Look at the list of famous authors who were alcoholics and you get names like Raymond Chandler, John Cheever, Tennessee Williams, Dylan Thomas, Edgar Allen Poe, Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and more.
Impressive list. Reading it, you may think that to get to a high level of creativity, alcohol is a near requirement.
But this is Writing and Wellness, and here, we know that too much alcohol destroys your health. It’s been linked to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, dementia, depression, nerve damage, and pancreatitis, to name a few. Current recommendations are no more than two servings a day for men, and one for women (women metabolize alcohol differently).
Still, we all know that when we’re in a certain state of mind, the writing just flows. Fortunately, we can get there through healthier means. Here are seven of them. If you know of others, please share!
1. Work out…hard.
You know the term “runner’s high.” Turns out the sweet spot for shifting into that blissful mode of euphoria is about 50 minutes. Researchers tested it out in 2003.
Using trained male college students running on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike, they found that 50 minutes at about 70-80 percent of maximum heart rate activated something called the “endocannabinoid system”—a fancy way of saying the exercise altered brain chemistry to the point of producing that magical sensation of “Hey, dude, no pain!”
If you’re not feeling anything but tired after your exercise routine, try stretching it out a little longer. Fifty minutes may give you the high you’re looking for, after which you can flop in the chair and type out your masterpiece!
Meanwhile, you’ll enjoy all the other benefits of exercise, including reduced risk of disease, increased muscle strength, and better overall health.
2. Take a Bikram yoga class.
Also called “hot” yoga, Bikram is a type of yoga that is similar to hatha yoga, except it’s performed in a heated room. It’s like doing yoga in a sauna. Sessions are typically 90 minutes long, and involve a series of 26 yoga postures and breathing exercises.
Full disclosure: the temperature in the room is 105 degrees, usually! I haven’t tried this myself, but I’ve heard it’s wonderfully relaxing and restorative, and gets you into that euphoric state. It’s also connected with several health benefits, including reduced muscle pain, increased flexibility, reduced stress, and even a potential for lowered blood sugar levels.
Just be sure to check with your doctor first before trying it, as there is a risk of heatstroke and dehydration. Practicing with a reputable teacher will help reduce risks.
“I went to my first hot yoga class last January,” writes personal trainer and group fitness instructor Paige, “and left with an almost-euphoric feeling. I was hooked.”
“[A]fter class, when I left the studio and felt the cool air on my skin,” writes Diana Spechler in the New York Times, “I floated, as if I were walking home on a moving sidewalk, or even hovering just above one. I was so blissed out, I almost got hit by a car. That night, I slept, Tylenol PM-free, for seven hours.”
You don’t have to sleep afterwards. Take your notebook or computer and type away while still in your heated bliss!
You probably suspected this one would be on the list. Maybe you’ve tried it, but haven’t gotten to any state of euphoria. It is true, however, that meditation can get you there—without 50 minutes of exercise first.
A study by the School of Behavioral Sciences at the James Cook University in Australia, for example, compared runners and trained meditators. They found both caused positive mood changes. The Brainwave Research Institute adds that meditation stimulates the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, releasing endorphins and increasing the production of serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin—all related to happiness and relaxation.
“As I started to meditate for longer,” writes blogger Kristopher Love, “I found out I started to feel like I was getting high….And once I started feeling this way, I got addicted!”
Meditation also has a number of other health benefits, including reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, improving heart rate, and boosting attention and memory.
If you’ve tried meditation and haven’t experienced that otherworldly state, here are some tips:
- Try meditating for just a little longer than you usually do.
- Use music—there are several “meditation euphoria” CDs out there that may help.
- Keep consistent with your practice—try not to miss a day.
- Make sure you’re in a comfortable place with no distractions. Use headphones for music or absolute quiet.
- Pay attention to your breathing—deep, slow breathing can help speed up your trip to la-la land.
4. Try acupuncture.
This doesn’t work for everyone, but some people feel that sense of euphoria after an acupuncture treatment.
“I have one word to describe my acupuncture experience,” says nutritionist Kimberly Snyder. “EUPHORIC.”
She describes her experience step by step, adding that after a few more needles went in, “I started to feel very light—like I was floating!! This may sound like a weird analogy, but the mental picture that came to mind was taking a sheet in both hands outside in a field and letting it flutter in the wind. Like ripples of energy rolling through the sheet. Interesting! Truly, I felt blissful and nourished by good energy.”
