Pleasure hormones vs Stress Hormones

In mostly any article you may have read that talks about how human body reacts to certain stimulus, you always read about how certain hormones affect our psychological state. How they either give you exceptional joy or extreme depression. How some of these hormones are responsible for addiction and how these same hormones enable us to care for the young ones and how the abnormal release of these hormones, too much or too little, can actually affect our behavior in our daily lives.


Many use these hormones interchangeably, without knowing their actual uses. So today in my post, I’ll be writing a descriptive comparison between the “feel good” and stress hormones.

There are actually many different hormones that help regulate and control our over all physiological functions, but to stick to the topic, I’ll list three main pleasure hormones and two main stress hormones, then two neurotransmitters;


Pleasure hormones are as follows;

  • Oxytocin
  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine


Stress hormones are as follows;

  • Cortisol
  • Cortisone


Neurotransmitters are as follows;

  • Epinephrine (a.k.a. Adrenaline)
  • Norepinephrine (a.k.a. Noradrenaline)


So, let’s start with pleasure hormones first.


1- Oxytocin; Oxytocin is a hormone that is responsible for sexual attraction as well as making you care for someone otherwise known as peer bonding, it is released during sexual reproduction and during and after child birth.


2- Serotonin; Serotonin is a hormone that makes you feel peaceful joy and content. This hormone is often released when you are satisfied with something or someone. For example, after eating your favorite food to your heart’s content, the feeling you get, is due to serotonin release in your system. This hormone is also responsible (in part) for learning and developing memory, along with moods and sleep. By associating things that you like or people that make you feel peaceful joy and happiness, you can actually learn faster, due to serotonin release. The reason we feel fresh after a good night’s sleep is due to serotonin release. Completing a task that is challenging to you also releases serotonin due to the satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment, of course, another hormone is released when this happens as a result of the reward system being activated, which is dopamine and it‘s next on the list.


3- Dopamine; Dopamine is a reward hormone. This hormone is a tricky one. This is the one that usually causes trouble in the human behavior. But it can also motivate you to do things you didn’t think you could. It is a hormone that is reward driven. It always looks for ways that can get you one step closer to achieving the reward for any action taken. Dopamine is also responsible (in part) for virtually all kinds of addiction from food to drugs to sex to violence. The lower your dopamine levels, the higher the chances of you being an addict. Did you know that dopamine activity is actually really low in serial killers as well as sensation seeking, risk taking individuals? This is the cause for their extreme behavior. Brain is most addicted to this specific hormone. This hormone is also responsible in controlling emotional responses, which is why failure to get something that the individual is addicted to often leads to aggression. Brains of individuals with lower dopamine levels, crave it, so they increasingly commit high risk, high violence or extreme sexual activity in order to feel good. As time goes, and as that individual gets used to the extreme behavior, the dopamine levels drop, which leads them to take even more extreme measures and undertake more exhilarating tasks in order to keep the dopamine levels high. Just as low levels of dopamine is dangerous to our well-being, so is excess of it, especially during the initial rush of an exciting activity, because when the levels return to normal, the reward centers of the brain require the same level of excitement to feel happy, not being able to do so, can cause depression and emotional outbursts. The thing is our brain is not technically addicted to drugs or alcohol or certain kind of food, it’s actually addicted to the dopamine release that happens when you do ingest the above mentioned. Dopamine is technically the strongest hormone as it affects our emotional state and even clouds our judgment in decision making process, if the levels are dropped or increased abnormally. But that’s not all that it does, it actually helps keep our body healthy, it protects our digestion system as well as helps fight diseases, such as ADHD and Parkinson‘s, which happens due to low dopamine levels in the mid brain. Dopamine is also available as medication and can be highly addictive.


Well, that’s it for the pleasure hormones. Now, moving on to stress hormones. Keep in mind though, that just because one is associated with the word “pleasure” and the other with “stress” doesn’t mean either one is good or bad. They both have their important purposes which keeps our body functioning and us safe in case of danger. Alright, continuing..


