I know. A lot of you are wondering what the Recovering Farmer knows about cuddling never mind the cuddle hormone. I suspect if, and when, my wife reads this she will give me a puzzled look. Never mind. Read on.
I have a confession to make. For a number of years I have “preached” about the need to manage stress and the negative impact of stress particularly long term stress. I have pointed out the effects it has on us mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially. Perhaps to the point of coercing people into thinking that they need to fear stress, be able to recognize it and deal with it, like right now, or the chances are good that their lives will spiral out of control. Now I have come across some information that potentially shows that I have taken the wrong approach.
Okay. Truth be told most of what I have said about stress in the past remains accurate. However the information that I have found through research, actually someone else’s research, shows that perhaps we need to view stress and our response to stress somewhat differently. The research has shown that stress releases a certain hormone in us that has some significant and positive effects on our bodies.
I am talking about Oxytocin, often known as the cuddle hormone. It is also known as a trust hormone, love hormone, and God hormone. Oxytocin is released when we are stressed and think that this stress is very harmful. In essence it is not the stress that releases the hormone but rather our negative thoughts about stress. How we think about stress matters. In fact a study involving 30,000 participants over 8 years showed that there was a 43% increase in the risk of dying for those that experienced a lot of stress AND believed that stress was harmful to their health. People that experienced lots of stress BUT did not view it as harmful had no greater risk of dying than those that experienced low stress. (Kelly McGonigal; How to make stress your friend)
Oxytocin is a hormone that induces feelings of optimism, increases self-esteem, and helps us build trust. It is released when you hug someone, when you shake someone’s hand, when you think about someone, and even when you just gaze at a person across the room. It is used to treat shyness, social anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, physical wounds, pain, and clinical depression. It helps in reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. It makes us crave physical contact. It makes us want to talk to others. In fact it is enhanced by social supports and contact. It increases empathy, compassion, and caring.
Stress is a normal part of life. Long term stress can have a debilitating impact on us, physically and emotionally. However, based on the aforementioned information, there are some simple ways to deal with this. Obviously we need to change our way of thinking about stress. Understand better that stress is a normal part of life. However the most important information and help I gleaned out of all this research is the importance of connection. The connection with self, with family, friends, and community. The importance of talking to others. The importance of helping others. The importance of relationships. All of this important to maintaining a balanced life in this seemingly unbalanced world we live in.
On a final note Oxytocin also increases generosity. So when you hug someone or shake someone’s hand remember that this small act also releases the hormone in them as well. So now you are not just helping yourself you are also helping others. That increase in generosity might lead to a potential payoff, particularly at this time of year. Just saying. Make it a good one.
“Relationships provide us with identity, purpose and direction. In essence, relationships and therefore community is a life giving, life defining, life nurturing process”