How does brain chemistry affect our relationships and moments of connection? And how can you affect it to become a better partner, parent or friend? We aim to be loving, caring, loyal and stay out of judgement. These high standards are met more easily when we are happy and relaxed. However, when we are stressed and trying to juggle many roles and responsibilities, it becomes a lot harder. This is not just because we are short of time or resources. Our hormones have a lot to do with it.
The love hormone
When humans connect in a meaningful way, the hormone oxytocin is released. Oxytocin is the fuel of relationships. It instantly makes you want to connect and be kind to the people around you. Research shows that even an artificial increase in oxytocin levels makes you more generous, improves your listening skills and makes you better at picking up social cues. In other words, increasing your oxytocin levels could make you a better friend.
Research also tells us that stress is one of the most potent inhibitors of oxytocin. When under stress, your brain goes into tunnel vision mode and you lose sight of details. You become quick to judge and jump to conclusions, with a focus on ‘fixing it’. Not ideal if you want to be a good friend.
How to boost oxytocin levels naturally
Oxytocin is not for sale in pharmacies, but there are natural ways in which you can increase your oxytocin levels. Research shows that regular mindfulness practice reduces stress and increases oxytocin levels, affecting positively on self reported quality of relationships. Practicing Mindfulness retrains your brain. It makes you a better listener and a more supportive friend. On top of that it makes you more generous, trustworthy and better at picking up social cues. So yes, regular mindfulness practice can enhance the quality of your friendships. Next time you are about to meet a friend who is having a hard time, do a brief mindfulness exercise to boost your oxytocin levels. This way, you can be the best possible friend to them.
More ways to naturally boost your oxytocin levels
- Hug someone – give your friends a hug when you see them, this instantly increases oxytocin levels.
- Make eye contact – eye contact helps to connect and brings about a release of oxytocin.
- Have sex – Sex has been long known to drastically increase oxytocin, make sure you prioritize some bedroom action each week.
- Breastfeeding – if you are breastfeeding, you get your daily dose of oxytocin just by feeding your baby.
- Go for a walk – exercise including walking has been linked to oxytocin release, so go for a stroll!
- Pet a dog – a few minutes of petting a dog (or another pet) gives you that warm, oxytocin feeling.