Some people turn to ice cream for comfort. My personal carb of choice is chocolate. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to soothe yourself without food sometimes? Fortunately, there are options. The one I want to address today involves Oxytocin. What is oxytocin? Oxytocin is a potent hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter and one of its jobs is to strengthen bonding, such as between parent and child or between sexual partners. Oxytocin is also involved in strengthening trust and, in fact, has been investigated as a potential help in therapy! Some studies have looked at whether an sniff of a nasal dose of oxytocin would increase therapeutic outcomes. Higher levels of oxytocin in the body are also associated with greater relaxation and greater psychological stability and it appears to reduce the stress response and potentially reduces some anxiety pertaining to people.
For those with partners or spouses, a hug or being held will generally result in both people having a release of oxytocin. Does this mean you are out of luck if you don’t have a partner? Absolutely not! If you don’t have a spouse or partner, you can increase your oxytocin by sharing a hug with a friend or your child. For those of you who have pets, petting and stroking your furry friend is a great soothing activity. You’ll feel comforted and your bond with the partner/friend/child/pet will be strengthened.
But what if you are, for example, at work? Or what if you’re at home and all alone with no pet? Are you doomed in this instance? Nope! It turns out, we can prompt a release of oxytocin within our own bodies! For example, if you hug yourself by wrapping your arms around the opposite shoulder, this will stimulate oxytocin to be released. If you feel weird hugging yourself, you have other options. One option can be as simple as holding your hands, or rubbing or stroking the back of one hand with the other. Another option is stroking your arm. My personal preference is to stroke my cheek with my hand. The only way to know which action feels most soothing to you is to give them each a try.
So the next time you are feeling in need of some comfort, take a couple of deep, slow breaths and then try boosting your level of the comfort hormone oxytocin by hugging someone (and not just a quickie or side-hug), petting an animal, or hugging or stroking yourself.
If you are struggling with anxiety or stress and would like to learn about more helpful tools that can help you reduce anxiety and stress and feel more positive, I invite you to give me a call at (816) 226-4678. Let’s get to work helping you to feel better!