Realize how a few hours after lunch we reach for the chocolate biscuits lying in our workstation drawer? Or how a steaming cup of coffee becomes mandatory before proceeding with any more work? We crave these foods, called “pick me ups”, because they elevate the mood and energize the body.

Pick me ups = mood foods

We must understand that our body is extremely intelligent. Our brain cells talk to each other via messengers – “happy” messengers to carry “happy news” and vice versa. Our body is always on the lookout for something to boost the happy messengers. Nature has provided a host of substances – caffeine, sugar and chocolate – which can temporarily make one feel better. These substances work by chemically boosting one or more of the happy messenger levels, thus helping to balance the overstressed brain.  Cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and tobacco are potent pick me ups as they provide a high which most other substances don’t. But, while not all of us are smokers or drug addicts, we are all addicts in some way or the other.

Chocolates are some of the most commonly used pick-me-ups. They release endorphins and serotonin – the happy messengers in the brain.

Why pick me ups are unhealthy

Picking me ups are the wrong way to handle stress for three reasons:

  1. They work temporarily and you need a fix every few hours.
  2. They cause addiction.
  3. Excessive use leads to increased cholesterol, weight gain and high blood sugar.

Also, research finds that using such substances cannot accurately rebalance brain chemistry. This leads to severe mood swings: a constant roller coaster of “highs” and “lows”.

Healthy habits

You can reduce your dependence on pick me ups.

  1. Learn to read your body’s signs (early warning indicators). Get medical help for problems which Pick Me Ups won’t be able to solve.
  2. Focus on a healthy diet. Eating frequent small meals is important as this allows blood sugars to stay stable and prevents the temptation to reach out for a Pick Me Up. One way is to include protein in your main meals. This raises the level of tryptophan, a chemical in your blood, which eventually turns into serotonin. Having a small carbohydrate snack every four hours after such meals causes tryptophan to enter the brain, where it metabolises into serotonin
  3. Slowly wean out regular pick me ups- caffeine, sweets.
  4. Make your life as regular as clockwork. Reset your body clock. This may take 3 weeks.
  5. Start an enjoyable exercise, walk a flight of stairs if feeling the post lunch slump. This is better than the usual “coffee fix”
  6. Learn a simple relaxation technique: deep breathing, for example.
  7. Smile and Laugh more, this automatically releases happy messengers.
  8. Listen to music, it boosts brain chemicals.
  9. Discover the benefits of time management. Learn to be efficient, speed up your work style, cut down unnecessary labor which contributes nothing.
  10. Lighten up your social commitments; avoid unnecessary shopping and mindless pastimes as a fix for stress.

Stress is the number one killer today. Handling it by using “Pick Me Ups” which further damage the body is like embarking on a road to disaster. Making these simple changes in one’s everyday routine can go a long way in preventing disease and poor health.

This post originally appeared in the Practo.