked music as being one of the top things in life that gives them pleasure (even more so than money, art, or food) because it truly does make you feel good.7 Sometimes, sobriety can be difficult, especially after the “pink cloud” of early recovery wears off. So it’s important to have things in life that can bring you joy, happiness, and pleasure when you’re feeling discouraged or depressed.
5. Vanilla or lavender
Aromatherapy with vanilla and lavender has been linked to the production of endorphins and these two pleasant scents also come with a host of other great benefits.8 Lavender is a naturally calming scent and it can help you overcome insomnia in recovery by helping you get a good night’s rest. Vanilla may be the most average and boring scent, but it has been shown to elevate feelings of happiness, joy, and relaxation. So, break out the vanilla candles or lavender essential oil and enjoy.
You don’t have to be a great dancer to experience the benefits it can provide in a life of recovery. Not only does it get you out in social situations where you can interact with your peers and make new friends in recovery, but it also provides many physical benefits too. Dancing causes the brain to release endorphins and neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, which work together to lift your spirits, promote feelings of euphoria, and increase pain tolerance. It can also reduce anxiety and increase heart health.9
A study published by the National Institutes of Health found that volunteering produces something known as a “helper’s high” because the act of helping others activates the brain’s pleasure centers and triggers a release of endorphins.10 Volunteering in recovery is also a great way to get involved in your community, serve alongside other people in recovery, and give back as you transition from a lifestyle of addiction into one of selflessness, generosity, and community.
Getting a massage doesn’t have to be a regular thing to be beneficial to your health, but if you’re feeling particularly down or depressed, it can be a helpful way to relax and prioritize self-care. Physical touch, in general, can stimulate the release of endorphins and help reduce anxiety, stress, insomnia, headaches, pain, and other common ailments. If you’re dealing with a particularly stressful life event or circumstance in recovery, getting a massage is a great way to take a load off and relax.
9. Sharing your recovery story
If you’re new to recovery, sharing your recovery story might sound intimidating or nerve-wracking, but it can also be an exciting and rewarding experience. Being able to share your story of addiction and recovery to help others is a true gift and one that not everyone has. Helping others by sharing your personal experience and life lessons is a one-of-a-kind high that you just can’t replace or imitate.
Finding natural ways to boost endorphins may help you sustain your sobriety and also battle feelings of depression and anxiety in recovery. We hope these nine endorphin-boosting activities will help you stay on track and pursue a life of long-term recovery.