Feeling Stressed? Get an Oxytocin Boost
Undoubtedly, we are living in stressful times. Similar to a juggler attempting to keep several items in the air simultaneously, we juggle our many duties and obligations to our children, our bosses, our significant others, or our extended families in an effort to keep everybody happy. In the process, we tend to neglect our own happiness and peace of mind. When that constant stress become too extreme, our body cannot properly deal with it and we get mentally and/or physically ill.
In order to avoid the breaking point, it is important to stop “ridin' on the merry-go-round,” as John Lennon would have it, and indulge in some self-loving. This is where oxytocin comes in handy.
Oxytocin is the cuddly, feel-good hormone that the brains of mammals release in order to help them bond with others of the same species. It is released during birth and breastfeeding, enabling bonding between mother and infant. It is also released during hugging and sexual activity, helping us reinforce positive feelings towards those we love. Oxytocin also affects our response to stress, regulating our ability to love and form social bonds, while at the same time, affecting our health and well-being. (1) For that reason, long-term, loving relationships help us deal with the stress caused by our busy lifestyles. Studies show that a happy marriage can substantially increase life expectancy (2) and that happy long-term relationships are good for mental and physical health (3). A romantic dinner followed by some bedroom activity can help shoot oxytocin levels through the roof.
Hugging induces the release of oxytocin, so try hugging more often, and not just humans. According to the research, hugging your pet or even staring into its eyes will produce the same effect (4). It seems that dog owners experience 300 percent increase in oxytocin levels after spending a half hour with their dogs.
Besides finding the ideal partner to share your life with (human or otherwise), there are other things you can do to increase your oxytocin levels and therefore reduce your stress levels. One of them is laughter. Researchers found that laughter releases “feel-good” hormones and endorphins, which have a pleasurable and calming effect. (5)
Foods like avocados, figs, berries, bananas, pomegranates, eggs, some nuts (like cashews and walnuts), wild-caught salmon, kefir, etc. can also help increase oxytocin production. Researchers discovered that oxytocin triggers the release of serotonin (6), the “feel-good” hormone, so that eating turkey and other foods rich in tryptophan (an amino acid needed to produce serotonin), such as chicken, pumpkin seeds, cheese, etc. can also help you feel happier.
Your lifestyle choices can help raise oxytocin levels as well. Instead of concentrating on the proverbial empty glass, try practicing thankfulness by reminding yourself every day what you can be thankful for. Going for a walk in a natural environment can do wonders for your mood. Mindfulness can help you momentarily be in the present, instead of worrying about what the future may bring. Research on this topic seems to suggest that mindfulness has the power to change brain pathways. (7) This can potentially help relieve stress, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and so on.
Our sedentary lifestyle causes us more trouble than we are aware of. Not only is exercise essential for proper body function but it can also help us feel happier; the important thing is to get moving. Regardless of the activity, adding movement to your life is infinitely better than not moving at all. But if you are one of those people who is not overjoyed at the prospect of spending hours at the gym, pick an activity that is enjoyable for you, like dancing, hiking, riding your bike, doing aerobics in front of the computer, whatever suits your fancy.
After exercising, it is important to relax. Taking a long bath, going to a massage session or using essential oils can be very comforting. There is a long list of essential oils that are wonderful for relaxation, such as lavender, jasmine, clary sage, frankincense, sandalwood, peppermint, etc. Dilute the essential oil in some coconut oil and apply topically over the wrists, feet, back of the neck, temples, and tummy.
Bottom line: Indulge in those things that make you happy!
1. Carter, C.S. and Porges, S.W. (2013), The biochemistry of love: an oxytocin hypothesis. EMBO reports, 14: 12-16. doi:10.1038/embor.2012.191
2. Whisman, M. A., Gilmour, A. L., & Salinger, J. M. (2018). Marital satisfaction and mortality in the United States adult population. Health Psychology, 37(11), 1041–1044. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000677
3. BMJ-British Medical Journal. "Marriage is good for physical and mental health, study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 January 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110127205853.htm>.
4. Kekecs, Z., Szollosi, A., Palfi, B., Szaszi, B., Kovacs, K. J., Dienes, Z., & Aczel, B. (2016). Commentary: Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds. Frontiers in neuroscience, 10, 155. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2016.00155
5. Manninen, Sandra, et al. “Social Laughter Triggers Endogenous Opioid Release in Humans.” Journal of Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 21 June 2017,
6. Dölen, G., Darvishzadeh, A., Huang, K. W., & Malenka, R. C. (2013). Social reward requires coordinated activity of nucleus accumbens oxytocin and serotonin. Nature, 501(7466), 179–184. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12518
7. Lu, S. (2015, March). Mindfulness and mood disorders in the brain. Monitor on Psychology, 46(3). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/03/mindfulness-mood