Dr. Debi Gilmore, LMFT CEFT, Co-Founder of Building A Lasting Connection®
What Is Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus but triggered by the amygdala to be released into the bloodstream from the nearby pituitary gland. Sometimes this region of the brain is referred to as the “emotion center.” Like satellites picking up a frequency signal, our bodies are primed to respond to the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin receptors are found on cells throughout the body.
Oxytocin is released when we talk to and look into the eyes of a friend with whom we feel safe, and it is released when we reach out and hug someone. Each of these sensations, emotions, and states of being are things humans need throughout our daily existence.
Oxytocin and The Power of a Hug
Scientists have examined the average length of a hug, and they found most hugs last 3 seconds or less. In many cultures, a hug is a natural and normal way to greet loved ones and long-lost friends. However, the embrace is typically a very brief form of body contact with a quick release.
Scientists have found that hugs lasting 20 seconds or more have a healing effect on the body and mind. Researchers conducted a study hoping to understand the connection between hugging and physical health. The study found that being hugged by a trusted person may act as an effective means of conveying support and that increasing the frequency of hugs might be an effective means of reducing the deleterious effects of stress.
Why are hugs so important? Hugs force us to slow down and connect, which is something many humans forget to do. A lingering hug stimulates the release of oxytocin which is a hormone released from the emotion center of the brain. We are constantly rushing from one task to another, often bypassing opportunities to briefly connect with those in our life who should be at the top of our priority list.
Oxytocin has a powerful connecting property. It collapses the distance that separates us and knits our relational experience into a more deeply connected state. If oxytocin has such powerful potential, it would be important to ask the question, “How can I utilize this amazing connecting hormone to enhance my connection with my partner?”
Science is revealing some fascinating evidence that the hormone oxytocin can buffer the stresses of life, strengthen our physical and mental health, and increase the bond in our most important relationships. Oxytocin calms our fears and promotes a felt sense of safety. It influences feelings of affection and promotes feelings of contentment. The hope is that science will continue to reveal its powerful properties and uncover ways to utilize this remarkable hormone in the promotion of strengthening relationships and cultivating overall health and well-being.