Researchers note that varying degrees of relaxation and euphoria are quite common. “Some patients may report that they feel high, as if they have taken alcohol or other mood-altering drugs,” write scientists in a 1999 study. Practitioners aren’t positive what causes it, but believe it has something to do with activating parts of the limbic system involved in emotion.
Other health benefits of acupuncture include alleviating headaches, easing indigestion, and reducing symptoms of fibromyalgia.
5. Listen to music that you like.
You know how hearing that one song sends you into orbit?
A lot of authors use music to get into the right mood for the piece they’re working on. Studies have shown that this is a great idea. In 2011, for example, researchers reported that music can “arouse feelings of euphoria and craving.” They also found through brain imaging that music increased release of dopamine in the brain, which is associated with a feeling of pleasure.
Listening to music can also ease pain, improve sleep quality, increase endurance, enhance blood vessel function, reduce stress, and boost brainpower.
6. Enjoy some dark chocolate.
Researchers say that chocolate actually releases feel-good chemicals in the brain. In fact, the sweet stuff has a compound (called “anandamide”) that mimics the effects of marijuana (though the level may be too low to create much of an effect).
“Chocolate usually contains fats that may induce the release of endogenous molecules that act similar to heroin and produce a feeling of euphoria,” writes Professor Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. A 2001 study noted that chocolate can have addictive qualities, including the ability to induce short-term euphoria, and a 2007 study noted that eating a small amount of chocolate could help improve negative feelings.
An earlier study also reported that chocolate contains a lot of natural compounds (including methylxanthines, biogenic amines, and cannabinoid-like fatty acids) that can potentially cause psychological sensations and may contribute to chocolate cravings.
In addition to stimulating a good mood, dark chocolate is also a great source of healthy antioxidants, may improve blood flow, decrease LDL “bad” cholesterol, improve brain function, and even the risk of heart disease.
The next time you’re having trouble getting into the writing mood, try a small piece of dark chocolate. I know. It will be hard, but we all have to make sacrifices for our art.
7. Watch a funny video.
Okay, you have an excuse now.
Turns out that laughter induces a state of euphoria. Research published in 2011 found that laughter releases endorphins, activating the same receptors as drugs like heroin. Participants felt less pain and a mild sense of euphoria. Laughter has also been found to improve blood flow, boost immunity, reduce blood sugar levels, and improve sleep.
The trick is that you have to have a good belly laugh. A simple giggle or titter won’t do it. In other words, you need to laugh until it hurts. Laughing with other people has been found in studies to be even more effective than laughing alone—maybe an excuse to try a laughing yoga class? Or spend an evening out with your funniest friends, and then go home and write!
My favorite: Scrat videos. Here’s one to get you started.
Or for my fellow musicians, the funniest Victor Borge video ever: Just Follow Me.
Do you have other healthy ways to get that euphoric high that helps you create? Please share them with our readers.
Gretchen Reynolds, “Phys Ed: What Really Causes Runner’s High?” New York Times, February 16, 2011, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/16/phys-ed-what-really-causes-runners-high/?_r=0.
Sparling PB, et al., “Exercise activates the endocannabinoid system,” Neuroreport, December 2, 2003; 14(17):2209-11, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14625449.
“Meditation boosts endorphins,” The Brainwave Research Institute, http://www.brainwave-research-institute.com/meditation-boosts-endorphins.html.
Anthony Campbell, “The Limbic System and Emotion in Relation to Acupuncture,” BMJ, December 1999, 17(2): http://acupuncturechartsresearch.com/styled-12/.
Valorie N. Salimpoor, et al., “Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music,” Nature Neuroscience, 2011 (14): 257-262, http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v14/n2/full/nn.2726.html#/supplementary-information.
Linda Ciampa, “Researchers say chocolate triggers feel-good chemicals,” CNN, February 14, 1996, http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/indepth.food/sweets/chocolate.cravings/.
Dallard I, et al., “Is cocoa a psychotropic drug? Psychopathologic study of a population of subjects self-identified as chocolate addicts,” Encephale, Mar-Apr 2001; 27(2):181-6, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11407271.
Michael Macht and Jochen Mueller, “Immediate effects of chocolate on experimentally induced mood states,” Appetite, November 2007; 49(3):667-674, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019566630700298X.
Bruinsma K and Taren DL, “Chocolate: food or drug?” J Am Diet Assoc., October 1999; 99(10):1249-56, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10524390.
R.I.M. Dunbar, et al., “Social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold,” Proc Bio; Sci., March 22, 2012; 279(1731): 1161-7, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21920973.