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The Bonding Hormone
Oxytocin is known as the bonding hormone. At birth, it is released by the mother and literally bonds parents and child for life.
Oxytocin is increased during acts of appreciation, generosity, service, touch, hugging, massage, gratitude, and emotional connection.1, 2
Oxytocin is sometimes called the “hugging hormone” or “trust hormone” because it naturally increases during physical touch, hugging, or cuddling. Interestingly, research has shown that while oxytocin levels will rise sharply during an orgasm, they also fall very quickly. Hugging also sharply raises oxytocin levels, but they will stay elevated for hours afterward.
A new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience measures the effects of the hormone oxytocin on men approached by a very attractive woman. In this study, conducted by Dr. Rene Hurlemann at the University of Bonn, Germany, a group of men inhaled an oxytocin nasal spray. Some were single and others in a committed relationship. Forty-five minutes later they were approached by a beautiful woman.3
As the women moved closer and closer, the men were asked at what point the space between them was “ideal,” and when the space between them became “slightly uncomfortable.”
Interestingly, single men who got oxytocin allowed the women to come closer and actually moved toward them. But men in committed relationships who got the oxytocin kept their distance and did not feel comfortable letting the women come close.3
Researchers conclude that when a trusting bond has been made in a relationship, oxytocin reinforces that bond, indicated by the fact that committed men who got oxytocin were made uncomfortable by the approach of a new beautiful woman. The single men had no previous relationship bond and so felt comfortable with closer proximity.3
Oxytocin increases feelings of trust between family, friends, and loved ones. In rodents, oxytocin is involved in pair-bonding and mating for life. In humans, researchers believe oxytocin may support healthy monogamous relationships. They think it could heighten fidelity and act as a love potion, keeping those in relationships committed to each other.
The Self-Promoting Hormone
In addition to being the “bonding hormone,” oxytocin has one more unique property. The more you trust, hug, give, appreciate, touch, and bond with others, the more oxytocin is produced and the more easily it is produced thereafter.1, 3 With oxytocin, the more you give, the more you get!!!
The antithesis of oxytocin is the reward hormone called dopamine. Unlike with oxytocin, where we find lasting pleasure in giving, dopamine delivers instant pleasure from getting. Whether it be from a bite of chocolate, your morning joe, a new car, a raise, or shopping, most of us find ourselves sourcing pleasure from one dopamine fix to another.
Also unlike oxytocin (where the more you give, the more you produce), dopamine is a self-limiting hormone that requires greater levels of stimulation to elicit the same reward response. Over time, with constant dopamine activation and addiction, dopamine receptors desensitize, making it more difficult to find satisfaction and pleasure from the material world.5, 6
In Ayurveda, an overstimulated mind addicted to receiving pleasure from reward is a rajasic mind. An oxytocin mind, where you find pleasure from within (from giving, caring, and loving others) is called a sattvic mind.
In this study, we see men in relationships finding themselves effortlessly monogamous when given a dose of oxytocin. The takeaway here is that we all have the ability to produce our own oxytocin and nurture our relationships in a much deeper way than we can when we only seek the next reward, always asking, “What’s in it for me?”
DIY Oxytocin: Random Acts of Kindness
To begin to produce more oxytocin, my favorite exercise is to engage in at least three oxytocin-boosting random acts of kindness each day. It is quite simple actually. It could be going out of your way to help a fellow working. It good be giving your partner a foot massage or even as simple as a text that says, “Just thinking about you—hope you’re having a great day. I can’t wait to be with you.”
Practicing three random acts of kindness each day will soon become a habit and giving rather than receiving will soon be your preferred source of lasting pleasure.
So, to build healthy relationships, start with a hug. A hug a day just might keep the doctor away.