Eva Ritvo M.D.

On Vitality

The Day After Mother’s Day

The neuroscience of a happy mother

Posted May 08, 2016

Bigstock
Source: Bigstock

You literally owe your life to your mother. Mother’s Day is the most powerful day of the year, because it is a day for mothers. Mothers were there for us and sacrificed a great deal, especially during our formative years. If you have a child of your own, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

If there is one thing I have learned in my 25 years as a practicing psychiatrist, it’s that mothers have some amazing superpowers, which I have written about before (The Secret Superpowers of Mothers). Mother’s Day should be a joyful celebration, and our mothers deserve a special day. But what about the day after Mother’s Day? And the 363 days after that? What can neuroscience teach us about how to celebrate and treat our mothers every day?

How Almost Everything About Your Mother Comes Down to 5 Neurochemicals

While psychiatry and neuroscience are incredibly complex fields, some surprisingly simple insights have emerged about the easy ways you can help yourself and others to boost well being, vitality, and happiness. A surprising percentage of human behavior comes down to the interplay of 5 important neurochemicals, which you can remember with a handy acronym: CODES.

  • Cortisol: For all of us, but especially your mother, stress needs to be kept low. Our bodies release cortisol when stressed, and it can seriously damage the body in the long run. As we age, we become more sensitive to cortisol. The older your mother is, the less cortisol (and stress) she’ll be able to handle well.
  • Oxytocin: Sometimes known as the cuddle hormone, we release oxytocin when engaged in touch. Hugs, kisses, really anything that involves touch, including holding hands, walking arm in arm, and touching a shoulder. When levels are high, it gives a sensation of warmth and trust.
  • Dopamine: This neurochemical is released any time we encounter something new. It could be a new song, a new movie, or even a new website or a piece of technology. Essentially, it is our brain’s way of rewarding us when we discover something. 
  • Endorphins: Endorphins are released in response to physical activity/exercise. This is the neurochemical that is responsible for the “runner’s high.”
  • Serotonin: Serotonin is produced when you help others, bond with others, and when you feel healthy pride in a job well done. We get a surge of serotonin when those close to us achieve something meaningful, such as the feeling of a parent when the child graduates high school or wins an award. Serotonin comes from being connected to something beyond ourselves, and it is produced when you feel confident (in life or work) that others have your back, and you have theirs. Serotonin is what social animals, like us humans, use to glue ourselves together into families, teams and communities, and this neurotransmitter makes you feel very good, in a way that is decidedly unlike simple happiness.

The CODES to Improve Your Mother’s Entire Life

Here are the CODES that will help you go beyond telling your mother that you love her and show you how to demonstrate and create love.

  • Help Manage Her Cortisol: Find ways to reduce her stress. If your mother is not being social enough, her loneliness could lead to increased cortisol levels. If she’s struggling with keeping up with housework, you can reduce her stress by helping her out. Also, just be kind. Nothing makes a mother prouder than a kind child. Seeing you being kind to others goes a long way toward reducing her stress level.
  • Boost Her Oxytocin: The more you can hug and kiss your mother, the more oxytocin will be coursing through her veins. Make it a point to have more physical contact with your mother. Hugging really does perform miracles, so make it a point to do it more.
  • Increase Her Dopamine: This one is easy. The more new and novel experiences you can give your mother, the greater her dopamine level. This could be taking her to a restaurant she’s never been to before, or introducing her to a new technology.
  • Endorphin Rush: Do your best to increases your mother’s physical activity. It could be going on walks, gardening, or any physical activity that is appropriate for her fitness level.
  • Elevate Her Serotonin: There are several ways to boost serotonin. Frequent contact, especially face to face, is one of the most effective ways. Visit, call, send texts or emails...the point is to maintain consistent and frequent contact. Another way to boost serotonin is to engage in acts of kindness, so consider taking your mother to a volunteer event, or over to help a friend or relative. Helping others will do amazing things for her mood and well being. Serotonin is perhaps the most important of the neurotransmitters

So yes, go all out on Mother’s Day. Your mother deserves the best. Just don’t forget that your mother deserves the best every day.

Are you the best child you can be? Take this quiz to see how well you handle your mother’s CODES!