Think about that blissful feeling you get when you hug someone or have an orgasm. It’s basically like a warm blanket enveloping you in coziness, dialing up your happiness while hitting the brakes on mood hijackers like anxiety. You can thank the feel-good hormone oxytocin for this fuzzy, fabulous feeling.
The best part: You can take strategic steps to ramp up oxytocin levels and keep stress and anxiety at bay.
The role of oxytocin in balancing mood plus what triggers its release.
Scientists often call oxytocin your love hormone or cuddle hormone. That’s because it helps moms bond with their babies. But it also helps you connect more deeply with your significant other. In fact, oxytocin has shifted over the last 100 years, from the hormone of labor to the hormone of love.
This tiny hormone plays a variety of roles in your body, including:
- Sexual activity
- Pregnancy (inducing uterine contraction, milk ejection, and maternal behavior)
- Social bonding
One reason oxytocin leaves you feeling so good: It combats stress like a champ. A lot of anxiety is caused by stress, which generates a response from your adrenal glands to produce more of the stress hormone cortisol. But when you release oxytocin, you’re essentially buffering yourself against the negative effects of too much cortisol, so the harmful effects of cortisol, including anxiety, are minimized.
The great news is that you don’t need to have a baby or to breastfeed to rev up this hormone. In fact, a 20-second hug can help elevate your oxytocin. So can orgasms!
Yes, ladies, this doctor is prescribing orgasms—no partner required. When you have an orgasm and release oxytocin, it relaxes you, calms your mind, and enables you to get a good night’s sleep. Everything gets better. During an orgasm, your body also releases vasopressin. This hormone often helps activate your sleep hormone melatonin. And as you likely know, good sleep is a surefire strategy to reduce anxiety.
In addition to helping you bond with your baby and partner, oxytocin also builds social bonding. In fact, you can thank this hormone for helping the human species survive as long as it has: Research shows that oxytocin can create trust and attachment between people.
More ways to harness the power of oxytocin to reduce anxiety.
Let’s be clear: Anxiety is no joke. It can be incredibly debilitating when you have a sense of fear and panic that seemingly comes out of nowhere, and it can seriously affect your life. And let’s be honest, when you’re feeling anxious, having an orgasm may be the last thing on your mind. So, in addition to hugging more and getting cozy with your partner (or vibrator) when the mood strikes, try incorporating one of these five strategies into your daily life to dial up oxytocin and lower anxiety:
1. Balance your hormones.
Anxiety and your hormones are super intricately connected. Cortisol can crash oxytocin, but when one hormone is out of balance, it affects the whole system. To manage anxiety, you’ll want to keep all your hormones balanced.
Consider progesterone: When this hormone is just right, it keeps you feeling chilled out and in love with your life. Progesterone counters the effects of estrogen and has a calming effect, reducing anxiety and increasing sleepiness. If your progesterone is too low, you may struggle with anxiety.
The best starting point to balance all hormones? Dial in your healthy diet and nix the added sugars and refined carbs from your diet. If you’re not sure which hormone is your main troublemaker, check out the comprehensive quiz in Chapter 1 of my book Beyond the Pill.
2. Find ways to counter your stress.
Stress comes in so many flavors today—all of which spike your cortisol and dampen oxytocin levels. To combat this, you’ll want to step up the oxytocin builders like hugs and orgasms while implementing strategies to put the brakes on cortisol. Meditation, prayer, float tanks, acupuncture, massage, and even getting a mani-pedi can help you chill and master your stress response. Animal studies also show that regular exercise can increase oxytocin and dial down anxiety.
3. Consider alternatives to birth control.
Women who use the pill have decreased sensitivity to oxytocin, which can affect their ability to bond with their baby or their partner. While we’re still learning more about why, researchers are looking at how the pill could affect your mood as well as how you socialize and behave as a person altogether. Consider exploring an intelligent alternative to birth control, which I discuss in my book; and if you do choose to ditch the pill, read my article on how to deal with post-birth-control syndrome.
4. Mind your gut.
When your gut isn’t functioning properly, mood symptoms including anxiety can appear. A healthy gut requires pulling out frequent offenders like food intolerances (consider trying an elimination diet to identify intolerances and sensitivities), while stepping up nutrient-dense foods and supporting nutrients like probiotics, prebiotics, and fiber. (Bonus: When you fix your gut, you often rebalance hormones. Win-win!)
5. Try adaptogenic herbs.
Adaptogenic herbs improve the communication between your brain and your adrenals while balancing cortisol output to hit the brakes on anxiety and stress. One of my faves is Rhodiola, which can significantly reduce anxiety and stress. Rhodiola helps balance cortisol levels to reduce stress and improve resiliency. This herb improves your energy, lowers anxiety and inflammation, and supports your immune system. Added bonus: Rhodiola also supports healthy progesterone.
Bottom line on oxytocin and anxiety.
Researchers still aren’t entirely sure how oxytocin affects anxiety and other mood disorders like depression. We do know optimal levels of this bonding hormone can lower your stress hormone cortisol and help you feel fabulous. So give lots of hugs, have lots of orgasms, and implement the strategies above to boost your levels. And for more tips on how to manage anxiety naturally, check out my article on 20 natural anxiety remedies.
- Jolene Brighten, NMD
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