What does petting a cat, hugging a friend, deep breathing, a walk in the woods, and giving away money to someone have in common? These are but a few ways to release the hormone of love and connection, Oxytocin. We humans are like puppets on strings. The puppet-masters are our brain chemicals, the hormones that color our perceptions as well as the way we interact with the world around us. With mindfulness, lifestyle changes, and awareness of this internal process, we can cut the strings and direct our lives with conscious intention.
All You Need is Love
We all know the feeling of falling in love. We’ve all rolled our eyes when we watch our friends gayly skipping around, smelling roses, and talking non-stop about someone who has plucked their heartstrings. This flood of good feelings is actually the result of complex hormonal changes cooked up by our hypothalamus and released into our brain. The chief actor in this neurological drama is Oxytocin.
Luckily, you don’t have to wait for the right person to sweep you off of your feet to experience the bliss associated with Oxytocin. As a matter of fact, there are many ways to invite your brain to release Oxytocin, and by doing so you may even inspire others around you to do the same. As social beings, our moods can be contagious and we often pass them around unconsciously. By becoming conscious of our own inner state, cultivating positive feelings of connection, and sharing this emotional wisdom with others, we may just transform the world around us. This isn’t hippy-dippy philosophy, this is backed by science and exemplified in numerous research studies.
Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Well, researchers have actually been able to draw direct correlations to economic behavior and mood. This is often used in marketing to sell a product based on associating it with something that gives you a good feeling. It is not surprising that decision-making is also ruled by neurological processes, and economic choices are influenced by and can also influence our biology. One amazing discovery that economists will never tell you is that giving money to someone in need actually releases Oxytocin!
Neuroeconomics is a nascent field that represents the confluence of economics, psychology and neuroscience in the study of human decision making. –Society for Neuroeconomics Website
The Magic of Kindness
The American Psychological Association has released findings from multiple research studies which seem to point to the connection between Oxytocin, trust, and generosity. Generosity and trust are human behaviors that have an underlying neurological backdrop, yet these social interactions are also contagious. When someone is kind to you, you are more likely to be kind to others. The other side of this equation is also true, and we can see how scared, suffering people create fear and suffering for others. A recognition and understanding of this, coupled with scientific backing, has widespread implications for humanity in our quest for peaceful harmonious relations in our local and global community.
Subverting the Fear Paradigm
Cortisol is the hormone which is released during stress or fear. In small doses it can activate our immune system, increase our memory, and our ability to focus attention, but a prolonged state of stress or fear actually causes physiological damage to our nervous system. Our amygdala is a primitive part of our body that has the ability to hijack our brain, bypassing our higher thinking centers, and placing us in fight or flight mode. This was a survival mechanism from our evolution when we had to face predators in the wild. It is still with us today, and we all know what it feels like to “lose it” or “melt down” in a moment of crisis. A prolonged state of stress or fear, with excessive cortisol, keeps our reactivity level and amygdala on high alert. Oxytocin has shown to soothe the amygdala and reduce high cortisol levels.
Remember: Oppression thrives off isolation. Connection is the only thing that can save you. -Yolo Akili
It takes conscious effort to create a sense of connection, while cultivating a sense of trust, in order to trigger Oxytocin release in our brains. Our world often bombards us with fearful and stress-inducing stimuli, it is important to make sure that we don’t allow stress to dominate. A healthy individual is one who keeps the internal scales tipped towards love and connection rather than fear.
Ways to Increase Oxytocin
Our brains are amazing… Just by closing our eyes and picturing someone we love, or remembering a good social experience, our brains will begin to release Oxytocin! Below is a list of other common ways to increase Oxytocin and the wonderful feelings that come with it:
-Hugs: Prolonged hugs with close friends boost our immune systems, while also releasing the magical hormone of love and connection.
-Orgasms: Men and women release Oxytocin when they orgasm, however, this is dramatically increased if you are in love with the person you are orgasming with.
-Nature: A walk in nature, or some time in a special place like a waterfall, or silently gazing at a sunrise or sunset. The feeling of connection is not limited to connecting with other humans, it also works when we connect in nature.
-Playing: Creative problem-solving and collaboration, which occur during some games and art-making, are also shown to increase Oxytocin levels. Cooperation in any sort of social setting has a similar effect.
-Laughter:Humor breaks down barriers that separate us, and allow us to feel a sense of connection and safety. These are the ingredients for attachment and bonding central to the Oxytocin experience.
-Deep Breathing; Meditation, and relaxation with a focus on the breath allow neurons that fire together to “wire together”. This means that we can actually train ourselves to be in a state of connection and safety.
-Social Media: Don’t laugh… Even though a political argument, or reading depressing articles on Facebook can cause stress and cortisol spikes, sending or receiving a “like”, or a sweet text helps to release Oxytocin.
-Trust: Even the smallest expression of vulnerability that is reciprocated by a loved one deepens a sense of trust and safety
-Generosity: It is empowering to be generous, and it feels good to do so. You may be buying dinner for a friend, giving them a little money when they are in need, but at the same time you will be giving yourself a little Oxytocin boost. Pay it forward!
-Soothing Music: Go ahead and crank it up! Maybe pour yourself a warm bath, put on a kettle of tea and create an atmosphere that let’s you soothe your overly-stressed body
-A Good Meal: Certain foods, like pepper, eggs, and banana are said to help increase Oxytocin, but enjoying food is more than just throwing something in your mouth. Picking organic ingredients, taking time to enjoy preparing a meal – alone or with friends – brings intention to the act of eating and this elevates your mood. People often eat compulsively, and if you do this while eating foods that are unhealthy, you will stress your body.
Science Supports Healthy Lifestyle
The research on Oxytocin just reinforces aspects of healthy living. Any time you slow down and increase intimacy and connection with the world around you, nature, your family, your lover along with being aware of various sensory experiences will increase your Oxytocin. As we have explored in previous Uplift articles like The Tantric Path to Ecstacy or The Opposite of Addiction is Connection, the research behind Oxytocin validates the importance of lifestyle choices that will help you live a more happy, healthy, vibrant life.
Oxytocin is not a miracle cure for everything. The complexities of our biology are not black and white. Some research has shown that Oxytocin sometimes combines with cortisol to hardwire traumatic memories into our psychology. Pain and pleasure are often entwined within our system. Bringing an emotionally safe and connected state of mind to the places where deep wounds are stored can be very healing. It all comes down to creating a lifestyle that encourages safety and connection over fear and isolation. The choice is yours to make and hopefully this article will bring you the awareness to become your own puppet-master by cultivating an inner ecology filled with love, connection, and safety!