The health benefits of being intimate have been known for thousands of years.
Yet there are many people who spend much of their lives with low levels of oxytocin- a neuropeptide also known as the “love hormone”. This chemical is generally created in the hypothalamus and then secreted out into the body by the pituitary gland. This molecule plays an important role in our feeling of well-being, which in turn contributes to more balanced levels of other neurotransmitters and thus, our mood. Feeling loved is very crucial to our survival. While there are some people who go most of their lives without a companion or support from others, being around fellow humans makes life much more fruitful.
Why do our moods sway back and forth, sometimes laughing and appreciative of everything, and other times criticizing everything that is going on around us, including ourselves? Although our brains (and body in general) are very complex organisms, the focus here is on how the chemical oxytocin regulates our mood, and thus how we interact with others.
It is imperative that throughout our lives, we socialize and communicate with other creatures. As we do this, we often come into physical contact with each other. While every single moment our body chemistry is changing based on our environment, something happens when we use the sensation of touch. The material of our clothes, the ground we stand on, the air we breathe, the objects and people we come into contact with all affect how we perceive our life.
“The love hormone” is the chemical that links us to our mothers at birth, which is why we immediately go to their chest.
Oxytocin is nick-named the “love drug” because it is released during events of social bonding. This can be in person, over the phone, or even through social media. Oxytocin gives us a feeling of generosity and trust, social awareness and empathy. It is also released while a woman is in labor, to relax the cervix and ease childbirth, and is released during orgasm, although for men it is said to only be with someone you love. In men, the hormone vasopressin is released during and after sex.
While oxytocin plays a larger role in women, it has benefits for both sexes. For men, it occurs more often during the leading up to orgasm, such as the arousal and foreplay. In women, it is released in higher amounts during the actual orgasm, which helps them achieve multiple. For both, oxytocin helps decrease the level of cortisol, the hormone that increases when we are stressed, otherwise known as the “fight or flight” response. Cortisol is active in the vagus nerve, which gets inflamed if cortisol levels are too high for too long. What helps stop this inflammation? Oxytocin.
So how do we harness the power of this hormone, and why should we?
There are a great number of ways to trigger this hormone to be released, and all of these things can add to an overall increase in the quality of your life. First and foremost, touching another human being, especially someone you are close to, can help release oxytocin. This chemical has a dual effect; increasing it will give you a feeling of trust for that particular person or situation, and trusting the person/situation will give you higher levels of oxytocin. This trust will further your ability to be generous and empathetic towards others, which in turn will help others do the same for you.
As a general rule, trusting that whatever is happening is is “supposed” to be happening is a highly satisfactory perspective. We do not know why we exist, nor why we have thoughts, or why things happen. But, because they happen, and we have no control over anything other than ourselves, trusting the universe, or god, or nature, or whatever you wish to call it, is a very good way to progress exponentially through life. This leads to a whole other discussion, so let us return our focus to oxytocin.
Not only does hugging and touching other humans-especially close humans- help generate more oxytocin, but so does being generous. Give money away, and not just to charities. Even further, buy someone food, or clothes, or whatever it may be that they need. See for yourself and make sure that your money gets put to good use. Call up a friend just to ask them how they are doing, not necessarily needing anything. Send a message to a stranger wishing them a happy day. In short, spread optimism and positivity.
Exercise is also helpful in releasing oxytocin. Walking, laughing, eating right and breathing all add to our love hormone.
Getting sunshine is very important, as we well know. As is exercise. But we do not always need to go to great lengths to get these nutrients. Take a walk for 15-30 minutes a day. Even better, walk with a friend. Laughing is not only exercise, but can also increase oxytocin and extend your life. Soothing music has also been shown to increase levels of oxytocin, as well as cooperation, bonding, and muscle coordination. Having a diet rich in fruits and veggies, as well as omega’s (flax, salmon, olive oil, hemp, chia seeds, walnuts, spinach, soybeans) as well as eating things like pepper, eggs, avocados, oranges, can all help increase not only oxytocin, but other body chemicals, and an overall quality of life.
Practicing meditation, yogic breathing, and/or mindfulness morning and night, (or in each moment) can also help decrease stress and increase positive neurotransmitters. Mediation has been done for thousands of years, and has over 70 benefits proven to drastically improve your quality of life. I personally have been meditating for over 2 years now, and have seen not only a number of benefits overall, but also in moment to moment situations that used bother me. There are many ways to meditate, but finding what works best for you is key. I recommend a guided meditation course for starters that can be found here.
In short, meditation is simply being aware of your breathing, and thus breathing slowly. Breathing is essentially a measure of your life. When we are stressed, our breath becomes shallow, our thoughts become panicked, and we lose control. When we breathe deeply, we are more aware, can make better decisions, and stay on our specific life path.
Oxytocin is a very powerful hormone, that unlike others, is released most fruitfully when in contact -physical or otherwise- with positive human beings. In general, being positive, as well as being around others who are also positive, helps add quality to our life. Being able to harness the powers of oxytocin can not only build and maintain a healthy relationship with yourself and others, but also improve and extend the quality and longevity of your life. With this chemical in control, it is easy to see that others will fall into place.