Mainlining Oxytocin

As of last week, I thought I had learned as much as I could about the hormone Oxytocin. I was pretty certain I understood it from a physiologic perspective, from a sociologic perspective, as well as psychologic - kind of why we do the things we do perspective. I was wrong.

The lessons in Oxytocin come from midwifery and medical texts, teachers like Penny Simkin, Simon Sinek, Brené Brown, and many many more. But last week, I learned one thing about this incredible hormone that rocked my world.

Oxytocin helps your heal your heart from stress induced damage.

This is pretty cool! This enlightenment comes from the research of Kelly McGonigal, PhD. 

What you (might) know about Oxytocin:

  • It's the love hormone
  • It releases during orgasm, breastfeeding, right after childbirth 
  • In a chemical form, oxytocin is also known as Pitocin
  • The release of oxytocin promotes human bonding and connection
  • It's a neurohormone

Here's what you might not know about Oxytocin, and is new understanding to me. Oxytocin:

  • Fine tunes our brains social instincts
  • Its release makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family
  • Primes you to do things that strengthen close relationships 
  • Enhances your empathy
  • Is a stress hormone that is pumped out by your pituitary gland, and it is as much of a stress hormone as Adrenaline!

Now we need to talk about your heart. Think about your heart and what it does when you get stressed. What does it feel like in your body? 

Physiologically, what's going on in a normal stress response is that your blood pressure goes up and your heart vessels constrict, which reduces delivery of oxygen to the brain. To stay in this constricted mode all the time, with normal stress responses, is not healthy. 

When it comes to your heart, Oxytocin: 

  • Is made to protect your cardiovascular system from the responses of stress
  • Is a natural anti-inflammatory
  • Helps blood vessels to stay relaxed during stress
  • Helps regenerate heart cells and heal the heart from stress induced damage (I love this!)

Next is the coolest information of all, and applies to you. When oxytocin is released, it's motivating you to seek support. So, when you're stressed, oxytocin wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you. If you reach out during times of stress either to seek support or give support, you release more oxytocin. Then your stress response becomes healthier and you in turn rebound and recover from stress faster. 

This week, I have a challenge for you. I want you to reflect on these questions:

  1. How do you view stress? Good or bad? Productive or destructive?
  2. What are your normal stress responses?
  3. Do you seek support when you're stressed? If so, what motivates you?
  4. What if I told you to change your beliefs about stress and view it as helpful? For instance, believing in a stressful moment that your beating heart is preparing you for action, your brain is getting more oxygen when you start breathing faster, and the release of oxytocin will help heal your heart during stressful times - would you change your beliefs about stress for a week?

Talk to me in the comments, I'm totally curious! 

This information is big! After learning about all the damage stress has on our bodies for many years, I have a new sense of wonder and how to help women leave that flight or fight state and get you into your heart living long, healthy lives. Lives where stress can be healthy and productive!

Have a cool weekend! Find some wonder.