In this COVID-19 world, where social distancing is the New Normal, we’re all getting low on Oxytocin, the ‘cuddle’ or ‘feel good’ hormone.
Oxytocin relaxes us and gives an overall feeling of well-being. It can lower feelings of depression and boost our immune system. It’s the hormone that’s released when you’re falling in love, when you’re bonding with your baby, and when you’re hugging your family or friends. For this reason, oxytocin is affectionately known as the Cuddle hormone.
Human touch has always been an integral part of human interaction. When we hug or get a friendly pat on our skin, our brain’s Hypothalamus produces Oxytocin which is then secreted into the bloodstream by the posterior pituitary gland. Oxytocin is a neuropeptide involved in increasing positive, feel-good sensations of trust, emotional bonding and social connection. It is known to have a positive impact on mood and emotions. It gives people a sense of happiness, security and trust.
A 2015 study asked four jazz singers to perform two different songs: one improvised, one composed. When the singers improvised, their Oxytocin levels increased. The study authors suggest this happened because an improvised performance calls for cooperation, trust and communication.
A happy hormone
Oxytocin levels are often higher in women than in men. In addition, Oxytocin also plays a role in the mother-infant bond. It is associated with child-birth and lactation. Higher levels of Oxytocin have also been linked to good sleep due to the hormone’s ability to regulate sleep patterns.
Another wonderful thing about Oxytocin, one of the ‘happy hormones’ , is that it reduces secretion of Cortisol, the stress hormone. High Cortisol levels are linked to depression and a variety of other mental and physical ailments. Oxytocin has the ability to undo Cortisol’s effects and restore the body’s balance, improving immune function and your odds of fighting off viruses and infections.
Oxytocin is also associated with reductions in blood pressure and heart rate, and its release decreases activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that activates whenever there’s a perceived threat, a 2015 study in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience said.
But as we live a life of social distancing to prevent the community spread of Covid-19, friendly hugs, high-fives, or encouraging pats on the back are now a huge no-no. So in these depressing times, what can we do to ensure that our body gets enough of this feel -good hormone?
Cuddling= less stress
Some of the remedies are right in our homes:
Exercise releases endorphins in the brain and helps boost our moods. Yoga is even better – it not only releases endorphins, it also produces Oxytocin. So does Meditation, especially compassion meditation, which involves directing thoughts of love, compassion, and goodwill toward someone you care about.
Setting up FaceTime calls or Zoom/Skype video calls with far away family members, playing virtual games with kids like online Scrabble and reading books out loud with others can help secure Oxytocin’s positive influences during the pandemic.
Petting your dog or cat can release Oxytocin. Also letting people in your life know how much they mean to you, releases more of the Cuddle hormone. Sharing your feelings with a loved one often leads them to reply in kind.
Doing acts of service or kindness for others releases more Oxytocin without compromising on social distancing. Altruistic or selfless behaviours can promote the hormone's release.
Listening to music or singing or playing an instrument are great Oxytocin boosters. Even if you are just a bathroom singer!
Connecting with Nature boosts Oxytocin levels. Take a nature walk, a trek, listen to the birds sing, or spend time with plants.
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