1- Cortisol; Cortisol is a stress hormone that causes depression. It is also released during fight, flight, freeze response in the adrenal gland as a warning sign. It is also released due to low blood glucose. Elevated levels of cortisol for a long period of time can also lead to muscle atrophy. Which is just one way how stress can impact your life negatively. Elevated levels of cortisol slows down healing of wounds. Cortisol aids in creation of short-term memories of emotionally arousing events, these are also called, ‘flash-bulb memories‘. Although flash-bulb memories are not accurate, they do sort of ‘imprint’ on our brain if the event was emotionally intense enough and had major consequences, this functions as a means to let us know what to avoid in the future. Long term exposure to cortisol can lead to brain cell damage, which can cause problems in learning and also cause problems in memory recollection. High levels of cortisol can cause mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychological stress, can contribute to obesity, cause high blood pressure and can even affect body temperature, leading to fever. Best way to reduce cortisol is being around things that make you feel happy, make you laugh, listening to good music, getting a relaxing massage (if you can afford it). Excessive drinking can lead to elevated levels of cortisol. Caffeine is also known to increase cortisol levels along with a major contributor, sleep depravation, getting at least 6-7 hours of sleep every night, can help regulate cortisol levels. Excessive workouts can also lead to elevated levels of cortisol to maintain glucose levels in the blood, but it normalizes with a proper diet.


2- Cortisone; Cortisone is a major stress hormone that is the dominant hormone released during fight, flight or freeze response and, like cortisol, is also a contributor to depression due to elevated levels. It is a corticosteroid related to cortisol. Cortisone is actually the main hormone in suppressing pain caused by an injury. Its medical use is often to reduce pain for a short period of time. It has similar effects on the human physiology as cortisol does. Cortisone actually is very useful when it comes to survival. When near a possible threat, it triggers a caution response in our brain, that warns us of an immediate danger. Prolonged exposure to cortisone will cause similar side effects as cortisol, including memory deterioration and anxiety disorders, along with clinical depression (MDD). But there are measures that can be taken to normalize the levels of cortisone in the body. Healthy diet and stress relieving activities can help regulate it.


Now moving on to the neurotransmitters;


1- Epinephrine; Epinephrine a.k.a. Adrenaline, is a neurotransmitter that is released in response to stress along with cortisol and cortisone, as well as doing something exciting, along with dopamine and even oxytocin in certain cases. While stress hormones are released quicker in a female and slower in a male, adrenaline spike is faster in males and is slower in females, women also produce the little known neurotransmitter called, Acetylcholine (it is also produced by males, but not in high levels), which could possibly be the cause for the slow adrenaline spike. Adrenaline is released by the sympathetic nervous system in response to intense stress and critical threat situations, along with situations that induce fear and arousal, combined with dopamine it can cause someone become what‘s commonly known as “Adrenaline junkie”.


2- Norepinephrine; Norepinephrine a.k.a. Noradrenaline is a neurotransmitter with similar properties as Epinephrine. Norepinephrine affects the area of the brain responsible for attention and counter actions based on the stimulus received by those areas. Along with Epinephrine, it’s responsible for the fight, flight or freeze response as well, increasing the blood flow to the skeletal muscle. During sleep, it is produced in the lowest amounts, the levels rise while we’re awake and significantly spikes when threatened and in immediate danger. It is also helpful in retrieval of long-term memory and working memory, which is a part of short-term memory. It also enhances your focus and attention levels and the processing time of the brain to respond to conscious perceptual and linguistic stimuli. Abnormal or high levels or dysfunction in the norepinephrine release system can cause sympathetic hyperactivation, which includes rapid heart beat, high blood pressure, headaches, anxiety and other stress related symptoms. It can also cause chronic stress disorders and it also has been thought to have an indirect connection to ADHD.


Of course, like the stress hormones, Cortisol, Cortisone and the neurotransmitter Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, is also an extremely useful component in our biology which helps us survive in stressful and life-threatening situations in which we would perish otherwise.

Understanding these hormones and neurotransmitters we can (from a physiological perspective) understand human behavior and most likely also be able to predict it.


Well, that’s it for the article today, I went in as much details as possible without making it too in-depth, I had to remove a lot of related, but irrelevant stuff out of the article to make it on the point. I hope you found it useful.


Thanks for reading!

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