How to Boost Oxytocin
- Oxytocin is your bonding and safety hormone. It’s what helps you feel connected with others and builds social trust and alliances.
- Living your life in ways that promote healthy levels of oxytocin may help you live longer.
- Oxytocin is released with physical touch and has been called “the love chemical.”
- Simple, everyday tasks can boost your oxytocin and your health.
Your cells are constantly bathed in hormones that turn genes on and off and affect how you think, feel, and behave. While we produce about 50 different hormones, only four primary hormones —dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and cortisol—control your motivation, mood, how connected you feel to people, and your level of trust, safety, and pain.
Understanding how can increase levels of your feel-good hormones will help you create lasting change in all areas of your life. In a previous blog, I discussed how to boost your dopamine.
Bonding and Safety Hormone
Oxytocin is your bonding and safety hormone. It’s what helps you feel connected with others and builds social trust and alliances. When you feel supported in a relationship, oxytocin is flowing. Beyond helping you feel good, research suggests that living your life in ways that promote healthy levels of oxytocin may help you live longer.
In a groundbreaking study in 1966, researchers showed in animals that received injections of oxytocin lived significantly longer than those who didn’t.1 While the underlying mechanism of how oxytocin influences longevity isn’t clear, for us humans it’s reasonable to think two mechanisms could be at work. Oxytocin acts as a buffer to the stress-inducing effects of cortisol. When oxytocin goes down, cortisol goes up and people experience more stress, anxiety, and depression.
Conversely, when oxytocin goes up, cortisol decreases. Since chronic stress and cortisol elevation speed up the aging process, damage collagen, shrink brain size, damage your heart, impair digestion, make it difficult to sleep, and contribute to dysbiosis, lowing cortisol may increase the quality of life and longevity.
When cortisol decreases and oxytocin increases, you feel more relaxed, happier, and more connected with others. It’s one of the simple ways to naturally boost mood. Higher oxytocin creates the experience of purpose and having something to live for. As a result, people are then more motivated to take better care of themselves.
Researchers showed that giving oxytocin alters people’s mood and behavior in ways that are healthy and more fulfilling. One hundred university students received intranasal oxytocin or a placebo. Those who got the oxytocin became more socially outgoing, were more open to new experiences and ideas, were emotionally warmer in their interactions with others, and were more trusting and altruistic.2
One of the ways in which oxytocin boosts mood is to counteract the negative effects of stress. When you’re overly stressed and worried about day-to-day situations, you can experience restlessness, feeling on edge, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, worry about the future, irritability, among others. It can also create tense muscles, digestive disturbances, and headaches.3 Many people have described juggling all this as making them feel like their brain has too many browser tabs open. Others feel like they just can’t turn their mind off, that they’re wound up or are experiencing a sense of doom.
Oxytocin counters these feelings by stimulating the body’s release of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a natural molecule that helps calm the nervous system and rebalance the stress response. It’s because of this balancing effect on stress that Calm + Clear contains GABA.
Oxytocin is released with physical touch and has been called “the love chemical.” Levels of oxytocin increase during hugging and orgasm. The bonding between parents and their children is mediated by oxytocin when babies are held and touched. In addition to increasing trust, oxytocin contributes to feeling relaxed, being more emotionally stable, and has powerful effects on decreasing stress and anxiety.
When you’re in an unfulfilling or toxic relationship, oxytocin plummets. A groundbreaking study published in 2020 in the Journal of Comparative Psychology determined that adults whose parents divorced when they were children had lower oxytocin levels than those adults whose parents stayed married.4 The impacts of lower oxytocin are powerful. If you don’t trust your partner, coworker, neighbors, or friends, you experience a deep sense of insecurity.
Naturally Boost Oxytocin
Fortunately, there are things you can do to naturally increase oxytocin. Paul Zak, Ph.D. has spent more than two decades researching the neuroscience of human connection, human happiness, and effective teamwork. His research has evaluated the impacts of everyday tasks on oxytocin levels. Dr. Zak discovered that many readily accessible and common activities increase oxytocin. These include:
- petting an animal
- giving someone a gift
- sharing a meal
- meditating while focusing on others
- soaking in a hot tub
- telling someone you love them
- giving someone a hug
Additional activities you can do to increase oxytocin include:
- having sex
- having an orgasm
Unfortunately, however, our busy lives and smartphones can sabotage people’s ability to connect emotionally and physically. Setting limits, such as keeping your phone out of the bedroom, removes distractions that can keep you apart.
If you find yourself feeling like you just don’t have time, set a regular appointment with your partner to connect. While it may not be the sexiest scenario—and isn’t spontaneous—when you’re juggling work, kids, and other commitments, putting it on the calendar gives you something to look forward to. You’ll know that you’ll spend time together, boost each other’s oxytocin, and feel more connected as a couple.
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1 Bodanszky M, Engel SL. Oxytocin and the life-span of male rats. Nature. May 14 1966;210(5037).
2 Cardoso C, Ellenbogen MA, Linnen AM. Acute intranasal oxytocin improves positive self-perceptions of personality. Psychopharmacology (Berl). Apr 2012;220(4):741-9.
3 Locke AB, Kirst N, Shultz CG. Diagnosis and management of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder in adults. Am Fam Physician. May 1 2015;91(9):617-24.
4 Boccia ML, Cook C, Marson L, Pedersen C. Parental divorce in childhood is related to lower urinary oxytocin concentrations in adulthood. J Comp Psychol. Feb 2021;135(1):74-81.
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