oxytocin and bonding

I earned my Ph.D. in a medical school setting, so I’m a staunch believer in both mind-body medicine and rigorous science.  Both schools of thought support the numerous benefits of the “calming and connection” hormone “oxytocin,” including:

  • A calming effect
  • Decreased physiological reactivity to stress
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Increased openness and curiosity toward others, leading to improved relationships and bonding
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Increased pain tolerance
  • Physical restoration/healing
  • Improved digestion
  • Maintenance of the body’s fluid balance
  • Improved learning (theorized to be related to decreased anxiety and stress reactivity)

Oxytocin is often described as “the opposite of adrenalin.”

According to Kerstan Uvnas Moberg, author of The Oxytocin Factor:

“The calm and connection system is associated with trust and curiosity instead of fear, and with friendliness instead of anger. The heart and circulatory system slow down as the digestion fires up. When peace and calm prevail, we let our defenses down and instead become sensitive, open, and interested in others around us.”

How can you activate this hormone?  The healthiest, most expeditious route is via human connection–social interaction and physical contact.

Some research shows that oxytocin is activated during massage, yoga, meditation, and prayer.  The role of oxytocin has been most widely researched for its role in inducing labor in expectant mothers and its release during breast feeding, which is believed to facilitate bonding.  Reproductive activity is also a strong stimulant for the release of oxytocin.  There are methods of stimulating oxytocin that can be healthy in moderation but unhealthy when overused/abused, such as food and alcohol.

As with so many things we can do to help ourselves, there’s a circularity to activating oxytocin–the easiest way to activate this calming hormone (human connection) may be particularly challenging if you’re feeling anxious, depressed, and/or isolated.

Your Daily Shoring assignment for today is to identify one way you can increase your connection to others.

If all you feel up to is calling someone or speaking to someone when you’re out running errands, that’s not a problem–that’s progress!  If you generally have contact with others but want to work on the emotional connection aspect, try really listening to someone today or engage in affectionate behavior with people you know–a light touch on the arm, a pat on the shoulder, a hug, etc.

If you have a little time (about 20 minutes), click here to view one of my favorite TED Talks:  The Power of Vulnerability, by Brene Brown.  In this talk, Dr. Brown explains the surprising and powerful results of her research related to human connection.