In recent years, a lot of attention has been given to mood-enhancing brain neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin. However, they are not the only neurotransmitters that can influence your happiness. Oxytocin sometimes called the “chemical of love,” is a hormone and brain neurotransmitter that enhances bonding and trust in relationships, which has a profound impact on your overall well-being.
This love neurochemical earns its reputation by getting released whenever you get close to another human being and physically touch as you do when you hug, snuggle, or enjoy sexual intimacy. It’s also released when you bond socially with your friends, and much, much more. Here’s what you need to know about oxytocin and how to optimize your oxytocin levels to feel your best!
WHAT IS OXYTOCIN?
Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter made by your brain’s hypothalamus. Your pituitary gland stores and releases it into your bloodstream or to other parts of the brain and spinal cord, where it binds to oxytocin receptors and influences behavior and physiology.
Oxytocin plays a critical role in facilitating childbirth and breastfeeding, as well as in promoting the bond between parent and infant. In relationships, oxytocin is associated with greater trust, pair bonding, expressions of generosity, maternal behaviors, and social interactions, as well as reduced stress levels. Oxytocin enhances a sense of calm and contentment while lowering anxious feelings when you are with your significant other—key elements in happy romantic partnerships.
Oxytocin is also associated with protective behaviors in a social group setting. Remarkably, with social bonding, oxytocin has been shown to lessen pain levels and promote wound healing—as close relationships help to improve physical health. It appears we truly are better together!
WHAT HAPPENS WITH TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE OXYTOCIN?
Low oxytocin levels have been associated with low mood and feeling your survival is at risk. There’s also a link to autism. Higher levels of oxytocin levels can decrease stress and cortisol, which may help romantic partners to be monogamous. However, it can have a downside. Too much can lead to partners becoming overly attached to each other and too trusting. This can cause partners and friends to overlook alarming behavior such as abuse.
Higher oxytocin levels can also be associated with envy, gloating, and being overly protective. It can lead to groupthink, distrust of outsiders, and prejudice.
High testosterone, separation from a loved one, social isolation, bereavement, and acute stress are examples of things that can decrease oxytocin. Keeping oxytocin balanced can be achieved by engaging in activities that tend to promote healthy levels of this important neurochemical.
Here are 13 science-backed ways to boost your body’s levels of oxytocin.
13 NATURAL WAYS TO BOOST OXYTOCIN
1. Enjoy Social Time With Friends
We are social creatures, and our neurochemicals appear to support us in engaging with each other socially. Simply spending time with your friends or social group helps to boost oxytocin, which lowers stress and boosts well-being research says.
We are touchy people! That’s because touch is indeed powerfully healing—simply holding hands, giving a hug, or snuggling up gives us a boost of oxytocin, research has found.
3. Give/Receive a Massage
Get some skin-on-skin contact. The nurturing and therapeutic act of giving or receiving a massage appears to be linked to oxytocin release, research suggests. There are a host of benefits from massage, including reduced anxiety and pain and a greater perception of well-being.
4. Give a Gift
There’s a reason gift-giving is fun for the giver! It turns out that simply giving gifts (any kind of gift, it need not be extravagant) encourages the release of oxytocin. A little note, healthy sweet treat, or flower is enough to make you and the receiver feel good. Make giving small gifts and extending kindnesses an everyday habit to get a regular boost of the feel-good neurochemical, experts at Cedar-Sinai suggest.
5. Share an Eyegaze
If you gaze into the eyes of someone you love for a minute, it can quickly create a calm and connected state that prompts the release of oxytocin. Research suggests this even extends to pets and strangers. One study that conducted this experiment amongst strangers found increased affection between participants.
6. Enjoy Listening to Music You Love
There’s a neurochemical reason that listening to music makes us feel good as research has shown that it boosts oxytocin levels. But it’s not just listening, research shows that choral singing increases oxytocin levels too. It’s thought that the enhanced social connectedness in choir singing and listening to music together is what gives oxytocin a boost.
7. Attend a Yoga Class
It is well-established that yoga helps to decrease anxious feelings, stress, and low mood while at the same time supporting restful sleep, and general well-being. It’s not a surprise then that more recent research indicates it may also increase oxytocin levels.
Studies suggest that oxytocin is released when you practice loving kindness meditation. This is when you channel thoughts of love, empathy, and well wishes to yourself, those you love, and even those with whom you have conflict.
9. Engage in Meaningful Social Interactions
Investing in your relationships in ways that make the bonds stronger increases oxytocin levels, according to research. Thus, confiding your feelings in a dear friend or saying “I love you” to someone can trigger oxytocin synthesis. These meaningful social interactions increase emotional intimacy and well-being.
10. Be of Service
We are rewarded with feel-good oxytocin when we do kind acts for others, a 2022 study suggests. What’s more, this neural chemistry gets stronger as we grow older. Being of service to others is termed a “prosocial” behavior and is associated with greater life satisfaction. Volunteer at an animal shelter or a retirement home, or perhaps mentor a young person.
11. Pet Your Animals
Humans and pets have had close relationships for millennia. It appears that we heal each other. Petting your dog triggers the release of this neurochemical of trust, research shows. (It increases your animal’s oxytocin levels too!) Studies show that this also goes for cats and their owners. Perhaps that’s why pet therapy and emotional support animals have become so popular in recent years.
12. Break Bread with a Loved One
In our fast-paced, digital world, too often we eat alone, on the go, or in front of a television screen. Take time out to enjoy a meal with someone you love. Sharing food and conversation are bonding activities that stimulate oxytocin production, research shows.
13. Make Love
Oxytocin is known as the love chemical for a reason. Physical intimacy provides a wonderful way to show affection to your partner and enhance your bond. Neurochemically, sexual arousal, and orgasm are reliably associated with higher levels of oxytocin in studies. Even physical touch such as caressing, hugging, and holding hands can trigger oxytocin release. One study involving women found more hugs with their romantic partner was associated with higher oxytocin levels.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.