5 Ways To Increase Oxytocin
Oxytocin, The ____ Hormone.
The love hormone. The cuddle chemical. The bliss maker.
You’ve probably heard about oxytocin and its role in bonding with your significant other or baby.
It’s also been known to reduce anxiety by quieting the amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for identifying and responding to threats.
Or maybe you’ve heard how oxytocin causes uterine contractions in labor and helps ‘release’ milk when breastfeeding.
It’s all that and more. This hormone has a wide range of influence.
The Dark Side Of Oxytocin
Oxytocin isn’t just a bonding hormone; it’s a hormone that promotes survival. It increases positive and negative social emotions, depending on the context, to ensure the safety of those we care about.
If we trust you, we will protect you. If you’re an outsider, watch out!
Oxytocin promotes ethnocentrism. It makes you favor your ‘inner’ circle over those on the outside:
“Results show that oxytocin creates intergroup bias because oxytocin motivates in- group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation. These findings call into question the view of oxytocin as an indiscriminate “love drug” or “cuddle chemical” and suggest that oxytocin has a role in the emergence of intergroup conflict and violence.” Carsten K. W. De Dreu, PNAS online edition, Jan 10, 2011
Oxytocin makes us more likely to commit acts of violence against others if it means protecting those we trust and care about (hello, history of the world), thus protecting our offspring and likelihood of passing on our DNA.
At its worst, oxytocin fuels aggression, bias, envy, and xenophobia and diminishes cooperation. Paradoxically, when we are stressed or feel under attack, oxytocin decreases while cortisol (our stress hormone) increases, making us less likely to ask for help or be kind to others.
With practice, it’s possible to change the way we cognitively interact with the hormonal influence of oxytocin. We can increase prosocial motivation, expand our network of ‘in-group’ members, or reduce our anxiety through a variety of methods.
5 Ways To Increase Positive Aspects Of Oxytocin
Hugging ‘till relaxed.
This is exercise is from David Schnarch, a clinical psychologist who is Board Certified in Couple and Family Psychology. He recommends practicing hugging until relaxed a few times a week to improve your connection to your partner. As oxytocin increases, you feel calmer and more connected.
Here’s how he describes it:
“It turns a simple hug into a window into your relationship and a way to improve it. Prepare yourself by taking a few minutes to slow down, relax, and slow your heart rate. Then stand facing your partner a few feet away. Get a balanced, well-grounded stance over your own two feet. Close your eyes, take a breath, and relax again. Open your eyes, and when the two of you are ready, shuffle forward without loosing your relaxed balanced position, so that you have one foot between your partner's feet. Get close enough that you can easily put your arms around your partner without feeling off balance, or pulling or pushing your partner off-balance either. Shift your stance or position as needed to be physically comfortable. Let yourself relax into the hug and remember to breathe. Lots of feelings about your partner, your relationship and yourself are bound to surface. Note your resistances but don't give into them. Afterwards, talk about the experience with your partner. It often takes several months of practice, several times a week, but you'll be amazed by the many improvements this brings.”
-If you don’t have a partner give 8 hugs a day to boost oxytocin
- If you hate hugs, cuddle with an animal.
Adequate intake of Vitamin C and magnesium. Vitamin C helps produce oxytocin naturally and magnesium helps it function properly.
Practice a loving-kindness meditation. This meditation helps expand who you see as part of your ‘inner’ group. When we practice this meditation we are more likely to respect and desire good will for all; this expands our perception of who belongs to our ‘inner’ group.
Get a massage. Or give a massage to your partner. Both work!
Give someone you care about a gift. Giving creates joy and happiness, and improves your overall health. Serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin are released when we give a gift, big or small, to someone. It’s called the happiness trifecta!