Can you feel it? Love is in the air! Valentine’s Day is upon us and we’re feeling the love everywhere we go these days. It must be our oxytocin levels going out of control! Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle” or “love” hormone because it is released when your get a great-big hug or a snuggle session with another person (playtime with our pups can also release oxytocin!) But what is the science behind why this hormone boosts our mood and what can we do to start feeling the love?
Oxytocin is the feel-good, touchy-feely, “cuddle hormone”
that is released by the posterior pituitary gland in the brain. This hormone was previously thought to only stimulate the production and releasing of breast milk as well as stimulating contractions. However, more evidence has linked oxytocin release with the pathways in the brain related to trust, happiness, and connection with others.
Researchers found that gentle touch was beneficial for both the toucher and the touched as the physical contact acts as the stimulus for measured oxytocin release. Oxytocin is considered a neuromodulatory hormone, meaning it can impact complex behaviors in the brain like neurotransmitters and can also travel through the bloodstream and impact distant organs or hormone release. For example, oxytocin release reduces levels of stress hormones. Unlike the honeymoon hormone dopamine, which peaks early in relationships and fizzles out while the release of oxytocin remains high the longer an individual is in a relationship.
How can you get the oxytocin levels flowing? Check out a few suggestions below:
Spend some time bonding with your loved ones
Oxytocin is an important hormone for mothers when it comes to bonding with their child. A 2007 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that the higher a mom's oxytocin levels in the first trimester of pregnancy, the more likely she was to engage in bonding behaviors such as singing to or bathing her baby. So if you forgot to get your mom a Valentine’s Day gift or card, a hug will make up for it (sort of).
Volunteer at your local animal shelter
Not only will your oxytocin levels increase but you’ll be doing the same for a furry-friend! Japanese researchers found that dogs who trained a long gaze on their owners had elevated levels of oxytocin and after receiving those long gazes, the owner's’ levels of oxytocin also increased! Many shelters encourage volunteers to come and walk the dogs who are waiting to find their forever-family.
Netflix and Chill (Keep it PG)
Since cuddling with a partner or bestie seems to be the most sure-fire way to get the oxytocin flowing, curl up with some popcorn and cuddle up for a Netflix binge session! Since it’s Valentine’s season, we recommend the rom-com section (you can’t go wrong with some classic Julia Roberts). But you can do this solo as well, that’s what boyfriend-pillows are for!
Whether you’re in a relationship or going solo this Valentine’s Day, you deserve some oxytocin in your life! After all, isn’t love the best gift we can give each other?
Co-authored by: BJ Bresson & Dr. NavNirat Nibber
The neuropeptide oxytocin modulates consumer brand relationships.Fürst A, Thron J, Scheele D, Marsh N, Hurlemann R - Sci Rep - January 1, 2015; 5 (); 14960
Oxytocin influences intuitions about the relationship between belief in free will and moral responsibility.Goodyear K, Lee MR, O'Hara M, Chernyak S, Walter H, Parasuraman R, Krueger F - Soc Neurosci - January 1, 2016; 11 (1); 88-96