What is the Afterlife of Your Endorphin High?

After a fantastic jumping lesson (or any other physical endeavor including skiing, mountain biking, hiking, dancing, yoga, etc.), I am typically on cloud nine! I become infused with confidence, clarity, and courage. I re-enter the rest of my life energized and focused. That day almost always goes really well. For example, last week I had an amazing lesson during which my green jumper navigated the lines calmly, rolled back to various jumps courageously, and maintained connection with the stride and me throughout. I was elated! I left the barn, returning to my office to meet with my bookkeeper. Once underway we discovered that the last five months of entries in QuickBooks had been over-ridden by an older version I had accidentally opened. My bookkeeper was devastated. Her work was gone. My endorphins pumped voraciously and I told her that I would support her to reconstruct the missing material. I made her tea, ordered lunch, and stayed close to answer questions. She blasted through the fiasco and got us back on track in a matter of hours. Thank goodness for those endorphins! As I’ve been going through the process of connecting with a new horse, I haven’t had a confidence high last this long yet! Usually, the great lesson leaves me feeling solid about horses and life for about 24 hours. That day typically goes really well. I return to my office with heightened focus and endless fascination for my work.

What Are Endorphins Anyway?

The deal with endorphins is that when the body produces this chemical, it blocks the pain receptors, causing a euphoric experience. Endorphin release can occur from many types of risk-taking activities as well as aerobic exercise. The chemical shift can block the brain’s response to physical and emotional pain. Technically, the body chemistry rebalances within an hour or two after exercise. But the shift in brain patterning can remain, offering sustained reasoning, reduced anxiety, and a renewed zeal for life! How long it lasts for each individual varies and what types of mental construct shifts occur in short and long-term ways depends on how the person engages with their own chemistry. How long does it last for you? Does it even occur? What brain/thought process shift happens? I have a practice of reviewing the exercises I did that day in my mind’s eye before I fall asleep and the level of confidence I have at this point is a cue about where it is going to be the next day. Then there is the converse experience of the Cortisol-rush, which happens when things go awry. cortisol is the stress hormone and is quickly flooded into the blood stream when the body perceives any threat. Working with mind-body reactions to positive and negative events is an essential part of being an athlete as well as just being human. Does the negative experience tend to last longer as a thought pattern and muscle memory? Look at the brain images below to get an idea of how the brain chemistry shifts from a simple 20 minute walk. Imagine how much more intense the high gets for equestrians. Riding is obviously much more physically challenging than walking. And endorphins are released even more from the confidence you feel from riding, connecting with your horse, body, and trainer. Working with developing awareness of your ever-changing chemistry and resulting thought processes can have a huge effect on your life.

I invite you to connect with me to share your experiences and engage in this conversation. How long do your endorphin highs and cortisol lows last? What helps you to balance them? Or do you just ride the waves like a passenger? As I prepare to re-enter the horse show ring next week I am acutely aware of my shifting levels of confidence and concern. I am engaging in a personal experiment of observing my patterns to better understand and be able to influence myself in challenging mental climates. Please share your thoughts and experiences with me so we can ponder and learn together.

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