Oxytocin: Your Calm and Connect Chemical
i know that touching was and still is and always will be the true revolution.--Nikki Giovanni
I want to share a secret with you. You have 24 hour access to an amazing drug that can make you feel calm, connected, trusting, and safe. You can't buy it in the pharmacy; it is one of the freely given gifts of being human.
It's called oxytocin (not to be confused with oxycontin!). This is the hormone that is released by nursing mothers and is a powerful agent for bonding and connecting. When oxytocin is released by the hypothalamus into the brain and blood stream, stress hormones plummet and blood pressure drops. It's the "everything's going to be okay" hormone--that's exactly how it feels when it is released. Warm, grounded, radiant, safe, flowing...and okay.
How can we access it? Here are three simple ways. I know it sounds too good to be true, but these practices are extremely powerful antidotes to stress. Don't take my word for it. Try them, then take the time to notice your body/mind response.
Ever wonder why it feels so good to have your hair shampooed at the salon? Oxytocin. At home,
use your fingers to gently massage the scalp, forehead, jaw, and don't forget to spend extra time on the ears. Play with what intensity of touch feels best to you, and make sure to breathe deeply. This can be done alone or with a partner. Take two full minutes with this practice. It is so simple, yet such a potent pathway to feelings of equamimity and calm.
Massaging the Vagus Nerve
Massage the top of your neck where it meets your skull. This is where the vagus nerve runs through. The vagus nerve is packed with oxytocin receptors. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, and enjoy the flood of feel good chemicals. Take it in. Ahhh...
Full Body Hug
A twenty second full body hug is enough to release oxytocin. We're not talking about the A-frame hug here, we're talking a full contact body hug--so it has to be with an appropriate someone you feel close to. To maximize the benefit, change head positions with each breath. My husband and I have intentionally built this into our day...and tell each other good things into each others ears as we do so. It is a palpably nourishing gentle joy.
No doubt, our days are stressful. These practices are like your own personal chill pills... They're free, build resilience, and don't bite you back like some substances do! Let me know your experience with them...
Note: These exercises came from a extremely wonderful book called Bouncing Back, by Linda Graham. Another classic in the field if you are interested, is Touching, the Human Significance of the Skin, by Ashley Montagu.