Last week we touched on four biological chemicals that God designed to create positive moods—i.e., endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Understanding how these chemicals impact the social interaction between leaders and community serves a great purpose. Let’s recap.
Endorphins—mask our pain in response to stress or fear. Its purpose: physical survival.
Dopamine—incentivizes us to accomplish things, to be goal-oriented and push through.
Serotonin—requires “others” for its release to occur. It makes us want community.
Oxytocin—incentivizes us to be vulnerable with friends we trust and feel safe with.
These chemicals fall into two categories—self–oriented and others–oriented.
Endorphins and Dopamine are the chemicals that cause us to take care of ourselves so we’ll survive. You can’t help others survive in a hostile world if you aren’t motivated to help yourself. The positive feelings we receive from these E and D releases make us want to repeat the behaviors that induced them.
Serotonin and Oxytocin are the chemicals that cause us to take care of “others” for their survival. We can’t survive in a hostile world without others surviving in a safe community. The positive feelings we receive from these S and O releases make us want to repeat the behaviors that induced them.
Love your neighbor AS yourself
When Jesus said this, he didn’t mean we idolize our self in arrogant pride. He meant it as a self-preservation type of love that provides for our needs and protects ourselves from harm. True love provides and protects.
Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man. Intellectually, physically, spiritually, and relationally. He loved himself, he loved God, and he loved his neighbor. He read scriptures for spiritual nourishment. He prayed for spiritual renewal. He ate for physical nourishment, and he slept for physical renewal. There was no self-idolizing in anything he did, he merely nourished and protected himself to fulfill his mission and assignment to lay down his life for us.
Leader, are you taking care of yourself physically? Are you eating, exercising, and sleeping well enough to provide nourishment and protect the health of your body that belongs to God? Are y fasting, taking a Sabbath (day off), seasons of solitude and rest, all of which are spiritual disciplines that contribute to emotional and physical health. To do these things releases the healthy E and D hormones into your body. You feel good about yourself. Happy with self.
Leader, are you taking care of yourself spiritually? Many don’t realize how much the spiritual condition of our soul effects our physical health. It’s been medically proven that people who pray and have faith in God are healthier emotionally and physically than those who don’t. The stronger we are spiritually, the healthier our soul becomes, which releases the positive E and D chemical releases into our bodies. You feel God’s pleasure. He says “well done, good and faithful servant.” Your body feels good. You feel healthy and strong. Healthy with self.
Providing time for spiritual nourishment protects us from spiritual fatigue. I’m stronger and healthier in my outlook on life through the lens of God’s perspective, no matter what the circumstances. I worry less and less worry means less stress. Less stress means less cortisol is circulating through my bloodstream.
Cortisol—the Stress Hormone
Cortisol is a steroid hormone made in the adrenaline glands. It responds to fear when we sense danger. This chemical releases an extra boost of energy into our bloodstream which enables us to run faster, away from danger, or turn with greater strength to face it. Another chemical God created in us for survival.
Cortisol is also released when there’s no threat. The “feeling” of danger can trigger it. Fretting, worry, and anxiety all creates stress that releases this chemical into our bloodstreams. Cortisol isn’t meant to remain in our system but to return to normal levels after the threat subsides. Steady doses of cortisol in high levels, however, can come by living in a perpetual state of fear. Such chronic stress creates a waterfall of biological reactions to our blood sugar levels, metabolism, immune system, blood pressure and central nervous system.
If you go to work in an environment where you never feel safe, you live in a constant state of anxiety. Is the boss always on your case? Stress. Is your supervisor hard to please, never satisfied with your work, always demanding more? Stress. Do fellow-employees bring “issues” to work and take them out on you? Stress. Millions of people experience high level doses of cortisol on a weekly basis. Diet, exercise, and spiritual renewal in God are good counter-measures, but a “safe” environment is the best solution. And that falls on the shoulders of the leader.
Chronic stress environments can be found at home, if the husband/father is unhealthy. It can be found at church, if the senior pastor is unhealthy. It can be found in a business, if the employer/boss is unhealthy. Leaders who don’t take care of themselves physically, emotionally, or spiritually can create “unsafe” environments for those who look to them for provision and protection.
The condition of a leader’s spirit, soul and body will set the pace, climate and atmosphere for those under their care. As goes the leader, so goes those who follow them. It will either be a “safe” environment, releasing the happy chemicals (E, D, S, and O) of positive feelings, or an “unsafe” environment, perpetually releasing the stress hormone (C) that leads to aggression, inflammation, obesity, depression and dissension.
People who work in a “safe” environment are more productive. They enjoy their work and those who work beside them. They’re inspired by the affirmation of a healthy leader because he or she creates a safe environment. In turn, they see themselves as part of a team, motivated to make everyone successful for the common good of all. In an unsafe environment, it’s everyone for themselves—doing just enough to get by and go home. In a safe environment, it’s every person for others, pulling together to get more done in the day until they look at the clock and say, “What? Where did the time go?”
Take care of yourself, leader. Learn how to manage your stress levels (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), then those who work for you won’t be exposed to a state of perpetual stress. Instead, they’ll look forward to doing their part to make you and their teammates successful.
Happy with self, happy with others. Healthy with self, healthy with others.