When was the last time you truly treated yourself?
Maybe you were out for a nice dinner with friends and decided to order the chocolate fudge brownie, drizzled with chocolate sauce, and topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Or maybe you bought yourself a new top you've been eyeing, because you had a long week! Whatever example you’re thinking of, it probably made you feel pretty good, right? Have you ever wondered why it felt good? Whether you decided to treat yourself on a whim or you planned it as a reward for finally cleaning out the storage room, the answer for both cases is the same. Dopamine.
What is dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurochemical that your brain releases when you have a pleasurable experience - such as eating foods you crave or finishing a big project. It’s natural to crave chocolate or pickles (or whatever your jam is!) and you shouldn’t feel bad about it because treating yourself benefits both your mental and emotional health.
Dopamine does more than just make you feel good. This neurochemical is a busy messenger inside your brain, responsible for things like improving your mood, your motivation, your ability to pay attention and process new information, as well as regulating your emotional responses.
How does dopamine affect our mental health?
You’ve probably heard about the mice in a cage with two buttons. One button does nothing while the other releases a treat. The mice will repeatedly press the button with the treat because each time they eat it, their brains release dopamine, which makes them feel good. This process creates a positive feedback loop, motivating them to push the button again, and again, to keep getting the reward to maintain the good feeling. That process works the same for humans. Giving yourself a reward or a treat for accomplishing a task, not only motivates you to get the job done, but it gives your brain satisfaction.
While rewards are useful to reinforce good behavior, they suggest you must do something to earn it, such as complete a task, or obey rules, etc. This is good if you want to boost your motivation to make a change or improvement in your life, but you should also treat yourself “just because”. Treating yourself without conditions releases dopamine without the pressure and guilt often associated with “rewards”.
The health benefits of treating yourself
Treating yourself is a key component of self-care which means taking care of both your mind and body. One pillar of self-care is prioritizing sleep. Allowing yourself to get enough rest boosts dopamine production in your brain. So go ahead, treat yourself to a sleep-in once in a while, or a reverse sleep-in (aka going to bed earlier).
Another way to treat yourself daily is to give yourself frequent breaks from your work. Take ten minutes in between chores or customers to walk around, stretch, or just change your scenery. It will boost your mood, lower your stress, and boost your dopamine production. Breaks are also proven to increase productivity, an indirect reward to yourself or your boss.
If treating yourself includes food cravings, avoid processed foods, sugar, and caffeine. These factors contribute to lowering your body’s natural dopamine production. Cutting those ingredients back will have the ripple effect of improving your mood, attention span, and overall well being.
You can still treat yourself to your sweet food cravings without giving in to processed foods or high sugar levels. Try baking from scratch and substituting sugar alternatives. Or even better, order from us! We know a thing or two about baking delicious desserts packed with flavor while being low in sugar or sugar-free.
Treat yourself - but do it right!
So now you know that there is a reason for your late night cookie cravings and that indulging those cravings actually has benefits to your mental and emotional health. The key is to balance your cravings with satisfying options that are also healthy for you. So go ahead and treat yourself - and if you need help, we’re here for you! (See our menu here)