There are 4 neurochemicals in the human brain. They are responsible for the feeling that we describe as “happiness.”
Endorphins suppress physical pain and enhance positive emotions.
Dopamine is responsible for motivation and the heady feeling of success after hard work: it “rewards” us for reaching a goal.
Serotonin is responsible for decision making, the suppression of negative emotions and self-confidence. It is produced when we feel the recognition of others – it gives us strength and makes us work better. It is believed that a lack of serotonin can cause depression. The hormone is also associated with digestion (hunger, for example) and the general sensitivity of the body.
Oxytocin is responsible for relationships in society. This is the first hormone of happiness with which we come into the world, as it is produced in a child at birth.
At the beginning of the 20th century, scientists discovered this hormone that is capable of reducing pain during childbirth and helps with lactation. It was called oxytocin: translated from Greek – “quick birth”.
The neuropeptide oxytocin is synthesized in the hypothalamus and secreted in the posterior pituitary gland, from where it enters the blood system. It can be found in the body of both men and women and performs various functions, but is known mainly as the hormone of motherhood.
Oxytocin regulates the contraction of the uterus, the secretion of milk from the mammary gland (but not its synthesis), and also determines maternal behavior. Subsequently, scientists found that in female mammals, oxytocin also affects other aspects of social behavior. So, an increased level of this neuropeptide encourages them, if necessary, to take care of others’ cubs, enhances fidelity to a partner if the species is monogamous, helps to remember the smells of other animals, which makes it easier to recognize them. Oxytocin also calms the animals, making them less anxious. In general, along with the steroid hormones testosterone and estradiol, oxytocin turned out to be one of the main hormones that regulate the social life of animals. Basically, it enhances affiliative behavior, that is, contributing to the maintenance and strengthening of friendships.
Naturally, the more it became known about the psychotropic functions of oxytocin in animals, the more actively neurologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists became interested in its effect on human behavior, and in the last decade, many works devoted to this problem have appeared.
Humans are, for obvious reasons, more difficult to experiment with. As a rule, researchers carefully select participants in the experiment. They should not suffer from mental and nervous disorders, should not take drugs, women should not be pregnant and use hormonal contraceptives. The test subjects are instilled into the nose with a solution of oxytocin or a placebo, and after 45 minutes the experiments begin.
How to increase oxytocin levels at home?
The number of sources of oxytocin has been continuously reducing during the last years: hugs, touches and even handshakes are much more rare nowadays. That’s why we suggest forming some habits to keep the hormone levels normal. They will help you cope with stress, maintain trusting relationships with people and not lose a sense of security in the new reality.
- Use social media as a substitute for direct contact with people. Find friends with similar interests. Joint classes, even online, stimulate the production of oxytocin.
- Write pleasant letters to colleagues, mark their small steps. During these times, people especially need the approval and support that are so important in reducing stress.
- Work on relationships even at a distance. Call, send a photo, share your impressions, confess your love. Each positive contact with people causes a surge of oxytocin, which creates new neural connections. Communicate more!
- Remember about massage. Research in the field of osteopathy and manual therapy shows that the positive effect of massage lies not only in the direct treatment of specific problems, but also in the very fact of touch. The touch of a loved one will strengthen the trust of the relationship and help cope with the pain in the body.
- Self-massage also helps with oxytocin amounts, including beauty treatments. Applying oil or cream to the skin is almost the same as hugging yourself. Try to do it gently, with massage movements. It is better to take a product with a favorite aroma that evokes pleasant sensations. Such a ritual will help to calm down and relieve tension.
- Warm up in a bath. The water is very relaxing.
- Give up dairy, flour and fried foods. Endocrinologists advise to include more healthy fats in the diet – it should not be low in calories. This will not only increase the production of oxytocin, but also help with digestion.
- Who doesn’t like cat cuddles or dog face licks?! Snuggle with your pets or get yourself one if your house is empty at the moment. Animals are a great source of oxytocin because they are always happy to be with their owner.
The “oxytocin effect” has another important consequence. Oxytocin is used to treat various mental disorders, including autism. If its effect on women and men is different, then the effectiveness of treatment will also differ, so doctors have something to think about.
Happiness is chemistry. You can create it based on real facts!
Do foods contain oxytocin? Unfortunately no. But this hormone plays an important role in regulating appetite. If you would like to improve your mood with food, include foods such as chocolate, coffee, fish or avocado into your diet.