Happy Brain chemistry DOSE: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins
Oxytocin is a hormone produced primarily by the brain. It has several functions, the main ones being social bonding, childbirth, breast milk production and attachment.
Social bonding? For example, oxytocin plays a role in the recognition and interpretation of facial expressions. This hormone helps to create connections with others, and increase protective instincts (here I always think of a mama bear!). It is also known to reduce stress, depression and alleviate pain if you suffer from chronic pain. This hormone promotes empathy.
Research shows that some autistic individuals have lower levels of oxytocin, or metabolize it differently, which would explain their difficulty in socializing, recognizing faces, being touched, etc.
Oxytocin is higher in people in couples, especially young couples. But you don't need to find a (new) partner to increase your oxytocin, I've made you a little list:
Hug a loved one for 5 seconds or more.
In fact, any positive physical contact: kissing, cuddling, holding hands, etc.
Looking someone in the eye (no need to go all Marina Abramović on them!)
Having good conversations, laughing
Having an orgasm
Breastfeeding your child (really not accessible for everyone, but I put it in the list anyway!)
Playing with an animal
Spending time with people you love
Getting a massage
Helping others, volunteering
Oxytocin is not found in any food. You're going to have to stimulate it in some other way. For me, it's really a feel-good hormone. My biggest high: when I hold a newborn, I get a megadose of oxytocin. Beware, a lot of oxytocin can increase your desire to have a baby! I have often seen this phenomenon in mothers of older children who hold a newborn for a few minutes and say: oh my god, I want another baby. Fortunately, it passes quickly!
My way of getting a little oxytocin every day: maintaining eye contact with my dog. We make eye contact and I swear I feel love! A 2015 study shows that this generates oxytocin and that dogs (brilliant creatures) have probably learned this behavior because it promotes owner attachment and reinforces their position as a human's best friend!
In the next entry, I'll tell you about serotonin.