The "Happy/Love Hormone": Do we get enough of it?
Humans are born with a need for connection. We long to feel safe and secure and to build close relationships that make us feel special. When we connect with another person, our brain and body release a cocktail of chemicals that make us feel good – one of these chemicals is oxytocin.
Oxytocin activates areas of the brain responsible for emotion, mentalisation and cognitive control. It is produced in the hypothalamus and stored in the posterior pituitary. It acts through direct projections to other brain regions and through release into the bloodstream. It also affects the amygdala by reducing amygdala activity which increases social interaction and reduces anxiety-like behaviour.
In our current position, our time is increasingly spent in front of screens, be it work, studying or gaming and social media platforms. This gives a greater need for noticing if ourselves and our children are getting enough experiences to feel good, safe, and experience positive attachments. Although our phones are a great, accessible way to communicate with others, we miss out on the bigger bursts of oxytocin that can be generated by being physically present with someone.
Getting a good enough amount of oxytocin will reduce stress and anxiety by reducing the release of cortisol (your body’s main stress hormone). It will also improve your mood and is known to elevate your pain threshold.
How can we get our daily amount of oxytocin?
Oxytocin is produced when we feel connected and safe with someone. It can be produced through positive physical touch and connection. Whether it is with a person or even pet, including hugs, smiles, eye contact, playing games together or skin to skin touch, can increase this chemical and make a person feel valued/make their day more positive.
Activities such as yoga, massage, music, cooking together and eating wholesome food can also help boost your oxytocin levels. Foods high in vitamin C, such as peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes and broccoli are also proven to help you manage your levels of this important chemical. Vitamin C cannot be stored in the body, so it is key we get enough of it in our diet each day.
As a practitioner, I know that building positive relationships where everyone feels valued and confident in who they are is so important in a person’s development and mental health. It is the relationship that encourages the natural release of oxytocin.
By embracing the benefits of oxytocin, we will help everyone around us have the opportunity to feel special, supported and able to thrive.