Health and Happiness Tips: Oxytocin, Hugs, Health and Happiness
Welcome to the health and happiness blog. This week’s topic concerns a hormone that not many people know about, called oxytocin.
Oxytocin’s role in the body
Oxytocin was initially considered to be a hormone mostly with a pivotal role in pregnancy. It starts the final stages of pregnancy and helps prepare for and start the delivery phase.
But although that’s kind of where research interest in it began, it was soon discovered that it has a much bigger role in both men and women, and it began to be referred to as the love hormone or the bonding hormone. Not only is that good for your mental wellbeing, but this hormone also impacts your physical health too.
What affects oxytocin levels
There are many things that we can do to improve and increase the amount of oxytocin in our body (without having to get pregnant!) Doing anything that connects us to somebody else will increase our oxytocin levels, that includes:
Talking to somebody
Walking with somebody
Singing with somebody
and the ‘with somebody’ is really important.
Oxytocin is increased when we do activities together. Although singing and dancing on their own will increase oxytocin, doing it with others increases it further.
Hugging which, of course, tends to be an activity involving somebody else, connecting, touching people and making eye contact with others will also increases oxytocin.
So combining these things, looking into somebody’s eyes when you speak to them or holding their hands will increase oxytocin even more. This building a sense of connection is why things like walking together rather than just walking on your own increase your oxytocin levels.
Oxytocin levels are important for a range of body systems and have an important role in undoing the harms of stress, as a result, it has been found to affect cardiovascular health, gut health, memory and learning, building trust, being kind, and developing relationships, neuroplasticity and mental health. (Argiolas & Gessa, 1991; Froemke & Young, 2021; Kosfeld et al., 2005; Uvnas-Moberg & Petersson, 2005; Zak et al., 2007)
Increasing your levels
Based on this, think about what you can do to increase your oxytocin levels. How can you connect to others more? Is it time to arrange that coffee or pop in to see a friend?
This was a particularly important thing to look at during the lockdowns for the pandemic, where a lot of people were not able to connect to others. However, the interesting thing, of course, is that oxytocin is still increased when we connect virtually – on video calls, or even on social media. As long as it’s a positive conversation, you’ll get a degree of increase in oxytocin, although it’s not as strong as if you’re actually with someone.
Do something that’s kind for another person, spend time with them, Virginia Satir, the famous family therapist said “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
And of course, if you do that with somebody else, you’ll be increasing their oxytocin too.
So it’s good for us and it’s good for them.
Let me know how you get on with checking in with your oxytocin levels…
Argiolas, A., & Gessa, G. L. (1991). Central functions of oxytocin. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 15(2), 217–231. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0149-7634(05)80002-8
Froemke, R. C., & Young, L. J. (2021). Oxytocin, Neural Plasticity, and Social Behavior. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 44(1), 359–381. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-neuro-102320-102847
Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P. J., Fischbacher, U., & Fehr, E. (2005). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature, 435(7042), 673–676. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03701
Uvnas-Moberg, K., & Petersson, M. (2005). [Oxytocin, a mediator of anti-stress, well-being, social interaction, growth and healing]. Zeitschrift Fur Psychosomatische Medizin Und Psychotherapie, 51(1), 57–80. https://doi.org/10.13109/zptm.2005.51.1.57
Zak, P. J., Stanton, A. A., & Ahmadi, S. (2007). Oxytocin Increases Generosity in Humans. PLOS ONE, 2(11), e1128. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0001128
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