Have you ever perused The Daily Puppy during a stressful day at work? Have you ever felt that if someone just gave you a hug everything would be better?
Your instincts are spot on. These actions, and many others, can activate a hormone called oxytocin, also known as the "feel-good," “love,” and "trust" hormone.
Oxytocin plays a role in healing, self-esteem, generosity, stress-reduction, and sex. It is released during childbirth and breastfeeding to help mothers bond with their children and plays a part in all our relationships, helping us feel more connected.
“This is the hormone that makes your heart melt when you see kittens, puppies, and human babies,” says Irina Conboy, associate professor of bioengineering at UC Berkeley.
Conboy's team reports that the hormone might also have a positive anti-aging affect. Oxytocin is essential for healthy muscle maintenance and repair, and it could “become a viable alternative to hormone replacement therapy as a way to combat the symptoms of both female and male aging, and for long-term health,” reports a senior researcher in Conboy's lab.
Luckily, it's easy to release oxytocin in the body. And you don't necessarily need another person to do it.
Self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff says that self-care can trigger the release of oxytocin, which helps explain why people who are compassionate to themselves are less likely to be depressed or anxious.
“The power of self-compassion is not just an idea; it's very real and actually manifests in our bodies,” Neff writes. “When we soothe our own pain, we are tapping into the mammalian care-giving system.”
Self-care means something different to each of us (you may love or hate getting a massage). Think of something small that you can do right now for yourself. You might send kind thoughts to yourself or touch yourself with kindness.
Gabrielle Bernstein, in her book, Miracles Now, suggests a simple exercise to boost oxytocin. Place your hand on your heart and breathe into it. “Imagine feelings of love, compassion, and ease passing over you,” she writes. “Proactively collaborate in your healing by breathing into your heart.”
You can also listen to music you like (and dance to it!), spend time with a pet (if you don't have one, visit a shelter or borrow a friend's), have a good laugh, be generous and give away your time or money, or just think about someone you love.
Do you feel better just by reading this? Now try some of these suggestions and spread the love.
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies