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Love to Destress: Oxytocin and Stress Relief

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Are you looking for drug-free ways to reduce your stress? Luckily, there are many techniques you can use daily to feel calmer and more centered. Meditation, positive affirmations, and indulging in your favorite hobbies are just some of the ways in which you can connect with your inner peace.

But did you know that the simple act of loving another person or animal can decrease your stress levels? Hugging, holding hands, cuddling, or even thinking fondly of someone you love can cause your body to release oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that is produced in the brain’s hypothalamus and secreted by the pituitary gland at the brain’s base. It’s sometimes called the love hormone or the cuddle hormone.

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Oxytocin is released into the body when we cuddle, hug, touch, or think about someone we love. In women, this important hormone has major functions in childbirth and nursing.

Oxytocin’s Role in Stress-Reduction

Once released into the system, oxytocin can work to reduce levels of the “stress hormone,” cortisol, in the body.

Oxytocin also has a role in bonding and helping a person feel a connection to another person. This sense of belonging can reduce stress.

The cuddle hormone also has some other, more surprising, effects on overall health.

Love Boosts Your Immune System

In a study done in 2014, over 400 people were exposed to a cold virus to see whether they got sick and if they did, how sick they got. For 2 weeks prior to this exposure, participants were questioned by phone to determine how much love and support they had on a daily basis. It was found that those who experienced the most love were the least likely to fall ill. Of those who did get sick, people with the most support had the mildest symptoms [She14].

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Cuddling Reduces Your Risk of Heart Disease

Oxytocin release reduces the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your body. One of the positive things this does is reduce your blood pressure and make heart disease less likely. Hugging, cuddling, and even sleeping next to the one you love can improve your heart health.

Are Single People Out of Luck?

So it’s clear that love and physical touch are great stress-relievers, but if you’re a single person, you may be feeling like you can’t harness oxytocin’s benefits. Not to worry: there are ways to feel a sense of belonging and reap the benefits of oxytocin release than by having a romantic partner.

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  • Be sure to connect with and hug your friends routinely. Even hugging strangers works to release oxytocin, so you could replace your signature handshake with a hug.
  • Cuddle and play with your pet. Giving and receiving love from a furry friend releases oxytocin into your system and reduces stress.
  • Watch an emotional movie. Your system releases oxytocin when you watch a powerful feel-good movie. Your brain doesn’t distinguish between actual loving feelings occurring in person and those evoked by cinema.
  • Dance the night away. Dancing releases oxytocin. And you don’t have to be in a relationship to experience its stress-relieving strength. Explore your community for dance classes and other events where you can tango, rumba, or salsa with others. The result will be a positive connection with peers, oxytocin release, and decreased stress.
  • Use your social media accounts . Feeling connected, even online, releases oxytocin. Your brain feels like you’re surrounded by support even though your friends aren’t in the room with you.
  • Call a friend. It’s easy to text, message, or Facebook your friends, and that’s great when you’re short on time. But when you’re hoping to experience some oxytocin-based stress relief, calling and actually talking to a friend can make all the difference.
  • Listen to soothing, feel-good music. Oxytocin is released when you get that happy feeling that music can bring.
  • Go for a walk. Exercise can boost your mood and decrease stress. Walking outside in the sun can release oxytocin, and it’s even more effective when you go with a friend.

Works Cited

  • Sheldon Cohen, D. J.-D. (2014, Sept. 30). Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support? A Study of Susceptibility to Upper Respiratory Infection and Illness. Retrieved from Psychological Science: DOI: 10.1177/0956797614559284 http://pss.sagepub.com/content/26/2/135
  • Uvnas-Moberg K1, P. M. (2005). [Oxytocin, a mediator of anti-stress, well-being, social interaction, growth and healing]. Retrieved from Pubmed.gov.

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