Stress is an inevitable and believe it or not, necessary part of our lives. Stress can actually be enjoyable, it provides motivation and challenge and without it, we would probably not achieve very much at all. Stress triggers the well known “flight or fight” response and a cascade of hormones which are soon dissipated if we do turn to fight or run away, but in today’s society, the types of stress we encounter and therefore our response to those stressors is very different. Adrenaline, noradrenaline and other hormones are constantly produced with ongoing, long-term stress a significant factor in most of the chronic conditions of our time. Modern lifestyles, with focus on achievement, success, acquisition and business dominance, tip us always towards the “flight or fight” hormonal pathway, so scientists and health professionals are intimately familiar with the downsides of those unopposed hormones.
However less well-recognised and until recently, poorly studied is another hormonal pathway that is the exact mirror opposite. Secreted into the bloodstream like other hormones, but also produced by the nerve endings so acting like a signalling substance, oxytocin is well known to obstetricians and gynaecologists as the hormone that makes the uterus contract during labour, stimulates the let down reflex during breastfeeding and is also released at orgasm. But while it might seem that women get more than their fair share, oxytocin is actually present in both sexes – promoting calm, connection, bonding, love and intimacy. It directly counteracts the fight or flight response, reducing stress levels, and also promoting production of growth hormone, which is important for healing.
Clearly we can all benefit from bigger doses of oxytocin, so how do we get it?
Because oxytocin is a peptide hormone, it needs amino acids for its production. That means good quality protein at every meal and snack. If you’re a vegetarian, make sure you combine different types of vegetable protein in any day to ensure a supply of all the essential amino acids. Regular orgasms will provide a hefty dose for both partners, but if you’re on your own, don’t miss out. If you find orgasms elusive, an intimate gel or lubricant can be a great help whether you have a loving partner or are seeking oxytocin production alone! If you breastfeed to your baby’s schedule, your will be awash in a sea of oxytocin, you will experience the sense of calm and patience that it confers, and of course your baby will get all the benefits too. You will probably also find you have less desire for sexual intimacy with your partner as your body is continually flooded with the “orgasm” hormone. Remember why your desire has decreased – but don’t wean your baby. Finally, nurturing touch stimulates oxytocin production. So make regular massage or other body work a regular part of your life. If your budget runs to a professional treatment – that’s great, but this is something that can be easily done at home … make sure to include the kids. They’ll love it and their activity levels will reflect it.
“Touch has decreased as input to stress-generating mechanisms has increased. We need calm and connection not only to avoid illness, but also to enjoy life, to feel curious, optimistic and creative!”** We need more oxytocin!